Old School SF: Orphan Andy’s

The Castro may have one of the highest churn rates when it comes to restaurants, but one staple that has stuck around since the seventies is good ol’ Orphan Andy’s.

You can find this diner right on Jane Warner Plaza, once a famous gathering place for nudists, and now just a reliable place to catch the F-Market. On the weekends there’s typically a good-sized crowd waiting for a table inside, but since it’s open 24 hours, you can get your Orphan Andy’s fill any day of the week.

[jump] There are three seating options, from red vinyl barstools, to booths with mini jukeboxes, or the holy grail of seating — tables by the windows that provide some of the most intriguing people watching in the city. Don’t be shy about spying on your Castro brethren — it’s a perk of the spot.

Nothing about Orphan Andy’s screams 2015, and that’s what makes it so special. Regulars and locals dominate the seats, happily conversing with servers and staff, including the elusive owner, Dennis, who has owned and maintained the restaurant since 1977 with his partner, Bill. It’s a place where people go to enjoy the company of their neighbors and to make new friends, where friendliness is as much a part of the menu as their 24-hour breakfast.

The local flavor is strong but still attracts the appetite of adventurous tourists. Startled travelers routinely exit the F train and make their way onto the vinyl chairs, receiving a delicious meal but not expecting the side order of San Francisco’s free expression at its finest.

I went this week, as I have many times since moving to the Castro three years ago. I got my usual, a grilled cheese with fries, but this time added a strawberry milkshake to the mix, because I never like to deviate too far away from the #YOLO lifestyle. Tuesday night is certainly not Orphan Andy’s rush hour, but my fellow diners were as reliably friendly as ever, chatting with the wait staff and other patrons.

I took part in this myself, getting to know Jacob, one of the newer servers. Since it wasn’t too busy he helped me determine whether my glasses blocked people from seeing my eyelash extensions (they do), and if he knew Ricky, a former server from Orphan Andy’s (he didn’t, but had heard of him).

The food comes out quickly and it's always so good. Many brunches ago I was at the counter and noticed my neighbor a few chairs down, and he suggested I get the pancakes. If you’re wondering where the best buttermilk pancakes are in San Francisco, wonder no more, because Orphan Andy’s has what you’re looking for. 

Eating there is a definitively old-school San Francisco experience, reminiscent of the culture fostered by the city’s magnetism for people from all over the world. In some ways we are all orphans in this city searching for a great neighborhood spot that feels like home, and for the last 38 years Orphan Andy’s has been that place for many.

Orphan Andy's, 3991 17th Street, 415-864-9795

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