Ask a sampling of tourists what they're looking to eat while they're in San Francisco, and eight of ten are probably going to say "seafood." You can try to tell them that this is a world-class city filled with diverse cuisines, with an array of Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Moroccan, German and French restaurants all of excellent caliber, and many of them will still end up at Fisherman's Wharf scanning menus.
With that in mind, and for the seafood lovers who live here in the Bay Area but don't always know the perfect place to go for a perfectly cooked halibut filet or a delightfully buttery Dungeness crab pasta, SFist brings you our vetted and definitive list of SF's finest seafood establishments.
Alamo Square Seafood Grill
This unassuming, 21-year-old neighborhood spot exudes the air of a tucked-away French bistro — and that's largely because of its owner Andre Larzul, formerly a maitre d' at the very French Baker Street Bistro in the Marina. The menu, largely unchanged in two decades, is anchored by a choose-your-own-adventure fish entree in which diners can select from a half dozen types of fish, four cooking methods (grilled, sauteed, poached, or blackened), and five sauces (beurre blanc, green peppercorn, provencale, beurre maitre d'hotel, and Bearnaise). Value is what keeps Alamo Square neighbors coming back to this place, with a daily prix fixe that's a mind-blowing $17.50. Head there on Mondays or Tuesdays for half-off wine deals, and on Wednesdays there's $0 corkage if you order two courses.
803 Fillmore Street at Grove
Anchor Oyster Bar
There are only a couple of restaurants I would shed a tear for if they ever closed, and this is one of them. Anchor Oyster Bar has been a mainstay in the Castro, just up the hill from 18th Street, since 1977, making it older than Zuni Cafe and proving that they're doing something right. With just around 25 seats, Anchor packs in diners every night, all of whom are willing to wait outside in the cold until their name is called off the white board. And they come, year after year, for the city's best cioppino, an always delicious crab Caesar salad, and nightly changing fish specials that are always simply prepared and perfectly cooked.
579 Castro Street near 19th
Easily the most stylish new SF restaurant of the last year, Angler is the predictably delicious offspring of Saison co-owners Mark Bright and chef Joshua Skenes. And now that Skenes is no longer in the kitchen at Saison, fans can still find his love for live-fire cooking and his talents for teasing out flavors and showcasing fresh seafood in full effect here. The menu features some baller options like a $165 caviar service, but some of the simplest dishes are the best, including a grilled head of radicchio doused in a "X.O." sauce made from radicchio, and a whole Petrale sole served with smoked butter. Also, there are top-notch cocktails, a vintage spirits menu, and one of the longest and deepest wine lists in the city.
Former Bar Crudo executive chef Melissa Perfit opened this Union Square spot in late 2018, and it's about as seafood-focused as they come. On the menu is a classic Louie salad with crab and shrimp, a dish of nori spaghettini with Dungeness crab, a Thai-spiced whole red snapper served with lobster pho broth, and a $54 chilled seafood platter featuring assorted shellfish. Union Square isn't such a foodinista destination, but this place is a shining light amid a throng of tourist traps.
398 Geary Street at Mason
It may feel a little 90s kitsch in this 22-year-old, seafood-centric fine-dining haven (designed by local legend Pat Kuleto, complete with jellyfish chandeliers), but the restaurant still turns out consistently good food for its mostly touristy clientele. Fans come back here for the grand fruits de mer towers ($240), grilled Hawaiian swordfish, and perfectly cooked scallops. And they know how to mix a drink and there's plenty to choose from for the seafood-averse/allergic too.
450 Post Street
Hook Fish Co.
At the opposite end of the vibe spectrum from Angler or Farallon is this humble and tiny fish market/restaurant in the Outer Sunset. The interior's wood paneling captures the beach-y style of the neighborhood, and the brief menu includes fish and chips, ceviche and chips, and a fish burrito. There are also, obviously, fish tacos, and diners can grab fresh fish to go from the market case on their way out.
4542 Irving Street at 47th Avenue
Leo's Oyster Bar
This swanky, Boca Raton-styled FiDi restaurant from the Marlowe/Park Tavern crew screams "expense account lunch," what with its $100 seafood towers, caviar service, and Champagne list. But it's also just a solid choice for a romantic date night dinner, with a great lobster roll and some excellent paella. Also, that Champagne list.
