Best San Francisco Breakfasts: This Is How to Greet the Day
By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Local Expert
Going out to eat isn't always about cravings. Often enough, mealtimes dictate our choices, limiting restaurant possibilities. When circumstances narrow the options, let 10Best help. We'll direct you to the best Breakfast restaurants in San Francisco and save you the hassle of calling around for business hours. 10Best readers find much to enjoy at Town's End Restaurant and Bakery thanks to its all-around good offerings. It's also hard to beat Mama's on Washington Square, which serves just what you're looking for when you're in the market for a great Breakfast.
We've been in this fair city long enough to know that breakfast has been drowned out by all the noise about lunch and dinner. Looking for a lunch spot? You won't be able to walk half a block downtown without tripping over the tires of the newest food truck specializing in the latest foodie craze.
And dinner? Dinner here starts by late afternoon, with appetizer specials across the city and world-famous restaurants screaming for your patronage. What's lost in all this din is the sweet, satisfying experience of the first meal of the day, when your taste buds are all well-rested and eager.
Don't just stuff a breakfast burrito down your gullet and call it a meal - check out our list and rediscover why breakfast remains the most important meal of the day.
10 San Francisco Art Institute Cafe
A hidden jewel, this art-school cafe rests on the institutes's roof, affording absolutely spectacular views of the Bay and the city. Inside, you'll encounter bustling ambiance, an exhibition kitchen, and student artwork. The eclectic menu is terrific, always fresh and homemade, sporting fruit-studded scones and muffins, tender baked goods, and breakfast classics like bacon and eggs, home fries, and more. Lunchtime fare includes salads, sandwiches, and international dishes. Outdoor dining is available, too, as are great prices and vegetarian and vegan fare. Just make sure you call in advance; hours vary, and the cafe is only open when school's in session. (415-749-4567, 415-771-7020)
9 Mel's Drive-In
Mel's sports charming '50s-style decor and serves traditional breakfast eats that can't be beat. The smell of sizzling sausage draws diners to this all-American favorite, and tasty hotcakes and eggs keep them coming back time and again. Table-top jukeboxes entertain while the waitstaff scurry to keep up with patron requests. Mel's also boasts an interesting fact -- "American Graffiti" was filmed here. And with three locations in San Francisco, a Mel's is never too far. The restaurant is especially good at catering to traveling families, with spacious booths and an extensive kids menu. And Mel's recently added a "heart-healthy" option for those who love comfort food but are watching their weight or cholesterol. (415-921-2867, 415-921-3039)
8 Rose's Café
At this smart caf--, you'll find an informal setting and breakfast served with Italian flair. Most foods are prepared in a wood-burning oven, which imparts great flavor and a welcome rusticity. Recommended dishes include breakfast pizza, a hot hero sandwich, and warm rice pudding with pears. The Breakfast Cozy tastes as comforting as it sounds: scrambled eggs with artichokes, feta cheese and ham. The pastry selection includes several different croissants, caramel rolls, orange currant scones, coffee cake and plenty of other options for the sweet-toothed. Thanks to simple tables, interesting china, and heated outdoor seating, Rose's has something to offer everyone. (415-775-2200)
7 Mama's on Washington Square
Act fast and early if you're thinking about Mama's -- after lunch you're out of luck. And you certainly don't want to miss the array of perfectly prepared breakfast foods. Generous portions are standard, whether you order a fluffy omelet, a stack of hotcakes or light, fragrant French toast. If you need them, Mama's also offers healthy egg white creations. Quick service is a staple, but even so, weekend brunch has been known to generate waits thanks to the cafe's popularity. Mama's perfect location in North Beach means you'll be in the right spot for sightseeing and shopping once breakfast is over. (415-362-6421)
6 Brenda's French Soul Food
San Francisco foodies searching for great breakfast eateries should be sure to check out Brenda's French Soul Food. A native of New Orleans, Chef Brenda Buenviaje serves up Southern-style, Creole-inspired dishes with a distinctively French flair. Breakfast menu options include shrimp and grits, the Creole veggie omelette and the original house-made granola pancakes. But you can't really have a New Orleans-style breakfast without beignets, and Brenda's doesn't skimp on the selection, which includes chocolate, Granny Smith Apple and even Crawfish, for those feeling especially adventurous in the morning. Patrons especially love her signature stuffed beignets and shrimp po' boy, available during lunch and dinner hours. (415-345-8100)
5 Tennessee Grill
A favorite locals place, this easygoing diner serves heaping portions of tasty breakfast foods at wallet-friendly prices. Come alone and sit at the counter, or stop by with friends; either way, you'll find the service friendly and the ambiance relaxed. While basics like eggs, bacon, and sausage are well-prepared, you should try the delicious corned beef breakfast with eggs, hash browns, and toast. Other possibilities include waffles, French toast, and omelets. Wash it down with hot coffee, and you'll be a regular in no time! If you need to walk off that big breakfast, jump on the N-Judah to Ocean Beach, where you can walk to your heart's delight. (415-664-7834)
4 Town's End Restaurant and Bakery
This friendly restaurant, located at the Embarcadero, is just two blocks from the "New" Giants Stadium and offers great bay views. Brunch is a near-perfect experience, according to regulars. In fact, speaking of perfect, Giants pitcher Matt Cain credited his own perfect game to that morning breakfast at Towns' End...! Baskets of home-baked breads, smoked mozzarella frittata, crab cakes, and oatmeal pancakes studded with nuts and fruit, are constant favorites. And the best accompaniment to your breakfast is a cup of their hot, strong single origin Bolivian drip coffee. Although the wait can be long (other folks know about Town's End's appeal too!), brunch is well worth the delay. (415-512-0749)
3 Bette's Oceanview Diner
Fluffy homemade pancakes and real maple syrup make Bette's Oceanview Diner one of the Bay Area's top breakfast destinations. Located in Berkeley, this diner has patrons lining up to enjoy their famous flapjacks, delicious scones and farm-style breakfast specialties. Particularly popular menu items include the souffle pancakes, which come in flavors like banana rum and strawberry, and the Maryland breakfast, which features house-made corned beef hash. Like almost all things bought and sold in Berkeley, these breakfasts come with a hearty-side of sustainable and ecological friendly ingredients, so it definitely caters to those who care not just about filling their belly but also about the planet. (510-644-3230, 866-972-6879)
2 Dottie's True Blue Café
You'll find some of the city's best breakfast plates on Dottie's classic menu. Early risers literally line up outside this small diner, just waiting for a chance to savor the signature home-style breakfast foods. Considering its popularity, the prices are still reasonable. Worth-waiting-for fare includes everything from homemade thick-cut French toast and open-faced omelets to whiskey fennel sausage and chili cornbread with spicy jalapeno jelly. The restaurant also serves tempting lunch options like sandwiches, salads and hamburgers. The new, renovated and expanded restaurant is now at 6th Street between Market and Mission, which makes it more accessible and closer to public transportation. (415-885-2767)
When this clean, bright eatery appeared, the neighborhood eagerly welcomed it, and the love affair continues. Although it's open throughout the day, breakfast remains perennially busy, and thankfully, morning fare is served without interruption. Scramblers and omelets are packed with tasty goods, and you can sample pancakes (bananas and Nutella!), French toast, and Belgian waffles as well. Corned beef hash, chicken fried steak, and a mound of hash browns also pull in hungry customers. If you must eat light, consider oatmeal, granola, or fresh fruit. Burgers, salads, and sandwiches also stand at the ready. Two locations, both near the Mission and centrally located. (415-282-4328)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom. Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
Read more about Tom Molanphy here.