San Francisco is notoriously devoid of high-end late-night dining options, but in a town known for excessive alcohol consumption and bar hopping, diners boast loads of booze-soaking options from which to choose. Great ones, in fact. And with that, here are our favorite diners in the city:
It's the only 24-hour diner in the Castro, and they do a pretty decent burger, as well as breakfast all night long -- we mostly recommend pancakes, or some scrambled eggs. (Also, Playboy once named it among the Top 10 Late-Night Diners in the country.) It's not where you go for a perfect milkshake or divine fries, but the well-greased food certainly does the trick at 3 a.m. after you've struck out at the sidewalk sale outside The Cafe -- or after you've already danced your embroidered-jeans ass off at Badlands, hooked up in someone's front hallway on Diamond Street, cleaned up, and gone out in search of a snack.
3991 - 17th Street (at Castro), SF, 415-864-9795
This Polk Gulch diner is so legendary in the seedy-turned-fratty 'hood that it's been commemorated in song not once but twice. They make a mean patty melt, but the best kept secret about this place is the whole Portuguese section of the menu, which is pretty unique in this city, and features delicious stuff like eggs with linguica and fries, and bacalhau a gomes de sa (salt cod with potatoes, onion, hard boiled eggs, parsley, and olives). Also, they're open until 4 a.m., and the scene in here after the bars close can be insane, but also totally hilarious.
1525 Pine (at Polk), SF, 415-673-8268
In the '80s and '90s we had Fog City Diner (which is now set to close and reopen as the less diner-inspired Fog City), but a more contemporary take on higher end food in a diner-like setting can now be found at this SoMa gem. The menu is American comfort food, both unpretentious but original in its interpretations, like poutine with pork belly and wild mushroom gravy, and fried chicken with mixed chicories, local honey, and coffee gravy. Added bonuses: A great, sloppy burger, and a mean brunch.
1198 Folsom (at Eighth Street), SF, 415-556-4901
While it may not be a 24-hour affair, Louis' boasts arguably the best scenic view of any greasy spoon on the planet. The diner has been perched on a cliff above the ruins of the Sutro Baths overlooking the Pacific Ocean for over three-quarters of a century, making it something of a national treasure as well. A recent revamp updated the menu with fair trade coffee, locally sourced breakfast meats and cage-free eggs for the omelets while still keeping all of its family-run, "more coffee, hun?" charm. Louis' is an only-in-San Francisco spot that we hope sticks around for decades to come.
902 Point Lobos Ave (between Merrie Way & Upper Great Hwy), SF, 415-387-6330
THE LUCKY PENNY
At the intersection of Masonic Ave and Geary Boulevard, the Lucky Penny feels like a roadside pitstop on an urban highway out to the ocean. Like spotting a diner on a desolate stretch of highway, the fact that there is actually some place open to eat is more important than the food itself, which serves its purpose of lining your stomach with a thin layer of bacon fat at an odd hour of the night. That and the Wi-Fi is free, in case you need to grease your keyboard with a plate of hashbrowns at 4 a.m.
2670 Geary (at Masonic), SF, 415-921-0836
Sparky's 24 Hour Diner (photo: Tha_Sco)
Sure, it's not the best place for food. Cantankerous reviewers on Yelp can tell you that much. But it is one of the top spots in the city to hit after the clubs close in the Castro. After 2 a.m, one can see the drunken/high masses munching on french toast, chocolate shakes, cheese fries, and burgers. It's a scene to be seen in after bars close. Also of note?
It's one of the few 24-hour diners left in the city. No longer 24 hours! However, it is open until the wee hours: Mon - Fri: 5pm - 4am. Sat & Sun: 11am - 4am.
242 Church (at Market), SF, 415-626-8666
Joe's Cable Car Restaurant (photo: sfistrita)
JOE'S CABLE CAR RESTAURANT
This Excelsior standby has been around since 1965, and its menu reflects that old-school diner ethos. With classics like grilled cheese, fish and chips, corn dogs and milkshakes, Joe's spot at Mission and Silver Avenue delivers on diner essentials, but the real draw is the ground ribeye and chuck steaks that Joe grinds fresh daily. Choose between 16 variations on the 4-, 6- and 8-ounce ground steak (like the patty melt fresh ground beef steak with cheese on rye) and top it all off with a slice of carrot cake. Just remember that Joe's closes at 10 p.m., so plan ahead for late-night cravings.
4320 Mission (at Silver Avenue), SF, 415-334-6699
Chicken sandwich at Pinecrest Diner (photo: Augustine Y./Yelp)
Classic old-school diner that prepares food the San Francisco way: slightly greasy with an organic flair. This Union Square staple serves up astounding patty melts and grilled cheese, but the highlight here is breakfast. Choice crispy hasbrowns, fluffy eggs, and bacon cooked crisp (such a rarity at many diners) will have you ready to take on shopping at nearby department stores. Speaking of eggs, the diner played host to a grizzly murder in the '90s. The diner manager told the cook not to prepare the poached eggs a patron had ordered. The next day, the cook shot the manager to death. The two had worked together for twenty years. (Read all about the notorious crime here.)
401 Geary (at Mason), SF, 415-885-6407
Andrew Dalton, Jay Barmann, and Rose Garrett also contributed.Photo: Grubstake