The fact that San Francisco is surrounded by water is good news for both your stomach and your phone’s camera roll—don’t pretend like you don’t have an entire album devoted to oyster towers or side trips to Tomales Bay for oyster shucking. Our proximity to the coast means that we have access to some of the best seafood in the country, from crab to salmon to tuna. Whether you’re looking to achieve your annual fresh oyster quota, sit down to a Nice Piece of Fish for dinner, or eat some spicy marinated poke on some chips, use this guide to get it done.
The only thing better than throwing back raw and grilled oysters is doing so alongside an expansive body of water. Hog Island Oyster Co. is located in the Ferry Building Marketplace, and has a great waterfront patio to chill alongside half a dozen sweetwater oysters and think deeply about the circle of life. While you're there, get a bowl of clam chowder. It’s super creamy, and piled with whole clams and thick bacon chunks for a salty punch.
The whole roast crab from Thanh Long is Beyoncé-half-time-show-level iconic. Decades after the Sunset institution opened, the crabs covered in secret spices continue to draw crowds from all over. Matching their buttery crab meat is the equally fantastic garlic noodles, which are springy and packed with what we assume is an entire head of garlic. The dining room at this Vietnamese seafood spot is always filled with people in plastic bibs licking butter off their fingers, waving leg crackers in the air like celebratory sparklers, and devouring broiled shrimp toast, colossal tiger prawns, and other things from the sea.
We think about the raw bar selection at Ernest in the Mission more often than Pooh Bear dives headfirst into a pot of honey. The changing menu lets Asian-influenced dishes shine, like beef tartare topped with glistening ikura, uni spoons with jamón serrano, and scallops that get a zing from dabs of fresh wasabi. Seeing them carried around the airy dining room is an exercise in self-control—you’ll want to order one each, including the decadent lo mein “carbonara” tossed in uni butter and bacon bits.
The oldest continually running restaurant in California makes crab cakes we would e-scooter across town blindfolded to get our hands on. Crispy outside, packed with a generous helping of crab, and doused in tartare sauce, these little stunners alone are worth the trip. We also come to this Financial District institution for their loaded cioppino and plates of grilled fish, the free hunk of sourdough, and an old-school setting complete with servers in white coats, and a bar that’s so long you can barely see the end.
When you want a classic San Francisco seafood experience, head to Sotto Mare. The walls of this North Beach spot are covered in toy boats, wooden steering wheels, and nautical memorabilia, and the bar is always full of people eating huge portions of Italian-American seafood dishes. Their cioppino is solid, but our favorite thing is the linguine (get it with the cream sauce) that has shrimp, clams, squid, diver scallops, and mussels. It's big enough to feed the entire 49ers defensive line. And if they have branzino as a special, order it—their pan-fried version with butter and capers is as old-school as it gets.
This Lower Haight spot stands out from the city’s many omakase spots because of their intimate dining room with only six seats, flawlessly prepared nigiri, and more creative small plates. The 14 courses are a feast of sticky poached ikura that pop like water balloons in your mouth, cod milt buried in silky chawanmushi, and aged otoro and striped jack nigiri. Dinner here is an unmissable experience for anyone who's serious about fish and is looking for a big night out.
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Hook Fish Co. is where to go in the Outer Sunset for quick and easy seafood burritos, sandwiches, crab cake salads, poke, and fish tacos with slaw and pico de gallo. The tiny, counter-service shop is also laidback, serves incredibly light fish and chips, and is a few blocks from Ocean Beach—so bring along that friend who just spent two weeks soul surfing in Baja and driving up the coast in a dusty Sprinter van. And in case it’s important to you, the menu tells you exactly where and how each fish was caught and on what boat.
Bar Crudo pulls double duty as both a great place to get seafood and a bar ideal for casual dates of all kinds. We usually come here for the oysters and marinated mussels, as well as their incredible smokey seafood chowder that’s full of shrimp, squid, different types of fish, mussels, and bacon. Bar Crudo’s phenomenal seafood Happy Hour (5-6:30pm) also never fails to draw us in with $2 oysters, $5 beers, and $8 wine.
Basa Seafood Express is a casual deli-style counter in the Mission where you order sushi, nigiri, poke, and other seafood treasures for takeout and head home or to the park. Lurking on the menu is one of the best raw fish dishes in the city: the spicy salmon poke. The tray of buttery fresh salmon is coated in spicy mayo and topped with tobiko and red and green onion. The best part? It will only run you $7.
Dinner at Eiji, the snug Japanese restaurant in the Castro (and one of our highest-rated casual sushi spots), always feels like gathering around a good friend’s kitchen table—and that friend happens to make the best sushi rolls and delicate ankake tofu. The theme at this somewhat pastoral spot is light, bright, and simple: A juicy halved cherry tomato to cap off the pickle-y ceviche roll, single shiso leaves to liven up slices of the spicy tuna poke roll, and a generously portioned tuna belly steak that’s lightly coated in a soy-ginger glaze.
