There is something to be said about a nearly 150-year-old restaurant in any city, as being able to survive the test of time is something only a few businesses ever accomplish.
In Pittsburgh, this distinction falls on the Original Oyster House, which is the oldest bar and restaurant in the city and is also recognized historic landmark. With such a reputation preceding it, we went in with great expectations.
The Original Oyster House is Straight Out of the History Books
In a way, entering the Original Oyster House is like taking a step back in time. Apart from a few modern touches like a couple of TVs on the walls and updated equipment, the design and ambiance of the restaurant is of one that hasn't changed very much over the years.
The primary fixture is the long counter that stretches the entire length of the restaurant, and the walls are adorned with memorabilia that have been picked up slowly over the generations. This restaurant resembles any oyster and seafood bar you'd stumble-upon near the ocean, making its location in Market Square all the more unusual. (But keeping in mind that this is the oldest restaurant of the city, I'd like to believe that they cornered the market with their style first and all of the other places ruined it with more modern designs and offerings.)
Suffice it to say, in the 21st century this one is very out of place, but is a welcomed change of pace.
The Menu Contains a Lot of Fried Seafood
It is worth noting that the majority of the menu at the Original Oyster House contains fried seafood. If you're looking for a fresh cut of fish or a large tray of raw oysters, this is probably not the place to go. But if you are more than open to an array of lightly breaded and fried options, this one sure won't disappoint.
On our visit we decided to hold out on the famous sandwiches and instead go with the seafood platters, namely the Key West oysters and the crab cakes in order to get a feel for the restaurant's straight seafood offering.
The Key West Oyster platter came with four fried oysters and two sides, also fried, for about $12. The oyster batter was not overpowering, and the meal lives up to its famous reputation. Depending on how much you add on with sauces, this one gets over powered quite rapidly so it is best to stick with just a little hot sauce and enjoy it the way it is delivered.
The crab cakes were on par with what you'd expect to find at other seafood restaurants, with a good portion of crab and a decent batter holding it altogether. The two crab cakes are fairly small, but considering the order is roughly $9 with two sides, you won't find those prices anywhere else in the city- at least not anywhere remotely near Market Square.
Overall, the Original Oyster House is not going to blow you away with their food. You can easily find more gourmet (and non-fried) seafood offerings in the city, but that is not the point.
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The charm of the Original Oyster House comes from the fact that the food is cheap, history is all around you, and they are very good at what they do- even if it is a limited menu of mostly fried items. If you fall into the category wanting that as a dining experience, you should arrange a visit in the very near future. Even if you don't, this one is worth visiting for the history alone.
Now we just have to get back to try one of their famous fish sandwiches.
The Original Oyster House is located at 20 Market Square.
For more things to do downtown, why not head to Point State Park, catch a show at Heinz Hall, or do a Pittsburgh gallery crawl! Or, for more reviews of Pittsburgh restaurants, click the previous link to be taken to our directory of every review on Discover the Burgh!