10 San Francisco Restaurants That Should Have Never Been Closed

San Francisco is considered one of the greatest restaurant towns in the World. It seems that a new trendy restaurant pops up on almost a daily basis.  Thankfully, some of our classic dining establishments like  House of Prime Rib, Swan’s Oyster Depot, Tadich Grill and a handful of others survive and thrive. And others get rescued by “angel investors”- like Joe’s of Westlake (fingers crossed), Tosca Cafe, The Big 4, The Old Clam House and Schroeder’s.  But I sadly salute the passing of some of my all-time personal favorites.

Capp’s Corner
(formerly 1600 Powell at Green St., North Beach)
This Family-Style Italian dinner house was a go-to for good food at a good price, and always great company. So many memories at Capp’s with family and friends. Dinner always served with a tureen of really tasty Minestrone (“Pass that bowl down here, please!”), followed by a tasty kidney-bean laden house-dressed salad. The long time owners, the Ginellas, were recently booted, another victim of San Francisco’s latest landord eviction frenzy (shameful). Capp’s Corner is also notable (to me) for being the place I first met the late great Seamus Coyle, in his capacity as the greeter. No one could greet you like that grizzled Irishman! I miss Capp’s….and Seamus.
CappsCorner7

Caesar’s
(formerly 2299 Powell St at Bay St., near Fisherman’s Wharf)
Over the years, Caesar’s was the destination for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries…Hell, ANY festive gathering. As teens, we would head to Caesar’s and settle in for a 7-course “pigout” (always trying, but never getting used to the pickled pig’s feet  appetizer. No problem, because there were 6 other plates with antipasti, cold cuts, marinated ceci and kidney beans). So loud and raucous that you had to shout your order at the waiter. The best Cioppino in town. Excellent bar!  A great, friendly, attentive staff, with owner Matteo actually cooking in the kitchen. And you were always greeted by the smiling face of the late, much-missed co-owner Luigi Romani.  R.I.P.
Caesars

Empress of China
(formerly 838 Grant Avenue, Chinatown)
The classiest destination in Chinatown, the Empress had one of the most spectacular views of The City from both the dining room and the bar. You didn’t go to Empress of China for authentic Regional cuisine. The menu was very “Americanized”.  But it was a blast from the past, a step back into San Francisco, circa 1960. Check out the celeb photos on the wall. (“Hey, that’s Jack Soo from “Barney Miller”!) Order a perfect Mai Tai and imagine you’re in a scene from a Bond movie. Another classic bites the dust for more office space. Thanks, Progress…
EmpressOfChina

Villa Romana
(formerly 731 Irving St., near 9th Avenue, Inner Sunset)
A very old school North Beach feel in the heart of the busy Inner Sunset, the Villa Romana dining room was decorated with grapevines and Chianti bottles hanging from the barrel-like ceiling. IMHO, there was one reason to make the trip to this Irving Street staple: Pizza.  If you missed Villa Romana, you missed one of the best pizzas in town. Period.

Villa Romana ext


Sam Wo
(formerly 813 Washington St., Chinatown)
The legend of Sam Wo lives on in the memories of anyone who had the pleasure of climbing the rickety stairs to the second or third floor dining areas, sitting at the funky, beat up, hodge podge of communal tables. If you were lucky, you were verbally abused by the legendary Edsel Ford Fung. Kitchen on the first floor? No problem. Dumb waiter that bowl of noodles up to the appropriate floor. Open until 3 am, Sam Wo had a BYOB policy (despite the hand-written sign that stated “No Booze”) that let us bring in whatever beer we could buy at the liquor store down the block (that had, let’s say, a very liberal policy on checking I.D.) The food? Whatever. The experience? Priceless.
Sam Wo

