Category Archives: 24-hour joints in San Francisco

The Worst and Most Awkward Breakfast and Brunch in San Francisco


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I ate breakfast at 78 different places in the Bay Area last year.* Want to know what memories have been seared onto my brain lobes due to horror, disaster or sheer awkwardity? Read on.

Most Awkward

Mel’s Drive-in – multiple locations (I was in the SOMA one) – $$
Shockingly, the food was not terrible here, but my experience was overshadowed by a language barrier incident. The Italian (or possibly Brazilian) man sitting five feet away from me was trying to order and spoke almost no English. He pointed at the menu and asked for an omelette. Then this happened:

Waitress: What kind of cheese do you want?

Man: Omelette – yes I want omelette.

Waitress: But what kind of cheese?

Man: (points at the menu) Omelette, yes!

Waitress (slowly, like he is willfully misunderstanding her): We have American, Cheddar and Swiss.

Man: Yes! (now agitated, getting hungrier and more embarrassed)

Waitress: (emphasizing each word) But – what – kind – of – cheese – do – you – want?

Man: YES, Omelette please! (on the brink of despair)

Waitress: What — kind — of — cheese — American — Cheddar — or — Swiss?

Man: (pointing emphatically at the menu, getting ready to curse America and everything it stands for): YES!

Me: (embarrassed, indignant and uncomfortable) Just choose for him!

Waitress (looks at me questioningly and raises her eyebrows): Okay, guess I’m going to have to do everything for this one. (pauses) What kind of toast do you want?

Me: (falling over dead)

Waitress: I guess he’ll just do sourdough.

Most Disappointing
Rose’s Cafe – The Marina – $$

Put simply, this place sucked. The food was overpriced but average, and even tasted as smarmy as the service. Only come here if your yacht’s broken down and you can’t escape. Rose’s Cafe, you can suck a lemon.

Unfriendliest

Cafe de la Presse – Union Square – $$ 

I’d been wanting to come to this place for a while because it looked fancy and shiny and pretty. So I was excited about eating here, but it ended up sucking, so that sucked. I sat down near a window that happened to be open. Keep in mind that this is the morning in San Francisco where the air feels like a damp fridge. I was cold so I asked them to shut it and the waiter sighed and went to close it while he told me, “Ma’am, we are trying to cool down the restaurant,” like I was the dumbest person in the world. He left a crack open.

Most Forgettable

I wrote down the name of this restaurant as “The other place in Burlington.” The only other note I have about this is that it was “forgettable.”

Worst Smelling

Munch Haven – Civic Center – $ 

While the first thing you might notice about this place is the questionable name, the second thing you’ll notice will undoubtably be the smell – something like egg grease, cigarette smoke and dirty shirts. On the plus side, there were pictures of styles of egg dishes (fried, scrambled, sunnyside up, etc.) as well as the different kinds of cheese you could order. This is probably very useful for people who don’t speak English (see note on Mel’s).

Really?Most continually disappointing yet bafflingly popular restaurant

The Grove – multiple locations – $$

This restaurant will woo you with its fine appearance and tasteful furnishings. It says all the right things and makes you feel special and you’re optimistic that things will work out. Then, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd date, it ditches you in the middle of a meal, sticks you with the bill and you find out later it stole your wallet, phone or passport. And the meal wasn’t that good either. Stop dating this guy. No fourth date.

Saddest
Joanie’s Happy Days Diner – Fisherman’s Wharf – $$

Happy days had turned into sad mornings the Friday I visited this restaurant. I remember the sound of the fridge humming, the television turned to Channel 6 news, fluorescent lighting and a mysterious sense of guilt. Maybe some more patrons would have made me feel less lonely. Was it my fault for visiting at 7 am, right when it opened? I think not.

Runner-up: Chestnut Diner – Marina/Cow Hollow – $

*Full list of breakfast places here: 78 Breakfasts in the Bay Area

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The Best Breakfast and Brunch in San Francisco

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I ate breakfast at 78 different places in the Bay Area last year.* Want to know who wore it best? Read on.

Best Fancy-ish Breakfast / Brunch
Serpentine – Dogpatch – $$ 
This place was heaven. It was one of those experiences where you could throw a dart at the menu and everything would come out tasting like God’s granny cooked it. I had the Red Flannel Hash, the Buckwheat Pancake and a biscuit. DON’T JUDGE ME. The Red Flannel Hash had pieces of meat in it that made me close my eyes to savor it. Do yourself a favor and eat here.

Runner-up: Plow – Portrero Hill – $$

Best Diner
Golden Coffee Shop – Tenderloin – $
For less than ten dollars, I got my pancakes, hashbrowns, bacon, toast, eggs, and coffee. And they have sriracha. And when I accidentally went there a second time, I saw the same well dressed elderly couple sitting at the counter and smiling at everyone. I think they’re angels.

Runner-up: Jim’s Restaurant – The Mission – $
Runner, runner-up: Mission’s Kitchen – The Mission – $

Best Faraway Breakfast Experience
Rocky’s Cafe –  Felton – $ (distance from SF: 67.9 miles)

Picture this, you just hiked 5 miles and you sit down in the shade on a white porch and watch the pine trees blowing in the wind and it’s late fall and there’s that warm wood smell that happens when the sun is shining on wood and someone brings you plates of hot pancakes and hashbrowns and you demolish them and then sit back and look  at the trees as they rustle in the sun. Everything’s going to be okay.

