Food & Drink

Where to Find the Best Dungeness Crab Dishes in the Bay

Published On 12/22/2016 Published On 12/22/2016
Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
Courtesy of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

Crabby seafood fans in the Bay Area can rejoice and get cracking, as Dungeness crab is back on the menu after a year-long hiatus. Dungeness crab season was a total washout in 2015, when toxic algae blooms in the Pacific Ocean left the crabs with dangerously high levels of domoic acid in their systems. But the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has declared the Dungeness crabs safe for eating this year, and those delicious little crustaceans are ready to restore a holiday tradition to Bay Area dinner tables.

If you’re looking to catch a case of the crabs (sorry), several standout Bay Area restaurants have a special seasonal Dungeness crab dish to butter you up. While the Dungeness crab season technically lasts until July, the holidays are the height of the crab feed craze. We’ve put together this list of the best Dungeness crab dishes in the Bay Area, including both tidy, delectable gourmet concoctions and the giant piles of whole crab that will inevitably leave your face and table a delicious hot mess.

Flickr/Chris Neuman

Swan Oyster Depot

Nob Hill

The simplest, most classic, most traditional (dating back to 1912) crab feed pig-out place is Swan Oyster Depot, which has been ringing in Dungeness crab season for more than 100 years. This delightfully old-school institution offers a whole crab or half crab served with piles of melted butter, cocktail sauce, and mayonnaise, or a big bag of boiled crab that allows you to avoid the always in-effect line going down the block. It’s a no-frills Dungeness feast that’s considered obligatory among local, and Swan Oyster Depot’s affordable menu ensures you won’t have to shell out too much money.

Anchor Oyster Bar

The Castro

You’ve had shrimp cocktail -- but the crabmeat cocktail at Anchor Oyster Bar will have you clawing for more. Anchor Oyster Bar serves cracked Dungeness crab seasonally, but the crustacean also comes in a Caesar salad, crabmeat salad, and crab cake entree. Just be ready to set your anchor for a while, because there’s always a line out the door at this popular restaurant.

Courtesy of Michael David Rose

Fine & Rare

Civic Center

It behooves us to include a “big ol’ crab sandwich” option here, and this new Civic Center spot prepares its Dungeness crab sandwich with its own fresh brioche rolls packed with a soft boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and giant scoops of locally sourced Dungeness. But be aware Fine & Rare is only open for lunch, or when their cult-hit food truck appears at Off The Grid events.

Courtesy of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

Half Moon Bay

The Dungeness crab in San Francisco does not come from San Francisco -- Dungeness crab fishing is illegal in the San Francisco Bay because the region is considered a breeding and hatching ground. Much of our Dungeness comes from Half Moon Bay, so head straight to the source where the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company serves a Dungeness crab omelette for brunch and for dinner Dungeness crab in garlic, pesto, or cajun varieties.

Foreign Cinema

The Mission

You can get selfish with the shellfish on Foreign Cinema’s brunch and dinner menus, as local Dungeness crab appears on both. But the brunch menu also includes a Dungeness crab frittata with yukon potatoes, chèvre, scallions, and jalapeño, while the dinner menu’s New Bedford sea scallops are piled high with Dungeness crab, cannellini, curly endive, tapenade, lemon gastrique, and winter crisps.

La Toque

La Toque

Napa

Located inside the crazy-opulent Westin Verasa Napa Hotel, La Toque has been distinguished with a Michelin star and a Wine Spectator Grand Award. In other words, this is not a “sneakers and jeans” dinner spot. But it is an exquisite place for dinner, and the nightly tasting menu currently includes a Dungeness crab with apples and matsutake mushrooms served in a savory Kombu broth

MOLLY DECOUDREAUX

Al’s Place

The Mission

Pescatarians put Al’s Place at the the top of their places of choice, and this Valencia St hot spot has a tasting menu that isn't a rip-off. Al’s Dungeness crab dish is offered only on Sundays, but it’s a cracking big bowl of crab legs served with brown butter, nori, and yuzu-fig leaf mayonnaise.

Matt Wronski Photography

Waterbar

The Embarcadero

The Bay Lights are your blinking backdrop to enjoy fresh, Bolinas-sourced Dungeness crab at Waterbar, one of top picture-window view spots to dazzle your out-of-town guests. Their elegant crab dish is a bone marrow chawanmushi (that’s Japanese egg custard) with dashi, torikawa, and Dungeness crab, but they also serve a whole local Dungeness crab from a wood oven with sides of gochujang and kimchee for those who enjoy making a gigantic mess in an otherwise sophisticated setting.

Shakewell

Shakewell

Oakland

Though best known for their octopus hot dog, the celebrated Lake Merritt craft cocktail and gourmet spot Shakewell celebrates the season with a Dungeness crab toast. It’s like a fine-dining version of a Dungeness crab sandwich, prepared elegantly with pain de mie, golden miso-verjus dressing, celeriac, and chervil.

The St. Regis San Francisco

The St. Regis San Francisco Grill

Union Square

The Grill is a new addition to the notoriously posh St. Regis hotel, starting as a pop-up in in early 2016 and garnishing enough rave reviews to be made permanent. Executive Chef Franck Desplechin cracks out a new seasonal menu every month, with this month’s menu featuring a chilled Dungeness crab with celery root mousse, green apple, hazelnut aioli, and orange jelly.

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Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who consumes massive amounts of crab shell thanks to his kindergarten-level skill at removing the tasty meat. You can find his kindergarten-level musings on Twitter at @ExercisingDrunk.