Vanessi’s
(formerly 498 Broadway at Kearny, North Beach)
The granddaddy of all Italian sit-at-the-counter Italian grills, Vanessi’s was another multi-course dining experience (do you notice a trend in my favorites?) There was nothing like sitting at the counter across from the exhibition grill, and feeling the heat blaze up every time the chef flopped a steak or chop on the wood-fueled fire. Savory sensory overload! Vanessa’s had a great red sauce, slathered on spaghetti and ravioli, offered as your main course or a side. In the late’s 80’s, they moved from Broadway to Nob Hill, and closed soon after. Thankfully, Original Joe’s (North Beach and Downtown San Jose), Marin Joe’s, and a handful of others keep up the tradition.
Vanessis

Gold Spike
(formerly 527 Columbus Ave., North Beach)
Guess what? Another Italian Family-Style Dinner House. (Hey, I like Italian food, served in mass quantities. Sue me.)  The things that stood out about Gold Spike were: 1. That uneven floor in the front dining area near the bar.  2. The dollar bills and business cards plastered all over the ceiling and walls. 3. The butteriest, garlicky garlic bread ever. Delicious! 4. HUGE portions. Pro-Eater Joey Chestnut would have difficulty not doggie bagging some of his meal. I went there for lunch with a group from work who complained that Gold Spike had “hair on it” (i.e. it was old).You think? It was over SEVENTY YEARS OLD at the time! They didn’t get it. You want pristine? I have the address of Olive Garden for you. As for me, (to paraphrase OG’s motto) a trip to Gold Spike was truly “when you’re there, you were family.”
Gold Spike

Johnson’s Tamale Grotto
(formerly Vicente at 24th Avenue, Sunset District)
Tamales were a big deal in The City, WAY before the Tamale Lady and her garbage bag full of delicious masa treats made the bar scene in the Mission. I mean, “Tuesday was Red’s Tamale Day”, fercryinoutloud! The Hot House at Playland was the favorite of many Locals (including my wife’s family). But we were a Johnson’s Tamale Grotto family. They had the original 20th and Mission location and one in Westlake.  But from the Sunset District location, we had Johnson’s deliver their deliciously sauced beans and rice (in the round ice-cream containers), enchiladas and cup tamales (made in coffee cups, if I remember correctly?), all wrapped in newspaper and tied with butcher string, to our front door. The sauce? Who knows what they put in it, but it was pure Mexican gravy magic.
Johnsons cup

The Shadows
(formerly 1349 Montgomery St. near the Filbert steps, Telegraph Hill)
The Shadows on Telegraph Hill was, to me, a “classy date night” destination. I couldn’t afford Ernie’s or Julius Castle (down the block), so when I did save a few bucks, I’d put on my Harris Tweed sports coat and a clip-on tie, and escort my girl (Lincoln High girl, Shirley) to The Shadows for some German-Swiss-Continental-American cuisine…and love. The dining room looked like my idea of what a Swiss chalet would look like (the closest I had ever been to Switzerland being the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland). The glorious panoramic view of the Bay from the bar was impressive. Their lentil soup (with refills!) was delicious. And I scored huge brownie points, even though the tie came off mid-meal.
Shadows_exterior

Paoli’s
(575 Commercial St near Montgomery, Financial District)
Paoli’s has a spot near and dear to my heart for one specific reason- their Happy Hour buffet.  I make the case that it was the most impressive array of freebie comestibles (with purchase of a cocktail of course) offered at any dining room bar anywhere, ever! It seemed like almost every item offered on the Dinner menu appeared on the massive buffet table near the bar (not true, but a great selection, nonetheless).  Another great date night restaurant, dark and moody, Paoli’s offered up a delicious mixed bag of Continental-American-Broiler dishes. But you had to have one at the bar and wander over to see what was happening at Happy Hour first. You might not make it to dinner.
paolis-menu
What are your favorite, long-gone restaurants?  I’ll have my second list of 10 posted soon…

154 comments

  1. Corey Ray · July 20, 2015

    Great article. You should have also mentioned what businesses occupied the building after and currently.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Miller · July 20, 2015

    Bernsteins on Powell Street. Bow of a ship jutting out into the side walk. I used to pretend it was a Pirate ship when I was kid, but I think it was actually a replica of one of the Christopher Columbus ships

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jerry Pritikin · July 20, 2015

    AMonroe’s on Lombard… Grissons on Van Ness, and the Atla Mira in Sausalito.

