Oysters famously take their shape and flavor from their surroundings, and Washington’s network of inlets, coves, and shoreline offer these briny bivalves a variety of environments. This, in turn, gives us a broad range of oysters—from enormous to tiny, salty to sweet.
One of Seattle’s best crash courses on the subject happens at Taylor Shellfish Farms (*multiple locations) on Capitol Hill, one of three locations in the city. Here, in Melrose Market, the state’s biggest oyster operation runs a white-tiled shellfish deli that doubles as an oyster bar. Visitors can sit next to bubbling water tanks full of Kumamoto and Shigoku oysters, not to mention rarities like tiny Olympia oysters. Known affectionately as Olys, they are Washington’s only truly native oyster species and boast a unique coppery flavor—an acquired taste. Taylor Shellfish shucks any combination of fresh oysters, and the market also serves other seafood dishes like geoduck sashimi and oyster stew (plus beer and wine). The company’s other two oyster outposts in Pioneer Square and across from Seattle Center are proper sit-down restaurants, offering broader food menus and a cocktail list.
Of course, the best way to develop an appreciation for oysters is to taste different varieties at once. Seattle has two excellent destinations for this sort of oyster deep dive. One is a large and bustling mecca on the waterfront, the other is a tiny Ballard haunt that isn’t even visible from the street. Elliott’s Oyster House (*1201 Alaskan Way) has served oysters on Pier 56 for more than 40 years. The restaurant goes through thousands of oysters a week and has scores of different varieties on ice in the metal baskets at the front bar. The bivalve stalwart serves its freshly shucked oysters with a refreshing iced pink peppercorn mignonette, and its happy hour deals are the stuff of local legend. The vast restaurant also offers a full menu of seasonal seafood, plus views of the ferries sliding into the nearby terminal at Colman Dock.
North in Ballard, The Walrus and the Carpenter (4743 Ballard Ave NW) shucks shellfish in the back of a century-old building. There might be just seven or eight oysters on ice here, but they come from some of the most meticulous oyster farmers in the state. Servers are marvelous at walking you through the differences among the night’s selection, and you can follow those pristine bivalves with some steak tartare and brilliant vegetable dishes. The menu may look humble, but it has earned James Beard Award–winning chef Renee Erickson national acclaim.
If it’s a sublime setting you seek in addition to the high quality of bivalves, Westward (*2501 N Northlake Way) and The 100 Pound Clam (1001 Fairview Ave N) can’t be beat. Tucked on the northern shore of Lake Union, Westward offers a selection of what’s-fresh oysters paired with stunning views. Waterfront Adirondacks are highly coveted, as is a seat around the oyster shell–lined fire pit. Meanwhile, casual walk-up The 100 Pound Clam has expansive patio seating in South Lake Union and menu items like fresh oysters with a side of Old Bay mayo and Poutine O’ the Sea, little neck clams served over fries, chowder, and bacon.
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