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Best Seafood Restaurant In the City

I am an avid shellfish eater and my wife likes fish. Need recs for really good varied seafood restaurants. Ambience is a big plus. No chinese please I've got that covered.

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  1. without a doubt Pacific Cafe on geary and 34th
    Free wine while you wait
    Great fish, east coast style
    Been going since 1976
    Never a Bad meal

    1 Reply
    1. re: mustardgirl

      Guess if you like bulk wine, free is good. Never liked the food here, my fish was always overcooked. Is that East Coast style? How would you describe the ambience?

    2. with all due respect to OP, i would not recommend Pacific Cafe - it is a cute neighborhood spot but I can't say my meal there (only once, grated) was great - i never went back and the free $2 glass of wine, well, enough said.

      If you love ambiance, it would seem that waterbar or aqua (not so much farallon) may be good picks.

      my personal pick, though, would be bar crudo - i just ate there again today and man oh man, each crudo was incredible (butterfish, tuna, hamachi), as was each raw bar component (oysters, half dungeness) an all the "cooked" / "other' items, such as lobster and burrata salad, sand dabs (best i've had in SF and yeah, i have been to and like tadich). i did not get the chowder today as it was 82 in SF (what?!) but it is also really really tasty.

      1. As strange as it may seem, San Francisco does not have great seafood restaurants. The best we have are probably Pesce, Waterbar and Aqua.

        2227 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        252 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

        399 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

        1. I second the vote for Bar Crudo- simply impeccable. I like the new, larger location on Divisadero, too, though I sortof miss the quirky coziness of the old spot.

          Regarding Aqua, I was there a few nights ago for dinner and I must sadly counsel to give it a pass. The food was not up to the level of the prices or the superb service. Our 3-component amuse-bouche was served tepid, with a rubbery little fish cake and a barely warm lemongrass broth, and the 3 fish eaters at the table, each of us was underwhelmed. Nothing terribly wrong with our dishes, but nothing terribly right, either. Also, it seemed odd that they offered not a single piece of local fish on the menu, unless you count a shelffish item (Dungeness Crab in an appetizer souffle), which I assume was local. Even the oysters weren't local! Otherwise it was fish from the Atlantic, South America, Japan and one Hawiian fish, I think a walu.

          For oysters - I love Hog Island - very very fresh and always impeccable - for a casual meal you can go to their place at the Ferry Building or make a day trip and go up to their farm on the coast, about an hour and a half away.

          11 Replies
          1. re: originalfig

            This time of year, Dungeness crabs aren't local. Those were probably from Alaska.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Even the crab! :( That makes me sad. Thanks for the tip. My parents live in land-locked western Pennsylvania, they were so looking forward to local fish. I will never again assume that a fish-focused SF restaurant has local fish on its menu - next time I will do more research before making the reservation.

              1. re: originalfig

                Tadich Grill (240 California St.) and Sam's Grill (374 Bush St.) are THE two classic, old-school San Francisco seafood restaurants. Nothing fancy or trendy in the least. They are exactly the kind of places you can take your parents. Just ask for what fish on the menu is fresh and have it grilled or broiled.

                1. re: DavidT

                  Except the soles (Petrale, Rex) and sanddabs really need to be pan fried.

                  Too bad about not getting local fish. I bought some amazing local halibut last week and some black sable/butterfish/black cod today.

                2. re: originalfig

                  Aqua's an international celebrity-chef restaurant that happens to be in SF but could just as easily be in Las Vegas or Dubai.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    DavidT, thank you for the old-school recos. I think my parents would have fun at those places - and they'd get their fresh fish fix! Perfect. Ruth L, you are inspiring me - black cod, ummm. Time for a trip to the fish market!

                    And Robert, having been to Aqua now (finally, after having it on my list for years), I agree with you completely. The menu was so internationally sourced, if someone picked me up in a plane and dropped me off inside, I'd have no idea what continent I was on, judging by the fish. Seems so odd in this day and age - I wonder is the chef a bit tone-deaf to the local sourcing trend, or does he just not care? (I wonder if it's that he's French and he's not as familiar with West Coast fish...But then again, he's been out here for years....I dunno.) I think it's a bit of a shame.

                    1. re: originalfig

                      I would like to put my vote in...
                      Sotto Mare in North Beach. It also has a really classic San Francisco vibe with really excellent seafood.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      "Aqua's an international celebrity-chef restaurant that happens to be in SF but could just as easily be in Las Vegas or Dubai"

                      Robert, you are discounting the influence of Alice Waters too much. Do you really think that any high-end restaurant doesn't now source local high quality ingredients whenever they can?

