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 – $$
This place was heaven. It was one of those experiences where you could throw a dart at the menu and everything would come out tasting like God’s granny cooked it. I had the Red Flannel Hash, the Buckwheat Pancake and a biscuit. DON’T JUDGE ME. The Red Flannel Hash had pieces of meat in it that made me close my eyes to savor it. Do yourself a favor and eat here.
Runner-up: Plow – Portrero Hill – $$
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.
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 – $$
This was the breakfast that started them all. When I walked in at 6:30 am, it seemed the restaurant existed inside of a juke box and hadn’t changed since the good ‘ol days. I was sitting at the bar, drinking coffee and writing when some lawyer from Arkansas sat down near me and we got to talking.
Before he left, he asked if I wanted anything and I said gosh dernit I do, so I ordered, he paid for my meal and left, and then I ate my breakfast alone while contemplating the generosity of strangers. On my way to work afterwards, I ran through the (still mostly empty) streets of Union Square with the sun shining on the pigeons and the possibilities of the world seemed limitless. I actually did that thing where you jump and click your heels together. I did the jumping Dorothy.
Runner-up: Pork Store Cafe – Haight – $$
Most Gluttonous in (first) a good way and (then) a bad way
Brenda’s – Polk Gulch/Tenderloin – $$
Get here early so you can get a seat without waiting 90 minutes. When you do sit, order a flight of stuffed beignets, grits with shrimp hollandaise, pulled pork Benedict and a biscuit. Split between you and your mom. Ask for a box to take the leftovers home even though you know you’re going to throw them away. Sit back, take out your insulin, give yourself a shot and call someone to roll you up the hill.
Runner-up: Dottie’s True Blue – SoMa – $$
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
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.
The Traveler’s Award for the tourist destination that lives up to expectations
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