In Louisiana, we consider ourselves fortunate to have such a rich bounty of fresh seafood available to us from the fertile waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Of the many species that call our waters home, oysters are some of the most adored mollusks in the state due to their accessibility, as well as a unique flavor and texture.
Gulf oysters taste different than those of Atlantic and Pacific origins. Whereas Atlantic oysters are often saltier and Pacific oysters are sweeter, Gulf oysters tend to have an earthy flavor and meaty texture, making them ideal for eating in a wide variety of ways.
Whether shucked and served on the half shell atop a bed of ice, broiled to perfection with cheese, garlic, and butter, or fried and stuffed into a po’ boy, there are endless ways to enjoy Louisiana oysters. While Bayou State waters consistently produce a bounty of the precious bivalves throughout the year, the cooler months are the peak time to enjoy them in all their glory.
In celebration of one the state’s most cherished aquacultural gems, we’ve rounded up the best and most creative oyster dishes throughout the state. Here are some of our favorite spots to satisfy our oyster cravings.
MAKE MINE A PO’ BOY
In Mid-City New Orleans, Christy and Justin Pitard have been dishing out New Orleans-style comfort food with a twist since 2012 at Avery’s on Tulane, a casual restaurant known for its overstuffed po’ boys and plate lunches.
At Avery’s, Christy and Justin are committed to using certified Louisiana wild seafood, including the fresh oysters they use on their Oysters Rockefeller Po’ boy. The sandwich features fried-to-order oysters topped with Oyster Rockefeller Dip on grilled Leidenheimer French bread.
“I like it better than the dip because you get that crunch from the fried oysters,” Christy says. Justin adds, “The texture of that po’ boy is just fantastic.”
With other scratch-made offerings like Buffalo Shrimp Po’ boys, Oyster Rockefeller Dip, and Fried Potato Salad, it’s easy to see why this neighborhood eatery has become a lunchtime favorite.
TWICE AS NICE
Inside a 19th-century Creole townhouse in New Orleans’ Central Business District, Chef Justin Devillier’s latest venture, Balise, puts a playful, modern twist on classic tavern dishes. “If it doesn’t come across as familiar when you’re reading the menu, it will when you’re eating it,” Justin says.
Although the menu is updated seasonally, the Fried Smoked Oysters have become a mainstay. With each menu, the oysters are paired with new components, like frisée, hard-boiled egg yolk, ghost pepper caviar, and dill buttermilk dressing.
“We cold smoke them in olive oil. The oil picks up the smoke flavor, and the oysters sit in that olive oil and really get smoky. Then we dredge them in cornmeal and fry them to order,” says Chef de Cuisine Paul DiMaria.
After enjoying the delectable appetizer, diners often enjoy dishes like beef cheek rigatoni and cornmeal-fried drum.
SURF & TURF
At The French Press in Lafayette, Chef Justin Girouard’s breakfast and lunch menus give diners a taste of authentic Cajun flavors in exciting new ways. He and his wife, Margaret, wanted to honor their Acadiana roots by incorporating familiar ingredients as elements of dishes.
“We don’t just serve a link of boudin; we use boudin as a component of a dish,” Justin says. “As the menu was written, we kept our heritage in mind, but at the same time, we created new dishes that are unique to The French Press,” Justin says.
A shining example of this philosophy is the Cajun Surf & Turf sandwich, which features fried Gulf oysters and a grilled boudin patty topped with herbed aioli, melted Gruyère, house-made pickles, and arugula on a toasted brioche bun.
Customers can also add fried oysters to dishes like Grits & Grillades or The French Press’ signature Cajun Benedict.
Nestled in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, Pêche Seafood Grill focuses on sourcing fresh Gulf seafood and preparing it simply in an open hearth, letting the quality of the seafood speak for itself. In addition to rustic dishes like the signature Whole Grilled Fish with salsa verde, Pêche offers a fantastic selection of raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico.
“When we opened Pêche, we wanted oysters to be a big part of the experience,” says Chef Ryan Prewitt, who is committed to finding delicious, high-quality oysters from the Gulf.
Pêche’s raw oyster bar offers two varieties from Grand Isle and two from Alabama, as well as bottom-raised oysters. “That gives our customers a great variety from the Gulf,” Ryan says. “I always encourage people to taste them all. There’s no better way to experience the regional differences of Gulf oysters.”
SHELLS WITH A VIEW
Middendorf ’s Restaurant has been serving up classic Louisiana seafood dishes in Manchac since 1934, when Josie and Louis Middendorf first opened the restaurant along the waterway between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas. Today, owners Horst and Karen Pfeifer are carrying on Middendorf ’s legacy, with locals and tourists alike flocking to the catfish house about 40 miles outside of New Orleans for a taste of Josie’s original recipes.
While Middendorf ’s is best known for World Famous Original Thin Fried Catfish, its Barbequed Oysters on Half Shell are another mainstay from the seafood-focused menu. The appetizer features six broiled oysters topped with the restaurant’s homemade red barbecue sauce composed of red wine, ketchup, and herbs.
“I like the tanginess of the red wine with the sweetness of the ketchup and then the herbs,” says Horst.
CAJUN MEETS CREOLE
Since 1993, Pujo Street Café has been serving up eclectic dishes with Louisiana flair in Lake Charles. The extensive menu features fresh seafood, steaks, pasta, and sandwiches, with something to please every palate.
Visitors frequently begin their meal with the Oysters Pujo, one of the restaurant’s signature items. “There’s six of them to an order, and they are just the right size,” says owner Dan Schaad.
The appetizer features Gulf oysters that are encrusted with panko and pecans, then flash fried and baked in an escargot dish with a sauce of tasso, smoked gouda, and spinach.
The Oysters Pujo are a prequel to the restaurant’s incredible entrées, which include favorites like the French Quarter-Onion Burger and Chipotle Pepper Linguine. Don’t leave without trying the Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce or Chocolate Mousse Cake.
THE ORIGINAL CHARBROILED
For classic charbroiled oysters, it’s hard to beat the original at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant. The restaurant has been serving Louisiana classics since 1969, when Drago and Klara Cvitanovich opened their first location in Metairie.
Their son, Tommy, was inspired to create the signature dish after wondering how the sauce they used on their Redfish on the Half Shell would taste on oysters grilled over an open fire. “Today, that is the exact same sauce that we used 25 years ago,” Tommy says.
Drago’s tops its oysters with a garlic-butter-herb sauce and a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. “We start with Louisiana oysters, which are the best. You could probably put garlic, butter, parsley, and cheese on just about anything, and it would make it delicious,” Tommy says. “We let them sit there and have their little party in the fire, and when the oyster plumps up a little bit, you can tell it’s done.”
PEARL OF THE CAPITAL
In downtown Baton Rouge, Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar showcases oysters in traditional and eclectic ways. In addition to raw oysters from around the country, the oyster bar offers bivalves cooked up any way you can imagine.
Among Jolie Pearl’s offerings are classic chargrilled oysters as well as oysters topped with corn maque choux, but its Brie and Bacon oyster is the star of the show.
Fresh oysters are baked with a creamy, béchamel-like sauce made of Brie, cream cheese, garlic, shallots, and chopped bacon.
“There’s a perfect combination of salty and sweet. Once you put it in the oven, it gets a good little crust on it,” says operating partner Eric Carnegie.
For a taste of each cooked oyster Jolie Pearl offers, we suggest ordering a sampler, which features a dozen different cooked oysters.