    Like

  4. joe aceto · July 20, 2015

    the hot house !

    Like

  5. yoohoocthluhu · July 20, 2015

    Gaspare’s in the Richmond is *very* similar to Villa Romano, for someone who’s looking for that old-school cheesy italian restaurant vibe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. nostalgicfoodie · July 21, 2015

    anyone remember Bino’s on Noriega? It was a family favorite when I was growing up.

    Like

    • Gordon Gribble · January 4, 2017

      Yes, Bino’s was a block from our home and the Bino family lived on 30th Ave across the street from us.

      Like

  7. Brooks Sautner · July 21, 2015

    Great little article! Thanks for putting this together. Brought back so many memories ! My mouth is watering!

    Like

  8. Leo Villacorte · July 21, 2015

    You forgot JULIUS CASTLE!!!!

    Like

    • Mecedes · July 23, 2015

      they closed?!

      Like

    • tantamount · January 2, 2017

      Faugh — no great loss. Julius Castle had a great view and lousy food (like the Carnelian Room). Bring back Hoffman Grill!

      Like

  9. Tom · July 21, 2015

    Oh, just open Doggie Diner already.

    Like

    • John Teeter · January 14, 2020

      And, as long as we’re up………… Hippo Hamburger on Van Ness and Clown Alley on Lombard (Theirs – Clown Alley, made insanely delicious, addictive burgers!!!!). Oh, and the original Mel’s.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. charlie · July 21, 2015

    Fat Ed’s Geneva and mission

    Like

    • Dave Matson · April 10, 2016

      Hey Charlie,
      We used to hang out at Fat-Ed’s in the late 60s and early 70s.
      When did you go there and what stories can you relate to the place?
      Would like to share some of my stories. Good memories of Fat Ed’s!!!
      Peace — Dave —

      Like

      • dc1517 · December 20, 2016

        Loved Fat Ed’s! I got to hang out there with a couple of SFPD Homicide Inspectors when I was taking Criminology courses at City College with them (they got me served beer, and cheated off me in class!)

        Like

      • Tammy L Butros · July 1, 2021

        Fat Ed’s is my families business, my father and uncle owned it. I have lots of stories and still cook the same great food for my family.

        Like

  11. Tom Espy · July 21, 2015

    Patanes on Front Street-The best Scampi.

    The Green Valley on Green and Grant- The best family style ever.

    The Old Spaggetti Factory

    Like

  12. janice benassi · July 21, 2015

    Dago Marys

    Like

    • Rochelle · January 2, 2017

      Yes! I loved that place.

      Like

  13. Pat Gibson · July 21, 2015

    Have been to Capp’s (great to go to before BBB); Empress of China (my parents’ friends took me there when I was a young adult-we didn’t know much about Chinese food, but my friends asked the chef to create a dinner for us and it was incredible-I will never forget it!); Villa Romano (great neighborhood place), Vanessi’s (my boss’s wife used to take me there when I needed to get out of the office for a couple of hours!) All great memories of times gone by

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 5 course · July 21, 2015

    San Remo. How could you forget San Remo?!?

    Liked by 1 person

  15. mike3k · July 21, 2015

    Sam Wo is reopening next month, with the original owners and most of the same menu but in a new location on Clay street near Kearny. I’m sure it won’t be the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. brett · July 21, 2015

    Enrico’s on Broadway.

    Like

  17. Darryl Perna · July 21, 2015

    Nothing will ever replace The Villa Romana. Ever!!!!

