Crab fever overtakes Bay! Tiny fork, plastic bib, lump of butter only remedy, say local restaurateurs. The Guardian Guide to hotspots serving fresh Dungeness.
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
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
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
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. These long kept family secrets are well guarded at Crustacean; there is a separate kitchen that only family members are allowed to enter from which waiters receive the food through a slot. If you’re not curious yet, you will be after your first taste. Valet parking.
1475 Polk Street, 415.776.2722
Lunch: Fri-Sun 11:30am--3:30 pm
Dinner: Sun-Thu 5pm-9:30 pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-10:30pm
Scoma’s Fisherman’s Wharf
Located in the hub of fisherman’s wharf, Scoma’s offers a thorough Dungeness crab experience for both tourist and native alike. Using their mother’s recipe collection, the Scoma brothers founded this Italian style seafood restaurant 40 years ago. What started as a breakfast and burger spot for fishermen has since turned into a 350-seat family restaurant, equipped to satisfy every seafood lover’s need. Scoma’s even has its own fish receiving station where you can watch the Dungeness crab being loaded off the boats and into the kitchen. Recommended this crab season are the crab leg sautee and the Crab Louis. Portions are large enough to justify the prices, and some of mom’s recipes are available online, which is better than a doggie bag.
Pier 41 Al Scoma Way, SF; 415-771-4383 www.scomas.com 
Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-10:30 pm
No matter what the time of day this crab season, the Eagle Café is a great place to casually enjoy the view off Pier 39. If you’re a (crabby) morning person, try their a Dungeness crab omlette or the Crab Cake Benedict for breakfast. You can even wash it down with a Crabby Mary, a Dungeness Bloody Mary that comes with a straw, a fork and crackers. For a post-sunset visit, try their signature WOW crab sautéed with ginger, garlic, scallions and oyster sauce. For the basics, a cold Dungeness is served half or whole with freshly grated horseradish.
Pier 39, SF ; 415-433-3689, www.eaglecafe.com 
Open 7 days, 7:30am-8pm
Bar open until 10am
Andrew Jaeger’s House of Seafood and Jazz
For three generations the Jaeger family served up authentic Cajun and Creole fresh local seafood in New Orleans to the tune of nightly jazz music. A year ago, Chef Andrew Jaeger decided to bring the Jaeger tradition to North Beach. With live jazz every night starting at 7:30pm and fresh Cajun/Creole Dungeness crab specials, Jaeger’s truly has something to offer that you can’t get anywhere else in North Beach – and, at present, anywhere in the country. The original restaurant is currently closed due to the events following Hurricane Katrina. So if you love jazz, or just like jazz but love crab, try the Crab-o-rama (crab cakes AND a half a crab) or the BBQ crab. If you’re local (SF and Bay area residents included), sign up for a Jaeger card and receive 25% off drinks by the glass, get pre-fix specials round the clock and free admission on weekends to the bar for you and all your guests, which is usually
300 Columbus, SF; 415-781-8222, www.condorsf.com 
Mon-Thu 5:30pm-after midnight, Fri 5:30pm-2am, Sat-Sun 2pm-2am