It's Vacation, Sleep In: Best Brunch Spots in San Francisco

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

What says vacation better than brunch? It's that rule-breaker, that black sheep in the orderly, daily family of meals that say, "Hey I'll eat what I want when I want it!"

Anyone who has ever been on a successful vacation knows that getting in the right, adventurous spirit goes a long ways towards everyone having a good time. We recommend you have at least one brunch on your San Francisco vacation because brunch shakes up the daily routine, that normal 9-5 day that we all have to endure in order to save up enough money to go on vacations in the first place. Once you're on vacation, there's no better way to say goodbye to the mundane than shaking up the schedule with some brunch, that crazy meal that answers to no one.

Feel like a shrimp cocktail at 11 am? Why not? It's vacation and you're eating brunch! How about some champagne with that? Yes sir! I'm at brunch!

We'll direct you to the best Brunch restaurants in San Francisco and save you the hassle of calling around for business hours. 10Best readers find much to enjoy at Baker Street Bistro thanks to its all-around good offerings. It's also hard to beat Kate's Kitchen, which serves just what you're looking for when you're in the market for a great Brunch.

10. Brenda's French Soul Food
Photo courtesy of Brenda's French Soul Food

When you're not in the mood for an ordinary brunch, head to Brenda's French Soul Food. If you think there's an interesting chef behind the idea of pairing French with soul, you're absolutely right. Chef Brenda brought her unique vision from a small town just outside of New Orleans, jazzing and spicing up her menu every step of the way. The must-have beignets on the weekend brunch menu will bring everyone who has every been to New Orleans right back to that magical and beautiful town. And the butter-pecan sauce on the French Toast is well worth that additional dollar.

9. Olea
Photo courtesy of Facebook

This Nob Hill brunch spot offers Bay Area diners a comfortable, bistro-style atmosphere and refreshing mid-morning eats. The menu is centered around fresh organic produce, much of which is gathered from local farms, and changes depending on seasonal availability. Olea only uses cage-free eggs from Glaum Ranch in the nearby town of Aptos. You can always find Olea's signature dishes, however, including the challah custard toast and eggs baked in a cazuela. Or try eggs baked in a cazuela with tomato sauce, steamed farro spezzato, diced niman ranch applewood smoked ham and basil-almond pesto. No matter your order, a cup of Blue Bottle coffee makes the perfect addition.

8. Baker Street Bistro

Don't be taken aback if the lively owner of this cozy brunch spot hails you from the street, inviting you into the comfortable neighborhood bistro. Expertly prepared food is a mainstay, and pastries (like raspberry and apple turnovers) almost always sell out. Still, you can make the most of omelets, baguette sandwiches, eggs Benedict, goat cheese salad, pasta, and desserts. Prices are surprisingly affordable, which is always a nice perk, especially when you get to choose from some exceptional French dishes such as "Oeufs Baker Street Bistro" (Ratatouille, poached eggs, English Muffin, tomato sauce) or Steak à Cheval ( the classic Steak and egg.)

7. Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
Photo courtesy of Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

Absinthe recalls the days of Dorothy Parker and her circle of witty, sardonic critics. Along with dicing celebrities, they took great pleasure in good food and drink. Plenty of both can be found here, and weekend brunch is especially delightful. Champagne and wines balance the cuisine, which includes cold seafood platters, imported French cheeses, and coq au vin. A tasty caesar salad and a risotto with fava beans, basil, and parmesan are also great options. To sum up – absolutely faultless! If you can't make it for brunch, its' definitely worth visiting at night, where the bar serves some of the most inventive cocktails in the city.

6. Mama's on Washington Square

Act fast and early if you're thinking about Mama's because after lunch you're out of luck. And you certainly don't want to miss their 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.

5. Ella's

Brunch at Ella's is a fantastic experience, thanks largely to wonderful American cuisine and a menu that changes weekly. The casual dining room is usually crowded, and brunch can often demand a wait, so don't come famished. The pancakes and pastries will still be around. Inside, an open kitchen showcases preparation, and large windows afford great people-watching opportunities. All breads are homemade, and the aromas alone will have you coming back time and again. In fact, locals love just to walk by Ella's and get a good whiff of the baking, swearing it's the best way to start your day.

4. Universal Café
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Set pleasantly away from San Francisco's main restaurant drags, Universal is a small culinary treasure. Expansive front windows, an open kitchen, and a slight industrial appeal lend an unpretentious air, and patrons can't say enough good things about the amazing food. Chef-owner Leslie Carr Avalos grew up in the Hudson River Valley and has a long family history of organic gardening. She looks to seasonal ingredients for inspiration, and weekend brunch includes scrambled eggs with spinach and white cheddar, braised oxtails with fried eggs and spicy greens, and housemade granola with fresh fruit. Salads, sandwiches, sweets and fruit-infused drinks further bolster its allure.

3. Kate's Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Kate's Kitchen

This down-to-earth restaurant has folks lining up for brunch and breakfast favorites and – most especially – out-of-this-world ginger-peach pancakes. Biscuits and gravy and hushpuppies add a bit of Southern comfort to early morning fare, and egg dishes hint at the menu's classics. In fact, Kate's great food can satisfy even the pickiest diner. Don't let the craziness of Haight Street, with its panhandlers and general seediness, make you doubt the quality and expertise of Kate's Kitchen. this spot has been a reliable and satisfying brunch spot for locals and tourists alike for many years. But just remember: cash only.

2. Red Door Cafe
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

The unassuming Red Door Cafe is one of the best places in the city for a hearty brunch. It occupies a tiny space in Pacific Heights and often has quite a wait, but as the locals will attest, the food is well worth it, especially the signature Josephine French Toast. The owner happily serves coffee (in bowls) to those patiently waiting. Once inside, you'll find other delightful dishes like breakfast burritos, quesadillas and croque madame. And the place has a sense of humor, too, featuring dishes such as "I'm Nothing But A Sloppy Vegetarian Whore," which includes New Orleans spicy vegi "slutty joe with 2 nipples" (sunny side up eggs).

1. Zazie
Photo courtesy of Zazie

While Bay Area brunch restaurants are not hard to come by, Zazie's is one of a few local gems that keeps customers coming back despite its long, out-the-door lines. The eatery is renowned for its gingerbread pancakes but also features more savory options like scrambled egg plates and chicken-apple sausage. It's easy to customize your order with one, two or three pieces, and there are plenty of attractive sandwiches and salads to choose from, too. Zazie's is tucked away in central and idyllic Cole Valley, just a few blocks from Haight Street and golden Gate Park and right along the convenient N-Judah line.