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What: When October winds to a close, Bay Area eaters eagerly begin counting down the days. You see, come November, Dungeness crab season kicks off, and an amazing glut of crab-eating ensues. Why the anticipation? Dungeness crabs, which live along the northwestern coast of the United States (from Point Conception in California up to Washington), possess a delicate, sweet meat that, when fresh, is one of the most delicious things ever. (No, we’re not exaggerating.) It’s highly adaptable to various presentations—on a split buttered roll, as the base of a Benedict, straight out of the shell and dipped in butter—but the most San Francisco way to eat it is in a classic crab Louie, a salad that began making appearances here in the early 20th century. Consisting of iceberg lettuce, a hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and a generous pile of fresh-picked Dungeness, the salad gets its name from the distinctive mayonnaise-based “Louie” dressing, which has the sweetness of Thousand Island, but is often laced with a little spice. However you eat it, Dungeness crab is a much-coveted, and much-loved, San Francisco treat.
Good to know: South of Mendocino County, commercial Dungeness crab season opens November 15 each year, but the recreational season kicks off November 1. Find a friend with a boat and get a head start on the crab craze.
Where: Woodhouse Fish Co. (multiple locations including 2073 Market St., at Church St., map) offers Dungeness in season in a variety of ways: as a crab roll, whole and cracked, and as a traditional crab Louie (pictured). We love this particular location; the tiny corner restaurant evokes the charm of an old-school sea shack. Dollar oysters on Tuesday nights are a nice perk, too.
When: Sun-Thurs, 11:30am-9:30pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30am-10pm
Order: The Dungeness crab Louie ($17). It’s hard to go wrong when a big pile of fresh-picked Dungeness is involved, but Woodhouse’s version of this dish stands out thanks to its use of bright, fresh vegetables (including a little romaine lettuce alongside the iceberg); a generous amount of crab; and a Louie dressing with the perfect amount of kick. Don’t be shy about sampling the other iterations of Dungeness available here, like the crab melt and crab roll.
Alternatively: The century-old, iconic fish-market counter Swan Oyster Depot (lunch only; 415-673-2757;1517 Polk St., betw. California & Sacramento Sts., map) is a great place to get a superfresh half-cracked Dungeness crab ($20), available with Louie sauce on the side. For other excellent versions of Crab Louie, try the classic take at Tadich Grill (240 California St., betw. Battery & Front Sts., map) and Wayfare Tavern’s (558 Sacramento St., betw. Sansome & Montgomery Sts., map) version, studded with roasted beets and avocado.
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