As a San Francisco Bay Area native, I've been hearing about the wonders of Pier 23 Cafe for years now. From the outdoor seating, to the view of the bay, the live music, the beer, and the food. Everything. However, it wasn't until I saw a recent episode of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, that my urge to finally check out the restaurant really piqued. As he mentioned in that episode, most of the restaurants featured on the show -- he features because viewers email him about it. When it comes to Pier 23 Cafe though -- he featured on his own because its been his own personal favorite for years. So when my mind went through its little rolodex of restaurants to go to with some very special guests, two being from out of town, suggesting Pier 23 Cafe was a no-brainer. After linking them to the clip of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, they were in.
I suggested Pier 23 Cafe because this place is infamous. It's pretty much a San Francisco institution. Typically, most locals loath tourist attractions in their own town and stay away like the plague, but Pier 23 Cafe is one of those rare places that tourists want to experience, yet is still beloved by the locals. At the time of writing, this restaurant has been around for 25 years and is still owned and operated by the original owner.
I made a reservation a couple of days in advance through OpenTable for a party of six for a late Saturday afternoon. On the day of, I took a lovely and leisurely 15 minute walk from the Embarcadero BART station up to the very easy to find Pier 23 Cafe just a tad early to hold down the fort. Even though it was late afternoon, it was hustlin' and bustlin' full of people and there was a literal line out the door at certain points. Not only was the entire bar area full, but so was the rest of the restaurant. Though my reservation was for 4 PM, we didn't get a table till 4:30, which was a tad bit annoying, but as you'll see later, it was worth the wait!
The hostesses and the rest of the staff were great and very attentive. While I was waiting for a table, they came up to me every few minutes to let me know what was up with the status of my table. Service remained awesome once we got the table as well. Recommendations for food were made and I was never without a beverage. The inside decor reminded me of cozy beach side bars that I used to visit in Florida, but the patio area semi made me feel like I was on a cruise ship since we were atop water looking right at the Bay Bridge. Our party ended up sitting in the tent area right next to the rest of the patio area, which was fine with me since it started getting a bit chilly later on. The noise level wasn't bad at all. Kind of a medium, though I'd imagine it would be louder if there was live music playing, which there wasn't during our time there.
Alright, enough about the ambiance and stuff. Let's get to what you really came here the see: the food :D
P.S. I wanted to note that with the exception of the fish tacos and the oven roasted whole dungeness crab, everything else was off of either the small plates, bar bites, or sides menu. Don't believe their menu when they use words like "small", "bites", or "sides" -- the portions are generous!
P.P.S. One other thing that I want to add -- their cocktails are awesome (I suggest the Treasure Island or the Bayside Sangria) and they have a fantastic selection of beers, not to mention wine.
Garlic Prawns Prawns in ancho chile sauce
These little guys weren't anything out of the ordinary, but they still were tasty, and I thought that their being atop a bed of spinach was a nice touch. The spinach was especially delicious because it soaked up all of the flavoring of the shrimp!
Fried Chicken Fried Chicken with blue cheese sauce
These were perfect. The outer layer was extremely crispy while the meat inside was extremely moist. But the best part -- the blue cheese dipping sauce. Long after the fried chicken was gone, I kept the dipping sauce and dipped other things in it, like fries. That stuff is amazing.
Mac, Bac & Cheese Self-explanatory
This was an extremely rich and creamy dish. I love that it wasn't too salty or too greasy. With a few dashes of Tabasco, which is my favorite condiment for macaroni and cheese, it tasted just right. And of course, bacon is always a nice touch.
Octopus Ceviche Octopus ceviche with peppers, cilantro, lime, jicama and avocado salsa verde
This dish is actually off of their special menu and not on their regular menu. None of us had ever had octopus ceviche before, so we just had to try it! As you can probably tell, this was the lightest and most refreshing dish that we ordered out of our lineup. It was served with chips, but I felt like the jicama sticks offered plenty enough crunch. The ceviche itself was amazing, as was the avocado salsa verde that it was served atop.
Steamed Mussels & Clams Steamed mussels and clams with fresno chile, garlic and lemon
Mmmmm, these were so tasty. A lot of seafood places that I go to serve just steamed clams, or just steamed mussels, so I love that Pier 23 Cafe serves both in one dish. Really amazing flavor.
BBQ Short Ribs BBQ short ribs atop house slaw
I know that this dish isn't much to look at, but don't let its appearance fool you; it was actually perfectly cooked! The flavorful meat flaked beautifully off the bone. And that housemade slaw that's made to order is pretty amazing, too. Its tangy, tart dressing was a nice contrast, yet still a complement to the flavoring of the BBQ short ribs.
Fish & Chips Fish and chips with house slaw & jalapeno dressing
The house slaw makes another appearance here, and as with their fried chicken, the fried fish sticks were crispy on the outside, but still soft, moist and extremely flaky on the inside. The thin cut fries were also amazing. However, instead of dipping it in their jalapeno dressing, I dunked them into that amazing blue cheese sauce that came with the fried chicken :D
Grilled Fish Tacos Grilled fish tacos with roasted tomato salsa and guacamole
This dish was actually one of the three dishes that was featured on the show. I found it to be just a tad disappointing because on the show, what made these fish tacos stand out was that it used larger cube-sized chunks of fish that were simply seared, therefore you had kind of a sashimi taco. However, these tacos were filled with smaller pieces of fully cooked fish. They were still good though, and not all is lost, because as it turns out, one member of our party doesn't like raw fish, so it all worked out :)
Oven Roasted Whole Dungeness Crab
This was another dish that was featured on the show. Now this one did not disappoint. It was extremely flavorful, and that sauce -- mmm! No wonder they served it with bread -- because that sauce is too good not to soak up!
Red Velvet Cake
For a red velvet cake, it wasn't that great. When I think red velvet cake, I think soft, moist cake. However, the group decided that this was actually more of a fruit bar. It was really, really dense, like a brownie, with a crunchy top and we could've sworn that there was dried fruit baked into it, too, like dried strawberries. If it was served as a strawberry tart, I would've believed it, but since we ordered red velvet cake, that was what we expected to receive!
Strawberry Panna Cotta
The panna cotta wasn't that great either. It had good flavor, but I'm not sure I would call this panna cotta. It was way too runny, even moreso than pudding. It was quite literally like spooning chowder.
Pier 23 Cafe's strength obviously lies in their drinks and savory food items and not in their dessert items. It'd be nice to have it all, but after seeing their savory food items, wouldn't you agree that that one flaw could be overlooked? Plus, you get to sit on the pier along the Embarcadero, listen to live music on certain days, and look out at this while you dine:
As someone who loves San Francisco, it doesn't get much better than this.
Whether you're local or an out of towner, I highly recommend that you check this place out at least once, even if it's just for a drink.
If you're curious about Pier 23 Cafe's appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, you can check it out here:
FYI, we asked about the duck poppers that were also featured in that episode, but alas, they sadly do not make them anymore. Fingers are crossed that they'll introduce them back onto their menu another day though! Hint hint ;)
This place is pretty fun! It also helps when I spent the afternoon with some excellent people! Thanks to the man who paid the bill!! It has terrific ambiance and definitely good food. Service is also quick and fast; and I would just love to come back here one day to enjoy the sun, drinks and the seafood. I want to try more of theie specialties but those ribs and the fish and chips were great!
When I'm not Lunching, I'm a jeweler, and an all around, self-proclaimed web geek. My passions include social media, the interweb, technology, writing, yoga, fitness, photography, jewelry, fashion, … more
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