Just in case you were wondering, Sizzler still exists, and it hasn’t changed much since they created that over-the-top patriotic commercial for internal training purposes back in 1991, which went viral earlier this year. I hadn’t eaten there for at least 15 years, since they closed the one in San Rafael where my dad would take my sister and me, but today when she, I, and our fiancés walked into the Daly City location, I immediately recognized all the details from the Sizzler of my youth.
Taking a look back, it’s not terribly surprising that in the late ‘90s Sizzler had to shut down 136 of its 250 stores, because as you can see from their logo, the ones that are still around have not exactly caught up with the times.
[jump] Fortunately for Sizzler, it’s 2015 and that situates them squarely in the line of sight of nostalgic 20-somethings, recognizable by their frequent declarations of “Only 90s kids will get this!” If Sizzler simply adopted this as a marketing campaign, or just handed everything over to Buzzfeed, I bet they could turn everything around.
Anyway, if you’ve ever been to a Sizzler at any point in your life, then there’s no need for me to describe it. If you haven’t had the great fortune to grace the banquet halls of America’s favorite buffet-themed restaurant, think fountain drinks carrying brands you forgot existed, salad toppings fresh from the can, and all the Texas toast you could ever want. In addition to their famous salad bar buffet, Sizzler offers various meat-based entrées, pasta dishes, and a range of funky lemonades. But unless you’re really hankering for a steak, the salad bar is all you need, since apparently mac 'n’ cheese, tacos, and fried chicken fall into the salad category.
I admit I found the food to be as delicious as it was when I was young, and even though it isn’t organic, locally sourced, or handcrafted, it was more than acceptable for my vegan companion, who stuffed his vegan face. If that’s not a sign of success, I don’t know what is.
Another fun surprise was the clientele. Despite the whitewashed palette of Sizzler’s viral commercial, the actual demographic during my visit was decidedly diverse. At least, that was the case until a tour group of 30 senior citizens arrived on a bus at least as old as its passengers, apparently visiting from Nebraska. I will never know why the delightfully named Moostash Joe Tours selected Sizzler as the restaurant to check out during a San Francisco visit, but if you’re from the Cornhusker State, it might not be as alarming as we all know it is.
After the tour group got settled in, the other part of the restaurant lit up with “Happy Birthday.” What followed was the most lackluster rendition of the song I have ever heard, which was kind of a bummer until I realized it was because the birthday girl was more of a birthday centenarian, so the noise level was actually appropriate.
I had no expectation of a delicious meal or feeling anything other than out of place, but the experience was ultimately a ton of fun and a little bit humbling. I love San Francisco’s generous range of haute cuisine, but it was refreshing to take a reprieve from the culinary hubbub to enjoy a meal that brought me back to a simpler time, even if I had to go to Daly City to find it.
Even though Sizzler basically represents what Europeans think America is, the food is tasty, the service is friendly, and with almost no recognizable changes over the last 20 years, their consistency is unmatched. The red-flavored Jell-O cubes I loved as a kid are still there to this day, jiggling around under the sneeze guard, in a way only ‘90s kids can understand.