At the Table

Crab for the holidays

Crab Louie at The Grotto. Photo: Susan Dyer Reynolds

With Dungeness crab season scheduled to kick off Dec. 15 and people looking for places to take out-of-town holiday guests to enjoy one of our greatest local treasures, I decided to share four of my favorite classic preparations around the Northside. I love crab piled on a Louis salad, simmering in cioppino, tossed with pasta, or, best of all, straight from the steaming pots at historic Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s no place in San Francisco where the crab is fresher and comes with incredible Golden Gate Bridge views (and most restaurants offer free two-hour validated parking), so it’s no coincidence that three of my picks are at the wharf.


You can’t beat crab straight from the steaming pots at the wharf served in all its sweet, naked glory or with just a squeeze of lemon (and maybe a quick dip in some melted butter). Sisters Annette Traverso and Angela Cincotta are the third generation operating the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company, a woman-owned business that has been located on Fisherman’s Wharf for over 70 years. One of the last family owned and operated fishing companies in San Francisco, Alioto-Lazio serves the freshest, most succulent Dungeness crab on the planet sold live, whole cooked, or cleaned and cracked. They also ship their crustaceans overnight almost anywhere (a great gift idea for those hard-to-buy-for relatives). If you haven’t had crab from the first ladies of the wharf, you’re missing one of San Francisco’s greatest gastronomic pleasures, as well as a part of the history that makes this city unique. 440 Jefferson Street (at Hyde), 888-673-5868,


People rave about the crab salad at Swan Oyster Depot, but for a whopping $32, all you get is crab on a pile of iceberg lettuce drizzled with a little sauce or oil and vinegar. When I want a truly classic crab Louie, I always head to The Grotto, the only restaurant I’ve found where you have to dig through the crab to find the lettuce. Over half a pound of fresh-picked Dungeness is piled on a bed of crisp iceberg lettuce and garnished with hard-boiled egg, cherry tomatoes, green olives, cucumber, carrot, and avocado. My ritual begins with a squeeze of fresh lemon over the crabmeat followed by a generous dollop of the rich and thick, sweet and tangy house-made dressing (bonus: they now have live music four nights a week). Pier 45 (at Taylor), 415-673-7025,


The signature crab cioppino is so legendary that the highly regarded national food magazine Saveur once featured the recipe on its lauded pages. Late Marina Times food writer Ernie Beyl said of it in his 2010 Northside San Francisco magazine review: “It was exceptional, a brilliant rendition of an old San Francisco standby, served in a large silver bowl with a lid. In a pungent, tomatoey broth were Dungeness crab legs and body meat lurking in their gelatinous shells, calamari, shrimp, clams, mussels, and even a few penne pasta. It’s the hottest item on the menu and perhaps the most satisfying.” I couldn’t have said it better — in fact, I believe Sotto Mare has the best rendition of cioppino in town (and yes, it’s better than Tadich Grill’s). 552 Green Street (near Columbus), 415-398-3181,


There are many ways to enjoy Dungeness at the Franciscan Crab Restaurant (hence the name), from tossed in a creamy Alfredo to tucked inside enchiladas, but the World Famous Whole Roasted Dungeness Crab in Secret Garlic Sauce is the star of the menu. Whether you order a two-plus pounder for two or a crab feast that feeds four, the smell of the garlic wafting through the air as the crab is delivered on a sizzling iron skillet is the perfect San Francisco experience for locals — and a glorious way for out-of-town guests to experience our prized crustacean. The beautiful, modern interior offers a stunning setting to take in those priceless views. Pier 43½ (at The Embarcadero), 415-362-7733,

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