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Fresh Crabs in SF?

Mikey Jan 31, 2001 11:47 PM

Sorry if this has been brought up before, but I'm new to the area. I was wondering what the scoop was with getting fresh-off-the-boat crabs around here. Anyone want to share the secrets of Fish Markets? (preferably right off the docks like back home, but I suppose a store would do as well, even better would be a wholesaler who could sell me a crate of them for a party.)

Where do the restaurants go for their crab?

Thanks for info,


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  1. m
    Melanie Wong RE: Mikey Feb 1, 2001 01:44 AM


    I find that the freshest and least expensive crabs are at the Chinese markets --- lots of volume and turnover. Try Chinatown or Clement St. in SF or Oakland.

    For other seafood in quantity for parties, I go to the Fresh Fish Company on the pier in SF. They supply many of the top dinner houses and if you show up with cash, they'll sell to walk-ins. I buy PEI mussels, manilla clams, halibut cheeks, day boat scallops, crayfish, etc. from them. However, their price for live crabs is the same as I can get in Chinatown and I can't select each crab individually.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Mikey RE: Melanie Wong Feb 1, 2001 05:47 PM

      Thanks for the response, I will have to check it out. I don't know Chinatown that well, I just know that one street.... umm... The main one with all the knick-knack shops on it. If you had the name of a place or two, that would be great, or even a set of cross streets where I could start a little expedition would be fine.

      Perhaps I will find my second love as well, which would be oysters but I can't imagine they're as good/cheap as the Gulf or East Coast (or even Seattle for that matter). Just as an aside, I was down in Slidell Mississippi last fall and they had the best oysters at $3 a dozen at this one place near my hotel for happy hour. (and $3 pitchers of Bud, and $4 each for a tray of either crayfish or shrimp, take your pick (about 2 pounds a tray)) If it weren't for the bad beer "What kind of beer do we have??? BOTH Kinds, Bud AND Bud Lite", aweful weather, and backwoods mentality, I could certainly get used to the food.


      1. re: Mikey
        Deb H. RE: Mikey Feb 1, 2001 06:17 PM

        If you're near Sunset, you could try a market called "23rd & Irving" (same location) or Sunset Super (on Irving betw. 24th & 25th). Big, reasonable pan-Asian supermarkets with Chinese emphasis (Sunset Super is much bigger). Live crabs, clams, lobster, geoduck, fish, etc. in tanks. Cheap (think I paid about $5 per large crab three weeks ago at 23rd & Irving). Sunset Super also has live sweet shrimp in tanks -- 'amaebi' in Japanese, don't know what they're really called. I usually go to one or the other of these once a week.

        If you need crab forks or most any conceivable Asian kitchen equipment, check out nearby M.V. Trading Co. at 2341 Irving St. (also has branches in the Milpitas Square Mall and Grand Century Mall in San Jose). Lots of kitchen equipment stuffed into a medium-sized store; good selection, good prices.

        Deb H.

        1. re: Mikey
          Jim H. RE: Mikey Feb 1, 2001 06:47 PM

          There's a bit of a definition problem here. We usually speak of "Fresh" versus "Frozen", and I think some of us might be thinking you are after "live" crab when all you want is fresh. Most of the answers assume you mean "live", and Oriental markets are the main place to go. No one but the hopeless ever buys crab that has been frozen...it just don't taste right. Stockton Street between Jackson and Broadway might be your best bet...I have a friend who gets live crab very cheap in Oakland, but I don't know where. If you are accustomed to East coast oysters, forget it. Most West coast oysters are big and tasteless. There is one exception, however. If you REALLY like oysters, drive out to Marshall in West Marin and get them at the Hog Island Oyster Co...or Tomales Bay Oyster Co. They run about $7 per dozen for small. Only sold in the shell, but very fresh and will keep several weeks in the fridge. I grew up on Chesapeake Bay, and I think Hog Island O's are better. Good luck in your crustacian quest.

          1. re: Jim H.
            Melanie Wong RE: Jim H. Feb 2, 2001 07:26 PM

            Jeez, it didn't occur to me that anyone would want anyting other than a live crab fresh off the boat, but I'm glad you clarified that!

            To add to your Chinatown coordinates for Stockton Street, there's also a good fish market on Clay St. between Grant & Kearny, across from the Portsmouth Square garage. Early morning it is possible to park on Clay St, whereas that will not happen on Stockton. and, the garage can be a fall back.

          2. re: Mikey
            Tida RE: Mikey Feb 1, 2001 07:29 PM

            I'm originally from Maryland and grew up on steamed blue crabs. Love the Old Bay! Anyway, I was shopping at New May Wah Supermarket on Clement at 7th or 8th Avenue and stopped into their butcher/ seafood section next door. They had live blue crabs there as well as large Dungeness.

            I second Jim's recommendations for oysters. We always go to Hog Island which is a bit further north of Tomales Bay Oyster so it's a little less crowded. Hog Island supplies many great restaurants in the Bay Area with oysters such as the kumumotos and sweetwaters. (I think they also sell mussels and Manila clams too.) It's wonderful to drive up with friends, some shuckers, briquettes if you want BBQ, and some ice cold beer. They provide grills, the outdoors, and of course, fantastic oysters. We've also contemplated renting kayaks from Blue Water kayak across the bay and paddling our way over to the oyster farms. It's a little more work than we like to do for our supper so it hasn't yet been attempted! We usually get the small to medium size oysters and they are about 75 cents each.

            Hog Island also has a stand at the Sat. AM Ferry Building Farmers Mkt which is located at Green and Embarcadero. The prices on Sat. morning are the same as if you go up to the farm, I believe.

