Le Continental: The grills of San Francisco

United States

As we mark the publication of our Distinctively San Francisco guide, Bay Area resident and global gourmet Dean Curtis surveys San Francisco’s historic grills.

Tadich Grill
The Tadich promotes itself as San Francisco’s oldest continuously-running restaurant, and if you count three ownership changes, eight locations, and several name changes, it is; but that pales next to Boston’s Union Oyster House, which opened in 1826 as the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House, and is still in the same location. Or Antoine’s in New Orleans, which opened in 1840, moved one block in 1868 to its present location, and has been run by the same family since the beginning! However, Tadich Grill definitely dates back to 1912, the first year it opened by its present name, which isn’t a bad run for a California restaurant.

The current location dates from the 1960s, but it looks much older. There’s a long bar / counter at the front, classic 1920s style tile floors, tables with bentwood chairs in the middle and back of the restaurant, and semi-private wooden “compartments” with tables along one side of the long space.

Tadich’s specialty is fresh fish grilled over Mesquite charcoal, which the Buich family introduced at Tadich Grill in 1924. But they also serve excellent Louie salads, such as a Dungeness Crab Louie (when in season), a great seafood Cioppino (an Italian tomato-based seafood stew), the locally historic Hangtown Fry (bacon and fried oyster frittata), Oysters Rockefeller, and many more specialties. The sourdough bread is always good, and the martinis and Manhattans are well made. They do not take reservations and it’s very popular so be prepared to wait if you arrive during lunch or dinner. They are open continuously from 11am (11.30am on Sat) until 9.30pm every day except Sunday.
240 California Street, 94111. Tel: 415 391 1849

Above image via Flickr user italiangerry

Sam’s Grill
Opened in 1931 by Sam Zenovich (who also owned a successful oyster company, whose origins go back to 1867 under the previous owner) as Sam’s Seafood Grotto, on California Street. In 1936 Zenovich passed away and Frank Seput purchased the restaurant, renaming it Sam’s Grill and Seafood Restaurant, which moved to its present location in 1946.

The restaurant is really a time-travel experience back to the 1940s, from the curtained private dining compartments with buzzers to summon the white-jacketed waiters to the menu of many classic seafood and meat dishes. You will see dishes on the menu you rarely see anymore, such as Celery Victor, Crab Newburg, Stewed Tomatoes, Salisbury Steak, sweetbreads prepared three ways, and Long Branch potatoes. If you eat veal, go  for the veal Porterhouse with bacon, perhaps with shoestring potatoes. The prices are very reasonable for the quantity and quality of food. Hours are Monday-Friday only, from 11am until 9pm.
374 Bush Street, 94104. Tel: 415 421 0594

Above image via Flickr user Vintage Roadtrip

John’s Grill
The sign states that it opened in 1908, and a restaurant called John’s Grill was mentioned in Dashiell Hammett’s 1927 mystery novel The Maltese Falcon, but details are hazy. The restaurant looks old, though it has been remodeled more than Sam’s, and it is certainly older than the present location of Tadich Grill. In any case, it is a treat to visit, as it does have a lot of history, and it’s crammed with old photos and mementos, including a reproduction of the Maltese Falcon used in the film.
63 Ellis Street, 94102. Tel: 415 986 3274

Above image via Flickr user Vintage Roadtrip

Be sure to keep up with Dean's dining through his excellent blog, Le Continental, as he scours the globe for exciting eating and drinking experiences

Published 16 January 2013

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