When we visited Seattle a little over a year ago, there were oysters and seafood establishments all over. This seaside city is immersed in the culture of fish food/food fish as it is a city defined by being on the water. New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. have a similar feeling, shellfish and other sealife almost defining large portions of cuisine because, like Seattle, they are all near-coastal cities. Los Angeles is a coastal city. Does it have a huge seafood culture? Not really. Unless you are in Santa Monica or other beach ‘hoods, you aren’t faced with seafood options. Moreover, even those neighborhoods don’t really embrace it all that much either. Within the past year, likely since the opening of Son of a Gun, seafood and oysters have infiltrated Los Angeles and popped onto various menus. Perhaps it is simply a competitive response to chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of SoaG or perhaps it is Los Angeles food getting even more localized by way of the ocean–we don’t know. What is know is that oysters and seafood have definitely become trendy.
We are aware that this article is a few months late and a little on the nose, sure. Be that as it may, last week while at a dinner at Sunset’s The Mercantile, a little sandwich board stated that they “now carried oysters.” This got us thinking that even though the trend has “arrived” it still very much is still infiltrating our foodie culture. There are a few different types of seafood/oyster establishments. Let’s breakdown what they are and how they fit into this new trend world.
The Old Standbys
This is a group of restaurants that have been around for years and, although not defining Los Angeles culinary landscape, have been pushing seafood for some time. Now that it’s a “trend,” they’ve started to get a little more attention beyond being their normal, cool selves. When people have a seafood itch outside of cool places, they turn to these locations.
• Musso & Frank: This old Hollywood restaurant has been carrying a fairly large, classic, sophisticated selection of seafood for decades, likely since it opened in 1919. Now they carry raw oysters, stewed or fried oysters, swordfish, trout, a shrimp sauce poulette, smelts, sole, and more.
• Malibu Seafood: This has to be the best beach comfort food in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s a drive North on the PCH and, yes, there is an inevitable long line to grab a bite. It’s not fancy, the food is simple, but you will get your seafood craving fulfilled–and then some.
• The Lobster: Everyone has driven past this Santa Monica landmark, eyeing its bright red signage as it leads to the boardwalk. The Lobster carries all sorts of seafood and is probably the most classic seafood spot in the city. It can be a little pricey and a little crowded, though.
• Best Fish Taco In Ensenada: This place defines fish tacos in Los Angeles. It’s not necessarily a seafood place in the traditional sense; however, we’ve included it because they really are the best fish tacos in LA.
• Water Grill: This Downtown restaurant has been on our list of places to go for what seems like forever. Like The Lobster, it is very serious about its seafood, almost to a point that it’s intimidating. They’re known for having a huge raw bar and equally as huge entree selection.
The Modern Classicists
This group of restaurants are the newcomers to seafood in Los Angeles and represent a modern take on this area of cuisine. Some are a little more hardcore on fish than others; however, they each are very much wearing their fishiness on their sleeve.
• Son of a Gun: We won’t say much about this spot. They started this trend! They made seafood cool in LA! They basically slapped us all with a big, “DUH: FISH.” and are laughing their way to the bank. Good for them!
• The Hungry Cat: Suzanne Goin’s casual fish place has been around for a few years, yes. What it does that the old standbys don’t is brings some modernity to her take on seafood. It’s very casual, always delicious, and often a little steep on the wallet. This is likely the best place in town for oysters.
• Township: This Bowery Street restaurant opened with huge talk of seafood and an impressive oyster menu. We’ve been here a few times and, admittedly, it’s a bit douchey if you stop in the night of a sports game. They do have decent food and very, very good drinks.
• L&E Oyster Bar: L&E was likely the restaurant that took what Son of a Gun did and distilled it down to why people were creaming over it: oysters. Thus, they set up shop all around those little seafood critters and have been a success since. We still have yet to visit.
• Black Hogg: Like L&E, this place carries a good amount of oysters to go with their fairly non-fishy menu. Admittedly, this addition is a bit of a stretch; however, they have a tiny small bite selection and oysters three out of the handful you can choose from.
A few places have noticed this trend and have added oysters occasionally onto their menu to make for special occasions and/or to ride the trend wave. This is fine because, duh, oysters and seafood are great additions to any occasion.
• The Mercantile: As mentioned earlier, this restaurant has jumped on the bandwagon and inspired this article. Thank you, Merc’!
• Pour Vous: This Melrose cocktail lounge has very recently added oyster service to their culinary repertoire. Oysters and cocktails: is there a better match?
• Chaya: This little chain’s Venice location had an Oyster Fair earlier this year. What is more oyster celebratory than an “Oyster Fair”?
• BLD: This is one of our favorite brunch stops, yes. It’s also had a few oyster specials in the past months: as a part of Beer Week last year, the restaurant offered a beer and oyster special; for Valentine’s Day this year, they offered oysters as a part of their romantic special.
These restaurants are places that are now bubbling up in the wake of this trend, either clarifying, pushing, or killing the trend. Nevertheless, we’re glad to see seafood spreading beyond little stands and stops next to the ocean.
• Connie & Ted’s: Taking over Santa Monica’s Silver Spoon is Connie & Ted’s, a concept from Michael Cimarusti of Providence. The place is not set to open until later this year and very well may be the new seafood joint to tap.
• Vegas Seafood Buffet: This place is likely going to be a wormhole of seafood sin literally underneath Hollywood Blvd. It opens very soon and will either be the best or the worst thing coming to the Los Angeles seafood trend. The restaurant comes from Glendale and brings their seafood to the main stage, tucked underneath the Knitting Factory at the end of the Hollywood strip.
• Malibu Fish Grill: Filling the old California Pizza Kitchen at Sunset and Crescent Heights, this chain seafood establishment is either going to be more of the same OK food in the complex or will slightly elevate it above the very common food stylings of Sushi Dan. Regardless, like Vegas Seafood Buffet, we are very intrigued to see how this affects the seafood landscape in Los Angeles (if it even affects it at all…).
Atop of all of these trend contributors, there are tons of old, established seafood and oyster vendors in addition lots of new ones. Which are your favorite? Who is doing the most interesting things with seafood? Where is this trend headed? Let us know in the comments!