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Highly Opinionated: Eater Editors’ Favorite Spots to Eat Dungeness Crab in San Francisco

The best places to tie on a bib and get cracking

A steamed whole crab on a plate.
The Outer Sunset’s Thanh Long remains an excellent option for digging into a whole Dungeness crab — or three.
Lauren Saria

In Eater SF’s new series, Highly Opinionated, Eater editors delve into one specific, oft-debated food obsession in San Francisco. This month, Eater SF editors share their favorite places to crack into whole Dungeness crab in San Francisco.

At long last, Dungeness crab season will kick off in the San Francisco Bay Area later this week. Starting Thursday, January 18, commercial crab fishing will begin in the waters around the city, and diners should start seeing California crabs on restaurant menus in the coming weeks.

That leaves one question: Where should I head to once those sweet California crabs arrive on menus? There are literal scores of restaurants all across the city that prepare Dungeness crab. But not all of them are created equally, and, of course, the best crab destination depends on what kind of experience you’re craving. San Francisco has dockside spots for a chilled crab cocktail, tried-and-true destinations for perfectly fried whole crustaceans, and just about everything in between.

No matter how you plan to get your fix, here are Eater SF editors’ picks for the finest places to crack into fresh Dungeness crab this year.

For the garlic lovers: Thanh Long

A whole roasted crab.
The roasted garlic crab at Thanh Long is a must.
Lauren Saria
A table of crab and garlic noodles.
I suggest at least one bowl of garlic noodle for every two diners.
Lauren Saria

Just three blocks from Ocean Beach, Thanh Long shines out of the Outer Sunset District’s ample fog with a teal sign advertising one thing only: world-famous roast crab. And though the Vietnamese restaurant does offer non-crab and non-noodle dishes — shrimp toast, mango salad, even shaking beef, for example — I recommend you skip them all to focus on the real reason you’ve arrived, which is, of course, crab.

Thanh Long’s menu offers three varieties: roasted, drunken, and tamarind (market price), as well as bowls of garlic noodles ($14). Ordering the classic roasted version is a must, and if you want to try something a little different, add on the tamarind. Hungry diners can probably take down a whole bowl of garlic noodles on their own or split one order for every two people.

This is not a dinner that will endear you to anyone you might be getting up close and personal with later in the night. Which is to say, there’s a whole lot of garlic involved. The restaurant’s roasted crab swims in a shallow pool of buttery garlic sauce punctuated with a “secret” mix of spices — notably a whole lot of roughly cracked black pepper and salt. It’s zippy, not spicy, thanks to the piquant pepper and garlic, with both flavors gently infused into the sweet crab meat. The tamarind crab, meanwhile, gets a simmered sauce made with tomato, resulting in a sticky meal that swings gently from sweet to sour. Both pair wonderfully with the restaurant’s springy garlic noodles. You’ll want to wear the bibs as you work through the meal; there’ll be a pile of hot towels to help you clean up at the end. Thanh Long, 4101 Judah Street, San Francisco

— Lauren Saria, Eater SF Editor

For a deep-fried crab feast: R&G Lounge

A deep-fried crab.
R&G Lounge offers nine varieties of whole Dungeness crab including salt and pepper, salted egg yolk, and more.
Lauren Saria

Long-running San Francisco restaurant R&G Lounge is a local favorite for its deep menu of Cantonese dishes, but it’s the salt and pepper Dungeness crab that makes the restaurant hallowed ground for crustacean fans. Each crab is dipped in a golden batter and then deep-fried to a crisp before it’s seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper. The crab arrives tableside with the top shell teetering on a tower of claws, batter bits flaking off with each snap of a leg. It’s not uncommon to see fellow diners biting into each leg to loosen bits of crab meat from the shell, a gnashing of teeth that’s met with a crispy crunch that gives way to the taste of sweet Dungeness meat. The crab ignites an eating fervor that can be likened to the experience of eating barbecue ribs, as diners pick out as much delectable meat as possible from every crevice.

The restaurant excels in other crab preparations as well, if you can stand to stray from R&G’s signature dish. The salted egg yolk version adds an earthy, unctuous taste to the sweet crustacean, for instance, while a steamed garlic version can be a less intense way to savor your Dungeness crab. All in all, the restaurant boasts nine different styles of Dungeness crab, and diners will easily find an ideal one here, no matter their tastes. 631 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

— Dianne de Guzman, Eater SF deputy editor

For a classic San Francisco experience: Scoma’s

Dungeness crab and shrimp cocktail at Scoma’s.
Dungeness crab and shrimp cocktail at Scoma’s.
Lauren Saria

Whenever I’m hosting out-of-town guests, they ask for at least one meal that involves San Francisco seafood. For oysters, I like to give them the Ferry Building Hog Island experience. But for a sit-down seafood feast with a front-row view of the Bay, Scoma’s delivers. The low-slung restaurant feels like the inside of a boat, and its perch at the end of a dock off Fisherman’s Wharf means it lives up to most people’s vision of what a San Francisco seafood restaurant ought to be.

As for the crab, my recommendation is to forego the whole crab in favor of something a little less messy and more elegant. A Dungeness crab cocktail and an ice-cold martini or, depending on your mood, a bloody mary, feels like a treat yourself moment regardless of the day or time. You’ll get a mountain of pre-picked crab meat with a side of pungent cocktail sauce and a wedge of fresh lemon. It’s a perfect shared starter if you also plan to give the restaurant’s cioppino a try, or a light snack to pair with your drinks. Either way, you’ll be smelling the briny sea breeze and taking in views of the water, making it a quintessential San Francisco dining experience. Scoma’s Restaurant, 1965 Al Scoma Way, San Francisco

— Lauren Saria, Eater SF Editor

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