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Some of the Bay Area’s Best Garlic Butter Crab Is Served in San Bruno After Midnight

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Illustration of two men in glasses eating Dungeness crab enthusiastically, breaking it apart with their hands. They're wearing plastic gloves.
The Dungeness crab and garlic noodles at San Bruno’s A-One Kitchen hold their own against any restaurant in the Bay — and they’re available until 1 a.m. (Thien Pham)

The Midnight Diners is a regular collaboration between KQED food editor Luke Tsai and artist Thien Pham. Follow them each week as they explore the hot pot restaurants, taco carts and 24-hour casino buffets that make up the Bay Area’s after-hours dining scene.

There’s late-night food you’re grateful for because it fills your belly when everything else is closed. And then there’s what they serve at San Bruno’s A-One Kitchen and Bar until 1 a.m. every night: heaping platters of garlic butter crab and garlic noodles that are so delicious, I’d be willing to travel a long distance to eat them, at any time of day.

Sleepy downtown San Bruno doesn’t seem like an obvious nexus for late-night dining — or it doesn’t, anyway, until you drive down San Mateo Avenue on a Friday night and see Artichoke Joe’s, the city’s 100-plus-year-old casino, looming brightly over the horizon. Spend a few minutes watching the poker players shuffle out, maybe a bit woozy after a bad beat, and then the cluster of restaurants slinging relatively inexpensive, calorie-intensive food well past midnight starts to make perfect sense.

Located directly across the street from the casino, A-One Kitchen looks much like how I imagined a little family-run, late-night Thai-Chinese spot might look — a cheerful mix of red leather booths, bright lights (from five or six different sources, half of them blinking) and live sports on TV. The menu is a similarly lively hodgepodge of different Asian cuisines: red curries from Thailand and short rib pho from Vietnam, stir-fried eggplant oomphed up with funky Malaysian belacan and good old-fashioned American Chinese broccoli beef.

But we had come with a single-minded purpose: to try the garlic butter Dungeness crab (market price, which turned out to be $48 for a strapping 2.5-pound specimen) and a side of garlic noodles.

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Friends, this is the kind of crab feast you dream about. The crab comes out a little less saucy than similarly garlic-and-butter-laden versions you’ll find at Viet seafood icons like Thanh Long and PPQ, but perfectly juicy and topped with about twice as much chopped garlic — a salty, umami-laden counterpoint to the crab’s sweet, succulent flesh. Donning plastic gloves, we tore that crustacean apart with our hands in about 20 minutes flat, leaving behind nothing but an empty carcass and a stack of hollowed-out limbs.

Illustration of the exterior of a restaurant on a rainy day. The sign reads, "A-ONE BAR"
The restaurant is located directly across the street from the Artichoke Joe’s casino. (Thien Pham)

At A-One Kitchen, the crab comes with French fries on the plate, a kind of ingenious addition that gives you something crispy and starchy to dip in that garlicky mash. But you’ll also want to order a bowl of white rice so that you have something to mix with the rich, creamy crab fat that lines the inside of the carapace. (IYKYK: crab fat rice might be the best part of the entire meal.)

And, even if triple-carbing it seems outrageous, you also definitely need to order the garlic noodles, which are some of the best I’ve had — thick, chewy, super-savory (not sweet like some places) and extra-extra-garlicky. It’s the ideal complement to Dungeness crab.

Is this the best garlic butter crab and garlic noodles you can snag after midnight in the Bay Area? I’d put money on it. Is it the best garlic crab and garlic noodles you can get in the Bay at any time of day whatsoever?? Also, quite possibly, yes! It belongs in the conversation, at the very least.

The quality of the food at A-One Kitchen helps explain why the crowd is a little bit more mixed than what you often find at late-night restaurants. Yes, sports bros sitting at the bar who seemed to have wandered over from the casino, but also elderly Asian couples enjoying a bowl of hot soup. Add to that the warm friendliness of the service — “How are you? Long time no see!” to every other customer, it seemed — and I could really see myself becoming a regular.

A-One Kitchen and Bar is open 5 p.m.–1 a.m. daily, except for Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed.

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