I write about brunch a lot. In San Francisco, brunch is practically a religion. While I do love a good brunch, I can’t stand waiting 2+ hours for food. I thought I’d write a quick and dirty guide of some of the best places to brunch in SF and what is and isn’t worth your time.
One of the most exciting openings of 2016 was when renowned Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St.) opened a 2nd location at Tartine Manufactory (595 Alabama St.). Finally, Tartine’s bread could be available to the masses and not just at 4pm onward in the original Mission location. Tartine Manufactory is in a bigger airy space, complete with a full-service bar. While the offerings are different at Tartine Manufactory compared to the bakery, there are plenty of choices to delight your fancy.
It is worth the trip to Tartine Manufactory solely for the porchetta and fried egg sandwich. I kid you not. It is that good. On a beautifully toasted brioche bun, you’ll find layers of rich, thinly-sliced porchetta, a slightly runny fried egg, fresh watercress and crunchy pork rinds. The pork rinds make the sandwich by adding extra texture that complements against the runny egg yolk. This is heaven in a sandwich. If the thought of eating a porchetta sandwich is going to put you in a coma for the rest of the day, there are plenty of lighter choices. I highly recommend whatever their open-faced sandwich is for the day. I’ve had mind-blowing smoked trout on a healthy, hearty bread, as well as mascarpone, homemade apple butter and apples on their country bread. Their coddled egg is also a great alternative for a lighter brunch. It comes topped with trout roe and 3 pieces of the country bread (my favorite of all the Tartine breads) with za’atar spices.
Plow (1299 18th St.) is the perfect place to hit during the week if you can. Weekend lines can be 2+ hours. If you are lucky enough to snag a table, you must order the buttermilk biscuit, which comes with life-changing honey butter. I also recommend their signature brunch dish, the plow. I always struggle at brunch because I usually want both savory and sweet dishes, but don’t want to order two entrees. The plow is perfect because it comes with two eggs, house made pork sausage patties, mini lemon ricotta pancakes and plow potatoes. Their sausage patties are full of flavor, without being too oily. I love anything lemon and their lemon ricotta pancakes are light, fluffy and wonderfully zesty. The corn muffin is a total pass (save your calories for the biscuit) and while the French toast is solid, I’d rather eat the pancakes.
Zazie (941 Cole St.) is another SF brunch institution (I’m telling you… people take their brunch really seriously here). I don’t know why Zazie had never been on my radar, probably because I never go to Cole Valley. But apparently, Adele likes to brunch at Zazie so my friend and I had to try. Similar to Plow, expect long waits on the weekend, so try and come during the week if you can. What I liked most about Zazie is they let you customize the quantity of your order. For the eggs Benedict, you can order just 1 and the same goes for their pancakes. I love any restaurant that let’s me order multiple dishes (again, I’m into both savory and sweet for breakfast).
I ordered the eggs Benedict with avocado, bacon and cheese and my friend ordered a scramble. We decided to split Sarah Jane’s flight, which comes with 1 buttermilk pancake, 1 ginger pancake and 1 French toast. If you come to Zazie, you must order eggs Benedict and get the home fries (screw ordering the salad, people). Their Hollandaise sauce is absolutely perfect, creamy without being too heavy and having a wonderful citrus flavor. Zazie’s home fries are the best home fries I’ve ever had in my life. They are roasted in a way where the outside is crispy but the interior is still soft and chewy. Zazie roast their home fries with garlic, which gives their potatoes an extra layer of complexity. They are to die for. Out of the flight, the French toast and buttermilk pancake did not impress me. I would order the ginger pancake again, primarily because it’s topped with fresh lemon curd (love me some lemon) and a poached pear. It even tastes amazing cold the next day!
I made a huge mistake the first time I came to Brenda’s Soul Food Kitchen (652 Polk St.). I went on a Saturday and waited 2+ hours and then after waiting said 2+ hours, I ordered a scramble. Seriously, a scramble? What was I thinking?!? My judgement must have been compromised because of the hunger. Of course, after all that waiting and ordering eggs, Brenda’s was going to disappoint me. I went in with a more open mind and decided to give Brenda’s another shot (on a weekday with no wait). Since I was by myself, I decided to go for the beignet flight: 1 plain, 1 chocolate, 1 granny smith apple and 1 savory crawfish. Out of the four, I enjoyed the savory crawfish one the best. Spiced with scallions, cayenne and cheddar, the crawfish beignet was delightfully creamy and a little spicy. One thing I noticed was that the savory beignet dough and sweet beignet dough seem to be different. I didn’t like the sweet beignets because they were denser and I wouldn’t order them again. Instead, I’d recommend the cream biscuit, which is crumbly and oh-so-good.
If you decided that you want to opt-out of heavy, decadent SF brunch, check out Basik Cafe (1958 Polk St.) in Russian Hill. Originally from Hawaii, Basik Cafe is a small, casual eatery serving acai bowls and smoothies. I usually order the Islander, which is acai and hemp milk topped with strawberries, bananas, granola, goji berries, coconut shavings and honey. I have two tips if you go to Basik. If you’re more than 1 person, order the large and split it. The large is only a few dollars more and can seriously feed 3 people. My second tip is to order the granola on the side. While I like granola, I find the proportion of granola to acai to be too much and my teeth can only handle crunching on so much granola.
I’m also completely in love with the acai bowls at Blue Hawaii (2 Embarcader Ctr.) and think they are even better than the ones at Basik. I recommend the lime fresh bowl, which has lime juice squeezed into the mixture and also on top of the fruit. That fresh lime juice gives that extra pop of citrus and brightens the whole acai bowl. I liked that the consistency at Blue Hawaii is thicker than at Basik and also the granola to acai mixture is just right.
I only discovered As Quoted (3613 Sacramento St.) this week when I was looking for a breakfast place close by my gym. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t make the trek all the way to Presidio Heights, but I’ve found my new go-to after gym spot. As Quoted is a casual café serving lighter, healthy fare, including green juice and almond/hemp milk coffee. There’s even tumeric and beet lattes! On my first visit, I ordered the almond milk latte (they have sweetened and unsweetened almond milk) and the breakfast open-face sandwich. Toasted gluten-free bread is topped with thick, Marin Farms bacon, frisée, poached egg and a flavorful shallot vinaigrette.
The second time, I ordered the avocado toast (poached egg is extra) and the turmeric latte. The latte was made from fresh turmeric, fresh ginger, almond milk, coconut oil, sea salt and coconut sugar. The ginger flavors really stands out and the turmeric is subtle. It tastes like a warm, inviting hug. I actually wish I could drink this right before curling into bed and sleeping. It would work even better than Sleepytime tea. As Quoted’s menu is full of open-faced sandwiches and salads. I can’t wait to slowly work through every single item!
Honorable Brunch Mentions:
- Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission St.). Foreign Cinema wins for taking brunch reservations and serving amazing cocktails (killer Bloody Mary), homemade pop tarts, brown sugar smoked bacon and some of the best egg dishes in town (heavenly scramble shout-out!)
- Olea (1494 California St). I’ve always loved Olea since it’s in my neighborhood, but I didn’t go often because they didn’t take reservations. Well, they now take reservations and it’s a godsend. Their menu is seasonal, but I always order their cazuelas (baked egg dish like Turkish shakshuka) and their French toast always blows me away.
- Finn Town (2251 Market St.). Newer restaurant in the Castro that also takes reservations (YAY RESERVATIONS!). Order the fried chicken (whether it’s offered in sandwich form or with waffles). You can thank me later.