            One restaurant in the city that is great for oysters is Belon in the TEnderloin. It's in the bottom of the Hotel Metropolis on Turk street. Last month, they ran a $20 oyster sampler where you got 4 of 5 different varieties. Their specialty is the epononymous Belon oyster which is originally from France. I don't think they fly any over but actually may get some from Wash. state (?) Nevertheless, great for oysters!

            Happy slurping!

            1. re: Tida
              Jim H. RE: Tida Feb 1, 2001 09:42 PM

              I have been bugging a number of Marin restaurants to carry Hog Island oysters instead of the Washington State dreck they serve...I guess its too much trouble. Wouldn't you like to see a place that served oysters bienville or rockefeller, regularly? All you can get around here are BBQ'd, and that is limited. I picked up a jar of small oysters (Oregon, I think) from Costco, and no kidding, they were about 1/4 lb each. I shudder at the thought of extra large. Maneating oysters?? Yes, they were awful and I tossed most of the jar.

              1. re: Jim H.
                Melanie Wong RE: Jim H. Feb 2, 2001 07:21 PM

                Gotta love Hog Island, especially the Kumamotos. Yet, the big juicy ones are great steamed with black bean sauce and lots of garlic, scallions and ginger, served over steamed rice.

                1. re: Jim H.
                  Anne RE: Jim H. Feb 5, 2001 02:53 PM

                  Have you tried the Oysters Bingo at the Buckeye Roadhouse in Mill Valley? I can't remember how they are made, but they are fantastic, served on the half-shell with spinach I think...had them twice and loved them.

                  Once when driving through Tomales Bay I stopped by an oyster shack and asked for a dozen. After they went to get 'em, accompanied by great crashing sounds, I was brought a grocery sack filled with massive oysters. 12 filled the sack completely. I had to turn them down. It is some off-season thing, I think.

                  1. re: Anne
                    Melanie Wong RE: Anne Feb 5, 2001 03:54 PM

                    No, I haven't had the pleasure. Love the name!

                    Yesterday turned out to be a spontaneous night of excess. I was visiting at some friends' house and got an invitation to join them for a special dinner at The Farmhouse. While we were hanging out until our reservation time, another friend dropped off a bag of 14 Hog Island oysters. Out came the shucking knife and a cold bottle of 1994 Jean Marie Brocard "Montmains" Premier Cru Chablis, and these became instant appetizers! These were just super on the half shell with a wash of freshly minced shallots in rice wine vinegar.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      Mikey RE: Melanie Wong Feb 6, 2001 01:17 PM

                      Wow! Most excellent advice from you all. I have been busy trying to summarize all the advice and put it into some notes that are pretty much going to keep me in Hog Heaven (pun definitely intended) for a while.

                      Yes. Live Crab. Is there any other way? (I love to hear them 'scream', it must be the sadist in me) Now, where was that 10-gallon steal pot I had? Surely it couldn't have disappeared. Considering I'm practically drooling at the thought of affordable oysters I may have to have some friends over for a nice mid-week treat. :-)


                      1. re: Mikey
                        Melanie Wong RE: Mikey Feb 6, 2001 07:24 PM

                        Here's a link to an earlier post on the LA board.

                        All you need is some good sourdough, melted butter and lemons. One of the few occasions when I want a buttery Chardonnay as my beverage.

                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: Melanie Wong
                          Mikey RE: Melanie Wong Feb 7, 2001 02:13 PM

                          Wow, that sounds great, makes total sense and falls under the "Why havn't I seen that before/think of that?!" catagory. Next crabs are going to be steamed. Still trying to find a big cheap aluminum/steal pot....

                          It doesn't say anything about steaming more than one at a time, do you think that stacking them in will have a detrimental effect as far as evenness of cooking, cooking time, etc? I imagine I'd like to try for 2 at a time to start with.

                          1. re: Mikey
                            Melanie Wong RE: Mikey Feb 7, 2001 07:36 PM

                            I've done as many as 3 at once, which was the limit of the pot's height. I put the biggest one on the bottom, carapace down, put the top on until it stopped moving, then added the next one.

              2. re: Mikey
                Tom Hilton RE: Mikey Feb 2, 2001 12:27 PM

                One more place: if you're anywhere near Daly City, 99 Ranch and Pacific Supermarket have live crabs. If you're driving, this might be preferable even if it's further; the others (Clement, Stockton, Irving) are all parking nightmares. On the other hand, the others are all public transit-friendly (2-Clement, 30-Stockton, N-Judah), so if you'd rather Muni it one of those would be the way to go.

                And definitely get your oysters from the Tomales Bay area (Hog Island and Tomales Bay are both really good). There's also an oyster farm--Johnsons?--within Pt. Reyes National Seashore, but I haven't tried theirs.

                1. re: Tom Hilton
                  Melanie Wong RE: Tom Hilton Feb 2, 2001 07:23 PM

                  During the summer, the Johnson's bbq rig is a welcome sight at various street fairs, farmers markets and festivals in Sonoma county. Can't decide whether I like the butter sauce or spicy sauce better and usually get an order of both.

            2. j
              Jim H. RE: Mikey Feb 1, 2001 01:51 PM

              Melanie's suggestions are about it...Chinatown is best for live crab. If you want a quantity of cooked crab for a feast, I suggest you call around town at the seafood wholesalers to order a quantity. As suggested, take cash...and many times cash when dropping in will do wonders. All the retail stores get theirs from wholesalers, except a few places that have their own source and cook their own (Western Boat and Tackle in San Rafael, for example). I do not know of any "off the boat" places, since most people want them cooked. Half Moon Bay sells salmon, etc off the boat, but I've never seen crab. Watch out for cooked crab in Chinatown...unless you watch it kicking before its cooked. Some places wait until its dead to cook it..not healthy.

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