Mmm brunch. What’s not to love about it? It’s the single meal that you can eat just about anything and get away with it. No longer does brunch just entail eggs, waffles, and pancakes. Now you can get brunch burritos, brunch sandwiches, and even brunch-style pizza! In a city like San Francisco, “brunching” is it’s own culture, requiring one to wake up early on a weekend, strategically select a brunch location, then patiently wait amongst the crowds in anticipation for the deliciousness that will soon satiate the hunger pangs and make the long lines worthwhile–though these lines are not always worth the wait. So which spots offer up a waiting-worthy brunch? Here are three of my all-time favorites!
The Top 3
Brenda’s French Soul Food
(between Turk St & Eddy St) – Tenderloin
Must Have: Crawfish Beignet – A twist on New Orleans Beignets with a delicious crawfish, cayenne, scallions, and cheddar filling then topped with spices. This Beignet is drool-worthy!
The wait: There will always be a line for weekend brunch. The wait can be up to an hour and a half. The good thing is you can write your name on the chalkboard, then walk to the nearby Philz Coffee on Van Ness for a cup of the Tesora or the Sooo Good, or any other perfectly brewed coffee. The owners of Brenda also just opened up Libby Jane next door, which serves Ritual® Coffee and tasty treats from Brenda’s. So you can always pass some time with a small bite there before you get seated at Brenda’s.
- The Beignets come in orders of 3, but you can order just one or two. Brenda’s is pretty flexible so if you can’t finish three beignets in one sitting then just order one or two. Do not take these Beignets home to eat later. Once refrigerated, they don’t taste anywhere close to being the same!
- Brunch is served all day on Sundays. Come on Sunday from 3-4pm when the restaurant is fairly empty to avoid long lines.
- What else should you order while at Brenda’s? Pretty much anything on the menu is a win. The Shrimp & Grits (sauteed shrimp, cheddar grits, spicy tomato-bacon gravy) is delicious, but heavy. If you happen to come in when the Sweet Potato Pancakes served with Warm Butter Pecan Sauce is on the daily special, then don’t even think twice and just order it.
Red Door Cafe
1608 Bush St (between Franklin St & Gough St) – Lower Pac Heights
Must Have: The Havana – A vegetarian taco filled with scrambled eggs, spicy Cuban soy chorizo, and topped with a spicy Cuban salsa, sour cream, corn, onion, and lime. It’s a delicious taco with a flavorful kick!
The wait: There is usually a line, but how long of a wait will depend on how lucky you are. The restaurant is small, seating only 14 total. If you arrive right when people are finishing inside, you may only have to wait 15-20 minutes. If you arrive just as a new wave of 14 has been seated then you will be waiting for over an hour.
Other Tips: Brunch at Red Door Cafe is an experience in itself and is not for everyone. Ahmed, the owner, is loaded with positive energy, but if he doesn’t like you, he won’t let you in. Some tips on winning with Ahmed:
- Be open minded: If you’re a homo-phobe, or just plain close-minded, don’t expect to get in or to even enjoy yourself should you make it in. While you wait in line, you might be asked to hold one of Ahmed’s many naked, limbless dolls or he might flirt with you. Once you get in, you’ll see that the interior is decorated with penises and provocative signage. If you can’t handle any this with humor, don’t come.
- Don’t bring coffee: Ahmed will serve you coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate, or just about any other breakfast beverage) in a mug while you wait in line at no charge. If you’re spotted drinking coffee from Starbucks (GASP!) or any other coffee shop, you won’t be getting in.
- Arrive with a max of 2: With only 14 seats in the restaurant, there is a 2 per party maximum. If you arrive with more you won’t be admitted.
- Don’t wear Lululemon: Anything considered “pretentious” could rub Ahmed the wrong way and guarantee you denied access. Also, be sure not to wear sunglasses when you meet him. It’s impersonal.
(between Steiner St & Pierce St) – Lower Pac Heights
Must Have: Millionaire’s Bacon – a thick cut of your most beloved bacon, bathed in sweet and savory spices and baked until caramelized in sugary, crispy goodness!
The wait: Sweet Maple is only open for breakfast/brunch so there will always be a wait whether you come here on a weekday or a weekend, early or late. The great thing is that they serve free coffee while you wait!
Other Tips: While the Millionaire’s Bacon is a must, the entire menu is full of such deliciousness that you really can’t go wrong with anything! I would highly recommend trying the following:
- Bermuda Special: the Grand Marnier French Toast (French Toast wedges dipped in grand marnier batter) served with mixed berries and yogurt
- Dungeness Benedict: a perfectly cooked dungeness crab benedict served with caper and spinach.
Nopa: Located right by Alamo Square, Nopa is one of few restaurants that actually take brunch reservations! The only down-side is that you’ll have to pre-plan ahead of time because reservations get filled weeks in advance. The Custard French Toast is the MUST GET here! Served with caramelized apples and maple butter, you won’t be able to just take one bite.
Mission Beach Cafe: A solid brunch option in the Mission area. Expect a long line with a wait time of at least ~45 minutes. You can’t go wrong with the Dungeness Crab and Bay Shrimp Benedict. It is loaded with crab and baby shrimp and served with perfectly flavored hollandaise sauce.
Lighthouse Cafe: Though not located in San Francisco city, this Sausalito cafe serves up a mean brunch and is a perfect break when biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. The wait can vary from as short as 20 minutes to about an hour, but the food and fast service makes it worthwhile. Be sure to check the blackboard for specials. If the “Lobster Crab Melt” is on there, then don’t think twice and order it! It is filled with so much meat, minimal filler, and served in a crispy toast. Perfectly delicious!
Park Tavern: Another restaurant that takes reservations, Park Tavern is located in North Beach on Washington Square right across from Mama’s. The food, cocktails, and service makes this a great place weekend brunch. So make your reservations, come in for a Cast Iron-Baked Egg or the Smoked Salmon Benedict, and gaze across the street at the people waiting in the 2-hour line at Mama’s as you devour your brunch.