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With so many new restaurants opening in San Francisco, it’s hard not to make a visit to a new hotspot when you head out for dinner these days. But I am finding that while some of the newer spots are exemplary, I get worn down by the cryptic menus and one-upmanship in the new landscape, and on occasion find myself wanting something that doesn’t need to be delicately explained.

Lucky for us, when the mood strikes for a classic dish, San Francisco has been providing for over 100 years. While local chefs “forage” for Marin County nasturtiums and plant carrots on their rooftops, the Pacific Ocean effortlessly provides the ultimate local ingredients. Swing on down to Swan Oyster Depot, soon to be celebrating its centennial year, for the best crab, oysters and smoked salmon in the city. There is a reason the staff all look alike—they are family, and this may become clear by the time you leave. They run a brisk establishment and can handle an astonishing takeout business. Counter seating only. No credit cards.

I would be remiss in a piece about “century” restaurants if I did not mention Tadich Grill. This place gets a lot of traffic. The menu is clogged with stodgy items that sound and often taste rather uninteresting, but there are some standout dishes, and you really do feel like you are in San Francisco in this place. It’s a good place for an after-work drink, and don’t worry; there’s none of that mustache and an eyedropper bullshit here—just the classics. The service is terrible in a sort of charming way; after all, most of the staff is nearly as old as the restaurant itself.

Another favorite, and one that has survived generations, is John’s Grill, which is a bit too close to Union Square but rich with history. Obviously it’s famous for a scene from The Maltese Falcon, but if I’m tired of that reference, then I can only imagine how the average waiter feels. John’s has classic dishes and some true San Francisco characters hanging at the bar. So next time you’re stuck in Union Square, duck in here for a trip back in time, and come to understand why this place has been here so long.




This article was published:
Throwback Issue - Released May 2012
Issue 10 / Version 2 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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