Runner-up: Page’s Diner – Santa Rosa – $ (distance from SF:  56.9 miles)

Best Experience Overall
Sear’s Fine Food – Union Square – $$

This was the breakfast that started them all. When I walked in at 6:30 am, it seemed the restaurant existed inside of a juke box and hadn’t changed since the good ‘ol days. I was sitting at the bar, drinking coffee and writing when some lawyer from Arkansas sat down near me and we got to talking.

Before he left, he asked if I wanted anything and I said gosh dernit I do, so I ordered, he paid for my meal and left, and then I ate my breakfast alone while contemplating the generosity of strangers. On my way to work afterwards, I ran through the (still mostly empty) streets of Union Square with the sun shining on the pigeons and the possibilities of the world seemed limitless. I actually did that thing where you jump and click your heels together. I did the jumping Dorothy.

Runner-up: Pork Store Cafe – Haight – $$

BREAKFAST IN SFMost Gluttonous in (first) a good way and (then) a bad way
Brenda’s – Polk Gulch/Tenderloin – $$

Get here early so you can get a seat without waiting 90 minutes. When you do sit,  order a flight of stuffed beignets, grits with shrimp hollandaise, pulled pork Benedict and a biscuit. Split between you and your mom. Ask for a box to take the leftovers home even though you know you’re going to throw them away. Sit back, take out your insulin, give yourself a shot and call someone to roll you up the hill.

Runner-up: Dottie’s True Blue – SoMa – $$

Best Ambiance
Stacks – Hayes Valley – $$

This restaurant is magical because it’s huge and filled with fake flowers. It’s like they took that riddle: “There is a room full of fake flowers and one real one. How do you find the real one?” and actually recreated it. The chocolate chip – macadamia nut – coconut pancakes weren’t bad either.

Runner-up: The Village Grill – West Portal – $

Most Surprisingly Good 

Home Plate Cafe – The Marina – $$ 

I had no expectations going here since I’d been burned by the Marina before, but the food and vibe was awesome. Lombard street is full of drive-in motels and crappy diners so I felt like I was on a road trip simply by being there. But the star of the show was the fresh homemade scone which I slathered with some butter and raspberry jam and counted myself a happy camper.

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The Traveler’s Award for the tourist destination that lives up to expectations

Mama’s – North Beach – $$ 

I got there 30 minutes before it opened and still had to wait 30 minutes in line before eating. I quickly discovered that the crowd was mostly from out of town and they’d found Mama’s by way of Fodor’s or similar. Yet the food, service and ambiance were delicious and efficient. I ended up sharing my meal with a man from Israel who loved telling me about his home country: “In Israel, we don’t like fat.” “American coffee is so bad. In Israel, we have real coffee.” “In Israel, we have something called the marathon.” Such wonders.

I also think he was in the process of screwing over his business partner because he kept on talking about business deals and seemed like he had a guilty conscience. We split the check evenly, unfortunately, and he never accepted my LinkedIn request afterwards.

*Full list of breakfast places here: 78 Breakfasts in the Bay Area

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The 24-Hour Starbucks on California Street

laurel heights starbucks san franciscoPerhaps you’ve heard of it. If you have, chances are you either live in the Inner Richmond or Laurel Heights, are/were a student at USF, or were driven to satisfy an unbearably intense craving for steamed milk one lonely Tuesday night in San Francisco.

This Starbucks is one of those places where anything could happen, where reality is suspended in a kind of mayonnaise, and humans that normally should never be within 5 feet of one another’s conversations are working, staring, and eavesdropping amongst each other, the same question running through their minds:“What are they doing here?”

I went there for the first time after my office Christmas party in December, and was glad for the liquid strength I had to cope with the experience since it was, at times, a grotesque affair. Indeed it spoke heavily of the fragile human experience (more about this in my 200 page, single-spaced, tiny-fonted, unedited, FREE ebook.)

I arrive slightly after 11:00pm, still disappointed from a completely drama-less soiree with people I’d hoped would be more interesting.  The place is completely and entirely packed, with at least 100 entities in the place (including computers) and nary a seat to be found.

A slightly manic pulse is in the air. It is finals week, after all, and greasy law students are still trying to mash thousands of syllables into their brains. The students I can understand, but who are  these other people hanging out (lurking?) with no discernible purpose? I grab the last seat available and pull out my notebook and pen, about to attempt writing in this bizarro-world.

To my left was a group of older women involved in some kind of enterprise. They had an even older and shorter companion with them in a black wool coat that went all the way to the ground, and she was in a bad way health-wise. Her ankles and shins were swollen and oozing, wrapped in some kind of tissue.

She fidgeted with them for a while until one of her companions says, “Elizabeth (can’t remember if that’s actually her name), you have to clean this up. That’s infection.” And so she shuffles, hobbles to the bathroom, and while she’s gone her companions talk about her and how she needs to go to the hospital and how stubborn she is. Their disgust and frustration is palpable and horrifyingly audible.

Above all, I remember them talking about the smell of her infection, and I was wondering what kind of hell I was in and what kind of hell she (Elizabeth) was in. I wasn’t getting much writing done, and my balance of reality and of what was possible had been tilt-a-whirled by this mysterious case of incredibly sad leaky shins.

Elizabeth came back eventually and her friends didn’t say anything to her. When she decided to leave later, they wouldn’t call her a cab. A stranger did, and she left.

It’s not my place to judge, but where do you go with a story like that? I’m not saying that’s what it’s always like at the 24-hour Starbucks on California Street, but for me it was a defining moment, me being unable to look away or unhear what I’d heard and unsee what I’d seen. Do you see what I mean bout too much reality?

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