So this place has been on our food destination bucket list for a few years--despite the occasional bad review, this is must do in SF--better than lots of tourist traps (although this is turning into a foodie must-do).
First-- there's always a wait. Its a very little storefront with a glass window filled with fresh seafood, but if you look for the line on a sidewalk on Polk Street, you'll find the Swan Oyster Depot. We arrived at 10 am--the place opens at 10:30 am--and there was already a big line. There are only 15 or so stools at the counter--that's all the seating there is--and once those filled we had to wait for a few of them to empty. But it was worth the wait. The seafood is absolutely pristine--we started with a collection of west coast oysters--six varieties--and they were each slightly different but they were all fresh as they could be. (I actually ate another half-dozen of my favorite.) The crab cocktail is excellent--big chunks of leg and claw meat in a glass cocktail cup--opt for extra horseradish with the cocktail sauce. The crab-back filled with bits of crab-fat broth that you soak up with sourdough bread--a unique treat worth a try. We also shared a plate of sashimi drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with capers and onions--they come S, M, or L--as well as a recommended plate of smoked salmon--the salmon was so flavorful, I almost went with a second plate.
The service is very good but very unique. Five or six guys are behind the counter and while one might be your main guy, the others are likely to just keep stopping by to be sure what you might want or need. The guy you order with will actually make your plate--the food is prepared and served by the same person. When you've had enough, ask for the bill-- they just ask what you had and they total it up.
It's really old school eating and I can't wait to go back. Most of my reviews are at fancier places but I really left my heart at this rather diner basic seafood joint. (Couldn't resist that opportunity.)