                      The current tasting menu lists: Kumamoto Oyster, Geoduck Clam, Abalone, Dungeness Crab, Diver Scallops, and Maine Lobster. Obviously the Maine Lobster didn't come from the West Coast, but I'll bet the rest of it did.

                      Plus, have you noticed the section on the website titled "Seasonal"? There they list: TOMATO TASTING, MUSHROOM TASTING, MONKFISH TASTING, and a CITRUS MENU. Do you think they imported these ingredients from South America?

                      BTW, if you can find a restaurant in Dubai with these ingredients, I'll be very impressed.

                      1. re: Paul H

                        originalfig said, "it seemed odd that they offered not a single piece of local fish on the menu."

                        It's not that odd to me. Restaurants that focus on local, seasonal ingredients change their menus daily to reflect availability; Aqua doesn't. Restaurants that care about sourcing list where their seafood comes from; Aqua doesn't.

                        As for those seasonal menus, look at the dates.

                        1. re: Paul H

                          Hi Paul - My mother asked the waiter if there were any fish items she could order that were from, as she put it (pointing somewhere vaguely in the direction of the Pacific) "out there". The closest-sourced fish the waiter could offer up was a salmon from the Columbia River (900 miles away!)

                          I chimed in, pointing out the Dungeness Crab souffle (an appetizer), and either the waiter was too polite to disagree with me (probably) or else he was too embarrassed that there was really not a single fish he could point to.

                          Believe me, if there had been a single local fish on the menu, both my mom and I would have ordered it! (My dad, on the other hand, just wanted the one that came with bacon.) ;)

                          1. re: originalfig

                            This time of year. Dungeness crab is coming from farther north than that salmon.

                3. Anchor and Hope deserves to be in this conversation.

                  1. Nothing compares to Pacfic Cafe on Geary for fresh east coast style seafood. Great potatoes, shrimp salad with dinner Freid Oystrs are the best in he Bay Area
                    Great salads and free cheap wine while you wait
                    I have been going there since 1975

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mustardgirl

                      There seems to be an echo here....

                      So have you beeing going since '75 or '76?

                      And, as Melanie already asked back in April, what the heck is East Coast style?

                      [Mind you, I like the place well enough. Just pulling your chain here...]

                    2. Updating this discussion, Aqua's celebrity chef quit, and La Mar has had some good reports.

                      Bar Crudo
                      655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

                      La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
                      Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Jason Pringle is now Aqua's executive chef. Lunch will be starting up again on Sept 22 and will be served Tue-Fri

                        Ninth Annual Chowing with the Hounds Picnic! October 3rd, 2009

                        1. re: rworange

                          Pringle's title was already "executive chef." He was chef de cuisine under Manrique.

                          The probate court assigned the Bacchus Group to be the administrator for the Condy estate and try to get the restaurant running smoothly again.

                      2. Seafood places I like:

                        Anchor Oyster Bar on Castro between 18th and 19th.
                        -- Very basic menu, not the best in the world but certainly the best in the neighborhood. For first, they've got oysters and I think clams on the halfshell, done well. They ususally have a few fish specials, all cooked nicely with simple veg/potato sides. Also, they make a nice louie salad and a good pasta with shrimps.

                        Swan's Oyster Depot
                        -- God I love this place. Basic down and dirty raw bar, only open during the day but on the rare occasion I get there I'm happy as a (unshucked) clam.

                        La Folie
                        -- not strictly seafood of course, but any seafood I've gotten off the menu has been fantastic.

                        Nihon Whiskey Lounge
                        -- Japanese small/medium plates here, most of which are seafood oriented. While the sashimi is nice (takes up about 1/5 the menu), it's the other dishes I come for. One section of the menu is grilled fish, and the mackerel in particular is superb. You mention ambience -- this place is great in that regard. When you walk in, it's intimidating because it looks loungy and hip and cool, and there's a small fear you'll be thrown attitude. But the people who work there, while beautiful, are all very friendly and nice -- no trace of attitude.

                        Kiss Seafood
                        -- teeny tiny japanese restaurant, best to get the set 5 course menu. impeccable, but I only go from time to time because the menu does not vary a whole lot.

                        Ino Sushi
                        -- for straight on traditional sushi this place is great.

                        Oliveto's in the East Bay
                        -- I know it's not in the city, but it's definitely worth a mention. In particular, their annual seafood dinners in the summer (only seafood on the menu) are amazing. But even day-to-day, when only some of their menu is seafood, they shine.