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Aug 5, 2009 09:49 AM

Fisherman's Wharf with a Few Requests [San Francisco]

My brother is in town so we are taking the ferry from the East Bay to Fisherman's Wharf. Sadly no time for a stop at the Ferry Building. Can anyone recommend a decent spot for dinner on the wharf. It would be good if the food is decent and has chowder served in a bread bowl. Searched the board and found posts about the Crab Shack and Scoma's but wanted to see if there was anything else out there.

We will only be there for the evening so need something close to the wharf. You'd think I'd have a clue about the wharf but I try and stay clear of the area.

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  1. The chowder in a bread bowl tourist gimmick was invented by Boudin Bakery, so you might as well go to the original.

    1. Does it have to be in one place?

      First of all, I would never go to Scoma's at night. Way too expensive. While the fish is wonderful, those sides are way too medicore. I do recommend the 3-course prix fixe for lunch which I have had a number of times. That is a really good value and you get some really nice fish.

      Crab Shack does mussels well as does it's sister restaurant, the Franciscan. One must keep in mind the same people own The Stinking Rose. While they do try ... Acme bread...whatever is the current food trend ... it misses the mark. You won't have a great meal, but if careful you can have an ok meal. Franciscan is a little shabby and the view includes a piece of the parking lot with lots of seagull snow. One end of the restaurant has an outdoor patio, so that would be a better choice. Crab Shack might be the better choice decor-wise and the food is virtually identical at both places.

      The reason I ask about if you need to be at one place is that Chowders on Pier 39 (I know), makes their chowder from scratch. It is in a sourdough bowl. It had a lot of positive posts on yelp and someone on Chowhound tried it recently liked it. The are casual and do fish and chips so if you wanted a more upscale dinner this wouldn't be it.

      I've recommended the Cafe at Boudin and while not greatness, it is a step above most and has a nice view. However, that canned clam chowder just sticks in my craw. Also, they changed the menu recently and it is a lot more expensive. I'd have to go back again to see if I'd continue to recommend.

      Here's my lists of FW restaurants with brief ... I can do brief when I want to .. descriptions of each.

      Best Bets - SF Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurants

      Tourist traps - SF Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurants

      Fisherman's Wharf Places to try

      6 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        This is quite helpful. I saw your Fisherman's Wharf Places to try but not the Best Bets post. Not sure where we will end up but we'll steer clean of Scoma's.

        1. re: rworange

          While I agree that the a la carte dinner menu at Scoma's features food that's more expensive than the quality warrants, the prix fixe dinner is a much better value. They serve choices of appetizer, entree, and dessert for $40 per person. If you have to have dinner on Fisherman's Wharf (and if you can dine at off hours to avoid the line), it's a viable option.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            Is this recent? Are times tough for FW as well?

            It's a little pricy but a better deal than ordering a la carte. One thing I like about the lunch prix-fixe is they tone down the serving size. So many of Scomas regular dishes are enough to feed 2 with both being full. That would be good if they took it easy with the serving size for the dinner prix fixe as well. Thanks for the tip.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              Scomas gets a bad rap. We have enjoyed it there and they have a great bar.
              Having said that I really didn't find it over priced for such a "touristy" area. The crab was very good. We hasd better meals in SFO but it I think we remember Scomas more. Besides you can walk to Ghirardelli after dinner.

              1. re: Fritter

                Having recommended Scomas a zillion times, I don't think it gets a bad rap. If the sides matched the fish ... which I think is some of the best in the city ... I wouldn't blink at the prices. However, if you don't write about the realtiy of some of the flaws, people go in with expectations that are too high and that results in people writing reports where they are disappointed and they start trash talking about it.

                I don't revisit restaurants often, but I've been to Scoma's probably more than most places because I really enjoy the prix-fixe lunch which I think is a good value, tasty.

                What do you recommend at Ghiradelli?

                1. re: rworange

                  I have read some of the other threads that seemed to dismiss Scomas as nothing more than tourist food. The place was suggested to us by a SFO cab driver and we really enjoyed it there.
                  Then again we were tourists.
                  At Ghirardelli I pretty much like any of the chocolate bars but my personal favorite is the little chocolate squares filled with caramel.