    Like

  18. Sean Sullivan · July 21, 2015

    Villa Romana was gold standard for pizza. I do remember Bino’s on Noriega although I was a small kid. I miss the Joe’s restaurants. West Portal and the Marina Joe’s respectfully. Most missed Mexican however is the El Sombrero on Geary Street. Handmade tortilla and the best tamales.

    Like

    • Jim G · January 7, 2017

      El Sombrero…sorry it’s gone, but we still have Tia Margarita on Clement St.

      Like

      • dc1517 · January 8, 2017

        Was that at the corner of 43rd & Vicente? With the bandits painted on black velvet? Really good!

        Like

  19. David wong · July 22, 2015

    I use to go to all of these restaurants

    Like

  20. James Lofrano · July 22, 2015

    How about Buca Giovanni, on Columbus across from the library and playground.

    Like

  21. John Olenchalk · July 22, 2015

    How about L’Entrecote de Paris on Union?

    Like

    • Jim G · January 7, 2017

      Also on Union, one block away…The Cooperage

      Like

  22. Joe R · July 22, 2015

    Ernie’s was a great place for fine dining. Watching Hitchcock’s Vertigo always brings back memories.

    Like

    • jerrypritikin · March 25, 2016

      Ernie’s was so expensive-even the silverware was ala carte!

      Like

  23. Mike Phipps · July 22, 2015

    All great restaurants and I remember them fondly. Add to the list the Bull Pup (first in Playland then on Taraval briefly), Luigi’s on Columbus, Dante Benedetti’s New Pisa, Mardikian’s Omar Khayyam on O’Farrell, Veneto’s on Columbus (best fried cream in town!), The Tricolor, La Bourgogne, and Cyrano’s all within a block on Geary, the Montclair on Green Street, I’d better stop before I cry!! Glad to see there are other SFers who remember the great days, before dinner was a portrait in miniature and you never left hungry!!!

    Like

    • dc1517 · July 22, 2015

      LOVE your list, Mike. Several are already slated for inclusion a follow up post! Thanks for checking in!

      Like

      • Dianne Nowak · January 3, 2017

        Their was Ole So Mio’s in North Beach for years and that moved to Millbrae pm Broadway!

        Like

  24. John Hurabiell · July 23, 2015

    What about Orsi’s, the Hot House (original at the Beach), doggie Diner, Zims

    Like

  25. Kent Mitchell · July 28, 2015

    agree with the Italian family-style places, but there are some noticeable omissions….
    New Pisa (best bar with Bill the Trivia King & Dante), & San Remo. The North Star (across from Capp’s) was the most fun.
    Also missing….Washbag, Old Colony, Ernies, as well as Zims & Fosters. Iron Pot
    Interesting to see the Shadows….I had forgotten that one

    Like

  26. Mitch Mase · July 29, 2015

    Great list that brings back memories of many good times and what made San Francisco so special once apon a time. One was when I was maitre d’ at Top of The Mark in the 1980’s. Often called one of my faves, Vanessi’s on Broadway, for guests craving Italian. Well, when my brother and his bride were in SF for their honeymoon I took them for a day in Chinatown and North Beach. We eventually landed at Vanessi’s to see if we could get in without a dinner reservation but there was a 2 hour wait. Well, the maitre d’ recognized my voice, introduced himself, and five minutes later we were seated with a complementary bottle of Chandon waiting at the table. What made made this truly special was the how grateful my brother and his wife were for the surprise that they assumed I arranged in their honor. That’s old time San Francisco graciousness from Vanessi’s and, hey, I won’t tell if you won’t.

    Like

  27. John F. Palmer, Jr. · July 31, 2015

    Pig and Whistle, The Palm Grill and Berstein’s were great joints when I was growing up in SF.

    Like

    • dc1517 · July 31, 2015

      Bernsteins is on a follow up list I’m doing in a couple of weeks. I totally forgot about The Palm on Bush St!

