While we're surround by a lot of artificial things (intelligence, flavors, body parts), one thing that remains pure is oysters. Squeeze a lemon wedge over them, fry up a batch or slurp one freshly shucked, you'll find a preparation to love. Here are 10 spots to perfect your palate.
The first tenant to open at Union Market's South OC food hall, Edwin's previous review included thoughts on Chef Michael Pham, like how he, "definitely learned the art of plating from Cimarusti." We consider Pham's menu some the best looking we've encountered, full of color and texture. And dishes taste even better than they plate. But if you're in the mood for a stack of oysters, ask your waiter if any are on special: Pham makes 'em half-off when he wants to clear inventory. 27741 Crown Valley Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 226-8949; www.eatanchorhitch.com
Bear Flag Fish Co.
This quick-service restaurant has cornered the market on fast-casual high-end seafood. Their latest spot has the best dining view inside Lot 579's food hall at Pacific City in HB. Order an ice-cold beer and a dozen of these while you watch the day go by along PCH. Or purchase a few from their market and get your shuck on at home. Find your nearest location at www.bearflagfishco.com.
Offering a half dozen on the half shell during lunch and dinner, this oceanside dining room showcases both East and West Cost varieties. Selections may include salty/sweet Coromandels from northern New Zealand, delicate Vancouver Island Kusshi oysters or plump morsels from Lower Hood Canal, Washington (a.k.a. Sunset Beach). Get your mignonette on at this Laguna favorite. 619 Sleepy Hollow Ln., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7700; www.driftwoodkitchen.com.
EMC Seafood and Raw Bar
With their original branch in LA's Koreatown, EMC took over the space formerly used by Elephant Bar and managed to make it light and spacious (with a patio!). Perfectly shucked bivalves await hungry diners, as workers are busy "over waist-high mounds of ice. They're what first grabs your attention" Parking can be a drag sometimes. Thankfully, they not only take online reservations, but are open late. 14346 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 748-3979; www.emcseafood.com.
The Oyster Bar SKC
Related to, but not to be confused with Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking, this recently opened destination is at ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center). If that doesn't ring a bell, drive towards Honda Center and look for the massive structure with a Lite-Brite shell. Within a building that screams flash mob/photo shoot/TV location, you'll find DJs spinning Friday and Saturday nights. The kettle bar is separate from the oyster bar, which is separate from the drinking bar— telling us there's lots of room to move about and get social. 2626 E. Katella Ave., Ste. 206, Anaheim, (714) 602-7994; www.theoysterbarskc.com
Santa Monica Seafood
This OG cafe is OC's sole outpost of the popular seafood provider to many local restaurants. With knowledgeable staff to guide you with purchases, linger for lunch or dinner in their modest cafe and dine on some of the freshest options available. Dabble with their classic cocktail sauce over Kumamotos and Fanny Bays. Or throw back a drunken shooter using Ku Soju—whatever floats your proverbial boat. 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-0274; www.smseafoodmarket.com
Shuck Oyster Bar
An early contender in this category, Leonard Chan's concept set the bar for its successors. Offering a flat $3 per oyster, you can't help but try a few. While they only possess a beer/wine license, that doesn't stop them from having a loyal following. We are also partial to the classic grilled cheese and shrimp Caesar. And when you're done, browse SoCo's home stores as well as the rest of The OC Mix. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 420-0478; www.shuckoysterbar.com.
TAPS Fish House & Brewery
Mosey over to a dedicated oyster bar for some up-close-and-personal action. During Happy Hour, order a quartet with their Atomic horseradish. You can also save your cravings for the notorious Sunday brunch, indulging on as many on the half shell as possible. The choice is yours. Note: They've partnered with aforementioned Santa Monica Seafood as a preferred vendor. Find your nearest TAPS at www.tapsfishhouse.com.
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Boasting square footage above 17,000, the South Coast Metro branch of this chain includes an outdoor bar, indoor bar and oyster bar. If impressive restaurant scene is what you're looking for, search no further. This is quickly becoming the default for pre-theater dining. And when you consider that their private seafood distribution center is only a few miles away, seafood is guaranteed to be fresh and of the highest quality. Check out our interview with their chef in our weekly On the Line column. 3300 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (949) 208-7060; www.watergrill.com
Ways & Means Oyster House
Situated with the greatest view since moving from Orange to Huntington Beach, former Chef Justin Odegard admitted the kitchen is a tough place to be on a sunny day. Oysters may be in the name, but their expansive small plates menu is perfect for sharing. Their annual oyster eating contest and fundraiser during winter is quite the spectacle. Patio dining is your best bet on an easy, breezy afternoon. 21022 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-4300; www.wmoysters.com.