San Francisco has no shortage of trendy new restaurants, but there are some classic spots well worth seeking out too—just don’t call them tourist traps. You’ll find locals here, dining out on iconic dishes that have been satiating San Franciscans for ages.
The feel of this old school Italian joint is right on the money. Still family owned, Original Joe’s is the oldest of all the "Joe’s" restaurants. Since it’s an Italian American restaurant, it makes good sense that it is now located in North Beach, San Francisco’s answer to Little Italy. Banquettes, booths, tuxedoed waiters, and relics of the old location live on, as do the comfort food favorites like eggplant parmigiana, grilled calves liver with bacon and onions, and sautéed sweetbreads. House specialties are all served with a choice of spaghetti, ravioli, french fries, or vegetables so there’s little chance you’ll leave hungry.
Insider’s Tip: Try the signature dish, Joe’s special, a scramble of eggs, spinach, and onions.
Sears Fine Food
Open since 1938, Sears Fine Food underwent extensive renovations after briefly closing in 2003, but thankfully the signature dish of 18 silver dollar size Swedish pancakes served with butter and lingonberries stayed on the menu. Sears claims to make 11,000 of these delectable Swedish pancakes a day. The restaurant now has a nostalgic feel, decorated with antiques, Americana posters, and collectables and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But breakfast will always be the favorite.
Insider’s Tip: Bags of Sears famous pancake mix are available online as well as at the register.
Swan Oyster Depot
This James Beard regional award winner features a long narrow space with a marble bar and a line of patrons snaking out the door, waiting for seats. Open from 8:30 am until 5:30 pm, Swan Oyster Depot offers only fish and seafood served as simply as can be—but not just oysters as the name implies, you can get smoked fish, shrimp, clams, and San Francisco’s famous Dungeness crab. Swan also functions as a fish market and locals come here to buy fresh seafood displayed in the front window.
Insider’s Tip: Most dishes are served cold, but the Boston style clam chowder is comforting on a foggy day and comes with all the oyster crackers you can eat.
One of the oldest restaurants in in the nation, Tadich Grill opened as a coffee stand during the gold rush in 1849. The menu hasn’t changed that much over the years. Nor has the service, a major draw. Looking dapper in white coats and ties the waiters are true pros, efficient yet entertaining. Classic San Francisco dishes include Hangtown fry, a kind of omelet with bacon and oysters popular with gold miners, a seafood stew with Italian and Portuguese roots called cioppino, and pan fried sand dabs, a Pacific flatfish similar to sole, found on the West Coast.
Insider’s Tip: The restaurant does not take reservations so be prepared to stand in line, the shortest wait time is between lunch and dinner.
Tommy Harris, a popular singer and radio personality opened Tommy’s Joynt in 1947 and it’s been a friendly, casual place with a whole lot of character ever since. One of just a few surviving "hofbraus" or cafeteria style beer halls that serve inexpensive food, you’ll find all manner of ephemera, animal heads, and vintage advertising signs inside, and outside wildly colorful murals extolling the virtues of carved sandwiches, buffalo stew, and over 100 domestic and imported beers. A great place to bring the kids, mingle with regulars, or watch the game (just remember it’s cash only).
Insider’s Tip: For late night diners, Tommy’s is open until 1:45 am.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco–based culinary travel writer and cookbook author. She blogs at Cooking with Amy, KQED, Frommer’s and Epicurious and is a contributor to Cheers magazine and Gastronomica. She is also a scout for Citysearch, covering new and notable restaurants. Follow her @cookingwithamy
Photo Credits: Original Joe’s courtesy of Eric Wolfinger, Sears, Swan Oyster, Tommy’s and Tadich courtesy of Amy Sherman