The Best Seafood Stew in San Francisco: A Traveler’s Guide

In the In Search Of series, we hunt down the incredibly best illustrations of a signature dish in a city or location. Past installments are listed here.

THIS TIME of yr, the urge for cioppino seeps in like San Francisco’s notorious fog—it commences with wisps, and then it envelops me. I grew up in the Bay Place, lived in the metropolis in my 20s, then moved away 15 yrs back. Of all San Francisco’s most iconic dishes—Boudin sourdough, Buena Vista’s Irish coffee, Mission burritos—it’s the savory fish stew that I crave the most when I’m emotion homesick.


Where by have you observed the most effective fishermen’s stew? Be part of the discussion under.

Fishermen, many of them Italians from Genoa, are reported to have developed the earliest kind of cioppino in San Francisco in the late 1800s—its identify is derived from the phrase in Genoese dialect for “little soup.” It was certainly littler then—just tomatoes, white wine, fish, possibly some chiles and garlic. Today’s cioppino delivers a treasure upper body of seafood, often like Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, squid and fish. It is invariably served with toasted bread to sop up all the broth.

Tales of cioppino’s evolution connect with to thoughts the stone soup people tale. Angel Cincotta of Alioto-Lazio Fish Firm, a seafood market place in Fisherman’s Wharf a lot more than 70 a long time outdated, stated that in the early days of earning cioppino, “everyone included whatever fish they could to the pot….Because all the immigrants, when they got here, they all took treatment of every other, they all pitched in to feed all people.”

I established out to examine the city by way of cioppino, which returned me to neighborhoods I hadn’t been in for ages. Alongside the way, in addition to accumulating a ton of bibs, I understood that while San Francisco has improved immensely over the a long time, numerous of the sites that available my favourite cioppino have been like portals in time. They preserve tradition by serving, as they have for many years, generous parts of unpretentious foodstuff.

The Stalwart: Tadich Grill

As everyday living returns to downtown San Francisco, so also do the company people to the extended wooden bar at Tadich Grill, which include a single typical who lamented heading back again to the office environment, but at the very least there was extra of this—gesturing to the steamed clams established right before him. Tadich Grill, originating in 1849 and the city’s oldest restaurant, is one particular of people nostalgic eating institutions with waiters in ties and white coats, dark wooden wainscoting and booths, and old-fashioned menus with lobster Thermidor and pan-fried sand dabs. Because the pandemic, however, the menu has been pared down, while cioppino never ever left it. (“The protest on January 6 would be almost nothing as opposed with us not obtaining cioppino,” my waiter advised me.) Below, it comes with crab meat liberated from its shell and sautéed with other seafood in white wine and butter, and concluded with a thinner tomato broth. 240 California St.,

The Crab King: Sotto Mare

For numerous locals, Sotto Mare is synonymous with cioppino. It’s a vintage place in North Beach (San Francisco’s Tiny Italy), with a very long, slender dining home which is usually as cheerfully crowded as the partitions, protected with newspaper clippings and pics of nearby politicians, superstars, mates and household. Sotto Mare’s “Best Damn Crab Cioppino,” as it’s proclaimed on the menu, arrives in a substantial steel soup tureen with a ladle and is packed with the most seafood of any other cioppino that I tried—half a cracked crab jutting out, large shrimp and little, sweet bay shrimp and scallops, mussels, clams and calamari, all in a chunky tomato broth suffused with the style of the sea and christened with fresh parsley as it leaves the kitchen. It’s significant sufficient for two. 552 Green St.,

The Light Contact: Hog Island Oyster Bar

Even without having the bay sights from the indoor and outdoor tables of Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Setting up, people today would line up for its clean oysters and some of the city’s most impeccably organized seafood. That involves the kitchen’s “rustic seafood stew,” Hog Island’s just take on the cioppino. It attributes a lighter broth brimming with tomatoes and spiked with Calabrian chiles. There is no crab in this 1, but I didn’t overlook it with all the other seafood, including head-on shrimp and delicately cooked squid. In addition, it gave me place to buy a dozen oysters and San Francisco anchovies, dusted in semolina and fried. 1 Ferry Developing 11A,

The Purist: Scoma’s

Tucked away on a smaller pier in Fisherman’s Wharf, Scoma’s is in look at of the fishing boats returning to harbor to unload their catch, some of which finds its way into the cafe kitchen. The very low-slung building—once a coffee shop serving fishermen ahead of it became a restaurant in 1965—belies an unfussy but elegantly aged fashioned inside, with a refined cioppino to match. Described as the “lazy man’s” cioppino on the menu, it is lavish, with succulent crab meat and large sweet scallops, as effectively as the typical mélange of seafood, all bathed in a clean tomato soup which is much more saucelike than brothy. With out a good deal of extraneous spices, there’s a purity to Scoma’s cioppino, so though it possibly appears very little like the initial stew, it’s a fitting tribute to the dish born around these docks. 1965 Al Scoma Way,

The Spicy Standout: Anchor Oyster Bar

In the Castro neighborhood, exactly where it appears just about every sign and storefront carries a sexual innuendo, it is appropriate that Anchor Oyster Bar serves the lustiest cioppino, with a uniquely spiced and daring broth redolent of anise and with a good deal of garlic, chunks of sweet tomato, and a kick of warmth. It’s loaded with seafood, such as substantial prawns and total crab legs that necessitate a crab cracker and an additional massive moist towelette when you’re accomplished (both of those offered). The cioppino arrives in two sizes—the smaller is massive ample for two. In a city with an already extraordinary “parklet” video game (the Covid-era sidewalk extensions are seemingly almost everywhere), Anchor’s shines, echoing the restaurant’s New England seafood shack vibe, complete with blue and white shutters and a corrugated tin roof. 579 Castro St.,

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