Photography: Denise Woodward

You can thank 1800s San Francisco for one of the West’s most famous dishes.

A fish stew with Mediterranean flair, cioppino (cho-pea-no) been around since the days when Italian and Portuguese fishermen settled in the Bay Area during the Gold Rush era. They’d bring home leftovers of what they’d made onboard; restaurants created their own variations of the spicy wine-laced tomato-based soup, and the dish took off.

You can still get a memorable bowl of cioppino that’s virtually the same flavorful crab-crammed delight it was more than 120 years ago at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero, a former fishing village 45 miles south of San Francisco. It was in this sleepy coastal town in 1894 that Portuguese immigrant Frank Duarte bought a modest wooden building for $12 in gold and soon began attracting customers to his new tavern with cheap whiskey shots. The patrons might have come for the booze, but they stayed for the cioppino.

The small rustic spot is one of the Northern California coast’s most popular tavern-restaurants. Run by Duarte’s great-grandson Ron and great-great grandchildren Kathy and Tim, it serves hundreds daily on a typical weekend, and plenty of them are tucking in to the crab cioppino. Duarte’s Tavern’s renown also rests on its artichoke soup and olallieberry pie, but it’s the cioppino — along with the old-time nothing-fancy atmosphere and house-made sourdough bread — that best reflects the character of the community and gives the place the timeless appeal that makes it a true American classic.

In his book A Century of Restaurants: Stories and Recipes from 100 of America’s Most Historic and Successful Restaurants, Rick Browne provides the Duarte’s cioppino recipe, describing it as “[P]iled high with half a crab and a half dozen shrimp and clams, and bathed in garlic, tomatoes, and cumin, [it’s] messy and heavenly to eat.” Make the trip from the Bay Area for your own bowl of heaven, and you’re bound to agree with Browne.

Duarte’s Tavern, 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, California, 650.879.0464,

From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.

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