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Monday, July 2, 2012

The Four Dearly Departed Classic SF Eateries We Miss Most

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 8:30 AM


Many restaurants come and go in San Francisco, while some stay for hundreds of years. Since there's no shortage of good food around these parts, it is the personalities of the defunct places that can stir up the most nostalgia. We don't ever remember a Doggie Diner (1949-1986) wiener as being the best hot dog around, for example, but we are still always strangely comforted to drive past one of the old friendly dog heads resting high above Sloat Boulevard near the San Francisco Zoo, preserved as a local landmark.

What are your favorite San Francisco restaurants of yore? Tell us about 'em in the comments. And while you're reminiscing, check out the four spots we miss most:

4. Zim's

Arthur Zimmerman has been called the Bay Area's unofficial Burger King for his Zim's restaurants (1949-1995). ​"Crossing Nazi-occupied Europe with General Patton's Third Army, Arthur Zimmerman wished for two things: to get out of the war in one piece, and to come home to a juicy hamburger and luscious milkshake," J Weekly wrote of Zimmerman, who passed away in 2008.

The business started on the corner of Lombard and Steiner with a 22-seat, U-shaped counter and eventually grew to 19 Zim's locations and 16 other restaurant ventures. In a time when fast food burgers were proliferating and corners were starting to be cut, Zimmerman stood out by having whole choice chuck steaks ground daily and used real ice cream for milkshakes. Before theme restaurants leapt off in the eighties, the interiors of these diners felt like a special occasion for the kids frequenting those puffy booths.

The iconic Doggie Diner mascots. - SCOTT BEALE/LAUGHING SQUID
  • Scott Beale/Laughing Squid
  • The iconic Doggie Diner mascots.

3. Doggie Diner

Al Ross, who passed away at age 93 in 2010, started in the food business in his early 20s, creating an ice cream company called White Castle with his mother. He might have been one of the city's first mobile street-food peddlers, pushing a cart up and down the Embarcadero. At his peak, he owned 30 locations of the double D.

Later in life, Ross trained in martial arts. In an obituary, his son said he trained with Bruce Lee for three years.

Three of Doggie Diner's iconic Harold Bachman-designed dachsund heads took a road trip to New York in 2003, courtesy of Laughing Squid and SF Cyclecide Bike Rodeo. The experience was immortalized in a documentary called Head Trip.

A trip to Farrell's was like a step back in time. - FARRELL'S
  • Farrell's
  • A trip to Farrell's was like a step back in time.

2. Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant

We're of the school that not having an ice cream parlor that serves dozens of scoops smushed together in a pig's trough is a very bad thing indeed. Farrell's invented frozen dessert gluttony with its infamous "Zoo" sundae, the ultimate birthday party treat.

Luckily, there are still a few locations left in Hawaii and Southern California, including a new one imminently due in Riverside. We're lighting a candle in the hopes that someone might be shrewd enough to start another Bay Area franchise once again someday.

The Hippo had sass. - WOLO VON TRUTZSCHLER
  • Wolo von Trutzschler
  • The Hippo had sass.

1. Hippopotamus Hamburger

A drug store now stands in the spot of this splendid Van Ness burger palace (early 1950s-1987), once an animated wonderland of cartoon hippos. A sign out front read "Burgers Made 100 Ways" and the menu proved that claim true, with outrageous options including an ice cream sundae-topped patty.

The Hippo was a people-watcher's delight, as owner Jack Falvey himself described in the Hippo Cook Book. "You may sit next to a Black Panther or a priest," he wrote, "a white-tie opera goer or a 'hippie,' a worker in soiled overalls or a whole Japanese camera clicking group."

Celebs dug it, too. "With a menu like the Hippo's," Falvey wrote, "and its great variety of the hamburger, a guy like Herb Caen comes in and orders an omelette! Dame Margot and Nureyev came in, ate a 'Hippieburger' then went to went to Haight-Ashbury and got pot luck! What luck! The great Tennessee Ernie Ford ordered a Diet Steak and gave us a plug on his national network show. Bing Crosby eats just a plain hamburger ― ditto with Pat Paulson."

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Tamara Palmer


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