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July 15, 2015

The Definitive History of Cioppino in San Francisco

Many dishes were invented in San Francisco and cioppino is one of them! Here’s the story and history of San Francisco cioppino. 

Cioppino is a tomato-based seafood stew that was invented by the San Francisco Italian fishermen of North Beach in the late 1800s using whatever seafood was left over from the day’s catch. Often times it was crab, shrimp, clams and fish, which were then combined with onions, garlic and tomatoes, and then everything was cooked with herbs in olive oil and wine. Originally it was made on the boats while out at sea and in homes, but as Italian restaurants started sprouting up around the wharf, cioppino became a very popular dish at local restaurants.

The restaurant that credits itself with bringing Cioppino to the restaurant atmosphere is Alioto’s #8. In 1925 Nunzio Alioto, an Italian immigrant, set up a stall at #8 Fisherman’s Wharf to sell lunchtime provisions to the Italian laborers. His business grew and by 1932 he had constructed the first building at the historic corner of Taylor and Jefferson, by combining the fishstand with a seafood bar specializing in shrimp cocktails and steamed crab. Sadly, Nunzio passed away unexpectedly and “Nonna” Rose, his widow, and her three children began running the stand. When Rose took over she became the first woman to work on the wharf. By 1938 she had installed a kitchen in the original structure and officially opened Alioto’s Restaurant.

It’s been said that Rose used to put a bib around her son before eating cioppino and say, “If it doesn’t splatter on your shirt, you aren’t doing it right.”

It's the amount of stains on your shirt at the end of a meal indicates that you really enjoyed it. If you’re on Fisherman’s Wharf, it's a tradition to eat at Alioto’s. In North Beach we recommend Sotto Mare for the best San Francisco Cioppino or old school restaurant. If you find yourself in the Bayshore, go to The Old Clam House, which has been their since 1861.

Avital Ungar is the owner of Avital Food Tours which takes guests behind-the-scenes in the San Francisco culinary scene on walking food tours in the Mission District, the Haight AshburyNorth Beach and craft cocktails in Union Square. Get more information at

Photo by LWYang / CC BY


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