Out Whiskey Road 500 meters south of the famous seafood shack known as Local’s (and also known as Harry’s), Aiken Fish House offers a very different kind of seafood eating experience.
There’s no graffiti on those dining room walls. In the kiosks and at the tables, patrons are surrounded by tasteful nautical trinkets and cute pictures of fish. The restaurant is well lit and the service is deferential. Single diners find a seat at a counter where the main activity is eating, not drinking. (But there is a full bar.)
The full name is Aiken Fish House and Oyster Bar. Oriental Chesapeake Bay oysters are dandy when simply opened and served raw in their half-shells on ice. They are clean and creamy, but contain enough sea zest to draw attention to the taste buds.
Raw oysters may quell a craving but may not satisfy an appetite. A more substantial way to grill them over charcoal, which in this case means covering them with melted cheese and a confetti of chili strips. It’s a hearty dish and full of flavors, but the taste buds have trouble discerning the subtle oyster under its tasty envelope.
Beyond oysters, Aiken Fish House offers a wide variety of seafood in baskets and on trays, in po’ boy sandwiches and tacos.
Available fish are listed with helpful descriptions such as “lean and firm in texture” (snapper), “mild and slightly sweet in taste” (flounder), and “large, moist flakes” (mahi mahi).
You can choose to have your fish grilled, blackened or fried. Grilling is almost always preferable. Darkening has the ability to anchor itself in moisture; but the charred herbs and spices on a trigger fish order suck the life out of the delicate fillets. Catfish and flounder thrive in Aiken Fish House’s clean frying oil. A fried seafood platter for two offers you oysters, shrimp, strips of clams and flatfish.
If you don’t want to decide how the kitchen should cook your fish of choice, the menu offers dishes such as shrimp and grits, fish and chips, and a Low Country boil. A preparation called Citrus Grilled Salmon macerates the velvety pink flesh in a lemon-dill sauce.
Diners who don’t like fish can opt for a half-pound burger, a striploin or a salad, possibly topped with fried, grilled or blackened chicken.
Side dishes range from mighty green cabbage with bacon and fluffy mac and cheese to dark red beans and rice so weak it’s hard to tell the beans from the leftover sausage. You won’t go wrong with staple meal companions like a baked potato, steamed broccoli, or cheese grits. Pay an extra dollar for the sweet potato fries that come with Marshmallow Fluff for dipping.
When it opened in 2019, Aiken Fish House quickly became a favorite in town. I have seen the same people eating here on several visits. A big part of the restaurant’s appeal is a tireless staff who go about business with enthusiasm and joy. My wife Whitney and I love waitress Champayne, a hot soul who wants to know where we went when she hasn’t seen us in a while.
Aiken Fish House: 1376 Whiskey Road, Aiken. 803-226-0260. https://www.aikenfishhouse.com/