      Like

  28. LInda · July 31, 2015

    Old Poodle Dog, Place Pigalle, Coffee Cantata, Pam Pam Room, Jovanelo’s, Rolf’s (really a loss), Senior Pico, Le Metro (Top of the Hill-DC), The Magic Pan.

    Like

    • dc1517 · July 31, 2015

      Great list. Old Poodle Dog and Jovanelo’s are on a follow up I’m writing in a couple of weeks.

      Like

  29. Jacklyn D'Angelo Hanratty · July 31, 2015

    La Pantera, 1234 Gran,t Ave. Between Columbus Ave, and Vallejo St,Valton’s Fountain, SW corner of Stockton and Vallejo, the original U.S. Restaurant on Stockton between Green and Vallejo.

    Like

    • dc1517 · July 31, 2015

      Loved La Pantera (with the mural) and especially Original US Restaurant, especially their breakfast- eggs, Italian Sausage, home fires. Amazing!

      Like

  30. Gina · August 3, 2015

    How can you forget Hippopotamus Hamburger on VanNess. My brother and I loved going there when we were kids. I miss places like this. I wish they would come back.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Ryan · August 11, 2015

    Herb’s Deli on Taraval! The best Meatball sandos were served on Thursdays wrapped up in paper towels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dc1517 · January 2, 2017

      The favorite sandwich spot for all the Sunset Boys! (and I liked it too, even though I’m from the Excelsior)

      Like

  32. Jan · February 24, 2016

    Swiss steak ..where is a good place to have it at a restaurant and mashed pototaotes and gravy..the old joes of westlake had it but it’s not on the new menu at the new restaurant

    Like

  33. Michael Lewis · September 13, 2016

    Does anyone remember Lisa’s in the tenderloin. REAL, authentic eastern European Jewish food. Lisa, Joe and Mrs. Green were always there to remember you and share a scotch with Joe. Miss it very much.

    Like

  34. Horace Figures · October 23, 2016

    The New Pisa when it was on Grant next to La Pantera, the Domino Club, Blue Fox……so many.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dc1517 · January 2, 2017

      Dante Benedetti’s place. Good old style Italian. Strolling accordionist. Excellent fried cream for dessert. Gigi’s (formerly of the Double Play) Sotto Mare has half of the space now. The best seafood in North Beach IMHO

      Like

  35. Richard Cottone · November 16, 2016

    Atlantis Seafood Grotto, on West Portal Ave. Critic Jack Shelton gave it “5Stars and a Halleys Comet”.Where else could you get Fresh Shark?, I helped drag one in through the dining room full of patrons.( 8ft 10in), and delicious. Great Petrale Sole and Oysters Rockefeller too.R Cottone

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Andy Reinhardt · January 2, 2017

    I mourn the loss of El Sombrero on Geary, Mom’s Cooking on Geneva, and Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor. (Funny they’re all Mexican.) Not to mention Clown Alley.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dc1517 · January 2, 2017

      Mom is Cooking! Richard and his mom- good people! Service was pretty “deliberate” (ok, slow). But tasty food, for sure.

      Like

  37. Chris Ellinger · January 2, 2017

    La Barca on Lombard

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 2, 2017

      Chris- I always liked La Barca, but had some people argue about the quality. Whatever. IMHO always good Mexican food and good margaritas. Now its the Marina Bro Hangout from Hell- Stocks in Trade.

      Like

  38. sgpence · January 3, 2017

    The Caribbean Zone
    Hoffman’s
    Front Page
    Ciao
    Cypress Club
    Zott’s
    Cadillac Bar & Grill
    La Bussola
    Original Joe’s (on Taylor)
    The Panther

    Like

    • Jim G · January 7, 2017

      How about The Leopard Café?

      Like

  39. Allen Tooke · January 4, 2017

    I loved Capps in the late 60’s I was stationed at Hunters point and found Capps one day they treated you like a king even an enlisted sailor I went many times, I’m sorry for the loss.

