(Image credit: Stan Tess/Alamy)
From Black Lamb to Row 34, the renowned Boston seafood chef and restaurateur recommends where travelers should enjoy the best oysters in town.
Boston is synonymous with seafood. Lobster, clams and fish are hauled out of the water and served to diners within hours, and the Union Oyster House, which has been serving its namesake molluscs since 1826, is one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the country. Today, many Boston restaurants shell and serve fresh oysters, making Boston one of the top cities in the US to slurp up the delicious clams.
Chef Michael Serpa knows a thing or two about oysters. Serpa has extensive seafood experience as the owner of Little Whale, Atlántico and Select Oyster Bar seafood restaurants. For years he was executive chef at the award-winning Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End and grew up in the kitchen of a family of Cuban chefs.
“The [oysters] “The oysters we have here in New England are second to none…Boston, of course, loves oysters, and Boston loves no oyster more than Island Creek Oysters,” Serpa said, referring to one of the most respected oyster farms in the United States.
When not dining at one of his own restaurants, Serpa likes to visit other seafood restaurants to show his support. Here are five of his favorite places in Boston to eat oysters.
Row 34 may be best known for its raw bar dishes, but Serpa also recommends the fried options (Credit: Kim Foley MacKinnon)
1st row 34
Located right on the edge of the Seaport District, Row 34 was one of the restaurants that ventured into the then-burgeoning neighborhood in 2013. “The high-altitude industrial site has earned a solid reputation for its impressive craft beer program, but their wine selection is always well chosen and offers some unusual wines that are fun to discover,” said Serpa. “[The] Oysters are always well shelled and I love their fried dishes paired with a huge platter of chilled raw bar dishes.”
The sprawling restaurant occupies the Boston Wharf Company’s former textile warehouse, built in 1908, and its high ceilings, exposed brick walls, metal beams, and other architectural elements remind guests of its history. Hard to resist, the raw food bar offers an abundance of oysters, lobster and mussels available raw or cooked. However, Serpa recommended the fried dishes here as well. The deep-fried oyster slider with chili-lime aioli, priced at just $5, pairs perfectly with one of the dozens of craft beers on the menu. For fans of smoked and cured fish, Row 34 offers a nice selection, including salmon gravlax and bluefish, whitefish or salmon pie.
Address: 383 Congress St., Seaport District, Boston
Telephone: +1 617-553-5900
Waiters at Banks can identify where all of the restaurant’s seafood comes from (Credit: Kim Foley MacKinnon)
1. The Banks Fish House
“[Banks] “is a great addition to the back bay,” said Serpa. “The space is large and spread over several floors, but the lower bar area is cozy and a good spot for oysters and a selection from the extensive wine list.” Oysters, seared mussels and champagne are a great start to a meal there. And it’s super convenient to hotels, Boston Common, Back Bay Station and everything Back Bay has to offer.”
As part of the Himmel Group, which also includes Boston’s legendary steakhouse Grill 23 & Bar (less than a block from Banks) as well as Bistro du Midi (next to the Boston Public Garden – the world’s first public botanical garden) In den USA guests receive the same Sky Fresh Produce Guarantee. Waiters can easily identify suppliers of seafood, meat, and fruit and vegetables at all popular restaurants. In addition to raw oysters, Banks offers a selection of raw vegetables and ceviches, a chilled half lobster tail or caviar. The size of the restaurant is ideal for large parties and celebrations, but there are also cozy corners to linger. But no matter where you sit, the restaurant has a certain glamor that makes it feel special.
Address: 406 Stuart St., Back Bay, Boston, MA 02116
Telephone: +1 617-399-0015
Dovetail’s oyster bar is housed in a historic naval building (Credit: Kim Foley MacKinnon)
Serpa called Dovetail at the Charlestown Navy Yard “a hidden gem,” and while it’s a bit out of the way from downtown Boston, it’s still close to many Boston attractions. The Oyster Bar is located in a historic naval building near the USS Constitution, Freedom Trail and Bunker Hill Monument. Serpa said: “It’s one of my regular rotation locations. It’s Brewer’s Fork’s sister restaurant down the street and is the perfect stop for anyone on a historical tourist tour. The courtyard terrace is super chilled and the perfect spot for a plate of oysters and a bottle of rosé. The cuisine is excellent and I always start with their homemade focaccia, the ‘Frenchy’ salad and one of their crudo offerings.”
Inside the restaurant there is a large bar area with some high tables and a separate dining room overlooking the kitchen. Lots of exposed brick walls, plants and twinkling lights make the space feel warm and inviting. There are many small plates on offer, from roasted oysters with butter and bacon for those who prefer cooked, to raw, steamed Maine mussels and the aforementioned Frenchy salad (consisting of tossed local salads, French breakfast radishes, and a shallot sherry tarragon vinaigrette). ). Dovetail also has an adjacent shop where you can buy all sorts of groceries from wines to condiments, or simply buy soups and sandwiches to take away.
Address: 1 6th Street, Charlestown
Telephone: +1 617-337-5070
Puritan offers a bag of caviar and plenty of oysters (Credit: Kim Foley MacKinnon)
4. Puritan Oyster Bar
“This spot is relatively new and it’s by Chef Will Gilson,” said Serpa. “The beautiful little room is the perfect companion to it [Gilson’s] Restaurant Puritan & Co next door. Oysters are great of course, but the small plates are really well prepared too and go really well with the oysters. Nice place for a date night.”
While Puritan & Co’s menu offers “modern American cuisine” with dishes like a cast-iron roasted ribeye and a phyllo-wrapped cod, the adjacent oyster bar, accessed through the restaurant, is naturally more seafood-centric. Oysters are available raw or cooked, and adventurous eaters can call on the chef until 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday to enjoy his $1 selection of oysters. The caviar cone with egg salad and sour cream is a must, as is the decadent buttery lobster toast. The cocktail menu is creative, and for those who want to bet on oysters, try the Madrina del Mar, made with oyster vodka from a nearby Rhode Island company, salted grapefruit, and elderflower.
Address: 1166 Cambridge Street, Cambridge
Telephone: +1 617-615-6195
Black Lamb is a locals-only spot that serves $2 oysters on Mondays during the summer (Credit: Kim Foley MacKinnon)
5. Black Lamb
“The South End is one of Boston’s most beautiful neighborhoods and compared to the more well-known tourist attractions, it’s more of a versatile neighborhood for those coming from out of town,” Serpa said. “Black Lamb is right in the heart of the neighborhood and is a great place to stop by for lunch. The airy dining room overlooks Tremont Street. They always have a great selection of local oysters and a very good burger.”
The atmosphere at the Black Lamb, especially on a summer Monday when $2 oysters are on sale all day, is that of a locals-only hangout, with patrons at the bar talking to the bartenders like old friends, and boisterous parties who have favourited dozens of oysters order time. The 46-seat restaurant is bright and comfortable, with huge windows on two walls that let in plenty of light as well as people-watching. The raw food bar menu offers a rotating selection of oysters, as well as appetizers such as shrimp or striped bass ceviche, tuna poke, and shrimp cocktail. After a plate of oysters, you can’t go wrong with the Parker House cheddar and spring onion buns, the plate of pickles, and a “weary” dirty olive oil and black pepper vodka martini.
Address: 571 Tremont Street, South End, Boston
Telephone: +1 617-982-6330