Food & Drink

9 Old-School SF Restaurants That We Hope Never Close

Daisy Barringer Published On 04/13/2015 Published On 04/13/2015

Compared to pretty much everywhere else in the entire world, San Francisco is relatively new. The city only had a population of 500 in 1847, a number that jumped to 410K in 1906 thanks to the ol' Gold Rush. In other words: we don't have a ton of super-old stuff. But what we do have are these nine old-school restaurants, and we're happy they've managed to stick around.

Here's hoping they don't go anywhere any time soon.

Flickr/John Pastor

House of Prime Rib

Nob Hill
Established: 1949
House of Prime Rib is an SF institution known for its, wait for it: prime rib, but also its perfectly chilled martinis. Each of the cozy, English-style dining rooms has fireplaces and leather banquettes (aka what you'd expect/want from that kind of establishment) and if you take a look around when you eat you'll find banquettes filled with everyone from couples on dates and bachelor parties, to Willie Brown and your San Francisco Giants. But back to what's really important: the prime rib. The beef is aged 21 days and then roasted using an old English formula that involves blanketing the rib in coarse rock salt and secret seasonings. Everything's then carved tableside. Long story short: there's a reason this place has been around 65 years.

Tommy's Joynt

The Original Tommy's Joynt

Western Addition
Established: 1947
The same families have owned Tommy's Joynt since it opened in 1947, which is why it's pretty much stayed exactly the same. And we mean that in the best way possible. The building is one of most eye-catching in the city and the interior is crowded with sports memorabilia and photographs. None of that is really what matters though. No, Tommy's Joynt is all about the meat. Really good, really affordable plates of delicious meat. You line up, grab a tray, place your order, and then find a spot at a communal table to gobble it all down. $9.75 will get you a platter of either roast beef, BBQ brisket, corned beef, pastrami, ham, or turkey, two sides, and a roll with butter. Doesn't get much better than that.

Original Joe’s San Francisco

Original Joe's

North Beach
Established: 1937
The original Original Joe's was a counter with 14 stools in the Tenderloin. After being uprooted by a devastating fire in 2007, Original Joe's found a new home in North Beach in 2012 where the red and green leather booths, eight counter spots overlooking the kitchen, and old-school Italian vibe remind patrons that the best SF traditions are here to stay. And yes, it's an Italian joint, but on one visit at least, be sure to try Joe's Famous Hamburger Sandwich. At $12.50 it's one of the cheapest things on the menu and also super tasty.

Balboa Cafe

Balboa Cafe

Cow Hollow
Established: 1913
Whether you're eight or 80, there's something at Balboa Café for everyone. And that thing is the Balboa Burger, one of the best burgers in the city. While most restaurants that are over 100 years old have gotten a major facelift at some point, Balboa has managed to retain almost of all its original decor, including the moldings and black & white photos. Grab a seat in the front for a casual meal (and a younger crowd) or, if you're in the mood for a white tablecloth, sit at a table in the main part of the restaurant where the median age rises just a tad. That's the thing that's great about Balboa, though. The patrons have been going there since they were kids and when they go home after dinner, their grandchildren come out to play. Also, did we mention how good the hamburger is?

Flickr/Pixelboy H28
 

Swan Oyster Depot

Nob Hill
Established: 1906
There is literally never not a line for what is likely SF's most popular raw and seafood bar. That's partly because the narrow space only has 18 barstools, partly because there are no reservations, and mostly because it's just that good. The original spot burned down after the 1906 earthquake, but the current iteration has been in the same location since 1912. When the group of Danish brothers who owned it reopened after the fire, they decided they needed some good luck and, since a swan is the national bird of Denmark and a Danish symbol for good luck... Swan Oyster Depot. It's pretty much the same as it was back in the day -- no frills, just fresh seafood that's worth the wait.

Grant Marek/Thrillist

Schroeder's

Financial District
Established: 1893
Though the interior recently got a complete renovation (like, really complete), this Bavarian-inspired beer hall has been packing in the patrons since the late 1800s and continues to do so. There's now lots of communal seating, a full bar, 22 beers on tap, a modern German menu for lunch/dinner, and women inside (they weren't permitted until the 1970s).

Michael Garland

Sam's Grill & Seafood Restaurant

Financial District
Established: 1867
Sam's Grill started as an open-air oyster market, which turned into one of the city's most popular seafood restaurants by the 1890s. Almost 150 years later, Sam's continues to be a popular spot for San Franciscans who want local, seasonal seafood, and kick-ass martinis. Ask for a booth, which comes complete with heavy curtains for maximum privacy. When you want a second martini, just ring the doorbell to order it from your bow tie-clad waiter, who will serve it to you with a smile. Also, be sure to check out the "Throwback Thursdays" happy hour, during which your second drink will cost about as much as it would have during the Gold Rush (50-cent draft beer, $1 house wine, and $2 Manhattans). Huzzah.

