Even San Francisco natives like me are sometimes alarmed by the pressure applied to denizens of this city to publicly acknowledge that we live in the best place on earth. That being said, we certainly do have access to the best of things here: The best intoxicants, stimulants, and ingredients; the top narcotics, robotics, and ... ice cream.
But, sometimes, you just want some coffee. And not necessarily the best coffee but lots of it all the same. And eggs. And hash browns. And lots of that, too. In short, you want a diner.
San Francisco is no haven for blue-collar workers, but it is blessed with a number of blue-collar eateries. Ideally, such establishments serve straightforward fare of the sort people fantasized about while queuing up at Ellis Island, and hefty portions of it. The free refill may be the last remaining vestige of American greatness -- this is a must. And, hopefully, everything should be on the more affordable side (though, in San Francisco, sometimes this just doesn't work out. This is, in part, why it feels like we have more blue-collar restaurants than people).
In any event, these are are our five favorite diners:
5. It's Tops Coffee Shop
You ever come home really late from work, hastily throw together dinner, and then automatically turn on the TV when you sit down to eat? But since your parents never, ever allowed the family to eat dinner with the TV on -- except when the Giants were playing a really big game -- you feel guilty? So you turn on PBS where, at least, you might learn something. But, instead, a rapidly aging baby boomer is singing horrible Doo-Wop tunes to audiences of even more rapidly aging baby boomers.
Along those lines, at It's Tops, you can hear all of the tunes usually mangled by corpulent hacks on PBS instead crooned by the great original artists -- and at 25 cents for multiple plays on one of the city's most entertaining jukeboxes. The waitresses at this joint still wear Pepto Bismol-pink uniforms, and you couldn't cram any more nostalgic San Francisco paraphernalia into the edifice without exhuming Herb Caen. When your European friends or relatives are looking to eat in an "American restaurant," you could do worse than bringing them here and coughing up a quarter for four plays of Little Richard on the jukebox.
Oh, right. The food. You will get lots of it. It's still 1952 within It's Tops, and the portions are those doled out to San Franciscans who had just won a world war but hadn't yet discovered cholesterol, let alone transfats. Whether it's elaborate San Francisco-themed breakfast platters or simply eggs, pancakes, and toast, you'll do fine here. Those hoping to transgress a few of the seven deadly sins should opt for the mountainous 49er Combo, which comes with two eggs, two sausages, two strips of bacon, hashbrowns, and, of course, pancakes. Good golly Miss Molly, indeed. Especially in a place open until 3 a.m.
You're also free to keep drinking coffee until a caffeine overload induces you to hear allegories in the lyrics of "Good Golly Miss Molly" that foretell an apocalyptic war to end all wars. Or maybe that's just us.