Category Archives: Guides to San Francisco

The Weird, Offbeat and Wonderful Breakfasts in San Francisco

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.

Wolfe's Lunch

Wolfe’s Lunch

Most Surreal

Wolfe’s Lunch – Portrero Hill – $

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.

Credit: Afar Media

It’s Tops

Most Dream-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.

Best story
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.

bashful-bull-tooMost heart and soul

The Bashful Bull Too – Parkside – $ 

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

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The Worst and Most Awkward Breakfast and Brunch in San Francisco


complicated_breakfast

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

pancake_wants_to_die_breakfast_san francisco

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.

sexy_breakfast_kangaroo

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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20 Pieces of Advice for My Sister’s Trip to San Francisco

We're going to paint the town.

We’re going to paint the town.

Dear Sister,

I’m so excited that you’re coming to visit me in San Francisco for Christmas, that you’re leaving parents and home far behind in Oklahoma and venturing out to the West Coast, a journey our ancestors and great-uncle made and one that it is now your turn to make. Welcome to this state. There are some things you should know to make the most out of your time here.

1. You will always feel like you’re doing something wrong as you ride public transportation. It’s as unavoidable as congealed gravy after a holiday meal.

2. Bring every kind of clothing you have. Because of witchcraft or something similar, the temperature varies wildly from day to night and from shade to sun. I use the handy phrase “sun-hot; shade-cool” to remember which one is which.

3. Bring cash; some places will not accept your plastic. These places will often have tasty pastries.

4. Most born and raised Californians know nothing about Oklahoma aside from either the bombing or the musical. Because of their ignorance, they will lash out and make fun of your native state. Don’t let it get to you.

5. Half shirts are a thing, as are sheer wispy shirts, all manner of hats and anything with a mustache on it.

6. Strangers might talk to you, and it’s not always a bad thing. Feel it out, and respond if it seems appropriate. If someone says “Good morning” to you, they’re probably being friendly. If they say, “Damn girl, you healthy. Them organic goods?” while you’re carrying groceries, you’re probably in Oakland.*

7. Green bins are for compost, black are for trash, and blue are for recycling. Don’t let anyone see you throw away something that can be recycled.

8. Leave your Styrofoam at home and bring a bag to the grocery store.

9. That weird smell is either dog urine or marijuana. It could also be people urine, if we’re downtown.

10. That delicious meaty smell is either coming from Hahn’s Hibachi or Yellow Sub. I’m never sure which one.

11. This city is full of stores selling things no one should ever purchase, like $40 bowls and many whimsical variations on the salt and pepper shaker. That being said, it’s all beautiful and you will want to purchase something. Don’t spend all your money at the first place.

12. No one knows what to do about the homeless people, so mostly we just ignore them. I’d like to find a better way to handle this but I’m not sure what it is.

13. This place is mind-numbingly beautiful and everyone who gets to live here is lucky. Don’t forget that where you come from is also lovely.

14. Avoid the Tenderloin and Upper Market area – no reason for you to dabble in those neighborhoods yet. You can tell you’re in the T-Loin from the missing teeth to broken glass to face tattoo ratio.

15. Don’t waste your time on bad food.

16. Climb every hill you see. You won’t regret it.

17. Buy me a present while I’m working. I’ve earned it.

18. Don’t be ashamed of being a tourist. It’s what you are and you don’t have to hide from any one.

19. Everyone does and doesn’t look the same. You’ll see what I mean. Most people are attractive in a “I’m going places” or “I’m unique” or “I took time to dress myself this morning” or “my clothes are expensive” kind of way.

20. Have fun! (and buy me a present)

*This was said to me once in Oakland.

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The Official Snotting Black Guide to Loving San Francisco

san francisco twin peaks san francisco state university USF1. Love at first sight isn’t real. That’s true with humans, parakeets, human-parakeet relations, and cities. You think you know a city but then it starts raining and housing is hard to find and strangers talk to you while you’re in line for the bus. Give yourself space to find the reasons you love the city for yourself. Or go back home to Oklahoma.

2. The city will be just like you thought it would: hilly, tree-ridden, and expensive. Rejoice in the fact you knew what you were doing when you came here. Make sure your confidence level is as high as possible.

3. The city will be nothing like you thought it would be: you had no idea what you were getting into, people take themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, and it turns out that dreams don’t come true automatically with geographical relocation. Beginning with a surfeit of confidence, however, was the best way to beat your bird-brained assumptions out of you.

4. You can make it work. Believe this despite the fact that no one will blame you if you fail or decide to move away or change course. Maybe that’s what you should do anyways–you shouldn’t rule it out at least. It’s hard out here, but people make it work every day. You can too.

5. Attitude changes everything. Either you’re stuck in a job you don’t like or you’re getting the skills you need to move on to something better. Either you’re stuck with a cat at home or you’re learning how to love felines in order to relate to your cat-loving boyfriend. There’s always a lining to the cloud, but you choose what it’s made out of.

6. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was right. You need skills. You need to be able to offer something valuable to someone. You need an income and somewhere to live after your friends get tired of you squatting in or around their apartments.

7. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was wrong. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

8. Be prepared to talk to people either about their dogs or about food. It’s the surest way to the San Francisco resident’s heart. Be sure to call it “Frisco.” Locals love that, almost as much as they love instant coffee. (The last two sentences were jokes.)

9. Learn the secrets of the city, the way things look at night or from the tops of hills, the vistas you earn through inner thigh sweat, the places that everyone says are good but actually aren’t (I’m looking at you Bi-rite ice cream). In this way, you can make the city your own.

10. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, even if that means using a flip phone and eating McDonald’s soft serve ice cream occasionally. Singularity (both kinds) is what San Francisco’s supposed to be about, I think, so don’t go changing to try to please it.

11. Remember it’s all going to burn anyways.

What are your secrets to loving your city?

If you liked this blog post, you might also like: I’m not a local, but then again who is and Finally, a Bachelorette Party that Celebrates Pain, Confusion, and Fear and The Oatmeal that Changed My Life

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