A Fresh Look at Old School San Francisco Restaurants
Part of the appeal of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is having the chance to visit timeless landmark spots oozing with stories you’d love to discover. Like seeing Dark Passage with Bogie and Bacall in the Presidio, the nostalgia for a bygone era envelopes you like the fog. Speakeasies and saloons aren’t really the best places to frequent unless you like to bring your babies into bars, but here are some historic places to dine with your kids that they’ll love just as much as you do.
Tadich Grill is the oldest restaurant in the state of California, which means they’ve been serving salty dog sailors and fortune seekers since 1849. This historic San Francisco landmark is sort of glam and sophisticated although servers are madly barking orders from both sides of the long wooden bar. You can perch on a tall stool bar side to enjoy the show or hide behind a curtained booth for the most delicious sourdough bread in the world. No kidding. I had grown seriously tired of sourdough bread until I bit into their crisp, sweet manna. The food is a little greasy, but still seafood perfection: try the sole meuniere or seafood cannelloni, and for the kids: bay shrimp cocktail and a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers. They’ll feel so grown up sipping their mocktail at the bar. If you’re lucky, you might just see the San Francisco twins in their adorable matching hats. Open Monday through Friday from 11:00 am – 9:30 pm and Saturday from 11:30 – 9:30 pm.
240 California Street
San Francisco, Ca.
Swensen’s motto is “Good As Father Used to Make” and boy is it ever. With flavors like vanilla custard, chewy chocolate, and sticky peanut butter, your children will scream for their ice cream. For a grown-up kid who loved ordering the Mr. San Francisco (a scoop of bubble gum ice cream with a sugar cone hat and a lacy whipped cream collar) standing in the original flagship store on Nob Hill, it’s a fine memory to savor. Half gallons are available for sale and also waffle sundaes, floats, and milkshakes. Best of all, you can watch the trolley cars whizz by on Hyde Street. Cash only. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm and Friday through Saturday from 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm.
1999 Hyde Street
San Francisco, Ca
Swan Oyster Depot
Swan Oyster Depot has been around almost 100 years, and everyone sings its praises, even Anthony Bourdain. A little rough around the edges with swordfish, tortoises, and maps hung on the walls, it’s the sort of place you’d hang out with your Grandpa. Friendly, barrel-chested waiters in white aprons offer speedy and efficient counter service. Children will enjoy dipping popcorn shrimp in their choice of cocktail or tartar sauce and of course, authentic sourdough bread and everyone’s favorite: packets of oyster crackers. The smoked salmon and whitefish platter is insanely good and fresh from the sea. On your way out the door, you’ll be presented with parting gifts that you can “dip in water and see what happens.” Fair warning: you may have to wait as they don’t accept reservations. Cash only. Open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am – 5:30 pm.
1517 Polk Street
San Francisco, Ca
Manor Coffee Shop
This coffee shop in West Portal is the real deal. Who doesn’t love a coffee shop where you can snuggle in a cozy window seat and eat enormous servings of comfort food? The world just seems better sitting in a red vinyl booth with a giant milkshake in your hands. You’ll get top-notch service by waiters dressed in pink and white uniforms with a ready smile. For kids, choose from all the traditional breakfast menu items like pancakes or omelets and grilled cheese or deli sandwiches, and don’t forget to save room for their custard pie! Cash only. Open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 am – 8:00 pm.
321 West Portal Avenue
San Francisco, Ca
Sam’s Anchor Café
This is my favorite old-school haunt. Although not technically in San Francisco, you can see the city from across the bay on the back patio of this Tiburon restaurant. I love walking past the old wooden bar in the front saloon and heading for a table on the outdoor deck. Your kids can doodle and color with crayons while they munch on grilled fish and French fries. Order an open-faced crab sandwich and an Arnold Palmer and listen to the fog horns blare in the distance and to the sea gulls cry as they fly above you and the wind whips in your hair. Ahhhhh. Open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm and Saturday through Sunday from 2:00 – 5:00 pm; Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am – 2:00 pm; Dinner is open nightly starting at 5:00 pm.
27 Main Street
Red’s Java House
Honorable mention: Red’s Java House is an old run-down shack by the bay. Not too enticing, right? But wait, they’ve got hot dogs and a view of the Bay Bridge from the back patio. What more do you really need for a happy afternoon with your kids than sitting on the dock of the bay? Open Monday through Friday from 7:00 am – 5:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Pier 30 Bryant & Embarcadero (just south of the Bay Bridge)
San Francisco, Ca
What is your family’s all-time favorite San Francisco old school restaurant?
— Nicki Richesin
Photo credit: samscafe.com