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1. Swan Oyster Depot 1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Russian Hill)

Swan Oyster Depot, open since 1912 in Nob Hill, is a raw fish institution. The seafood is unbelievably fresh, and the menu includes everything from clams, oysters, and Dungeness crab to sashimi platters and sea urchin. The clam chowder, a buttery and briny both made with the day's clams, is awesome, as is the twice-cracked crab. Basically, everything here rocks. The narrow space has only 18 bar seats, and it's a great option for a solo lunch since parties of one can usually bypass the long wait.

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2. Anchor Oyster Bar 579 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114 (The Castro)

When you come to this tiny pearl of an oyster bar in the Castro, the line will likely be long, but the nautical nook's fresh seafood dishes like a fan-favorite clam chowder, crab cakes with house-made tartar, and cracked Dungeness crab are more than worth the wait. Once you're settled with a draft beer or white wine, the real move is to order the cioppino, which isn't always listed on the menu (fear not -- it's available) and is quite literally overflowing with flavor from the shellfish, tomato sauce, and red chili flakes that turn the heat up. One spoonful and you'll be Anchor's loyal follower.

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3. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company 390 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

House-brewed beers and California-inspired plates are cranked out at the laid-back Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. It offers a dog-friendly fire pit and patio overlooking the water, where you can sip craft suds, partake in trivia night, and listen to live bands. Alongside your malty amber ale, you'll want to order one of Half Moon's fresh seafood dishes, such as Baja tacos, prawns & chips, or Dungeness crab in either the garlic, pesto, or cajun variety. (Fun fact: Dungeness crab fishing is illegal in the San Francisco Bay because the region is considered a breeding and hatching ground, so much of SF's Dungeness comes from Half Moon Bay.)

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4. Al's Place 1499 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

Aaron London proves that meat doesn't have to be the main event at his vegetarian- and pescatarian-centric restaurant in the Mission. Al's Place won a Michelin star a year after opening for its menu of truly inventive dishes, like cured trout with potato and smashed turnip and the best poached egg you'll probably ever eat. That the restaurant is reasonably priced -- most dishes hover below $20 -- is all the more reason it's garnered fans from all over San Francisco.

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5. Waterbar 399 Embarcadero, San Francisco, 94105 (Embarcadero)

Waterbar is a two-story restaurant on the Embarcadero with mind-numbing views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. You come here for two reasons: to take in the aforementioned views and to eat oysters. The seafood-centric menu features all of that seasonal, locally sourced good stuff, but the best thing about Waterbar is the daily $1 oyster happy hour and chilled glasses of white wine.

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6. Fine & Rare 555 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Civic Center)

Civic Center is home to this former food truck, which now functions as part eatery and part market, offering wine and sustainable fish for sale alongside a limited lineup of seafood, salads, and sandwiches made fresh for lunch (and only lunch). On the menu at this bright and stylish spot you'll find comforting options like house-roasted pork shoulder, caramelized cauliflower, and locally sourced Dungeness crab with soft boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus. No matter what sandwich you choose, you can expect it to be served on fresh brioche baked in-house.

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7. Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (The Mission)

The Mission's Foreign Cinema projects movies every night and serves a Californian menu with an oyster selection for the books. Where else can you find date-worthy dinner, one of the best brunches in the city (hello, house-made pop tarts), patio seating, and screenings of classic movies all under one roof? Trust us: this James Beard-nominated restaurant is one of the most important places you need to eat at in your lifetime.

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8. Shakewell 3407 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland, CA 94610 (Oakland)

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, but you don't want to go to a rustic pub. (Sorry, Cheers.) Cue: Shakewell, a bright and buzzy bistro in Oakland's Lakeshore neighborhood where the service is always neighborly, and the craft cocktails and tapas are always top-notch. Inside the Moorish space with wood and stone accents, you'll be treated to plates that blend Spanish and Mediterranean flavors, such as falafel with mint and Spanish chorizo, braised pork with roasted squash, and dry-aged bistro steak with salsa verde. The wood-fired oven in the back turns the heat up, as do killer drinks like The Fairlane with habanero-infused tequila, lime, coconut creme, and cucumber.

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9. La Toque Restaurant 1314 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559 (Napa Sonoma)

Housed inside the Westin Verasa Napa Hotel, La Toque calls for your Sunday best (and a reservation), as this elegant space touts a Michelin star and offers exceptional wine pairings -- this is Napa, after all -- with three menus of modern takes on French fare: there are four-course and five-course menus that allow you to choose your own dishes, and a third chef's choice menu that puts you in the more-than-capable hands of renowned chef Ken Frank. We're happy to order blind when Frank's repertoire has included refined plates like slow-roasted rabbit ballotine with black truffle and foie gras, Dungeness crab in a savory Kombu broth, and milk-fed veal chop for two with a squash-blossom pesto.

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10. Grill at the St. Regis San Francisco 125 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (Union Square)

Originally a pop-up, Grill at the St. Regis garnered enough rave reviews to become a permanent establishment in the posh Union Square hotel, at which Executive Chef Franck Desplechin churns out a new menu of upscale American dishes monthly. Delivered with both impeccable plating and service, Desplechin's creations have included Australian rack of lamb, roasted Alaskan halibut, and chilled Dungeness crab with a hazelnut aioli. Looking to grab a drink or some lighter fare before a night on the town? Feel free to swing by for craft cocktails and a round of local oysters.

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