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Crab House Dungeness Crab
Crab House

When you think about food in California, your mind (and taste buds) might immediately envision rich street tacos loaded with freshly chopped avocado, farm-to-table vegetables, and incredibly opulent smoothies from a particular high-end grocery store. But for most in-the-know foodies, the Golden State isn’t complete without a heaping pile of Dungeness crab. The seafood is so popular in California that a new bill called AB 1797 is set out to make the Dungeness crab the official state crustacean—and for good reason.

“Dungeness crab holds a special place in California’s culinary scene,” explains Lindsey Qualman, head of growth and direct-to-consumer product at Four Star Seafood and  Provisions, a seafood wholesaler in San Francisco. “Here in the Bay Area, these delectable crabs are considered seafood royalty: Both professional and home chefs cherish the sweet and tender meat of locally caught ‘dungies.’”

Cracked Crab with Butter and Citrus

Iain Bagwell

Native to the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness crab particularly thrives in the nutrient-rich waters that stretch from Alaska to near Santa Barbara. Unlike other crab species, Qualman says the Dungeness varietal stands out for its sweet, mild, and slightly nutty flavor. “I find that its flavor is less briny compared to other crabs, [plus] the texture of the meat is tender in the body and slightly firmer in the legs, which adds to its appeal,” she adds. “This unique flavor profile, combined with the crab’s large size and ample meat, sets it apart from other species.”

You might be able to find Dungeness crab year-round, but Qualman says the best time to enjoy the covetable crustacean is during the fall and winter months. That said, she notes the past few years have experienced “significant delays” due to environmental concerns such as whale migration and entanglements with crab fishing gear. “These delays not only affect the availability of crab, especially during important holiday seasons, but also create economic difficulties for local fishermen who depend on this season for a substantial portion of their income,” she says.

Antica Terra Crab Boil
A crab boil with Antica Terra in Oregon.

Thomas J. Story

While Qualman attributes Dungeness crab’s enduring popularity to a host of factors—taste, the historical significance of crab fishing in the Bay Area, the anticipation surrounding the crab season, and its integral role in local cuisine—it’s worth noting that this crustacean is a major money-maker. “The Dungeness crab is an iconic crustacean in California and one that has made a significant contribution to the economies of coastal communities in California and to those in the commercial fishing industry,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, who introduced AB 1797, in an official statement. In fact, research suggests that the 2022-2023 fishing season produced 21 million pounds of crab, which translates to about $54 million.

So, the multimillion-dollar question: Where are the best places to chow down on Dungeness crab? Well, you have some options. Northern California might have a treasure trove of offerings—Qualman recommends buying directly from local suppliers off the pier in either San Francisco or Half Moon Bay—but there are plenty of delicious restaurants in Southern California to whet your appetite.

Best Places to Eat Dungeness Crab in California


Scoma's Dungeness Crab

Rich Johnson

Nestled in San Francisco’s seafood-centric Fisherman’s Wharf, Scoma’s is not only a culinary staple, but it’s also a great place to score Dungeness crab year-round. (While Scoma’s exclusively sources its crab locally during primetime, it relies on vendors in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska during the off-season.) Slide into the Bay Area institution’s old-school leather seats and order from its Pier-to-Plate menu, which is packed with Dungeness crab dishes. Served either roasted or chilled, the whole Dungeness crab is a classic take on the beloved crustacean, while the restaurant’s Shellfish Sauté Sec offers a little bit of everything: Dungeness crab legs, scallops, and shrimp, sautéed with mushrooms and onions in a garlic-white wine sauce and served with a warm grain salad and seasonal vegetables. If it’s your first time at Scoma’s, you can’t go wrong with the Crab Louis Salad, which boasts a half pound of “dungies” and has been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening in 1965. $$$; 1965 Al Scoma Way, San Francisco, CA; scomas.com

Gott’s Roadside

If you’re looking for a bite in between wine tastings, make a pit stop at Gott’s Roadside flagship location in St. Helena. Since its founding in 1999, the Napa County staple has deftly married wine country sensibility with American roadside dining—becoming a James Beard America’s Classic in the process. Culinary director Jennifer Rebman introduced a limited-edition Dungeness Crab Sandwich, which is available until the end of the month. Here, less is more as Dungeness crab is paired with house-made lemon mayo, green onions, and crunchy romaine lettuce on a toasted brioche bun. $$; 933 Main Street, CA-29, St. Helena, CA; gotts.com

Princess Seafood

For a true sea-to-table experience, Princess Seafood has you covered. Located in Fort Bragg, which is about 180 miles north of San Francisco, the fish market-slash-restaurant is led by an all-women crew—or, as they like to refer to themselves, princesses. The team’s boat, aptly named the Princess, spends its winters commercial crabbing out of Noyo Harbor and brings its delicious finds to land. Enjoy a special crab roll using freshly picked Dungeness crab during peak season, or order a regular roll year-round that features 75 percent Dungeness crab and 25 percent deep sea crab. Either way, Princess Seafood makes sure the crab is the star by serving the crustacean with toasted rustic roll, complete with a hint of mayonnaise. Rounding out the order is fresh-squeezed lemon, old bay, melted garlic butter, and tomatoes. $$; 32096 North Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg, CA; fvprincess.com

