This Iconic San Francisco Dish Has a Fascinating History—Here’s Where to Eat It

Move over, sourdough. This old-school fisherman’s stew is one of the city’s best culinary inventions.

An overhead shot of cioppino at San Francisco restaurant, Tadich Grill, on a white table cloth with a fork on the let and knife on the right.

There are few better places to try cioppino than at San Francisco’s oldest restaurant.

Photos by Jake Stangel

Opened by Croatian immigrants in 1849, San Francisco’s Tadich Grill ranks as the oldest continuously operating restaurant in California (save for a pandemic pause). For decades this Financial District institution has been one of the best places to try cioppino, a tomato-wine stew brimming with clams, mussels, shrimp, whitefish, and Dungeness crab. The recipe dates back at least 60 years, and decades of experience mean the restaurant’s cioppino is delicious.

While it is the oldest restaurant serving the dish, it’s far from the only one. Cioppino is ubiquitous in San Francisco, having become as clichéd as Fisherman’s Wharf, where nearly every eatery hawks a version. It’s less well-known outside the Bay Area—but that’s all the more reason to try it on your next visit to this city. Here’s the history of this iconic San Francisco dish and where to enjoy a bowl of cioppino.

What is cioppino?

A white bowl of cioppino from Tadich Grill, with lobster, scallop, shrimp, and clam

Cioppino is by far the most popular dish at 175-year-old Tadich Grill.

Courtesy of Tadich Grill

Cioppino likely arrived in San Francisco with Italian immigrants in the mid-19th century. At the end of each day, these fishermen, most of them from Genoa, would combine whatever seafood they couldn’t sell with ingredients they had on deck, namely canned tomatoes and wine. Legend has it someone would walk around the docks calling for leftovers to throw into a communal cauldron. “Chip in, chip in,” the Italian-accented solicitor would yell, which morphed into “chip-EE-no.” Others say the soup is essentially the Genoese stew ciuppin but with such local ingredients as Dungeness crab.

Whatever the origins, the stew has endured and—as with sourdough bread and the Mission burrito—earned itself status as one of San Francisco’s most iconic foods.

Where to try cioppino in San Francisco

Narrow interior of Tadich Grill during busy lunch hour

White-jacketed bartenders stir and shake lunch-hour martinis at this old-school institution.

Photo by Jake Stangel

Tadich Grill

As you may have already guessed, Tadich Grill is one of the best places in San Francisco to eat cioppino, along with other seafood classics, such as the crab Louie salad. Tadich is known for being an old-school kind of joint, but make no mistake—the scene here is as vibrant and buzzy as any of the city’s trendy newcomers.


Scoma’s is a local stalwart in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. The cioppino is solid, but even better is its 100 percent compliance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood program. It’s also located on a working pier where they source the day’s catch directly from local fishers, so you can trust that the ingredients are fresh.

Hog Island Oyster

Hog Island Oyster, which has locations in Napa, Larkspur, Tomales Bay (all north of the city), and at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, serves a variation it calls the Rustic Seafood Stew. It’s an excellent option if you’re also interested in trying a plate of freshly shucked Tomales Bay oysters before you tuck into the main course. Bonus: If you don’t have a trip to San Francisco planned any time soon, you can recreate the dish at home with its recipe or kit.

Anchor Oyster Bar

Outside of downtown, Anchor Oyster Bar is a petite neighborhood restaurant in the Castro district. Get cozy at its bar and bring a friend—the cioppino is big enough for two. And if there’s a wait (there often is), pop across the street to wine bar and restaurant Swirl for a glass while you wait.

This article originally appeared online in 2015; it was most recently updated on January 31, 2024, to include current information. Jessie Beck contributed to the reporting of this story.

Serena Renner is the former editor of AFAR’s Wander section; previously she was also the travel editor at Diablo magazine. She caught the travel bug during a study abroad trip to Granada, Spain.
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