Boston, MA - Cheap oysters? Do you get what you pay for? We’ll review both the myths and misconceptions and tell you about some of the best places in Boston and beyond to indulge in this summer.
Of all the lore surrounding the oyster—from its extravagant aphrodisiac qualities to the dictum that they should only be consumed in months containing the letter ‘R’—perhaps none is more enduring prohibition that $1 offerings simply aren’t worth your time. Along with the rule that fish and shellfish in particular should never be ordered on a Tuesday (and there may indeed be some minor precedence for that warning,) the general consensus is that $1 oysters are at best bland and tasteless; and at worst… well, it’s better not to think about it.
So is it all just simply an old wives’ tale? “Absolutely,” says Jane, a kitchen manager at a local seafood restaurant who would prefer to go unnamed. “During the summer, when we’re at our peak business, we typically place orders from distributors every two days. We insist upon receipts stating all orders have been harvested no later than the past 36 hours. Your average oyster is actually pretty hearty—7 days after being harvested. The key is storing them properly. It’s pretty easy to tell a bad oyster from a good one. No restaurant would be stupid enough to run that risk.”
So why the proliferation of $1 oyster happy hours? “A lot of it has to do with competition. You know that old saying… One’s a breakthrough, three’s a trend? Unfortunately in this business, trends are our livelihood. Truth is, no restaurant is going to survive off $1 oyster nights alone. Basically, they’re teasers. A good restaurant better make sure they have something else that can separate them apart.”
So, is there any risk in eating $1 oysters? “Of course. The slightest shellfish allergy? Don’t even think about it. But, that’s just common sense. To be honest with you, I’d be more concerned with drunk patrons and filthy conditions than I would with a $1 oyster.”
And with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best spots Boston had to offer.
1.) Les Zygomates
This long-standing French bistro has been an institution in the Financial District for almost twenty five years. Featuring live jazz and an extensive wine list, this is probably one of the more romantic choices to indulge in mollusc love cheaply. Be forewarned, however; not only is this place generally packed Thursday - Sunday nights, their regular entrees are nowhere near as affordably priced.
$1 oysters available Monday-Friday, 3 p.m.-7 p.m., 129 South St, Boston winebar129.com
An even more venerable establishment than Les Zygomates, Marliave has proudly boasted of being the longest chef-owned restaurant in Boston since 1885. Serving both traditional Italian and French entrees in an elegant yet entirely non-pretentious atmosphere, dinner at Marliave is a vintage trip in time.
$1 oysters and littleneck clams available daily 4 p.m.-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.-10 p.m, 10 Bosworth St, Boston marliave.com
3.) Warren Tavern
If French cuisine isn’t to your liking, the Warren Tavern offers traditional and affordable cuisine in a low key atmosphere. With a rich history dating back to 1780 (regular patrons have included George Washington and Paul Revere) and within walking district of several historical sites, the Warren Tavern is ideal for tourists and students alike.
$1 oysters available Wednesday-Thursday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m., 2 Pleasant St, Charlestown warrentavern.com
4.) Barracuda Tavern
An extensive beer list and low-key atmosphere make this recently opened Downtown Crossing spot ideal for casual dining. A brick and mortar location of their popular food trucks, Barracuda Tavern offers moderately priced, Key West-influenced entrees. Oysters are available for $0.75 Sunday-Monday and $1.50 on Tuesdays and Saturdays all day. Yes, that’s right; all day.
$1 oysters available Monday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Tuesday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.-12 a.m.; 15 Bosworth St, Boston barracudatavern.com
5.) Ginger Exchange
A casual Asian fusion location catering to students, Ginger Exchange has quickly become known for substantial entrees at extremely low prices. While the atmosphere may be entirely no frills, the food is anything but. Located in the Inman Square section of Cambridge, there’s a $6 drink minimum for happy hour; but no limit to the amount of the amount of oysters you can consume.
*$1 oysters available Thursdays only, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., 250 Huntington Ave, Cambridge gingerexchange.com
6.) Monument Tavern & Restaurant
A diverse and eclectic menu (including an interesting riff on paella) are the hallmarks of this basic, if crowded, casual choice. Located in historic Charlestown, the Monument features a rotating beer list and signature cocktails.
$1 oysters available Mondays only, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., 251 Main St, Charlestown monumentcharlestown.com
7.) The Independent
Union Square may seem out of the way; but don’t let Somerville confuse you. The Independent is a lively, neighborhood restaurant with plenty of casual but unique items to choose from and numerous themed nights. Kids eat free Sundays-Thursdays between 4:30-6:30. Be forewarned to avoid Thursday nights unless you are one of the few people foolhardy enough or lacking in standards to suffer through karaoke.
$1 oysters available Mondays only, 4 p.m.-1 a.m., 75 Union Square, Somerville theindo.com
8.) La Brasa
With a constantly rotating, farm-to-table menu, La Brasa offers Mexican-American fusion with a focus on wood-grilled entrees. An extensive spirits list allows for plenty of bar choices; and if the menu seems eclectic, it’s also worth splurging for something new.
$1 oysters available daily, 5 p.m.-6 p.m., 124 Broadway, Somerville labrasasomerville.com