          2. I just looked at the EB ferry website. It shows that they stop first at the Ferry Building before going on to Pier 41. Why not just get off at FB? You will have SO many choices far beyond the FB itself. It's so centrally located. And then you don't have to deal with the always difficult FW and the challenges it can present..

            19 Replies
            1. re: c oliver

              Yes I know that the ferry stops there first. We are getting a late start and don't have time for two stops which is why I am looking for a OK spot in the wharf. I think we might grab a chowder bread bowl at one of the stands for the kids and then end up at the Crab Shack at Pier 39 unless I figure out a better spot.

              1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                Sorry, I wasn't clear obviously. I don't know WHY you would want to go to FW. I'd pick the Ferry Building/Market Street/Embarcader/etc,etc.,etc. a million times before I'd go to the wharf. Yes, with effort, you can get some decent to good food. But it's mostly just a shlocky (?sp) place overrun with tourist tee shirt, keyring shops. Whereas, if you get off at the Ferry Building, there's a HUGE selection of all kinds of good to great food.

                1. re: c oliver

                  People go because it's on the list. Here is a great opinion of things on the list.

                  1. re: wolfe

                    That's hysterical and perfect for this situation too!

                  2. re: c oliver

                    I hear ya but I live here. I think my brother likes the cheesy wharf and seeing the sea lions. Yeah I could take everyone to the Ferry Building but they want to go to the wharf and sometimes it's not just about the food. I'm also looking for a decent place on the Santa Cruz wharf for tomorrow evening in case anyome wants to chime in there as well. Driving down 17 there and back do not going to make some of the tastier spots in HMB.

                    1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                      Have you considered trying to talk him into the Cliff House? Bread bowl on the actual pier, motivate to the cliff house. The upswing reports have been impressive.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Yeah I know but it's a short visit and the ferry is part of the fun:(

                      2. re: Cheesy Oysters

                        Aha, you didin't mention that your brother is 12!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just kidding. So go to the wharf, eat canned, wallpaper paste clam chowder in a mediocre bread bowl. (Authentic NE clam chowder would probably leak out of a bread bowl since it's so thin.) Have fun.

                        Please don't think of the Ferry Bldg. as just a destination. It's just where the ferry drops you off for so many other great, authentic things.

                        And "sometimes it's not just about the food"? Well, if I'd read that in the beginning (here we are on Chowhound), I wouldn't have replied. Just trying to give some guidance. Peace.

                        1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                          I know. Part of the reason I started exploring the Wharf was because when visitors come they MUST GO TO FISHERMANS WHARF ... for heaven's sake, rw, you live here, don't you know anything? Every tour book says the wharf is the place to be.

                          And they always enjoy it and load up on $3 t-shirts and other "memorabilia' a synanym would be a four letter word that starts with c and ends with p.

                          You might consider a sundae at Ghiradelli. I have that on my list to re-try. Did it when I first moved to SF and haven't been back since.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Funny the brother is 60 and my son is 12. If we make it as far as Ghiradelli, I'll be at the Buena Vista. And if we would go to the Ferry building, I'd be at the oyster bar. Thanks all for your help and prodding.

                            Rworange, your posts on the Wharf did help me find something that might be OK.

                            1. re: rworange

                              You're a nicer host than I was. I'd put them on the J Church and send them on their own. Meet later away from the Wharf :) I guess my main issue is that "there's no there there." I don't believe it's even a particularly active fleet any longer. The sea lions to me have always just been annoying; I liked them better out at Seal Rock before they moved. Crowded, sleazy, lowest-common-denominator-oriented. If I wanted to look at it once, I'd go and look and then walk a very few blocks south to North Beach. And, yes, Ghiardelli. I moved to SF in '76 and it and the Cannery had plenty going on. Don't know about now.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Had Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives at The Franciscan and then retreated to the Buena Vista while they had fun, so to speak.

