I’ve always been a sucker for a great diner. I’m talking grease and delicious crappy coffee, old carpets and smoke-stained walls from the time when cigarettes were just another breakfast side dish. I’m looking for that place with a $2 earlybird and a waitress named Gladys who’s been serving there since she was 13.
In San Francisco, where bottomless bellinis and avocado toast rule, it can be hard to find a really good one. Often, one might show promise, but the food is expensive and tastes beneath below-average. What makes a diner truly great, above the ambience and the price points, is soul — and a little joint in the Inner Sunset has it in spades.
Art’s Cafe on Irving Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues is a tiny Korean-American restaurant that serves some of the most delicious breakfast in San Francisco. The space is basically an open kitchen with a counter and about 14 stools. (I recommend keeping the party sizes small if you ever want to grab a seat.) The walls are covered with 26 years’ worth of postcards from visitors from all over the world, while the menu consists of traditional breakfast items like omelets, pancakes, griddled burgers and sandwiches, and Korean classics like bi bim bop and tofu jurn.
Where that soul starts to shine though is in Art’s hashbrown(!) sandwiches. First, the potatoes are freshly ground into tiny strips and laid over the griddle until golden brown. Once the foundation is set, cheddar and caramelized onions are piled onto that crispy potato blanket and then different fillings like bacon, sausage, spinach and mushrooms, or my favorite, teriyaki beef, are folded in. Every sandwich is served with two eggs and toast on the side. The genius behind this recipe has taken all the usual suspects of a simple breakfast and somehow created something completely new and exciting. The pleasure that comes with every bite almost makes me wish I were hungover. I dip the perfect hashbrown, oozing with cheese and beef, into my sunny soft yolk and have a most satisfying why-didn’t-I-think-of-this moment.
Art’s is a true diner — not for any particular reason but because of the whole package. We will always crave breakfast, but after this visit you’ll crave Art’s breakfast. The whole operation is a labor of love and when love is put into food, you can taste it. There are thousands of amazing greasyspoon holes-in-the wall out there, but there is only one Art’s, and sometimes that’s all it takes.
Art’s Cafe, 747 Irving St., 415-665-7440, no website.