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Five Best 24-Hour Restaurants San Francisco 2005 -

There's an eerie feeling of culinary limbo to this one-time Wickedest City on Earth once the bars close. A mere dozen establishments serve up sustenance to the insomniacs, night creatures, and graveyard shifters on a 24-hour basis. Even if you're safe at home, full of belly and snug in bed, it's comforting to know that if the need arises there are at least a few places where a San Franciscan can pull an Edward Hopper and wait out the velvet hours over a cup of joe and a platter of Mongolian beef.

Orphan Andy's

3991A 17th St. (at Castro), 864-9795

Orphan Andy's has been feeding the hungry masses of the Castro day and night for eight years, and this public service has not gone unrewarded: During the lost hours between 2 and 6 in the morning, it teems with as fine a representation of the San Francisco demimonde as is available anywhere within the city limits. Andy's attractions, however, extend beyond the aesthetic. The kitchen's big, juicy cheeseburgers, thick shakes, open-faced turkey sandwiches, flapjacks and bacon, and cooked-to-order pork chops and eggs are delicious any time of day, and the friendly service is a benison in the wee small hours. Cool retro chrome-and-red-vinyl setting, too.

Silver Restaurant

737 Washington (at Grant), 434-4998

Four hours into the new millennium, this bright, happy Chinatown venue was the only sign of life we could find between the Mission District and North Beach. Silver's extensive menu of dim sum, barbecue, fresh seafood, clay pot specialties, and good old preserved-egg rice gruel offers several options to tide you over between nightcap and eye-opener, including live lobster for $13 and a creditable Peking duck with all the trimmings for $10. The bubbling fish tank, humming neon, beaming chef, and goofy décor are a welcome sight when the rest of the world is fast asleep.

Café Mason

320 Mason (at O'Farrell), 544-0320

Café Mason may look like any old interstate Denny's, but it has a few culinary surprises tucked into its laminated menu. Among the burgers, pizzas, potato skins, and buffalo wings are such upper-range interlopers as house-made gnocchi, blackened catfish, steak au poivre, and crab cakes with tomato aioli -- and even a few long-forgotten San Francisco classics like chicken Jerusalem and chicken Valdostana. The salads are strewn with arugula and Sonoma goat cheese and like that, and instead of apple pie and hot fudge sundaes the dessert menu offers up profiteroles, orange flan, and a tasty bourbon-pecan tart. A late-night bonus: good deep-fried zucchini sticks.

King Diner

1390 Mission (at 10th Street), 552-2707

Located in a pretty dicey corner of S.F., this erstwhile Doggie Diner still retains hints of its predecessor's unique élan: bright red booths, fake-rock décor, fluorescent lighting, and five varieties of wiener. Other dining options include hot and cold sandwiches, burgers in several manifestations, fresh buttermilk pancakes with bacon and eggs for $3.85, and six different milkshakes, including mint chip and cookies and cream. There's no ambience to speak of -- entrees are served on paper plates, and the tip jar is secreted away under a slot in the counter -- but it's a comforting oasis when you find yourself at 10th and Mission at 4 o'clock in the morning.

Video Cafe

5700 Geary (at 21st Avenue), 387-3999

The Video Cafe has taken the TV-dinner concept to new heights of public interaction by showing movies to its patrons on two megascreen sets during the venue's own prime time (9 p.m. to 3 a.m.). Since the cafe rents out videos as well as displaying them, you can borrow the film du nuit if you have to eat and run before it finishes unspooling. The dinner part of the equation involves yummy diner food with a few Pan-Asian touches: patty melts, pancakes, burgers, and a locally renowned strawberry cheesecake, plus chicken satay, beef kebabs, teriyaki, and Thai angel wings. Caveat: You never know what the evening's cinematic entertainment might turn out to be; this is a whimsical, 24-hour sort of place, after all.

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