A summer guide to Austin's best seafood restaurants
June, July and August are invariably the hottest months of the year — yet arguably the most enjoyable (just ask anyone under the age of 10). Life gets fun and casual, from the clothes we wear and the schedules we keep (or don’t) to the activities we do and the food we eat. Jeans and a cozy sweater? Not a chance. Pot roast with potatoes? Not likely. Summertime is all about light and fresh, especially when it comes to cooking — and eating. Instead of steak, we go for mahi mahi, grilled shrimp and oysters.
But what about those oysters? Are they safe to eat during the summer months? According to restaurateur Tyson Cole, the owner of Uchi and Uchiko, water temperature plays a big role. During the summer when the ocean temperatures rise, oysters tend to spawn and reproduce. Historically, oysters weren’t harvested during this time. “These days most places that sell quality oysters are buying them from folks who know how to grow and harvest them most of the year,” he said. Cole said he gets most of his oysters through Browne Trading Company or a Japanese distributor. “They are smaller, more petite types like Kushi and Kumamoto that pair well with our food and white wines and sakes.”
So how do you know if your seafood, beyond oysters, is fresh? “Seafood should smell of the ocean and have a sweet aroma of salt,” explained Cole. “Look for clear eyes, firm flesh and red gills. All types of seafood are different and some actually are best aged. Tuna, for example, is best eaten three to four days after being caught.”
“The freshest and best seafood will always be at the places that are the busiest and sell the most — they 'turnover' all their product the quickest,” he said, providing a rather fail-proof method for seafood shopping and dining.
Here’s a sampling of the top restaurants in Austin sure to have that fresh, salt water smell.
Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar
If you nab a spot on the huge canopy-shaded deck, consider yourself extremely lucky. A table at this happening hangout is hard to come by. Wait for it. Get started with half a dozen Fancy Sweets on the half shell or a dozen of the Shigoku before digging into the Pan Roasted Alaskan Halibut Cheeks or the Oak Grilled Alaskan Halibut Collar.
1400 South Congress Avenue, 512-291-7300, perlasaustin.com/
Quality Seafood Market
Feel like grilling? Stop in at this wholesale/retail spot on Airport Boulevard that has been selling ultra-fresh seafood since 1938. Not only does this purveyor post daily seafood arrivals on its Facebook page but also filets fish in-house (you know it is fresh). The on-site restaurant serves some of the best the Gulf of Mexico has to offer, from Blackened Black Drum to Peel ’n’ Eat Shrimp. Wash it all down with a cold beer.
5621 Airport Boulevard, 512-454-5827, qualityseafood.wordpress.com/
We prefer to sit at the bar at this South Austin spot that transformed the dining scene in Austin and turned 10 this year. That’s where you can see the sushi chefs build beautiful plates of fresh nibbles. We tend to let the masters recommend and deliver — they create a daily menu — but some of our favorites include the Uchiviche (salmon, striped bass, tomato, bell pepper, garlic and cilantro) and the Machi Cure (smoked baby yellowtail, yucca crisp, Asian pear, Marcona almonds and garlic brittle). From the hot plates, we gravitate toward the Hamachi (Nabe baby yellowtail, Koshi Hikari rice, farm egg and soy broth).
801 South Lamar, 512-916-4808, uchiaustin.com/uchi
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood
There was a time when this posh downtown spot was the only place to get good fresh seafood in Austin. We think Eddie V’s still has it going on. Half a dozen Louisiana oysters with mignonette sauces and lemon make for a great beginning — and it only gets better. The jumbo lump crab cake — packed full with meat — comes sautéed Maryland style with spicy chive remoulade, and the Chilean Sea Bass is steamed Hong Kong style with light soy broth.
301 East Fifth Street, 512-472-1860,eddiev.com/
Clark’s Oyster Bar
This newish venture by restaurateur Larry McGuire is the little brother to Perla’s. Nestled along West Sixth Street, the smartly-designed space features clean lines and a straightforward menu. Start with a Beausoleil oyster from New Brunswick or a Shigoku from Washington (note: the curated selection is priced per mollusk) before treating yourself to one of the sustainable caviars, such as Golden Russian Osetra (Bulgaria) or Northern Divine Organic Sturgeon (British Columbia). If you still need a little something, try the Mussels and Clams in White Wine and Herbs.
1200 West Sixth Street, 512-297-2525, clarksoysterbar.com/
Pacific Star Seafood and Oyster Bar
This place is off the grid (if you live central or south), but if you are hankering for fresh seafood in a no-frills-hang-loose kind of joint (read: not over-the-credit-line expensive), make the road trip. Kick back with a beer and dig into one of our favorites, the Shrimp and Oyster Cocktail with pico de gallo and avocado. For entrées, we like the Fried Gulf Oysters or the Stuffed Whole Flounder or the Crawfish Pirogue or the . . .
13507 North 183 (Highway 183 at Anderson Mill Road), 512-219-5373, pacificstarfood.com/
At the city’s first gastro pub, a minimal space situated on East Sixth Street, inquire about the oysters and champagne (renowned at this spot owned by über chef Shawn Cirkiel). Then do yourself a favor and select something from the raw bar. We recommend the Bass with lime, chili and avocado or the Kampachi with blood orange, ginger and chili paste. Then settle in with more oysters. Sample a few, including the Rappahannock (Virginia), the Gigamoto (British Columbia), the Shiny Seas (Prince Edward Island), and the Umami (Rhode Island). Seared Dayboat Scallops with white gazpacho or Branzini with grilled octopus always impress.
301 East Sixth Street, 512-474-9898, parkside-austin.com/