I ate breakfast at 78 different places in the Bay Area last year.* I’ve written about the best of them and the worst of them, but there are some that deserve to be mentioned for other reasons, ones with some special sauce. Check it out.
I ate at Wolfe’s Lunch – a name that sounds like something out of a Grimm fairy tale – on a day when the sky was a gunmetal gray and the restaurant was completely empty. I got my coffee, pancakes, eggs, meat and potatoes for less than $10. When my food was ready, the woman at the counter used a microphone to call me to the counter which was about 10 feet away. I obeyed the voice and retrieved my breakfast, which I ate while staring at the sky and noting that this part of town is very boxy. It was one of those days where reality seemed a little thinner than others.
Best Hidden Treasure
Bechelli’s Flower Market – $$ – SoMa
In this part of SoMa, the streets are lined with old warehouses and car shops. It’s not especially beautiful unless you’re into that sort of thing. I thought Bechelli’s Flower Market was just a cute name to attract patrons in this industrial area of town, but sure enough fresh flowers adorned every table. The food was good and right on par with expectations. On a whim, I exited out the back way and discovered an alley lined with flower shops – pinks and reds and oranges bursting into the street – and the name of the cafe made more sense.
Oldest Head Cook
Olympic Flame Cafe – Tenderloin – $
The day I ate here was the day a 90-yr-old Greek man made my breakfast. Despite the terrible reviews on Yelp, I loved this place, which goes to show that most people on the internet don’t know what I like.
It’s Tops Coffee Shop – Mission – $$
I wandered here in a dense angst haze after barely making it through the Upper Market area alive, assaulted on all sides by the worst of what people can become due to illness, abuse, and life on the streets. I walked into It’s Tops and felt like I was back in a perfect version of my childhood, wood walls and cozy booths and I sat down and ordered a breakfast feast to take away the pain of not knowing what I was doing or where I was going in life or how to get what I wanted. I ordered everything to help that pain go away and sat in a time capsule for a little bit while the world raged on outside. It was delicious.
Best Breakfast for a Sailor
Red’s Java House – Embarcadero / SoMa – $
An outpost of a time gone by, built out of cinderblocks and plywood and clinging to the pier while glassy office buildings rise up around it – Red’s is somewhere you can let your hair down and talk shop about how to get them ropes on your ship working properly. I got pancakes and other stuff and sat and looked out at the street and the water. They said I could come back for refills of coffee all day if I wanted to. I didn’t take them up on it, but maybe next time. Maybe next time.
Toast Eatery – Noe Valley – $
The food here was average, but as I was walking to BART after eating I saw two men carrying a mattress. One of them was very tall and this information was filed somewhere in my brain. But mostly I forgot all about this and months later, I’m going to get a drink at an event called Nerd Nite, and I see someone who’s very tall and we make eye contact and he says “You look familiar…” and I say “You look familiar!” And so we dig through our activities and where we live and our connections and he mentions he lives in Noe Valley and then it hits me, “Wait, were you recently moving a mattress on the street?
As it turns out, we didn’t know each other at all but had merely seen one another on the street early on a Friday morning. San Francisco is so small.
This place is run by people who are not of midwestern descent, but they have made this restaurant into a veritable paragon of everything most midwestern eateries wish they could be. The amount of love they have for Americana of old is enough to grant them the Heart and Soul award plus the fact they have a dish that includes: hashbrowns, eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, biscuits + gravy and pancakes. Amen, hallelujah and praise the Lord.
*Full list here: Breakfasts in the Bay Area