    Like

  40. jocko rogers · January 4, 2017

    The Grubstake on Pine at Polk during the late 70s, was a bit edgy, but for a couple of beat cops walking that part of town at 2 AM or after, the burgers and fries were heaven.

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 5, 2017

      The Grubstake ALMOST got torn down, but the contractor is building the new structure AROUND the old spot. Great late night joint!

      Like

  41. Joe Cosgrave · January 4, 2017

    The Leaning Tower, North Beach, John’s Grill in the Tenderloin, early SF circa-1908 one of the city’s oldest. Green Street ??? Italian family style on Green street, not sure of the name, great food. The New Pisa with the USF baseball programs tacked above the bar, priceless.

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 5, 2017

      Joe- on Green St for Family Style Italian there was Capp’s Corner at Powell & Green, Green Valley was at 550 Green (which is still there, excellent delicious Sodini’s GV). Dante Benedetti’s New Pisa just down the block (across the alley from Gino & Carlo). And also, at some point in time, there was the Montclair at that 550 Green address.

      Like

  42. Ted Gold · January 4, 2017

    A friend forwarded this blog to me. It made my day and brought back so many memories! Don’t know who writes this but, allow me to return the favor. I collect cookbooks. There is a gold mine of a book titled “A Cook’s Tour of San Francisco” written by Doris Muscatine, published in 1963 (possibly republished in 1999 with same title), and available used on Amazon. Stories (and recipes no less) about all these places and MORE. Remember the Blue Fox, the Fly Trap, Place Pigalle, Koes Auberge, Jacks, Alfred’s, Bardelli’s, Lupo’s, Leopard Cafe etc., etc. etc. Thanks for the gastronomical trip down memory land in the City years and years ago!

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 5, 2017

      Thanks Ted! I actually have Doris’ book. LOVE it! Almost every restaurant in the book is long gone. Great memories!

      Like

  43. jerry d · January 5, 2017

    what about Tic Tocks

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 6, 2017

      Loved Tic Socks! The one at Ocean and Cayuga near Balboa HS was in my neighborhood. A bag of burgers (5) for a buck and change! And the Sea Burger- great fish sandwich!

      Like

      • Darlene Mariani · January 6, 2017

        I just read the list of long, gone SF restaurants. Who are you? I also lived in the Excelsior and went to Bal. Darlene

        Like

  44. Terry · January 5, 2017

    Paoli’s was a definite mood-setter for a special date. Another place I liked durinbfg the ’60s was trhe Coachman on Powell Street.

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 6, 2017

      Paoli’s was the best for a date! Plus the greatest happy hour buffet ever! If you bought a drink (or 2 or 3) you almost didn’t need to order dinner. It seemed like they had at least 10 items from the menu, free for the price of a cocktail!

      Like

      • Jim G · January 7, 2017

        In the same price range…The Blue Fox, L’Orangerie, and La Bourgogne

        Like

  45. Juan Carrillo · January 5, 2017

    Can I add Gaylord’s at Ghiradelli Square? It had an air of elegance and wonderful food (at least for someone who was being introduced to Indian food. Went back a few times then I moved away from the Bay Area.

    Like

  46. Rich Bortolin · January 6, 2017

    went to Paolis after 49er games. Sat at the bar and chewed on prime rib bones, deep fried zucchini and other foods for the price of drinks. No need for dinner after that. Went home stuffed. Miss them all.

    Like

  47. Mario Flores · January 6, 2017

    Blue Boar, el sombreo, o solo mio & to the thousands more gone but not forgotten. The past city was THE place to grow up

    Like

  48. ty tolomei · January 7, 2017

    how about the house of prime rib….and the hof brau for corned beef on rye……

    Like

  49. Jim G · January 7, 2017

    Right on with O Sole Mio on Chestnut St. The Crespis [Burt and Rich] were the best.

    Like

  50. Terry · January 7, 2017

    Is the Iron Horse still open? Never ate there but stopped by for drinks once in awhile.

    Like

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