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…

137 comments

  1. Steve · January 10, 2017

    Ken’s Seafood on Silver Ave, served the best abalone sandwich and clam chowder

    Like

    • Wendy Hickman · December 15, 2017

      The Iron Pot on Montgomery.
      Huge pots of delicious minestrone and hot sourdough bread.
      Yummy ravioli and a Baby Steak followed by Spamoni ice cream for dessert. Scrumptious !!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Kirk · April 4, 2018

        I miss those family style Italian places, where a working class family could sit down to a cloth table covering and order a bottle of wine and a dinner with sauces which had been cooking for days without spending an arm and a leg. The Dotcom industry is killing those places off.

        Like

      • dc1517 · April 6, 2018

        R.I.P. Capp’s Corner, Gold Spike, San Remo, Green Valley (although Mark Sodini is doing a great job with that location! Not family style, but delicious food, great staff, and kinda old school)

        Like

      • JR · August 20

        I loved the Iron Pot as a kid – getting all dressed up to go with our grandma and parents – classic waiters and amazing minestrone. I’ve tried to find pics but to no luck.

        Like

  2. D. Shep. · January 11, 2017

    In the Mission , there was Bruno”s and the Cigar Box, both on Mission Street. Italian Food Fly Trap on Sutter, Great Italian Italian and the Iron Pot on Montgomery ,also Italian

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terry · January 12, 2017

      Does anyone remember Luchina’s, that great little Russian restaurant on Clement Street in the ’60s?

      Like

      • Tancho · January 14, 2017

        Miniature Delicatessen, on Clement and 6th. Another Russian place was Cinderella Bakery on Balboa and 6th. On Clement it was one block east of King Normans Kingdom of Toys…..
        Roseitta Chocolate also a block away on Clement.

        Like

      • Jay · December 30, 2017

        Went there often in the Sixties. Russian language was my minor at SF State, and the staff was kind enough to put up with my attempts to impress my dates when ordering.

        Like

  3. Tancho · January 14, 2017

    Getting older is bringing back great memories of growing up in the city in the 50’s and 60’s. I use to hang out at Happy Boy’s Drive in that had a burger that had 3 pieces of bread like the Big Mac, years before the Big Mac. They were next door to Becks Motor Lodge. A restaurant our family would go on special occasions was Joe Ferreras Troc, on Geary, at Arguello next door to the Coronet theater. Miz Brown’s, Red Roof, Doggie Diners, Mel’s and Zims were the hang outs for all our school buddies. Tic Tock on 3rd st, next to Isslas Creek, they also had on way out on 3rd. I think they also had one on Ocean Blvd. Someone mentioned Foster’s , there were lots of them around town, nothing special but decent cheap grub. High School special dinners went to the Tonga Room, went there a couple of years ago and it was pretty run down. In the old days parking was never a problem, now driving around town it’s a desaster, so we rarely come into town.
    I am trying to figure out a name of a restaurant in Colma that was like a Joe’s it was on a corner, I think on Serramonte blvd before they tore it up etc, It’s not there anymore, it had a great bar, fireplace and was the place to meet family after a funeral. It was on the south-west corner, again back int he 70’s 80’s last time we went there was in the 90’s don’t see it on Goggle street view anymore.
    What a great city to grow up at. Get on the bus, go down town for a nickle, steal 50 cents from your mom’s purse which bought you 2 cheeseburgers and a cook at the Pioneer Grill on Market and Van Ness.
    Oh the old days…….

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 21, 2017

      Serramonte spot with fireplace? The Peppermill? Really good food and great hang out!

      Like

      • Eric Kirk · April 4, 2018

        And waitresses with very short skirts as I remember. Great eggs Benedict.

        Like

      • dc1517 · April 6, 2018

        And the sourdough cheese burger!

        Like

    • Liz · March 30, 2018

      Val’s probably.

      Like

      • dc1517 · April 6, 2018

        Val’s is still going strong. When Joe’s of Westlake closed for remodel, this was the classic go-to. And they’re still serving delicious food! The $19 Sunday chicken dinner special is outstanding!

        Like

  4. Ted Kreines · January 18, 2017

    Sam Wo’s is back, complete with Edsel Ford Fung.

    Like

    • tedseay · May 11, 2019

      What – they dragged him out of his grave?

      Liked by 1 person

      • dc1517 · August 20, 2019

        Exactly, Ted. He’s been gone for years.

        Like

  5. Paula · December 30, 2017

    Thanks for the great memories …the bay has changed and not for the better

    Like

    • Ed Winter · 6 Days Ago

      Amen to that. Still, this piece did bring back a whole host of terrific memories, and in the middle of a pandemic that’s no small thing.

