Anchor Oyster Bar, San Francisco

inspired by our friends, Irene and Ray, who went here last week for Ray’s b-day, Theresa and I  decided to try out Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.

The place is very small, with only 5 tables (3 four toppers and 2 two/three toppers) plus 8 stools at the bar.

It was a  Friday (we both took time off of work)  and arrived around noon for lunch.  We were lucky in that we grabbed the last available table, else we would have to put our name up on the board.

The specialty of the house is, of course, oysters. A white board behind the bar listed oysters available that day as well as daily specials.  We opted for the “Anchor Special” on the menu that offered a dozen oysters on the half shell (you can mix and match based on what is available that day), 8 steamed clams and 4 chilled, boiled shrimp.   Kumamotos, Sweetwaters, and Effinghams were available that day, but we decided to skip the Kumamatos and got 6 each of the Sweetwaters and Effinghams.  The chowder also got good reviews on Yelp, so we opted to share a bowl.  After ordering, Theresa did further research on her phone and found out that Anchor also has cioppino available, but you have to ask for it since it is not listed on the menu, and comes in full and half orders. We opted for the half order since we already got the Anchor Special.

Bread was served and then chowder came shortly after .  Creamy, not too thick, and not overly chunky with the right amount of clammy goodness.  While it is not the best chowder I have had, it’s defintely above average.


The Anchor Special came next. Oysters freshly shucked accompanied by lemon wedges and minuet. Briny and fresh with a hint of the sea. The Sweetwaters (from Hogg Island)were, as the name suggests, slightly more sweet than the Effinghams (from near Vancouver).  Four boiled, shelled, de-veined jumbo shrimp  and some cocktail sauce with fresh horseradish were in the center of the platter.  The steamed clams came in a separate bowl and were bathed in a  garlic laden broth perfect for sopping up with the complementary bread. My conservative estimate is the bowl had 1/2 a bulb of garlic in it, and was not overly salty nor heavily seasoned with white wine like the French or Belgian method of steaming clams.

The cioppino arrived next. Wonderfully garlic-y and not overly salty or tomato-y (e.g. over acidic).  The half portion was very generous, with PEI mussels, dungeness crab, shrimp, clams, and white fish (not sure what type, but could have been trout or cod). Two pieces of parmesan topped garlic bread and more lemon wedges accompanied the large bowl. Unless you are a big eater, I would recommend sharing the half portion with a friend after a round of oysters.  My guess is the full order alone could easily feed 2 large eaters and perhaps up to 4 lighter eaters.

All in all a great culinary experience. I would describe Anchor like going to an amusement park. If forced to wait, will do so because there is a good payoff at the end. But not something that I would go do again and again in a short period of time.  I can see why Zagat and Michellin both recommend this place.

– if you don’t like waiting, I would go during off peak hours like we did or plan accordingly. According to Yelp, hour plus waits are common.  They do not take reservations or seat incomplete parties. Make sure you are there when they call your name, else they move onto the next person. Bring a warm jacket if you are going in the evenings, as SF nights tend to be cold.
-Service was decent, although if you are expecting to get in and out in a hurry, this is not the place. There was a single waiter covering all the tables with three busboy/runner types in support and all were scrambling the entire time we were there. I don’t fault the staff, as it’s not because of lack of effort, just so much to do all within a tight space. Not sure if adding staff would help, as the place is so small and more people would probably just get in the way.  Probably explains why wait times are long during busy hours.
– Parking can be an issue as with most places in San Francisco. Metered parking on  Castro helps turnover during the day. Parking is tight in the surrounding neighborhood and limited to 2 hrs during biz hours if you don’t have a permit. Evenings are probably worse as more residents return from work and others come in for dining and nightlife, so expect to circle a few times before snagging a space
– This is not a place for large parties. I would recommend no more than 4 people at a time, else you will probably have to wait a long long time for a table.
– For first timers, the Anchor Special is probably a good way to sample both the hot and cold dishes of the restaurant. But I think on our next visit I would just order oysters and the cioppino or oysters and steamed clams and skip the shrimp and chowder. Finishing off all the food we ordered this time was quite challenging, although we managed to do it.

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