[San Francisco, Polk Gulch] Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Depot is a San Francisco institution. Over a hundred years old, it opened in 1912 at its current spot on Polk Street and has been run by the current family owners since 1946. I’ve eaten at Swan a few times before but haven’t been in awhile, deterred by long, slow moving lines (the counter seats less than 20 people at a time) and lacking the initiative to queue up there before they open at 10:30 AM. If you don’t want to wait, take out orders are a lot faster.

I had lunch here on a Saturday at around 2pm. The line wasn’t super long but I still had to wait about 45 minutes. While I was in line they assigned one person in the back as the last customer, so I would probably get there well before they close to ensure seats. This was the last day they were open before their annual summer vacation, so some things had sold out already. I wanted to get the crab back this time, a crab head and guts with melted butter (and a relatively good deal at $6), but they had sold out already when I was seated.

Instead I had:

Sea Urchin (~$28)
An off menu item. A whole live sea urchin cracked open. Some of the sweetest freshest uni I’ve ever had. Very expensive though as it was $28 for 5 pieces of uni.

Sicilian Sashimi (medium size - $20 something?)
Also off menu. You can get this in small, medium, and large. Mine came with sliced scallop, tuna, salmon, and a good quantity of hamachi. Sprinkled with a little salt I think, with some olive oil, capers, and finely diced red onion. Really good. Just the right amount of salt, and the briny capers and olive oil were a nice accompaniment. Very fresh fish and scallops.

Cup of Clam Chowder ($3)
This wasn’t very good today, thin and was becoming separated.

Bread and Butter ($1)
A hunk of sourdough.

Cash only!


Looks like California uni? But I thought its not in season now? I think about $7 a pound at the dock for consumers at HMB. At a pound for a uni it seems a bit pricey.

Is there a season for California urchins? Maybe it is more expensive if it’s not in season.

Don’t believe there is a season. Year round.

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My understanding is that they are available year-round but taste best just after spring and just before winter – best to take that with a grain of salt, though.

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Another visit to Swan Oyster Depot. Hadn’t been back for a few years - not up to braving the lines and also because of the pandemic of course.

This time I got there at 9:30 in the AM. On a weekday. And I still had to wait a bit for a seat :stuck_out_tongue: On this particular day and time they were only seating diners in their parklet outside. Also a few people got takeout when I was waiting for a seat so that’s still an option.

Sourdough bread and butter.


I got a crab back again ($8), which tasted like crab guts. Dipped most of my bread in there. Nothing like crab guts for breakfast.

And then smoked salmon, which I hadn’t tried before. Very good smoked salmon on slices of bread, with some capers and finely chopped red onion. This was a half order. They also have a full order and also a plate that comes with shrimp salad.

And then some oysters and clams. Half a dozen each. The clams on the left are Littleneck clams from the east coast. They gave me some extra because apparently they were a bit small. The much bigger clams on the right are Cherrystone clams which come from the west coast. Both clams were quite good but I liked the littleneck clams a bit more, seemed a little sweeter and a touch less chewy. As for the oysters, I forgot what each were but this was a mix of 3 types. I think the ones on the bottom are Baja Kunamotos. Both the oysters and clams were shucked well, full of liquor, and delicious and briny. You can get a variety of sauces - I believe they were mignonette, horseradish, Tabasco, and a Thai chili sauce. I got the mignonette and the Thai chili sauce but ended up just using some of the mignonette and/or a little squeeze of lemon.

Also had a small order of the Sicilian sashimi which was again quite good. This had (clockwise from top) scallop, hamachi, salmon, halibut, and tuna. With olive oil, capers, and chopped red onion. I liked the scallop and hamachi most out of the fish.

Pigged out a bit this time. Forgot what the breakdown was but it was $79 before tax and tip. Still cash only!


I’m very heartened to hear that they’re open.


Funnily enough, most of the times we visited Swan Oyster Depot were when we went on trips to SF— before we started living there—and once or twice when friends were visiting and we took them there. The queue used to be brutal, but the food was always top notch.

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