568 Sacramento Street between Montgomery and Sansome
While not strictly a seafood restaurant, this cozy, modern neighborhood spot in the Outer Richmond from co-chefs Joyce Conway and Mel Lopez has a distinct focus on crudos, seafood pastas, and roasted fish. In bestowing "Rising Star" honors on the pair earlier this year, Chronicle food editor Paolo Lucchesi wrote that Pearl 6101 has joined the "storied tradition of transcendent neighborhood restaurants," comparing it to Frances and Outerlands. Don't miss the excellent salt cod brandade fritters, terrific cocktails, or the family-style whole roasted Mt. Lassen trout.
6101 California Street at 23rd Avenue
With a daily tasting menu priced at $105 (including gratuity), Dominique Crenn's four-year-old Hayes Valley ode to her Brittany homeland is one of the spendier places on this list. But that focus on the northwest coast of France means delicious seafood dishes paired with hard cider, and the inviting little restaurant is a perfect spot for dates and occasions of all kinds. There's often a whole roasted fish on the menu, served family-style, but also look for creative preparations of octopus, oysters, and more.
609 Hayes Street
PPQ Dungeness Island
This Outer Richmond Vienamese staple serves Dungeness crab year-round, but the only time you'll find them serving fresh, actually local crab is when Dungeness season kicks off in the late fall. There are set menu options for groups, but otherwise you can choose from six different roasted crab preparations: Peppercorn, Roasted, Drunken, Curry, and Spicy. The house-special garlic noodles are a must to go with any crab order, as is the deep-fried soft-shell crab appetizer.
2332 Clement Street at 25th Avenue
The only Chinatown restaurant on this list, R&G Lounge is famous for their deep-fried salt and pepper crab, but they're also known for a delicious baked black cod, Maine lobster, and an array of oyster and prawn dishes as well. It is, without a doubt, a must-visit place for Chinese food fans who also love seafood.
631 Kearny Street
It may be called Fisherman's Wharf, but the only restaurant in this heavily touristed part of town that we can recommend in good conscience is Scoma's. Culinary adventurousness won't be found here, but you will find plenty of classic Italian charm, with dishes like linguine with clams, Dungeness crab Thermidor, and the restaurant's take on Oysters Rockefeller, called Oysters alla Scoma. This is also one of the biggest revenue-generating restaurants in town, thanks in part to its location, but also consistently good reviews.
1965 Al Scoma Way
This North Beach stalwart resides in a space that's been an Italian restaurant for something like 80 years, originally called Isle of Capri. Currently under the ownership of North Beach natives Rich and Laura Azzolino, the interior walls are covered with memorabilia and photos, and the place is overflowing with casual, Old SF charm — plastic bibs and all. Don't miss the butter-sauced sand dabs, the seafood risotto, or their version of crab cioppino, which is served with penne at the bottom of the bowl to help make use of the thick, spicy tomato broth.
552 Green Street
Swan Oyster Depot
No roundup of seafood spots in SF would be complete without Swan, which is easily one of the most food-TV-celebrated restaurants in the city — thanks in part to the late Anthony Bourdain, who totally loved this place. During Dungeness season, you go here to indulge in unadulterated steamed crab legs, out of their shell, served as a "chrysanthemum" on a plate (pictured above) with a side of Louie sauce for dipping. Otherwise, fans come back for afternoon indulgences of prawns, oysters, and smoked salmon, washed down with cold beer (note they're only open for breakfast and lunch and close at 5:30 p.m.).
1517 Polk Street near California
Waterbar is the waterfront sister restaurant of Farallon, and also was designed with a degree of flair by local restaurateur and restaurant designer Pat Kuleto. With unparalleled views of the Bay Bridge and Bay Lights, and a grand semi-circular bar, Waterbar screams "special occasion" and is also a perfect place to get treated by parents in from out of town — it's pricy, though, so hopefully your parents are prepared for that. Chef Parke Ulrich offers an array of chilled shellfish — like Farallon there's a big tiered platter for $240, but also smaller platter options — and the entrees include oak-grilled Tombo tuna, and oak-roasted swordfish.
Woodhouse Fish Co.
The casual Woodhouse Fish Co. comes alive with Dungeness crab season each year, but this place can be counted on year-round for great seafood pastas, lobster rolls, fish and chips, and Baja-style fish tacos. There are two locations — one at Market and Church near the Castro and the other on upper Fillmore — and both also offer a solid version of the SF classic cioppino as well.
2073 Market Street and 1914 Fillmore Street