The times may be a-changing, but at least a handful of San Francisco diners remain, comfortably and without pretense, stubbornly stuck in time. These restaurants are a casual refuge for out-of-towners, solo diners, and anyone wanting to wrap their hands around a thick and never-empty mug of coffee. Which isn’t to say San Francisco’s diners strike only one note — on the contrary, this city’s diners reflect the diversity of the 7x7’s own residents serving bulgogi beef hash brown sandwiches, Portuguese caldo verde soup, and, yes, classic American breakfast plates stacked high with pancakes and greasy strips of bacon. Whatever you’re craving along with a double serving of nostalgia, try these 12 San Francisco diners that stand the test of time.Read More
12 San Francisco Diners That Stand the Test of Time
The best spots for bottomless mugs of coffee, buttery stacks of pancakes, and mountains of late-night chili fries
Before you balk at the inclusion of a diner chain on this list, recall that before it ballooned to dozens of locations, Mel’s got its start right here in San Francisco way back in 1947. The Lombard location was the first of a second generation of Mel’s restaurants, founded by Steven Weiss, the son of original founder Mel Weiss, along with partner Donald Wagstaff. It’s a chrome-accented homage to all things Americana with a menu of breakfast, burgers, salads, and milkshakes designed to satisfy anyone and everyone.
Grubstake is more than just a popular late-night dining option on Pine Street, it’s an essential piece of the city’s LGBTQ history. In the 1970s, Harvey Milk hung out in the railcar-turned-restaurant, and these days many celebrities from the queer community have long-standing regular orders. Former owners Fernando and Linda Santos added the now-famous Portuguese influence to the menu, including dishes such as caldo verde soup and bife à Portuguesa.
If you like your eggs with a little bit of kitsch on the side, don’t skip this Union Square neighborhood diner, which reopened in spring 2023 after closing during the onset of the pandemic. There’s no shortage of memorabilia crammed into the space including a full-size 1959 Ford Edsel, vintage gasoline pumps, and shelves of retro radios and jukeboxes. Come through for pancakes, waffles, and three-egg omelets by day or an open-faced meatloaf sandwich and a bowl of chili by night.
Union Square’s Pinecrest Diner is one of San Francisco’s longest-running 24-hour restaurants — and though the all-night schedule only runs four days a week for now, owner Peter Foundas, whose parents opened the diner after moving to San Francisco from Greece by way of New York City, is committed to making it a 24-hour spot seven days a week once more. The menu has been pared back to the basics like breakfast all day and an eclectic collection of dinner entrees including fried chicken, spaghetti Bolognese, and burgers. But it’s enough to draw lines even during late-night peak hours.
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Lafayette Coffee Shop & Diner
The location in the thick of the Tenderloin may be a deterrent to some, but reliably affordable offerings like ham and eggs for under $10 and the cheapest prime rib in town — under $20 for a full dinner — draw an equal mixture of FiDi suits and locals to Lafayette Coffee Shop. This well-worn diner is open straight through from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so while it's not exactly late night, it's a good standby option any day of the week.
Tony's Cable Car Restaurant
You've undoubtedly seen Tony's sign while cruising out to the Richmond on Geary, and as the sign promises, it's a classic old-school burger joint specializing in gut-busting patties, crinkle-cut fries, and the can't-miss hot chocolate milkshake — otherwise known as hot chocolate with ice cream in it.
Joe's Coffee Shop
No one would fault you for having passed by this tiny shop without notice. But wise ones know that despite its small stature, Joe’s is a powerhouse in the San Francisco diner game, serving eggs made to order, healthy portions of corned beef hash, and golden pancakes that beg to be smothered in syrup. There’s a smattering of Chinese American dishes in the mix, too, but whatever you order, make sure you’ve got enough cash to cover the bill.
Even on a rare slow day, when there’s not a line snaking out the door, you’ll have to sidle your way into this tiny corner restaurant on Divisadero. The best seats are at the L-shaped bar (though groups larger than two will most certainly be instructed to take a booth) where you have a front-row view of the diner’s extensive collection of mismatched mugs. You can’t beat the breakfast plates, which can be ordered with Southern-inspired sides including grits and a biscuit with jelly in lieu of hash browns and toast.
Pork Store Cafe
Out-of-towners may crowd the sidewalks of Haight Street seeking vintage band t-shirts and an aura of old-school San Francisco, but locals know this small restaurant is no tourist trap. Pork Store is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week and offers the kind of warm and professional hospitality that makes even first-time diners feel like regulars. For the full experience, do the massive Pork Store special, which includes pork chops, eggs, hash browns, and biscuits with gravy for about $16.
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Fans of this Inner Sunset standby got a scare when owners Sarah and Hae Ryong Youn announced plans to close the diner after 30 years of eggs, pancakes, burgers, and bibimbap. Then in early 2021, a duo of new owners gave Art’s a second life, and much to the neighborhood’s relief, Chol and Young Lee kept most everything the same. The menu continues to showcase Korean influences (think bulgogi beef with eggs for breakfast and tofu bibimbap for lunch) but the fan-favorites are the hash brown sandwiches, which see grilled potatoes wrapped around fillings of your choice.
A canopy of Tiffany-style chandeliers lends an air of Victorian charm to this Castro neighborhood diner, perched near the chaotic intersection of Market, Castro, and 17th streets. Once upon a time, this was a 24-hour spot, though these days the griddle goes cold at 9:45 p.m. except on Friday and Saturday nights when the round-the-clock schedule continues to thrive. There’s an expansive menu of breakfast staples, sandwiches of all sorts, and heartier entrees. No matter what you order, expect warm service and a motley cast of diners including plenty of regulars.
This Mission Street staple has been around for decades, under current ownership for the last 30 years — and once you take a step inside it’s easy to understand the spot’s staying power. Jim’s delivers all the diner must-haves: endlessly full cups of coffee, worn booths, and efficient service. You can’t go wrong with a classic two-egg breakfast, though fans also love the gravy-smothered chicken fried steak.