Food & Drink

Top 5 Old School San Francisco Restaurants

July 13, 2011 1:50 PM

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San Francisco has an ever-changing food landscape. We are at the forefront of whatever is hip and new, from gastropubs to food trucks to the cuisine of every country imaginable. Foams and reductions and vegan cuisine abound. But where do you go to get a taste of old school San Francisco? And not just Swan’s, the Buena Vista, or Tadich; places every celeb chef around has visited. Lisa takes us down alleys and around corners to sample restaurants that have been around San Francisco since before you or me or egg white emulsion. Revel in restaurants where old doesn’t mean outdated.


Alfred’s Steakhouse
659 Merchant St
San Francisco, CA 94111
Alfred’s Steakhouse

Alfred’s has been serving steak in San Francisco since 1928. The location is not the original site, but Alfred’s still has that fantastic back room deal-feel. The drinks are strong and the steak is huge. Sure, there are other things on the menu. The starters (shrimp cocktail, onion soup) are not to be missed. But really? It’s all about the steak. Perfectly aged and cooked to your specification, served with the usual steak house sides (think giant baked potato) and your choice of amazing dipping sauces (try the Bearnaise, you won’t be disappointed). There is a $38 for 3 courses meal which feels like a steal, lest you think dropping inordinate amounts of money on dry aged beef is ridiculous (you don’t). After martinis and steak and sauces and wine (you had to get a bottle of red with your steak dinner), you HAVE to try the bread pudding. No, seriously, do it. You won’t regret it. Okay, you completely will, but it’ll be worth it.


Sam’s Grill
374 Bush St
(between Trinity Pl & Belden Pl)
San Francisco, CA 94104
Sam’s Grill

Tucked in a corner of Belden Alley, Sam’s has been around forever. Or, more accurately, after a long and circuitous history starting in 1867, Sam’s has been at it’s current location since 1946. Snuggle into a curtained booth that still has a bell to ring the waiter. Order the monstrous crab louie salad or sauteed scallops. The waiters are the kind of fellas who will help you decide what to order and will even recommend something that isn’t even on the menu. Trust them. They’re letting you in on their secrets. They will not steer you wrong. But really, there are no bad decisions when the menu is loaded with fresh, flavorful, well-prepared seafood options.


Joe’s of Westlake
11 Glenwood Ave(John Daly Boulevard)
Daly City, CA  
Joe’s of Westlake

Fine. Joe’s is just over the border in Daly City, so technically it’s not in San Francisco. If you are under the age of 60 you will likely be the youngest person there, though hipsters have started invading the bar area and un-ironically listening to the renditions of the Starlight Trio. They’re on to something…join them by grabbing a cocktail, sitting by the fire, and listening to the band play standards as you wait for your table, as there are no reservations at Joe’s. If you’re dining with a small party, avoid the wait by sitting at the counter. You will never need the chef’s table at a fancy restaurant again. Watching the amazing line cooks turn out hearty Italian fair is impressive. Chicken picatta, veal parmesan, calamari steaks…even the burgers are mouth watering, served in ridiculous portions so that you will likely have lunch the next day too. Start with minestrone or Caesar salad, both delicious, and if you aren’t getting a burger and fries, I strongly recommend ravioli on the side, fluffy meat filled pillows in red sauce. Old school spectacular.


St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St
San Francisco, CA
St. Francis Fountain

Around since 1918, and a staple of afternoon adventures with my grandfather, St. Francis Fountain underwent a major change in 2000 to become more of the diner that everyone in the Mission loves and less the confectionery I remember as a child. That, however, does not diminish it’s appeal or status as an old-timey SF restaurant. The food is piping hot, wholesome diner fair. There are still ample ice cream-based beverages and the candy counter feeds my nostalgia. The omelets and other egg dishes are fantastic, or order a patty melt to go with a root beer float. If you’re feeling indulgent (or have a hangover), the “nebulous potato thing” is amazing. This is a favorite for a hipster Sunday brunch or late afternoon adventure, but the old-school feel remains the same.


Schroeder’s German Restaurant
240 Front St
San Francisco, CA
Schroeder’s

Schroeder’s has been serving German fare in San Francisco since the late 1800’s, because sometimes you just need a giant mug of Bavarian beer and some Wiener Schnitzel. Schroeder’s is of course liveliest for Oktoberfest when polka bands play weekend nights and adorable couples dance to their tunes. Check the schedule for other nights throughout the year when someone is firing up an accordion. However, any time of year, a hearty meal of potato pancakes followed by platters of delicious German sausages is a wunderbar idea. The most kitschy restaurant on this list, Schroeder’s German-theme does appeal to those looking for a break from after their busy FiDi days. The food is of the filling German meats and sausage variety, simple execution and extremely filling. The ubiquitous beer boot is also available if you aren’t driving, don’t have to be at work the next day.

Lisa Tennenbaum is a third generation native with a love hate relationship with San Francisco, as she detests wearing a hoodie in the summer. You can follow her comments about that conflict, as well as much shouting about most sports, on Twitter @LSUcaligrl. She is also a newly minted lawyer looking to make her way in the world today with everything she’s got.

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