                                Actually Ghirardelli is starting to come back into its own, though there has been a lot of ebb and flow in the past year. However it is no longer in the dreadful stage it was in a few years back. Kara's cupcakes is there. Cellar 360 is ok. Crown and Crumpet is a nice, if pricy, tea room. Haven't been to the new Southern BBQ place that replaced the short-lived Irish joint.

                                It gets over four stars on yelp, but that is so hard to judge between the shills for the restaurant and the yelp food whores who get special invitations from restaurant owners. I'm suspicious of anyone on Yelp with too many reviews and elite status.

                                Gary Danko is scheduled to open a new place there in the fall ... delayed from a spring opening.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Seems only fair that I should report back on our journey. The kids were eager to have their chowder in a bread bowl, so we did that first at one of the stands on Taylor. I was feeling adventurous so I got the fresh shucked oysters in a plastic cup. Kids were happy with the chowder and my oysters were enormous and quite tasty with a squirt of lemon.
                                  With tax, it was $6 for 4 oysters.

                                  After milling around a bit, we went to Crab House for our 7 PM reservation. Our window table was waiting for us. Now let me say I have never eaten at any of the places in Pier 39 or most of the places at the wharf, but we ended up having a lovely meal. After taking the ferry, a draft Stella Artois was just what I needed.

                                  We started off with the sizzling mussels served with garlic butter, fried artichokes, and fried calamari. All were quite good especially the mussels.

                                  Then two had the crab chowder as a starter - the two that didn't trek to the seafood stalls. This was delicious with nice size chunks of crab, a little corn in a flavorful base that wasn't too thick or thin.

                                  For dinner, two of us got the crab alfredo, another the pasta with lobster in a garlic butter sauce, I had crab cakes, and my daughter has plain pasta.

                                  My crab cakes were very good in spite of some not so great tartar sauce on top. Thankfully they were served atop some sauteed zucchini because not many vegetables were consumed otherwise. After a squeeze of lemon, it was a perfect dish for me since I wasn't overly hungry at this point.

                                  The crab alfredo was a hit. The alfredo was light and let the sweet flavor of the crab come through. The lobster pasta had mainly lobster claw meat but was still pretty tasty.

                                  The Acme rolls are a nice touch.

                                  All in all, we had a very good meal. The place is packed pretty tight and the decor is crab kitschy.

                                  Rworange, thanks for the tip because I never would have tried it otherwise.

                                  Crab House At Pier 39
                                  39 San Pier, Francisco, CA 94133

                                  1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                                    I think if you had mentioned that this was a family outing including children, you would probably have gotten some different responses. Glad you enjoyed it. As you said, it wasn't about the food, but it satisfied you also. BTW, if I ever got served crab cakes with tartar sauce on top, they'd have gone straight back to the kitchen to be replaced. A sacrilege :(

                                    1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                                      Hey, thanks for the report. It looks like Crab House lives up to its name and is more crab heavy than the other restaurants. Nice to know they do crab well. The downfall I find at this group of restaurants is fresh fish. It is often overcooked. Anything ambicious is suspect too because there are really no chefs in the kitchen, only cooks. Dead Fish in Crockett is owned by the same group. For a while they were doing trendy veggies ... purple potatoes ... things like that. However, they never manage to cook them right. Again, I do appreciate their trying.

                                      Again, loved that crab menu rundown. Terrific.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        I guess it ended up being good that I didn't know the same group owned the Dead Fish, otherwise I never would have given the Crab House a try. We had a lousy meal at the Dead Fish a couple years back. It was mediocre to lousy on all levels except the Bloody Mary and the view.

                                        1. re: Cheesy Oysters

                                          Except for the mussels, never order dead fish at Dead Fish. It is seafood roulette. It depends on the line chef of the day. They might be more inconsistant that Crab House due to there being a larger pool in SF to draw from for kitchen staff.

                                  2. re: c oliver

                                    I honestly like the Balaclutha and the marine pier park. The few times I've "done the wharf" with guests I've made a beeline for there, and said "call me when you're done and we'll catch a cab to dinner".

