It's peak octopus fever in the Bay Area. Just as pork belly was on almost every menu a few years ago and tuna tartare before that — and who could forget kale salad and beets with goat cheese? — octopus is now the seafood of the moment. Raw on poke, served in tacos or in many stellar preparations grilled with various citrus and salty components, octopus is everywhere. These are San Francisco and the Bay Area's 10 best octopus dishes.
Courtesy of Tawla
Burnt octopus with butternut squash amba at Tawla
In the Eastern Mediterranean, which inspires this new Mission restaurant’s menu, octopus is a longtime seafood favorite. Here chef Joseph Magidow creates a superb octopus preparation with a butternut squash amba (mango pickle condiment) and braised dandelion greens that's a beautiful balance of seasons and global cuisines. Talk about a perfect starter to partner on the table with the must-order flatbread and spreads.
206 Valencia St.; 415-814-2704
Octopus à la plancha at Bluestem Brasserie
New chef John Griffiths has reinvigorated the menu and lifted the stature of this New American restaurant on a quiet SoMa pedestrian street between Market Street and Moscone Center. In keeping with trends, it's on point with octopus: Nobody does the formula of crispy but tender octopus with elements of salt (Ligurian olives), sweet (orange), spice (Espelette peppers) and starch (braised fingerlings) better. Please give the roast chicken a chance too. It's equally impressive.
One Yerba Buena Ln.; 415-547-1111
Tako poke at Limu and Shoyu
Octopus doesn’t have to be grilled; it's terrific raw in sushi or in a poke bowl. Raw fish tends to get the poke headlines, so we're excited to see this vibrant tako option with wasabi shoyu, white onions, kimchi and a host of other diced and chopped garnishes atop a base of rice or salad (tip: get half and half). The octopus isn’t from Hawaii (it’s from Spain like most octopus served), but take heart that it’s sustainably trap-caught, an environmentally smart method that isn’t standard across the industry.
2815 California St.; 415-757-0889
Courtesy of Perbacco
Piastra roasted octopus at Perbacco
What doesn’t Perbacco do well? Sure, pastas and secondi get the headlines, but don’t skip the starters. There amongst the opening dishes, octopus-seekers will find a captivating version roasted on a piastra (an Italian griddle surface made from granite). The outside of the cephalopod takes on a gorgeous tan hue, and the texture is more in line with a tender Wagyu steak. The dish stays fresh and light thanks to olive oil–crushed potatoes, radishes, a few spoonfuls of salsa verde and a garum, or fish sauce, vinaigrette. It’s like the FiDi Northern Italian stalwart itself: crisp, refined and with a little dose of creativity to keep things exciting.
230 California St.; 415-955-0663
Octopus at Bravas Bar de Tapas
The most dramatic octopus presentation in the city right now has to be the char-grilled one from Healdsburg’s excellent Spanish restaurant. A single, enormous tentacle spread across the platter makes a strong visual statement. Wisely, the kitchen adds only fingerling potatoes, smoked paprika, unpitted olives (alert!) and a small pool of olive oil, bypassing a flashy sauce that would hide the alluring smokiness of the grilled cephalopod. It’s the perfect palate-tempting prelude to the signature paellas and a fun night on the town in Sonoma wine country.
420 Center St.; 707-433-7700
Wood-grilled octopus and fresh chorizo at Rambler
Just a few days old, the chic Union Square restaurant and bar is off to a strong start for food and drink. The sprawling menu hits its stride with anything wood-fired and rustic like the octopus served in a cast-iron skillet. It’s accompanied by chorizo, shelling beans, grilled lemon and — speaking of major San Francisco trends — a kale salsa verde. It’s refreshing, spicy and hearty.
545 Post St.; 415-549-8008
Courtesy of Chaya Brasserie
Tako tacos at Chaya Brasserie
We just can’t get enough of the genius word play in the name or of the actual octopus dish itself at the always lovely Embarcadero Cali-Asian restaurant with a stellar Bay view. A white sesame flour “tortilla” (more like fluffy naan flatbread than a tortilla) holds the braised Spanish octopus. Instead of a customary salsa, Chaya adds green papaya, avocado, tomatillo and cotija cheese. We have a hunch that octopus tacos will be popping up all over town as San Francisco diners can’t get enough octopus or creative tacos.
132 The Embarcadero; 415-777-8688
Octopus with Brussels sprouts at Mourad
The octopus preparation changes constantly at Mourad Lahlou’s FiDi stunner. The chef’s California-Moroccan cooking mindset shows up in a current octopus iteration where preserved lemon mingles with cauliflower, mustard and Brussels sprouts. Amidst so many signature dishes (the chicken, the basteeya, the couscous, the list goes on), don’t overlook the outstanding octopus to get dinner started.
140 New Montgomery St. #1; 415-660-2500
Steamed pulpo at Bellota
The menu at the massive, gorgeous SoMa Spanish hot spot is just as expansive as the venue itself. From the Mar y Montana category, a list of compact plates of raw or lightly cooked items — like the pulpo, steamed for a soft but not mushy texture — can be ordered separately. It’s the perfect cooking style for the accompanying broccoli rabe, heirloom beans and various fragrant herbs in the gazpacho verde that is really more sauce than soup.
888 Brannan St. #110; 415-430-6580
Grilled Spanish octopus at Ferry Plaza Seafood
Although it moved from the Ferry Building to North Beach several years ago, this is still one of the vital names to know for pristine raw and cooked seafood, sparkling wines and a tremendous midday happy hour. The list is long in terms of what fish and seafood to order, all given a pleasant balance of comfort and innovation. The grilled Spanish octopus exemplifies that, arriving saladlike (no potatoes!) with frisée lettuce and the intriguing trio of blackberries, olives and mushrooms. When you’re tired of octopus dishes playing by the book, this one will charm you.
653 Union St.; 415-274-2561