I was once terrified of L&M Cafe (1081 Market Street). I had moved to mid-Market in the last decade, long before Nema and Twitter got there, and a friend convinced me I should try it, insisting, above all, "It's very clean in there." It was a tiny greasy spoon that catered to a lot of downtrodden and colorful characters in the neighborhood, and according to the many printed signs hanging behind the register, all in plastic sleeves, they did not mess around with substitutions, and if you wanted extra ketchup packets that was going to cost you. 25 cents each, in fact. Syrups: 30 cents.
I went in for the first time about four years after I'd moved to the block, having warily looked into its windows many times before that as I passed, admiring the sculptural plaster exterior wall, above which you could see a lone, stalwart Chinese-American chef manning the griddle and dutifully browning piles of hash browns.
They advertised "American and Chinese Fast Food," even though nothing there ever happened very fast.
In the next few years that I lived there, I would call in orders on hungover Sundays, and inevitably the phone call would be comical with its shouts in broken English and repeated questions ("You want two hash brown?"), and the woman on the phone, who I believe was married to the chef, never asked for my name. Most people probably did not call in orders at this place, and just wandered over when they had scraped a couple of dollars together. Because of the clientele, I generally did not eat my meals there, and would just wait at the counter for a minute for my meal to get boxed up. The woman would always put in just two ketchups, one napkin, salt and pepper, and one fork, and she wore plastic gloves while doing all of this.
The place was, indeed, very clean, no doubt due to the obsessive efforts of this woman. And there were a few special things about the food, too, like the green onion omelet, and the Chinese sausage scramble. The waffles may have been Eggo, but the pancakes were fluffy, and nothing was ever so laden with grease that you felt disgusting afterwards. You could order fried rice with any of the above, and this was just the kind of quiet, unpretentious business serving ultra-cheap food that there are fewer of in San Francisco every year.
Dottie's is still trucking over on 6th Street (despite being on the market as of last year), and what was once another Chinese-American greasy spoon at the corner of 6th and Market is now a somewhat bougier breakfast spot called Homeskillet where they make lattes with Equator Coffee, and there is no such thing as a $4 breakfast.
Alas, as Hoodline reports, L&M Cafe has shut its doors for good, but not for lack of business. "Thank you for the past 20 years of business," they say on a printed sign on the door. L&M Cafe is officially closed for business, due to the building reconstruction." The "reconstruction" they're referring to is the condo tower that's set to replace the entire former Market Street Cinema complex, of which the restaurant was a part.
May your nearest neighborhood greasy spoon not suffer the same fate.Photo: Google