Guardian Guide: Hotspots for fresh crab

Crab fever overtakes Bay! Tiny fork, plastic bib, lump of butter only remedy, say local restaurateurs. The Guardian Guide to hotspots serving fresh Dungeness.
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As winter rolls into the Bay Area, a happy tradition takes hold: Crab fever! Dungeness crabs have been flooding Fisherman's wharf longer than the tourists have and this December is no exception. Just like all things inherently San Franciscan, there's a flavor for every palette. Whether you like it plain, Vietnamese, Italian, Cajun or Californian, like it you will. Check out some of our picks for fresh Dungeness delight.

PPQ Dungeness Island Vietnamese Cuisine

Moderate prices and a casual atmosphere keep crab lovers focused on what’s important, the house specialty -- whole garlic roasted crab. For variety you can also try the peppercorn crab. Either way the complementary plastic bib is right, "It's time to get crackin!"
2332 Clement, SF; 415- 386-8266, www.ppqdungeness.com
Lunch: Wed-Mon 11am-5pm
Dinner: Wed-Mon 5pm-10pm
Closed Tuesdays

R & G Lounge

Located just outside of San Francisco’s historic Chinatown, R&G Lounge provides Cantonese style crab for all occasions. If you’re dressed to impress or looking for a good place for a business meal, the upstairs area provides crab lovers with a fine dining atmosphere. The casual downstairs area is perfect if you’re with the kids or just looking to relax with friends. No matter where you sit the live battered crab, deep-fried and sprinkled with salt and pepper, is delicious. Reservations recommended. Parking validated.
631 Kearny, SF; 415- 982-7877; www.rnglounge.com/
Open 7 days, 11am-9:30pm

Hayes Street Grill

When the chef makes a daily morning call to the fish man to find out what looks good that day and bases the daily menu on the report, you know this is a must-eat destination during crab season. The Hayes Street Grill is centrally located in Civic Center near the Performing Arts Center, the Opera House, and Davies Symphony Hall. On performance nights, if you don’t want to sit at the bar, reservations are essential. On non-performance nights reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are also welcome. This season’s special: Cracked half Dungeness crab with aioli, avocado, and dirty girl (pink and white) beet salad. Prices are reasonable, especially considering other nearby options.
320 Hayes, SF; 415-863-5545, www.hayesstreetgrill.com
Lunch: Mon–Fri 11:30 am-2 pm.
Dinner: Mon-Thu 5pm-9:30 pm, Fri 5pm-10:30pm, Sat 5:30pm-10:30 pm, Sun 5pm-8:30 pm.

Swan Oyster Depot

For those of us looking for no-frills fresh Dungeness crab, Swan Oyster Depot has our lemon waiting. The season’s specialties are Crab Louie, crab cocktail and ½ cracked crab. Arrive early and wait your turn to cozy up with other restaurant-goers at the long, narrow marble bar. Don’t worry, the owners are friendly, the staff entertaining and your neighbors are ready to meet you. If you want to skip the social gathering and take the Dungeness party home, Swan Oyster Depot is also a market with competitive prices and fresh seafood.
Nob Hill, 1517 Polk, SF; 415-673-1101
Mon-Sat 8am-5:30pm
Closed Sundays

Thanh Long

Thanh Long was founded by the An family in the ‘70s as one of San Francisco’s first Vietnamese restaurants. It has since evolved into right of passage for high-end crab loving adventurers, who are not afraid of a commute to the Outer Sunset. The garlic roast crab is the house specialty, composed of a fresh roasted Dungeness Crab, An’s garlic sauce and secret spices.
4101 Judah, SF; 415-665-1146, www.anfamily.com
Tue-Sun 4:30pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 4:30pm-11pm
Closed Mondays

Crustacean

If you’re in the mood for a dressed up crab night, Crustacean supplies chic décor and Euro- Vietnamese fusion. One of the two sister restaurants to bud from Thanh Long, Crustacean offers all the secretly prepared house specialties of its predecessor, but includes dishes with more European influences.