Crab House

Crab House Dungeness Crab

Crab House

Since Fisherman’s Wharf is essentially synonymous with seafood, there is no shortage of places to get your Dungeness crab fix. However, if you’re looking for variety, Crab House is a solid choice. So, what Dungeness crab dishes can you order at the Pier 39 eatery? More like what can’t you order? Roasted in its secret garlic sauce and served on a hot iron skillet, the Killer Crab is arguably the restaurant’s marquee offering. (Though the original Killer Crab clocks in at a whopping two pounds, it also comes in a range of sizes from a half-portion to a full-fledged feast.) If you want something smaller, order the Crab Chowder, an award-winning clam chowder made from scratch daily in-house and topped with crab meat. Or, for the perfect surf and turf combo, Crab House tops both its 10-ounce New York steak and burger with crab meat. $$; 203 C Pier 39, San Francisco, CA; crabhouse39.com

The Tides Wharf & Restaurant

At The Tides Wharf & Restaurant, which is located just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Bodega Bay, you can enjoy Dungeness crab all day long. Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, so here’s your sign to treat yourself to a Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict, which is served with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, and an English muffin. The restaurant’s signature cioppino soup and Louie salad are consistent crowd-pleasers—not to mention they’re both made with Dungeness crab—plus, the hot crab sandwich cannot be beat. The magic in this open-face sandwich lies in its yummy mix of Dungeness crab, jack cheese, and tomato. Simple, yet scrumptious. $$; 835 Bay Hwy, Bodega Bay, CA; innatthetides.com/tides-wharf-restaurant


Cotogna Crab Pasta

Dora Tsui/Cotogna

The upscale San Francisco eatery might be known for its modern-yet-mouthwatering takes on Italian cuisine and intimate wood-laden interiors, but it doesn’t shy away from Dungeness crab during its peak season. Come winter, customers can enjoy a helping of Dungeness Crab Tagliolini, a fresh egg pasta topped with steamed crab meat. The Italian-meets-Californian dish is completed with crab stock made from crab shells, sofrito of tomato, white wine, and bay leaf—not to mention a dash of chili flakes and Meyer lemon butter. Buon appetito! $$$; 490 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, CA; cotognasf.com

PPQ Dungeness Island

While Dungeness crab and Asian cuisine might seem like an unlikely duo, the two come together in perfect harmony at PPQ Dungeness Island. (After all, Dungeness is quite literally this restaurant’s middle name.) The Richmond District spot uses live Dungeness crab whenever possible, and prepares it in a range of different techniques. Deep-fried in seasonings like peppercorn, salty egg yolk, or sweet onion? Covered in curry or cajun sauces? Steamed with garlic? Check, check, and check. PPQ Dungeness Island has generous portions, but if you’ve worked up an appetite, you can order one of the restaurant’s Crab Set menus, which comes with vegetables, noodles, and deep-fried Imperial Rolls. $$; 5821 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA; ppqcrab.com

Golden Crab House

Golden Crab House Dungeness Crab

Golden Crab House

If you find yourself on the opposite side of Golden Gate Park, grab a table at Golden Crab House. As PPQ Dungeness Island’s Sunset spinoff, this spot serves up Dungeness crab with a kick year-round. (Golden Crab House sources the crustacean locally during peak fishing season and taps fish wholesalers in Washington otherwise.) Enjoy a bit of heat with the Crab Curry, where Dungeness crab is steamed with Japanese-style curry, garlic, and shallots. Or, you can enjoy a unique take on the classics with its deep-fried Dungeness crab, which is available in an array of flavors and spice levels: Garlic roasted, peppercorn, salted egg yolk, or spicy chili. $$$; 1830 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122; goldencrabsf.com

Barbara’s Fishtrap

Why limit Dungeness crab to one course? At Barbara’s Fishtrap, a pared-back eatery in California’s Half Moon Bay, it’s possible to enjoy a crab-stuffed meal. For starters, the Crab Louie Salad mixes romaine lettuce with a fresh helping of “dungies” and a cornucopia of toppings like avocado slices, onions, shredded carrots, garbanzo, kidney beans, and ripe tomato wedges. Meanwhile, the Dungeness Crab Sandwich features a toasted french roll and homemade tartar sauce to bring out the fish’s natural sweetness. But don’t forget to order a round of Garlic Cheese Crab Bread for the table. Topped with a generous portion of fresh Dungeness crab meat and cheese blend, it’s the perfect combination of warm, gooey goodness and briny seafood delight. $$; 281 Capistrano Road, Half Moon Bay, CA; barbarasfishtrap.com

The Crab Cooker

Northern California might be the place to pick up some Dungeness Crab, but The Crab Cooker offers a reliable place to satisfy your craving down south. With locations in Newport Beach and Tustin, the Southern California spot has come a long way since its founding in 1951; however, it remains committed to serving top-notch seafood. Highlights include Alaskan halibut, locally-caught white sea bass, and, of course, Dungeness crab sourced from the Pacific Ocean. While the restaurant’s homemade Dungeness Crab Cakes remain a menu mainstay, its Crab Louie Salad is fitting for those looking for a lighter fare.  $$; 2200 Newport Boulevard, Newport Beach, CA; thecrabcooker.com