[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!

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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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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold