It's hard to pinpoint exactly when, but a few years ago it felt like everyone in Chicago collectively agreed that they loved oysters and would like to eat more of them. So though we are far from either coast, almost every new restaurant touts its fresh oyster program, leaving us no choice but to eat as many of the bivalves as we possibly can. You'd think that there wouldn't be much difference between the places, that all a restaurant had to do was source the best oysters and serve them simply. But that's not the case. They may be served raw, but oysters require constant care and attention, and the best places we found dedicate serious resources to doing things right.
Freshness is key. We've found that the places that serve the most oysters tend to serve the best ones, probably because the stock never sits around for long. But there are other factors. Of course, we admire a good cocktail sauce, even if we don't always use it. But let us take a moment to celebrate the oyster shucker. This man or woman must open dozens of oysters as quickly as possible, all without cracking the shell and leaving shrapnel scattered around. Nothing disrupts an oyster experience like picking out shell fragments from your tongue. It takes talent to do this well.
Thanks to better harvesting and transportation techniques, the old rule that you should only eat raw oysters in months ending in "r" isn't true anymore, but we decided anyway to wait until the beginning of September to really indulge. Here are some of our favorite places to score fresh oysters in Chicago. Of course, there are a number of places that just opened, which we haven't gotten the chance to properly check in with (we're looking at you Bavette's Bar & Boeuf). If we overlooked one of your favorite places, definitely let us know. Otherwise, click on the slideshow to check them all out, or visit them individually below.
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