Category Archives: San Francisco

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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Why I Ate 78 Breakfasts at 78 Different Places Last Year

A coffee cup I drew

A coffee cup I drew

I hereby declare that I have done it. For one year (from 1.11.2013 – 1.17.2014), I ate breakfast at a different Bay Area restaurant every Friday before work and on some weekends. I achieved both my written goal of eating breakfast at a different place every Friday and my actual goal of simply eating tons and tons of breakfast.

I went to the furthest reaches of San Francisco and the Bay Area, from the Marina to Glen Park, from Santa Rosa to Santa Clara. I traveled 441.7 miles by bus, car and train to 78 different places of breakfast-eating, consuming $1258 dollars worth of food, 131 eggs, 90 slices of bacon, 98 pancakes, and 234 cups of coffee. I also drew one coffee cup.

This is all well and good. I managed to spend a lot of money and eat many hash browns with my butt in many different styles of chairs and booths, but so what? Why did I do this? Why did I wake up so early and go so far, not even searching for the best food or service? Why did I spend so many hours and dollars on this project and persevere even towards the end when I’d eaten my breakfast passion into the dust (for the time being) and felt I’d seen everything and that I just wanted to sleep in for once.

It wasn’t just a meal, or just a restaurant. Breakfast for me was outer space. It was my Sahara and my Antarctica and the Wild West, the region I was destined to explore and chronicle. 

Pork Store Cafe BiscuitsAnd I wanted to find breakfast, to seek it in its natural habitat, to consume and know it inside and out and to know its people. From the crust of a sourdough loaf to the tenderness of a scrambled egg and the crisp release of grease that comes from biting into a perfectly cooked hash brown.

I wanted to make a portrait of a ritual and to examine it until I knew its every detail and their meanings, to paint a complete picture of breakfast, to tell its entire story and not miss a thing, to climb hills and descend into valleys, to walk on darkened doorsteps and to step into empty places, to look into the faces of strangers and try to place them, to ask of them to serve me food in exchange for money and some of my time and for some of my thoughts and skin cells and saliva left on the used silverware.

But most of all, I set out to eat, to consume mountains of hashbrowns and toast and eggs, stacks of pancakes, whole sticks of butter and gallons of syrup. I wanted to explore using my senses and let my brain take a back seat and just shut up for a second.

Friday morning was mine and it was special. Every morning that I got to work with my stomach full of breakfast and another journey under my belt, I’d squeezed a little extra life into my day. It was my secret, that before I started doing work for anyone else, I’d done something for me and my goals. I wanted adventure, and that’s why I did it and have lived to tell the tale. What’s next? I don’t know. But it’s gonna be epic.

By the way, this is not the last you’ve heard of this. There is much, much more breakfast to be served.

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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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Feels like San Francisco to Me

Photo credit: torbakhopper, flickr

Photo credit: torbakhopper, flickr

I want to talk about Tuesday, when I was walking to a party. It was a nice night, a clear one with a couple of stars poking through. The deep blue black of the night here always reminds me of frosting for some reason, like I could dip my finger into it and taste it.

So it was a frosting color sky and I was walking somewhere in the Upper or Lower Haight, where the houses are so beautiful they make you want to barf and I was walking with my layers on – at least two or three for posterity, and I was strapped into my backpack – as one needs to be because otherwise there’s no guarantee your backpack couldn’t just fall right off – and I was wearing my tennies because those are my street shoes and play shoes and everything was normal.

Maybe I took a deep breath, or maybe I looked across the street and saw a cool tree or maybe the ghost of ET possessed my body for a second and imparted the secrets of the universe to me. I don’t know what happened exactly but all of the sudden, it hit me. I felt like I was in San Francisco.

So many times throughout the day/week/year/millisecond, I’m reminded of different times and places. That breeze makes me feel like Boston. These houses seem like they’re from LA. This hamburger reminds me of that one hamburger I had that one time that was really good in Chicago at that one place.

But this moment was the first time I’d related a certain temperature, sky, and house set-up back to San Francisco itself as opposed to somewhere else. It was cool.

It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside like somehow I know this place and its frosting sky and they know me too and I could wrap myself up in that sky like a big blanket and go to sleep on Ocean Beach and then watch the city get lit up from the other side in the morning since we’re on the West Coast in case you forgot. And I can mix metaphors like I don’t even care. Frosting, blanket, fishnet stockings – who cares what you call the sky? Not San Francisco.

And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that maybe what I really wanted to talk about is how I want to be an astronaut and go into space and taste the sky. Is it frosting? If so, what kind – is it like a cream cheese, or a royal, or a ganache? And what’s under the frosting? Are black holes really some kind of molten chocolate pit, because that sounds pretty awesome especially with the possibility of time travel thrown in there.

But no matter where I end up, be it in an infinite spiral of swirling buttercream or wandering somewhere in Upper or Lower Haight, I know I’ll have that feeling of San Francisco sitting on the shelf of my mind in its mason jar, ready to be whipped out when it’s time to reminisce in the next city.

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