Stick a pincer into fall's best bets for dreamy Dungeness
FEAST 2012 This year, Dungeness crab season starts on November 3 — commercial fishing begins in earnest on November 15 — and soon, if the undersea crab nebula hasn't been environmentally disturbed, we'll see vast trawler hauls of legs and claws spilling over onto the piers and into local eateries. Get yours at Alioto-Lazio (www.crabonline.com ) on Fisherman's Wharf or New England Lobster Co. (www.newenglandlobster.net ) in Burlingame. There's plenty of time to prepare yourself a traditional San Francisco Thanksgiving feast, so ready that melted lemon butter for dipping.
If you really want to get in the swing of things, and have the means to make the trek, head up to Tomales Bay for the lively Nick's Cove Crab Catch (November 11, 10am, $40 to participate in crab-catching competition, $45 for cooking demo and lunch. Nick's Cove and Cottages, 23240 Highway One, Marshall. crabcatch.eventbrite.com), with prizes, crablebrities chefs and hosts, and Nick's legendary crab mac and cheese.
I think one of my favorite things about Dungeness is that it's so far failed to fall into the foodie trap — no one gets too snooty about it, although even in the dingiest tourist traps it's respected enough to get special treatment and presentation. Here are a few of my favorite crab treats.
Hey it's right there in the name. This is a nice yet unfrilly old school Vietnamese family joint: you can get your whole crab five different ways (peppercorn FTW) but don't forget the famous garlic noodles as a side!
2332 Clement, SF. www.ppqcrab.com 
Brave the crowds at Fisherman's Wharf for a spot at this bright, bustling favorite: great service and good portions elevate it above generic neighbors. The trademark Killer Crab menu offers several feast options, and the Crabby Mood cocktail with vodka, peach schnapps, and cranberry is a great kick-off.
203 Pier 39 Concourse, SF. www.crabhouse39.com 
Such a cute little spot in the Marina with a large patio — charm alone won me over, but then, bam, Dungeness deviled eggs with housemade Old Bay seasoning, an East Coast meets West Coast treat for the ages.
2032 Union, SF. www.nettiescrabshack.com 
The recently renovated San Francisco treasure wows with its authentic, slightly steampunk, interior and a hot iron skillet menu to die for, including the "Lotsa Crab" — three pounds with starters for two to share, $49.95.
299 Bayshore Blvd, SF. www.theoldclamhousesf.com 
If you've got $18 to spare on an amazing sandwich that will fill you up all day, hit up this chill shop in Oakland for its seasonal Dungeness crab roll on brioche, with celery root remoulade and Meyer lemon brown butter. (Check website for availability though!)
6311 College Ave., Oakl. www.southieoakland.com 
Or for $12, you can get a yummy Dungeness crab melt at either location of this laidback favorite — piping hot on a toasted roll, served with fries and slaw.
2073 Market and 1914 Fillmore, SF. www.woodhousefish.com