With over 1300 reviews on Yelp, an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and a long line that often snakes down the block, I won’t try to argue that Swan Oyster Depot is one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets. But I will tell you that I still meet locals who don’t know it, and I will insist that if you skip it, you’re really missing out.
“After a few teeth-stingingly cold Anchor Steams, the answer was obvious: San Francisco’s Swan Oyster Depot belongs in the American Food issue because it is the best place to eat in America. There are restaurants, of course, with more refined food, nicer dining rooms, sommeliers, meat, and vegetables besides iceberg lettuce. But in terms of the fundamental pleasure derived from leaving your home to eat somewhere else, there is nowhere better.”
– Chris Ying in Lucky Peach Issue 4: American Food
Despite the fact that I live around the corner and pass it regularly when running errands in the neighborhood, it took me more than 8 months before I actually ate here. No particular reason kept me away, other than that whenever I had it on my mind, it was either closed (Sundays) or the wait was long. It definitely won’t take even half as long for me to return.
It’s a very small spot with only 15-20 stools, hence the line. The only times I’ve seen it without a line is right around opening at 10:30 am and for about the last hour or so before closing at 5:30 pm. Those are the ideal times to visit, if you ask me, and don’t forget to bring cash because that’s all they take.
Opened in 1912 by four Danish brothers, Swan Oyster Depot has been in business in the same spot for over 100 years. It was purchased by Sal Sancimino in the 1940s and is still operated by later generations of the Sancimino family. As you can see below, they work side-by-side, and the family resemblance is inarguable.
WHAT WE ATE
The menu consists of fresh seafood (crabs, shrimp, prawns, etc.) either à la carte or over salad, oysters, clam chowder and sourdough bread. We felt the need to try just about everything.
Next time I want to try the sea urchin or one of those dungeness crabs in the shell or the Italian style sashimi or… No matter what you decide to try, don’t miss the clam chowder. It’s one of the best I’ve ever eaten.
Swan Oyster Depot on Yelp | 1517 Polk Street, San Francisco 94109 | Mon-Sat 10:30 am to 5:30 pm