I always have a hard time coming to Swan Oyster Depot as it closes at 5:30pm on weekdays and only opens on Saturdays on the weekend. I found my window of opportunity to come here when I had a week of funemployment. Since all my friends were at work, I did a solo trip for breakfast (yep, seafood for breakfast) since I didn’t want to wait in the line that I’m always hearing about.
I arrived about 20 minutes before they opened at 10:30am on a Wednesday and was the first one in line. When it was time, they waved us in and told me to seat where ever I wanted. I sat right in the middle of the bar that only has 18 seats. The early bird gets whatever seat they want!
About the place
Swan Oyster Depot has been open for over 100 years and is one of the oldest seafood restaurants in San Francisco. It’s fairly small with one counter and 18 seats and is on a first come first serve basis. It’s a very casual place, only has one giant menu behind the counter and is a place where you can enjoy some good seafood and go. Note that it’s cash only as well.
If you don’t want to wait in the line to eat, you can also buy your seafood to go, but then you don’t get that loud, crowded, elbow in your face from your neighbor sitting so close to you vibe.
Anthony Bourdain comes here every time he visits San Francisco and calls it “the best place to eat in America.”
On the menu: seafood, seafood, seafood. Vegetarians or people who don’t like creatures of the sea – this place is not for you.
Since I was solo, I could only order so much. I wanted the crab back, but they were not selling it that day. It just saved me from a day of high cholesterol, I guess. I was not upset with the other items I ordered though.
I started with the Boston clam chowder. Sometimes I make mistakes. Why did I get a cup and not a bowl? I also got a plate of bread and butter. I usually hate paying for bread (this was only $1), but it went really well with the delicious, thick, creamy and generously clammed (yes, I made that word up) clam chowder. I would have been happy if I had just ordered a few more cups and finished off my bread.
The Sicilian sashimi (sneak peak above) was next. Pro tip: this is not on the menu, but just ask for this. I got a small (another mistake) of this raw dish of tuna, salmon, hamachi and salmon topped with a drizzle of olive oil, some onions and capers.
I usually eat Asian style sashimi (soy sauce and wasabi), but this dish showed me that I have been missing out on other ways of eating sashimi. I squeezed a little bit of lemon on top which gave a nice, crisp citrus flavor to the fish. The olive oil gave it a nice moist texture and I love the briny-ness that the capers gave it.
Aside from the flavors, this plate of fish was one of the freshest, silkiest, melt-in-your-mouth fish I’ve ever tasted. Every single piece was heaven and I’m glad I didn’t have to share it with anyone. I still think about this from time to time, which means I’ll need to make a visit for another plate soon.
I knew I couldn’t come here and not get oysters. I asked which ones were the briny ones and got 2 of each (Miyagi, Kumamoto, Bluepoint). Just like the sashimi, the oysters were super fresh and only need a spritz of lemon to bring out the sea flavor of these oysters.
Though this place set me back about $50 before noon, I love fresh, melt-in-your-mouth seafood and I think I would be broke if I lived any closer to this place. If you love seafood, I think it’s worth the wait and busy vibe.