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A waterfront meal at Scoma’s is reason you’ll find us in the area mingling with tourists. The seafood restaurant is located near Fisherman’s Wharf and is considered a San Francisco institution, which you can probably tell just by stepping inside of it and noticing the dark wood paneling and brown leather swivel chairs. Their ode to the old-school extends to the food itself, too. There’s a Crab Louie salad, cioppino, and a linguine con vongole (all of which are pretty good), but you’re here for the roasted Dungeness crab—cracking into one of these is the best reason to wear a bib.
This Sardinian restaurant in Noe Valley treats seafood dishes with the love and care we show our prized monstera. The spicy, tomato-y broth in the baby octopus stew is straight-up soul-curing. They dress fusilli up with grated tuna heart, and whole prawns are sitting in fragrant basil oil. When you add Sardinian wines and servers who make us feel like a regular to the equation, La Ciccia is a place we want to have a standing date with.
The name of this place sounds like a crustacean-filled paradise we’d very much like to live in. This seafood island doesn’t actually exist, but you should still get your crab fix at this Vietnamese spot in the Richmond. If you’re not in the mood to take down an entire whole roasted crab soaked in lots and lots of butter, try the salt and pepper soft shell crab with a light, crunchy batter, and the butterflied prawns that are tender and juicy. This spot is also easier to get a last-minute table than Thanh Long, so keep it in mind for the next time you need a place for a spontaneous group dinner.
We hit up Billingsgate whenever we want a quick and casual meal that’s all about high-quality fish. The counter-service seafood market in Noe Valley doubling as a laidback cafe has a rotating menu made up mostly of seafood salads, oysters, and raw fish appetizers. Our go-to is the kampachi crudo coated in olive oil and topped with serrano peppers, bits of pomelo, and tarragon, and the toast piled with smoked salmon. They also have a weekday Happy Hour with half-off oysters and cava, which is our foolproof way to a successful Tuesday afternoon.
La Mar looks like a classy teal and blue-colored hotel lobby set somewhere on Miami Beach, with two bar areas and a high-ceilinged dining room, and is basically a waterfront party. And the covered waterfront deck overlooking some piers is exactly where we want to drink never-ending pisco sours and fill up on tangy ceviche, Peruvian-style sushi, grilled scallops over lentil tacu-tacu, and fish-of-the-day with aji chimichurri. This small plate spot is always packed with tourists, locals popping in for the 3-5pm daily Happy Hour with rock shrimp wrapped with crispy squid ink tempura, and people in town for some sort of convention, which certainly makes a night here buzzy.
The mounted marlin and model boats around the dining room at Woodhouse Fish on Fillmore makes this place feel like they’re gunning for Red Lobster. But it’s still a good stop for a casual weeknight dinner when you’re in the mood for seafood. We like the clam roll, crab cakes, and fish tacos, but if we’re feeling like a super high-roller, the $29 lobster roll is fantastic.
This place on the Embarcadero has huge bay views and giant floor-to-ceiling fish tanks that might make you feel a bit like you’re dining in an aquarium. Which is why we go here with coworkers, important clients, or anytime we want to feel like a high-powered person over some very good fish. The menu changes nightly based on what’s in season, but you can always count on phenomenal oysters, ceviches, and roasted fish like cod filets and swordfish steaks.
Leo’s Oyster Bar is a great place in the Financial District to head to after work, for a third date, and times when you want to feel cute surrounded by floral wallpaper, bamboo chairs, and hanging paper lanterns lamps. Coming here also reminds us how much fun and luxurious eating oysters can be. The mostly raw bar and snacks menu includes a two-tier tower of oysters, shrimp cocktails, and snow crab claws, and we love their version of deviled eggs with fried oysters on top. If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial, the lobster roll is great.
Fine dining restaurant Saison billed Angler as a casual spinoff restaurant, but there’s nothing casual about this place. The Embarcadero spot feels perfectly suited for trading stock tips with a friend or sitting next to tables full of puffer vest-ed folks who agree that Dreamforce is the highlight of fall. The dining room is a cross between a fancy seafood house and a hunting lodge thanks to decorative wall fish, a taxidermy bear, and a big open kitchen with a wood-burning hearth. The menu is both seafood and meat-focused, so expect to dine on wild swordfish steaks, meaty antelope tartare topped with herbs, and a whole head of radicchio doused in an intense XO sauce. This power dinner might get pricey (mains range from $23-$62), but the views that look straight out to the Bay Bridge make up for it.
You go to The Anchovy Bar in the Fillmore to eat your body weight in tinned fish that are served with sides of toasty bread and tomato vinaigrette. The laidback spot, complete with bar seating and a cozy parklet, is where you’ll find couples and groups of friends going wild over a mostly-seafood menu of dishes. There are seafood stews loaded with every possible creature that swims, broiled oysters with an umami-packed date-bacon sambal butter, and smoked mussels spiced up with horseradish crème fraîche.