The Old Clam House

The Old Clam House

Bayview
Established: 1861
While Tadich Grill is the oldest SF restaurant, The Old Clam House's bar area is part of the original structure, making it San Francisco’s oldest restaurant in the same location (technicality!) since 1861. (Tadich Grill moved around a lot and these things matter, people!) Grab a seat in the heated and enclosed patio and order either the Clam Bake Cioppino (which The Old Clam House is famous for) or the The Original Golden Gate Clam Chowder, whose recipe dates back to when it was called The Oakdale Bar & Clam House. So, like, a long-ass time ago. And yes, you can get the latter in a bread bowl. This is classic SF, after all.

Tadich Grill

Tadich Grill

Financial District
Established: 1849
Tadich Grill isn't just SF's oldest restaurant, it's California's oldest restaurant. Everyone from Jack Nicholson to Joe Montana has dined there (Herb Caen was a regular in his day), but no matter who you are or how important you think you are, there are no reservations and everyone waits in line. Tadich Grill is known for its seafood -- get the oysters Rockefeller, the pan-fried sand dabs, or the seafood cioppino -- and never disappoints when you're in the mood for a delicious throwback meal.

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Daisy Barringer is Thrillist's SF Editor and she's been eating the Balboa Burger since she was six years old. Follow her on Twitter @daisy.

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1. House of Prime Rib 1906 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Nob Hill)

The original House of Prime Rib opened in 1949 and has since become a San Francisco institution known unsurprisingly for its 21-day aged prime rib. Every dinner order comes with a bevy of accompaniments: tossed salad, mashed potatoes or a baked potato, and Yorkshire pudding. The English-style dining rooms have fireplaces and cozy leather banquettes, making this space as intimate as it is iconic.

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2. The Original Tommy's joynt 1101 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Western Addition)

The same families have owned Tommy's Joynt since it opened in 1947, which is why it's pretty much stayed exactly the same. And we mean that in the best way possible. The building is one of most eye-catching in the city and the interior is crowded with sports memorabilia and photographs. None of that is really what matters though. No, Tommy's Joynt is all about the meat. Really good, really affordable plates of delicious meat. You line up, grab a tray, place your order, and then find a spot at a communal table to gobble it all down. $9.75 will get you a platter of either roast beef, BBQ brisket, corned beef, pastrami, ham, or turkey, two sides, and a roll with butter. Doesn't get much better than that.

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3. Original Joe's 601 Union Street, San Francisco, CA 94133 (North Beach)

Original Joe’s has been a North Beach staple for Italian delicacies since 1937 and is still the place to over-stuff yourself on classic Italian fare. Gleaming wood surfaces and classic furniture add to the restaurant’s atmosphere, making this a great spot for a date, but just warm enough to bring your parents to for a night out. Along with popularity come long lines and waits, so be sure to make a reservation.

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4. Balboa Cafe 3199 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123 (Cow Hollow)

Open since 1913 in Cow Hollow, Balboa Cafe is one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. It's managed to maintain most of the original decor, including the moldings and black & white photos. The restaurant is split between a casual front area with a younger crowd and a white table-clothed dining room filled with an older crowd, but everyone is there for the same thing: the Balboa Burger. Served on a baguette with house-made pickles, it's one of the best in the city.

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5. Swan Oyster Depot 1517 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 (Russian Hill)

Swan Oyster Depot, open since 1912 in Nob Hill, is a raw fish institution. The seafood is unbelievably fresh, and the menu includes everything from clams, oysters, and Dungeness crab to sashimi platters and sea urchin. The clam chowder, a buttery and briny both made with the day's clams, is awesome, as is the twice-cracked crab. Basically, everything here rocks. The narrow space has only 18 bar seats, and it's a great option for a solo lunch since parties of one can usually bypass the long wait.

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6. Schroeder's 240 Front St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

This Financial District beer joint is one of the oldest in SF, but after a refurbishing, it's been able to keep all of its classic qualities (22-draft beer program, beer boots, old murals, impressive taxidermy) while adding pleasing aspects like a drop-down projector screen, an improved food menu, and rentable stein lockers.

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7. Sam's Grill & Seafood Restaurant 374 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94104 (Financial District)

Sam's Grill started as an open-air oyster market, which turned into one of the city's most popular seafood restaurants by the 1890s. Almost 150 years later, Sam's continues to be a popular spot for San Franciscans who want local, seasonal seafood, and kick-ass martinis. Ask for a booth, which comes complete with heavy curtains for maximum privacy.

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8. The Old Clam House 299 Bay Shore Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94124 (Bayview)

Anyone who has spent time playing soccer on Silver Ave or driving down Bayshore Boulevard or just living around SF knows the Old Clam House’s iconic sign and that giant clam sitting on the side of the roof and the fact that it’s the oldest restaurant in the same location in SF. But more people should know about their incredible clam bake cioppino and the amazing kettle bread they bring out with hot clam juice and their own “Milwaukee steam beer."

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9. Tadich Grill 240 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Financial District)

Tadich Grill isn't just SF's oldest restaurant, it's California's oldest restaurant. Everyone from Jack Nicholson to Joe Montana has dined there (Herb Caen was a regular in his day), but no matter who you are or how important you think you are, there are no reservations and everyone waits in line. Tadich Grill is known for its seafood -- get the oysters Rockefeller, the pan-fried sand dabs, or the seafood cioppino -- and never disappoints when you're in the mood for a delicious throwback meal.

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