      Like

  6. Jack · March 3, 2018

    Brings back a lot of great memories. I used to go to Doro’s and other bars after work every day and buy a beer while I ate all the great food they put out for free. There were a dozen or more in the financial district. Doro’s, Paoli’s, and The Iron Horse are the only names I recall, but I loved them all and all are gone now.

    One of my favorites had large oil paintings of beautiful nude women on all the walls and had waitresses circulating with big trays of their best food, all free. I can’t recall the name although ti seems to me it had “Gold” in the title or something to do with gold or gold mining.

    I don’t even recall the exact location, but it was somewhere close to the B of A tower, just off Montgomery.

    Does anyone remember such a place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack havens · January 23, 2019

      DOMINO CLUB

      Like

    • Jack havens · January 23, 2019

      GOLD STREET

      NOW BIX

      Like

      • SlideSF · August 17

        I remember it as The Assay Office

        Like

  7. Clyde Wood · June 5, 2018

    Does anyone remember Asabellas at Fisherman’s Warf? Our family visited there quite often in the 50’s and 60’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Barbara Boysen · September 22, 2018

    I’m 82 and remember so many of those old restaurants. My parents used to take me to San Remo’s in North Beach, then later we all went to Gold Spike. When I was older went to both Shadows and Julius Castle. Remember Totos on Serramonte Blvd. later for Italian food and great pizza. As a kid we went to Johnsons Tamale Grotto in the Mission, later as an adult with kids living in Colma we got take out at the Johnsons in Westlake. Also enjoyed the Empress of China, went there until it closed. So sorry they’re gone. Sometimes on my Special Birthdays (70, 75, 80) my kids take me to some special place I remember. I live in Petaluma now. On my 80th they drove me all around SF and Colma to a lot of memory places!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Robert Richman · January 7, 2019

    Does anyone remember the Victorian house at the foot of Columbus Ave. near the Cannery which housed a reataurant & downstairs Tapas Bar, called El Meson. Flamenco guitarists would come together every Friday night to jam. How I miss the intensity of that, esp. when their counterparts, Flamenco dancers would join in.

    Like

  10. Shannon Payette Seip (great grandniece of Bob Johnson) · January 18, 2019

    My family owned Johnson’s Tamale Grotto. Is there a way I can purchase that mug? Thanks in advance! Shannon

    Like

    • dc1517 · January 23, 2019

      Unfortunately, I found that image online. I wish I did have it.

      Like

    • gclanman · July 5

      Are you Danny’s daughter? Inquiring Moreno’s want to know

      Like

  11. Carol Gould · May 10, 2019

    Neon Chicken in the Castro (70’s); Stoyanof’s in Inner Sunset (70s-90s), Casa Aguila (outer Sunset, on west of 19th Ave). I’m sure there are more, but I’ve forgotten them!

    Like

  12. DJ · May 11, 2019

    Tommy Toys

    Like

  13. Joan E. Cinquini · May 11, 2019

    You forgot the original version of the North Beach Cafe and the old Tivoli with the little cakes and eclairs. I was trying to find that restaurant in Colma also. I remember everyone went there after a funeral. I miss the old version of the Fior as well.

    Like

    • dc1517 · August 20, 2019

      Joan, not sure about a restaurant in Colma, but everyone STILL goes to Molloy’s, a great tavern with a long history. The legendary Pat Lane behind the plank and owner Owen Molloy greet those toasting the lives of their dearly departed.

      Like

  14. Tom Roop · August 20, 2019

    Rocco’s in the Excelsior was a great neighborhood restaurant and after he retired I ran into him at Dave’s Auto Repair and I asked him about the great swiss chard he served with meals and he said he grew it in his own backyard in the outer mission….

    Liked by 1 person

    • dc1517 · August 20, 2019

      Tom, did you run into Jimmy the Greek? Yup, the swiss chard that was the side with every dish was actually grown behind the restaurant! We ate there almost every Friday night. Great food. The neighborhood has changed and Rocco’s (among other establishments) is much missed

      BTW: The grandson of the original owner has opened Rocco’s Cafe on Folsom south of Market! Great food, the decor is like a blast from The City’s past! Ask for Don to chat about his grandpa and the Excelsior Rocco’s

      Like

  15. Thomas Fletcher · October 26, 2019

    What about Marconi’s off of lower California Street ?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Izzy · November 5, 2019

    Trying to recall the name of a restaurant near Ghiradelli Square that had sort of an Old English/Medieval theme from the 1970s. Waiters dressed in costume and spoke Old English… Can anyone help? Thanks!

