10 Must-Try Oysters in Boston

By Scott Kearnan  |  February 24, 2014

So many shells, so little time. Oyster varieties are plentiful in seafood-loving Boston, so varied that it's sometimes hard to know what to order - a Row 34 or a French Kiss? A South Bay Blonde or a Basket Island? To help you navigate the world of raw oysters, we pulled together this primer on some of our local favorites - with tasting notes, pairing tips and, of course, where to buy. Read on for our entire oyster top 10. 

  • The Oyster: Island Creek 
    Where to Find It: Island Creek Oyster Bar
    The Backstory: Island Creek Oysters Farm founder Skip Bennett planted his first oysters in Duxbury Bay in 1992, and started off by selling them out of the back of a pickup truck. Fast forward two decades: Bennett and his team make up one of America's largest oyster companies - and certainly one of the most locally beloved. Island Creeks have become somewhat ubiquitous at finer raw bars, but nothing is better than slurping some down at Island Creek's Kenmore Square restaurant. 
    The Flavor: "Buttery and mossy with a toothy bite," says Bennett. “It’s something to sink your teeth into.” Island Creek encourages folks to eat them naked or with a splash of lemon to let the brine-y goodness shine.
    Pair It With: Keep it in the family, of course. ICOB general manager and beverage director Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli recommends pairing it with The ICOB & Banshee Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, CA, a collaboration between the restaurant and the West Coast winery. 

  • The Oyster: Row 34
    Where to Find It: Row 34
    The Backstory: Merroir affects the flavor of oysters just as terroir impacts the taste of wine. In the name of innovation, Island Creek's Bennett started letting some of his oysters mature in numbered racks off the bay floor; Row 34 is where the tweaked approach started. Thus was born a new variety, plus an eponymous restaurant in Fort Point that serves as a more casual sibling to ICOB. 
    The Flavor: A counterpoint to Island Creek's buttery smoothness, Row 34 oysters have a nutty, umami-filled flavor.
    Pair It With: Beer director Megan Parker-Gray suggests pairing it with Gueuze Tilquin, a funky, oak-y and lightly fruity Belgian beer.

  • The Oyster: French Kiss
    Where to Find It: Legal Sea Foods
    The Backstory: These lovely little shellfish are harvested from the same chilly New Brunswick waters as Beau Soleils, which are celebrated for fabulous flavor but are often somewhat tiny. The French Kiss oysters are allowed to mature for a longer period of time, resulting in a plumper, meatier version of the sunny but small Soleils. 
    The Flavor: Well-rounded salinity with a full, creamy body of meat that you just want to smooch. 
    Pair It With: According to Sandy Block, Legal's VP of beverage operations and master of wine, you'll want to pair the French Kiss with a lip-smacking glass of Marquis de Goulaine “Le Puy Ferrand” Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lies (Loire) 2012. The creamy mouthfeel and slight citrus puckers it up perfectly. 

  • The Oyster: Basket Island
    Where to Find It: BRINE
    The Backstory: These delicious picks are harvested by a family-owned company out of Casco Bay, Maine, and find themselves among the many fab offerings at Newburyport's BRINE oyster bar. Try them during March's "Shucking Madness," a "March Madness"-inspired promotion that will allow diners to buy a $45 pass that scores slurping access to bracketed flights of competing oysters; at the end, a 2014 winner will be announced. (More details will be posted here.) 
    The Flavor: Bright and vibrant brininess, especially when paired with a pinch of a housemade condiment from chef Corey Marcoux - in particular, the Sauce Louis of Brandy reduction, scallion, green chiles and aïoli. 
    Pair It With: A dirty martini, says beverage director Brett Henderson. The brininess of the cocktail compliments that quality in the oyster.

  • The Oyster: Tatamagouche
    Where to Find It: Pier 6
    The Backstory: These sandy-colored, shoehorn-shaped oysters grow wild in a small fishing village on the Northumberland Straits of Nova Scotia. Growing in popularity, but still a bit under the radar, you'll find them often at Charlestown's glossy Pier 6.  
    The Flavor: Lots of body, a little nutty and medium brine. That's a nice change of pace from the high brininess that usually accompanies North Atlantic oysters, says chef Greg Reeves.
    Pair It With: Oysters don't always demand the royal beverage treatment; after all, despite their current reputation as the app of the elite, they were once regarded as a workingman's food. These wild Tatamagouche go great with a Miller High Life. "That 'Champagne of Beers' is light in body and color and goes great with oysters," says Reeves.

  • The Oyster: South Bay Blonde
    Where to Find It: Jasper White's Summer Shack
    The Backstory: Raised on the bay floor of Cape Cod, these oysters tend to come in deep-cupped shells. They're exclusive to an oyster farm run by the Suddard family, which harvests them in the waters of Onset on the oldest continually running aquaculture grant in the state. And they're a signature selection at Summer Shack, which also pairs them with tuna as sashimi. But here's a new reason to head over and slurp them solo: the Cambridge location just finished a nice renovation that added a massive, 30-seat oyster bar.  
    The Flavor: A bit sweet and a little briny, with hints of butter, celery and eelgrass. 
    Pair It With: The sweetness calls out for the counterpoint of a slightly hoppy craft brew, and we'd opt for a pairing with Peak Organic. 

  • The Oyster: Blue Point
    Where to Find It: Union Oyster House
    The Backstory: One of the more common finds of East Coast raw bars, these medium-sized oysters come from the waters of Long Island Sound - and are known to spark the occasional brouhaha between harvesters over exact geographic boundaries. They're a staple find at Union Oyster House, the country's oldest continuously operating restaurant. 
    The Flavor: A firm texture and crisp, sparkling salinity. 
    Pair It With: A classic deserves a classic. A French white like Malinge Sauvignon Blanc is a good fit; on the other hand, so is the light, berry nose of a Houchart Provence Rose. 

  • The Oyster: Snow's Cove 
    Where to Find It: Skipjack's
    The Backstory: They're sometimes referred to as Bagaduce Oysters, after the reversing river in Brooksville, Maine, that flows to the cove where they grow. They're grown in floating bags to fully catch the rays of the sun, resulting in an especially hard shell. They're also considered unusually consistent in size and shape for large (3 to 4 in.) oysters. 
    The Flavor: High salinity and firm meat that calls to mind exceptionally clean, cold waters. 
    Pair It With: The crispness demands a tall glass of bubbly, so we recommend ordering the half-bottle of Deutz Brut for half dozen of these babies. 

  • The Oyster: Hama Hama
    Where to Find It: Commonwealth
    The Backstory: These come from a five-generation family-owned harvesting business at the mouth of the Hama Hama River on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. These are slow-growers, usually taking about twice as long as "average" to reach market size. 
    The Flavor: Good things come to those who wait, apparently. Hama Hamas are clean and crisp with pleasant mineral and fruity qualities. 
    Pair It With: Sauvignon Blanc. Like many Pacific Northwest oysters, these often have slight whispers of melon or cucumber that work nicely with the citrus of the wine. 

  • Credit: JP's Shellfish

    The Oyster: Katama Bay
    Where to Find It: Atlantic Fish 
    The Backstory: Harvested off the sandy shores off Martha's Vineyard's east coast. Their limited supply and high demand makes them a "boutique" oyster (isn't everything boutique on The Vineyard?) and are known for super-clean shells since they're cultivated in racks and bags off the ocean floor. 
    The Flavor: Think plump with high brine and a smooth, sweet-cream finish. 
    Pair It With: Goes well with a sparkling rosé wine - and not just because that's the vino version of a Lilly Pulitzer accessory, we promise.