Diners in Daly City

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In 1947, owners Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs assembled a staff of 14 carhops to serve passing motorists at the first Mel's Drive-In. For the next two decades, customers partial to automobile dining flocked to the chain’s 11 California locations, eager to wash down grass-fed half-pound burgers with thick milk shakes. As fast-food outlets outpaced the drive-in's once-speedy service, its popularity declined, and it was eventually scheduled for demolition. The building got a temporary reprieve, however, when filmmaker George Lucas decided to use the drive-in's original location on Lombard Street as the colorful backdrop for his film American Graffiti. As bulldozers destroyed the last remnants of the historic drive-in, American Graffiti opened in theaters.

A decade later, though, Mel's son Steven reopened Mel's Drive-In in an attempt to carry on his father's dream. Steven restored the drive-in's multiple locations to mirror their original motif by stocking each with midcentury must-haves such as illuminated marquees, jukeboxes, and Elvis-themed WiFi passwords. The drive-in’s menu, meanwhile, balances period-appropriate fare, such as hot dogs and burgers, with healthy options, such as the Haven’s Famous vegetarian sandwich, two slices of nine-grain bread topped with avocado, sprouts, and tomatoes.

3355 Geary Blvd
San Francisco,
CA
US

When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal?it combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile?s beefy Rocket 88. The chain now makes itself at home in America's cultural landmarks, including Yankee Stadium and the Flamingo Hotel.

During dinners at the famous burger joints, you?ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers. Dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they?ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.

1946 Fillmore Street
San Francisco,
CA
US

1435 17th St
San Francisco,
CA
US

Louis’ Restaurant: A User’s Guide

Waterfront, Cliff-Top Dining | 80 Years of History | Organic, Local, Fair-Trade Ingredients | Diner Menu

Sample Menu:

  • Breakfast: coffee with a cheddar-filled, chili-stuffed omelet
  • Lunch: Shrimp Louis salad
  • Dinner: 8-ounce new york steak sandwich
  • Beer: Anchor Steam
  • Dessert: locally baked pie served à la mode

The Setting: Louis' is nestled in the craggy, fog-blanketed cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. Massive windows not only showcase this stunning, panoramic landscape—with a red-streaked sunset if you time your visit right—but also indigenous and 19th-century ruins. This view, especially if taken in through the glass-walled corner booth, makes visitors feel like they're savoring their tuna melt in a fairy tale.

The Ingredients

  • Eggs: cage-free, and sourced from within 100 miles
  • Produce: certified organic, and sourced from within 200 miles
  • Meat: natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed, humanely-raised
  • Bread: sourced from within 25 miles
  • Desserts: sourced from within 25 miles
  • Coffee: certified organic and certified fair trade

Green Stuff: Louis’ prides itself on being an eco-friendly establishment, from its 55% recycled tiled floors to its compostable takeout containers, and most everything in between.

History

  • Valentine's Day, 1937: Married Greek immigrants Louis and Helen Hontalas open shop. In addition to a full menu of dine-in options, they sell peanuts and popcorn from wagons outside.
  • 1939: Their son Constantine, third after John and Jim, is welcomed as the newest Hontalas.
  • 1947: 27-year-old Rachel "Rosie" Lelchuk, wearing her signature flower in her hair, begins her 55-year career as a Louis' Restaurant server.
  • 1973: The National Park Service acquires the land Louis' sits on, making the restaurant an official NPS concessioner.
  • 1975: Jim, now the owner, dramatically renovates the building.
  • 1988: The NPS opts to shutter Louis' Restaurant—but thousands upon thousands of customer-written postcards convince officials not to go through with it.
  • 1997: Jim retires, and his sons Bill and Tom step in.
  • 2002: Rosie retires at the age of 82.
  • 2010: Another remodel gives the place a whole new look, and a contract with the NPS keeps the Hontalas family in charge for at least another 10 years.

902 Point Lobos Ave
San Francisco,
CA
US

St. Francis Fountain

Historic Soda Fountain | Monster Hashes | Egg Creams and Floats | Vegan Milk Shakes | Hangover Cures

Sample Menu

  • To eat: hamburger with spuds
  • To share: a pair of Upside Down Hog Cakes—pancakes made with bacon, cheddar, and onion
  • To drink: milk shake

Past Lives: St. Francis Fountain came by its lovely old neon signage authentically—it’s been a soda fountain since Greek immigrant James Christakes opened it in 1918. The family updated the dining room in 1948, but not much else changed until Peter Hood and Levon Kazarian took it over in 2002 after the original spot closed. (In the interim, Mission Local reported, regulars taped pleading notes on the windows asking that the fountain be preserved.) The new owners preserved St. Francis’s spirit while trading in the candy- and ice-cream-making areas for a full menu; the ice cream now comes from local institution Mitchell’s.

While You Wait: Browse the selection of vintage pop-culture ephemera filling what used to be the candy case, perhaps picking up a pack of Magnum, P.I. trading cards to entertain a fussy 55-year-old.

Inside Tips

  • Scan the menu closely if you’re vegetarian or vegan—tons of dishes have meatless or nondairy tweaks available.
  • Larger groups might have trouble finding space here, since seating options are limited. (Things were smaller in 1918.)

Vocab Lesson
Black Forest ham: a black-edged ham named for the part of Germany where it’s produced via a three-month process involving curing with garlic, coriander, pepper, and juniper berries before it’s smoked over fir branches.

Egg cream: a classic (egg-free) fountain drink made with soda water, chocolate syrup and a little cream or, more commonly, milk.

While You’re in the Neighborhood

  • Before: Ramble down Balmy Alley (parallel to Treat Avenue and Harrison Street between 24th and 25th Streets) and tour murals ranging from the 1980s to, potentially, a couple weeks ago.
  • After: Plot to make your own sourdough french toast with a sourdough-bread-baking class from Sour Flour at La Victoria Bakery (2937 24th Street).

2801 24th St
San Francisco,
CA
US

Five Things to Know About Toast Eatery

Toast Eatery satisfies the Bay Area’s breakfast and lunch cravings with its unique take on classic greasy-spoon fare. From Nutella-slathered pancakes to mac & cheese made with bleu cheese and cheddar, each dish invokes a simpler time while reflecting a modern sensibility. Here are some more facts to chew on before your visit:

  • Breakfast is the main event. Guests can take their pick from 10 omelets, 10 scramblers, and 7 types of pancakes—not to mention house favorites such as corned beef hash and salmon benedicts.
  • The French toast is a must-try. Cooks make this morningtime delicacy their own by dipping challah bread or a croissant into a special egg batter made with vanilla cream and cinnamon. *There are plenty of post-breakfast eats, too. Specialty salads, sandwiches, and burgers make it tempting to stick around for multiple meals.
  • Hot, cold, and boozy beverages abound. From lattes to milkshakes to bloody mary’s, there’s a fix for everyone’s craving.
  • There are two locations. Toast can be found on Church Street and 24th Street. Pro tip: the 24th Street spot stays open ’til 9 p.m. most nights, while Church Street calls it quits by 5 p.m. at the latest.

1748 Church St
San Francisco,
CA
US