    Like

  17. Greg · June 9, 2020

    My Mother lived upstairs from the Johnsons on Mission St. Grandma and Grandpa raised her and her three brothers there. It was the family restaurant, started by Mr. Johnson and his wife, my grandfathers sister. Pancho was the chef, and all the recipes came from Mexico and were from the family. And Yes, I miss those tamales. No one makes them like Johnsons did.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. gclanman · June 9, 2020

    My mother was raised upstairs from the Johnsons on Mission St. Grandma Lupe and Grandpa Raymond raised her and three brothers there. At the restaurant Pancho was the cook and all the recipes came from the family from Mexico. Mr. Johnson was married to my Grandfathers sister Ehie (sp) and started the restaurant. I would go as a child to the upstairs and would walk around on the roof of what is or was Bruno’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. jojo · June 9, 2020

    Of course, everyone has their favorite gone by place or two or three and each was a jewel in its own right. For those who knew not just the restaurant, but, as well the time, each IS so dearly missed. I am not claiming this to be “the best”…………… No. But Clown Alley (burgers) On Lombard at Divisidero was utterly beyond exceptional for any variety of burger (!!!) or anything else they served. Oh, and Bryant’s up the street.
    These days SFO like much of the USA has, alas, become so plastic, so false, so dirty, so stupid…….., destroyed by hobnailed jackboot liberalism and en suite hipsters.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Lulu · August 11, 2020

    I am trying to remember the name of a a French/Continental cuisine restaurant in San Francisco that is notable because it suffered smoke damage from a fire and had to close, I just cannot remember the name or where it was, this was in 1980’s…. thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • dc1517 · May 25

      Lulu- I believe you’re talking about Fleur de Lys, which used to be on Sutter Street. From their website: “Tragedy struck Fleur de Lys in the fall of 2001, when a devastating fire left nothing but ashes and tears. Some speculated that the restaurant’s run was over, that there was no possible way they could recover from such horrible misfortune. Following a 10 month renovation,, Fleur de Lys would show the world that their staying power remained “gold”, reopening with more fan fare and praise than could have ever been anticipated in the summer of 2002.” They closed in 2014, I believe.

      Like

  21. Jo G · October 16, 2020

    OMG…Caesar’s and The Old Colony on 24th and Clement Street were my dads two favorite restaurants. We ate there quite often. I’m 66 and this site has brought back a lot of fond memories. Thank you! The restaurant I was trying to remember was Little City (I believe that was the name, around the corner from Capps Corner) off of Columbus Street. After having one of their baked garlic bulbs with Brie cheese, the cab driver wouldn’t even want to give us a ride home. All I can say is: the good old days!

    Like

  22. Stefano · November 21, 2020

    Gold Mirror on Taraval is still primo as is Marcello’s on Taraval. Ole school SF dinner houses.😎

    Like

    • dc1517 · December 13

      Still serving up great food. I miss the pot of liverwurst on the antipasto plate. Not Italian, but really delicious.

      Like

  23. Paul · December 13

    I would add one of our favorite North Beach Italian restaurants, La Felce on the corner by Washington Square Park. One other great in its day was the Kans Chinese in Chinatown. Thanks for the great article, I found it looking for Vanessis !

    Like

    • dc1517 · December 13

      One of my all-time favorites as well, Paul. Owner Romano and his lovely wife, Flora would greet you at the door. Really good food. One of the only places that served delicious baccala. And one of my favorite things was the bowl of marinated garbanzo beans on the table (BTW a Rossi family recipe- of Gino & Carlo fame). Replaced by Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, which is a new staple in North beach, but La Felce is missed.

      Like

  24. Ty Dorian · January 20

    Nam Yuen, and Sun Hung Heum in chinatown.

    Like

  25. al zavattero · April 21

    Solari’s Grill on Geary between Powell and mason

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Tom Fletcher · August 17

    Leopard Cafe, on Front Street, off California – a block away from Harrington’s. Great steak house.

    Like

  27. Midge · August 18

    Kent’s Chicken Shop, Maye’s Oyster House and Tortola – all on Polk Street.

    Like

  28. Jay · 6 Days Ago

    Does anyone remember the Coachman on Powell Street during the Sixties? Great English food – really! Also, there was a hotel restaurant – possibly in the Marina – where each table was a separate theme: Circus, Jazz Age, France…sounds hokey but it was quite good with a dash of class – great place to take a date in the Seventies. I was on the 600 block of Sutter Street a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised to see one of my old haunts, The White Horse, still there. I had a celebratory drink and enjoyed many memories and adventures with the lovely women who made them so many years ago….

    Like

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