7 diners in San Francisco that dish out seriously good grub

By Kimberley Lovato

For those times when you just want a plate of comfort food with a side of nostalgia and some ketchup, San Francisco’s bustling diner scene has your back. Heaping piles of hash browns, pancakes, grilled cheese, bacon, milkshakes, meatloaf, fried chicken, and scores of other classics can be found at these trusty counters and booths, sometimes delivered with a twist and often served into the wee hours—something not easy to find in a city where late night eating options are notoriously limited. Here are seven of San Francisco’s best diners.

SAM’S American Eatery
American comfort food with a California and Asian twist is so San Francisco. And we couldn’t be happier for that. Sure you can get daily lunch and dinner specials—“Meatloaf Sandwich Monday,” anyone?—and morning mainstays, but try stretching the palate a little and going for Mama’s Korean-style omelette with house-made kimchi, or the famous Korean tacos. If you love Mexican flavors, the Mission chilaquiles, with spicy chorizo and tortilla chips in a verde sauce, topped with eggs, avocado, and sour cream, will have your taste buds singing.
Neighborhood: Civic Center MAP

St. Francis Fountain
This 1918 soda fountain and confectioner got new owners, a new menu, and a new facelift in 2002, but still pleases old-time diner fans with counter stools and hearty grub. Classic go-tos include all-day breakfast, burgers, a chicken salad sandwich, flapjacks, and a slew of fountain classics, such as old-fashioned milkshakes, a banana split, and a root beer float. Healthy sandwiches and salads made the cut for the “I don’t do diner food” types, and oddball menu items, such as the Guinness float and the “nebulous potato thing”—basically a cheesy, gut-stickin’ spud bomb—will add a smile to your overly stuffed face.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

The Cove on Castro Café
Dishing out American comfort food for the past 45 years, The Cove has all your faves, freshly made, from omelettes and four varieties of soup to grilled cheese, burgers, and patty melts. The nightly dinner specials are especially tempting, especially the lasagna on Tuesday, turkey potpie on Thursday, and beef brisket on Sunday. Did we mention the bottomless mimosas? They're available daily until 4:00 pm with the purchase of an entree.
Neighborhood: The Castro MAP

Pinecrest Diner
Family run since opening in 1969—and possibly not redecorated since then either—this coffee shop is the oldest standing 24-hour diner in Union Square. Fans of the long counter, booth seating, and Formica tables will not be disappointed in either the setting or the vast menu, which includes a list of sandwiches that clings to classics. You’ll find grilled cheese, Reuben, pastrami on rye, and tuna melts, but also a portobello sandwich and an organic Malibu veggie sandwich (this is California after all). A heavy dose of deep fried bites, like mozzarella sticks, onion rings, chicken tenders, makes an appearance, too, making Pinecrest perfect for those morning after must-haves.
Neighborhood: Union Square MAP

Breakfast At Tiffany’s
No need for a tiara or a little black dress—though you’re certainly welcome to wear either at this light and bright neighborhood gathering spot that was saved by loyal regulars and the city a few years ago. After the renovation, the friendly service, old photos, counter stools, and all the breakfast specials thankfully all remain. The raison d’être here is carb-loading on a variety of hash browns and tater tot skillets, piled high with cheese and chorizo, mushrooms and avocado, and dollops of salsa and sour cream, to name just a few.
Neighborhood: Portola MAP

Louis Diner
Nowhere in San Francisco will you find this kind of view to go with your tuna melt or milkshake. The family-run diner, opened on Valentine’s Day 1937, sits on National Park land on the western edge of the city, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Sandwiches are served with a pickle spear, and crinkle cut fries and malts please younger diners, too. The half-pound patty melt with grilled onions on rye is one of the best reasons to stand in line for a seat, as is the winter sunset from the corner booth. Open 6:30 a.m to 6 p.m daily.
Neighborhood: Sutro District MAP

This legendary diner is well-loved by locals, especially for after-bar noshing. An old San Francisco streetcar takes up half the building, while the other half is tables and red banquets underneath colorful murals—the perfect setting for devouring Grubstake’s famous burgers, steaks, shakes, and fries at 2 a.m. They make a mean patty melt, too, and have awesome daily specials, but the big surprise is the Portuguese section of the menu: hello, bacalhau a gomes de sa (salt cod with potatoes, onion, hard boiled eggs, parsley, and olives). To top it off, they’re open from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. weekdays and starting at 11 a.m. on weekends.
Neighborhood: Polk Gulch MAP

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