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      I agree with totally. I honestly don't even consider Pier 39 part of the wharf. I know it is but not for me.

                        2. I love the passionate FW posts. It seems as though it is always the transplants who complain the most when someone says they are heading there for a meal. There are plenty of SF natives that go to Alioto's and Scomas on a weekly basis.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: pininex

                            Really? The SF natives I know all avoid the wharf, even the old folks. Thirty years ago locals used to frequent some of the restaurants: Señor Pico's, The Mandarin, Paprikas Fono, Gaylord's, Modesto Lanzone. That changed in the 80s.

                            On the other hand, when I ate at Caesar's it was clear that many of the tables were occupied by local regulars. But it's a bit off the main tourist path, has no view, and is relatively inexpensive.


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I moved to SF in l976 so would have been considered a transplant but an old one anyway :) I used to LOVE Paprikas Fono. When I wanted to get some crabs, I'd drive down there and go through the circular drive which isn't available anymore. I'd park right at the curb, get my crabs (uncracked, of course !) and leave. I also use to shop at Cost Plus, back when it was a much more fun and HUGE store. I ALWAYS bought my cocktail napkins there.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                We've only been to FW to catch the ferry for Alcatraz or to get from Pier 39 to the streetcars -- definitely not our cup of tea :-). It seems like Fisherman's Wharf brings out the same feelings in some of the SF Hounds as Gastown in Vancouver does in me. We've had overseas guests desperate to go to Gastown to shop and look around and we've steered them away, only to meet reproachful looks and regrets afterwards. So now we send them down there in the daytime on their own (pretty safe) and then meet up with them in the evening for dining at one of the many stellar restos in this up and coming area. Something tells me the rents in Gastown are much lower than in FW though, which may at least partly explain the difference in food costs and quality...

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  To me, FW has a couple of redeeming characteristics, and (like you) I point out these to visitors and set them loose.

                                  1. fresh steamed crab. When it's in season, get a whole crab fresh steamed on the sidewalk. Most of my friends won't do this because their fingers get messy.

                                  2. Musee Mechanique. It's cool, all those 5 cent wonders.

                                  3. Boat museum. There's all those old boats, and just standing on the back of the balclutha.... especially if you walked down grant street and grabbed a chinese pastry or two.

                                  4. Beer at the "view places". A few of those restaurants have views. I always forget which, but I remember when i'm down there. You can't mess up a beer (much).

                                  5. Alcatraz!

                                  6. It's a quick ride from the ferry building.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    Does the F Market go to FW? If not, what does please?

                                    Nothing better than a freshly done crab, not cracked. Take it home (or to your hotel room), spread newspapers on the table or floor and feast.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        He means "yes, it goes to Fisherman's Wharf." I haven't been to the historic ships in many years, but I always loved it.

                                        Based on this thread I sent my Dad to Scoma's with some visiting friends a while back and it was a hit. I guess it's the same as with Tadich: sometimes you don't need or want the latest cutting edge cuisine, sometimes you just want a good piece of fish, well cooked and served by professionals in a pleasant setting.

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  It sounds like we had the same experiences! Paprikas Fono was my favorite restaurant in that area and I could shop in that Cost Plus for hours. It really was a different store back then. That's where I bought incense, candles, teas, and many other things. The place smelled wonderful. I miss it.

                                3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Gee, I'd forgotten about Paprikas Fono--we loved going there. I do remember Senor Pico and Modesto Lanzone. I think there's still a Gaylord's in Embarcadero One.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    The first time I ate at Scoma's was in the mid-90s, when I had a lunch appointment with an SFPD detective. We jumped the line because the hostess gave law enforcement personnel preference in seating. Doesn't get much more local than that.

                                  2. re: pininex

                                    Probably daily to Alioto's.

                                    I love dropping in to Alioto's in the afternoon about the time people get off work.The bar is populated by locals and probably native San Franciscans. Occasionally politicians.drop by to smooze.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      Sounds like fun. We stay at a friend's pied de terre in the north end of North Beach. I used to go to Alioto's back in the 70s but not since then probably. We'll check it out.