Bix Restaurant

8 historic San Francisco restaurants where the food is still good

By Virginia Miller

San Francisco boasts a deep well of restaurants that have been around for decades—or even over a century. In a city with deep Asian and European roots, these restaurants cover the gamut, with seafood being a crucial part of our history. Here are eight of our historic best that also tend to fly under the tourist radar.

Cafe Jacqueline
You could start by noting that Café Jacqueline’s soufflés are the best in North America. Even better? They’ve been made by one woman since 1979. The presence of Jacqueline Margulis, now in her eighties, is what makes North Beach’s legendary Cafe Jacqueline an SF treasure. The tiny, dated space retains an Old World romance, with gruff servers and interminable waits for a soufflé. But as you pass the tiny kitchen on the way to the restroom, you see Margulis behind a mountain of eggs prepping each soufflé by hand, and you know it’s always worth the wait. Her textbook perfect soufflés offer decadence in lobster or crab versions, but often the very simplest—leek or white corn-ginger-garlic—are the best, letting that eggy perfection shine.
Neighborhood: North Beach MAP

If you want to feel like you stepped into a 1930s-'40s supper club, complete with live piano jazz and expansive booths atop a sweeping staircase, Bix is your place. Look for the neon sign down this Jackson Square alley, then enter into a lofty dining room for an escape in time, thankfully with consistently good food helmed by chef Emmanuel Eng and chef-partner Bruce Hill. Doug “Bix” Biederbeck founded the restaurant in 1988, letting his passion for jazz, art, and a well-made martini (shaken tableside) define this gem. Dine on old-school dishes with fresh, local ingredients like their beloved chicken hash in mascarpone vodka sauce or caviar and buckwheat blini. Also don’t miss the summer tomato cart during tomato season.
Neighborhood: Financial District MAP

Tadich Grill
There is arguably no better place to have cioppino in the city that invented the Italian-influenced seafood stew, than at Tadich Grill. The restaurant’s roots date all the way back to 1849—in the heart of the ‘49ers Gold Rush days—as a seafood and coffee tent on the Long Wharf, started by three immigrants from Croatia. The restaurant’s storied history owes much to John Tadich, a fellow Croatian immigrant, who established the restaurant in the 1880s. Served by a wait staff dressed as they have been for decades, you can dine on classic seafood and steaks either around the long, center bar or in individual-walled booths. Whatever you do, don't miss that cioppino.
Neighborhood: Financial District MAP

Anchor Oyster Bar
There is only one Swan Oyster Depot, SF’s Sicilian shellfish/oyster bar legend since 1912. But with its incessant daily lines, it’s helpful to have less tourist-trod options. We love North Beach gem Sotto Mare and the Castro’s oyster bar treasure, Anchor Oyster Bar. Since 1977, Anchor’s tiny space has remained a haven for mountains of local Dungeness crab, oysters, and some of the best garlic bread anywhere. Their Crab Louie is exemplary, as is their clam chowder. Watch the board for daily changing seafood specials. The lines have gotten longer over the years, but are mostly made up of locals who know this is SF’s other best oyster bar.
Neighborhood: Castro MAP

Pacific Cafe
Lines of locals gather outside Pacific Café, just as they have since it opened in 1974. Staff come out pouring complimentary white and red wines as you wait. The vibe is convivial and neighborly. The wood-paneled, classic old fish house, is a patchwork of wood booths and small tables, unchanged for decades. As you sit down, peruse the board for pan-fried, sautéed, grilled, or baked fish specials. Dishes like Petrale Sole Newburg stuffed with fresh Dungeness Crab and Pacific Snapper stuffed with crab and shrimp and baked in parchment hearken to a traditional era, but the always popular Parmesan-crusted Halibut, fresh Dungeness Crab Cakes and the seasonal Crab Diablo along with a great variety of fresh fish and shellfish can be found on the daily chalkboard specials.
Neighborhood: Outer Richmond MAP

Ristorante Marcello
Marcello himself has long answered the phone for the still only-by-phone reservations at Ristorante Marcello. A Parkside/Outer Sunset institution since the 1970s, the restaurant still sports a dated rock wall exterior, which gives way to an also blessedly dated rock bar packed with locals, many of whom have been coming here for decades. Start with a stiff Martini, then order house wine to pair with generous platters of veal Parmigiana, saltimbocca, or our favorite: garlic-heavy spaghetti alla matriaciana. Faded carpet and waiters in '70s-era tuxes only make this old school gem even more special.
Neighborhood: Outer Sunset/Parkside MAP

House of Prime Rib
The last of the great prime-rib houses of its kind in America, House of Prime Rib is not only quintessential SF but is like stepping back in history. Virtually unchanged since 1949, it’s packed with families and local sports teams mingling with travelers. Prime Rib’s multi-course meal is still a steal—more than enough food for one person. 21-day aged prime rib is carved tableside from a massive silver cart (choose your level of rareness), while salads are spun and tossed tableside. Yorkshire pudding and your choice of a side, like creamed spinach, are blissfully satisfying.
Neighborhood: Nob Hill MAP

Yank Sing
There may be better dim sum houses at a much cheaper cost around SF (heavy in the Richmond and Sunset districts) and the Bay Area, but none has the legendary history of Yank Sing, founded by Alice Chan in 1958. With a restaurant and more casual outpost in SoMa at the edge of the Financial District, Yank Sing recalls the Michelin-starred dim sum houses of Hong Kong—more upscale and leisurely, inviting families to linger over rounds of dumplings, noodles, and Peking duck. In the city that brought Chinese food to North America, Yank Sing is one of the few remnants of the early glory days of upscale Chinese dining in the US.
Neighborhood: Financial District MAP

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