by Frank Dunnigan
San Francisco residents have long been known for enjoying meals away from home. This month’s Streetwise on Outsidelands.org remembered some west side dining spots that we once enjoyed. Historically, there has been a generous sprinkling of dining establishments in many neighborhoods around the City—from upscale, sit-down restaurants to other places that were far more modest—where locals could always grab a bite to eat while on the go. Here are a few of those long-gone casual spots from other parts of the City that catered to appreciative audiences over the years–and what has become of them.
Foster’s Cafeteria – Originating in the 1930s as Fosters Bakeries, the chain expanded its baked goods into Fosters Lunch Rooms by 1940, with numerous locations throughout downtown San Francisco and radiating out into many neighborhoods—including the Haight, Mission, Richmond, West Portal, and Stonestown areas—with bold, stylized red-neon signage. By the early 1970s, all had disappeared from the local landscape, with bakery operations shut down as well. The ground floor location at Polk & Sutter, shown here in 1956, is now home to a pizzeria, a jewelry store, and a taqueria.
Bob’s/Alex’s Drive-In – As far back as the World War II era, the SE corner of Haight & Stanyan Streets, opposite Kezar Pavilion, was home to a fast-food location—Bob’s Drive-In, which was one of San Francisco’s earliest drive-in restaurants. By 1973, it had become Alex’s Drive-In. It was replaced, by the late 1980s, by a McDonald’s outlet. After a few decades, the new business was beset by difficulties requiring SFPD response—often hundreds of times per year. In 2018, the City and County of San Francisco purchased the site and tore down the McDonald’s building by early 2020, with plans to construct a 90-unit low-income apartment complex. The location is presently a fenced-off safe-sleeping site operated by the City.
Ott’s Drive-In – Ott’s Drive-In at 550 Bay Street promoted its fast service as far back as 1949, and by 1964 it was one of the first places in San Francisco to utilize automated drive-up ordering. The site was demolished long ago for a modern block of hotel/motel establishments.
Por-Boy Drive-In – Another early local drive-in restaurant, Por-Boy shared space with a local gas station at the corner of South Van Ness & Adair in 1951 (16th Street is shown in the distance at left). The entire property was demolished long ago, and the site is now home to a new low-income 8-story housing complex.
Burke’s Hamburgers – Burke’s at the corner of Market, Church, and 14th Streets replaced a cluster of Victorian buildings and became an early drive-in restaurant with car-hop service by the early 1950s. A decade later, the car-hops were gone and the interior dining space was expanded, though many customers still picked up food to eat in their parked vehicles. Burke’s was a 24-hour establishment, advertising WE NEVER CLOSE in bold lettering on the front wall. Over the building’s later years, it was home to many different dining operations, including Boston Market, Church Street Station, Home, and more. The building was demolished circa 2019 and the site is now a 7-story residential tower with a variety of ground-floor businesses.
Dobbs Restaurant – The George Dobbs restaurant was located at 601 Eddy Street. George Dobbs was the father of Harold Dobbs who was a co-founder of Mel’s Drive-In and also the Red Roof restaurants on Ocean Avenue and on California Street near Laurel Village. Harold was also a member of the Board of Supervisors, and a candidate for Mayor in 1963, 1967, and 1971. George’s early drive-in establishment was replaced in 1956 by the contemporary Caravan Motor Lodge, which later morphed into the Phoenix Hotel with a trendy rock-and-roll theme.
Jebbie’s Hot Dogs – Jebbie’s Delicious Hot Dogs on Mission Street at Randall Avenue offered the ultimate in casual dining in 1950—hot dogs, milk shakes, and ice cream sandwiches. Even today, you can almost smell the pickle relish and mustard radiating out from the photo. The location was demolished long ago and replaced by a gas station.
Interior of Woolworth’s Dining Room inside Flood Building at Powell and Market, October 10, 1952. (wnp28.0488; Jimmy Stewart, photographer – Examiner Negative Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)
Woolworth’s Dining Room – In 1952, Woolworth’s moved into the Flood Building at Powell and Market Street, with multiple restaurant operations—two on the main floor and one in the basement space. (Note the tray of condiments, plus flowers and ashtrays on every table.) Eventually, these eateries were all remodeled into lunch counters with swivel stools—and the tables/chairs were eliminated. Woolworth closed its doors in 1997, replaced by other retailers who have no longer been offering food service.
Pat’s Coffee Shop – Pat’s was a small coffee shop/soda fountain at 24th & Mission Streets. Along with the adjacent businesses featuring yardage, linoleum, and appliances, it was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the 24th Street BART station.
Soda Fountains – Many movie theaters had a nearby soda fountain operation which many customers frequented before and after a film. The Strand at 1127 Market Street was converted into an American Conservatory Theater performance venue in 2015, but the adjacent building that once housed the Embassy Theatre and Sun-Light Fountain Lunch was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and subsequently demolished.
The Nite Hawk Restaurant – In the 1950s, the angular lot on the SW corner of Noe & Market was home to The Nite Hawk, a small diner serving a variety of items: hamburgers, fish & chips, waffles, chili, chicken, steaks, chops, and sandwiches. It was razed circa 1960 for a modern structure that originally housed a Smith-Corona typewriter repair facility. In recent decades, the replacement building has been home to a fitness center.
Doggie Diner – The corner of 18th & Mission Streets was just one of the 30 Doggie Diner fast food outlets that operated around the Bay Area from 1948 to 1986. Increasing competition from national chains (that first began operating in San Francisco in the early 1970s) contributed to the closure of the Doggie Diner chain—though several of the iconic heads have been preserved, including one that is a local landmark on Sloat Boulevard.
Pellegrino Restaurant – Pellegrino Restaurant at the northwest corner of Diamond Street and Monterey Boulevard offered moderately priced lunches and dinners in 1940. The area was heavily redeveloped in the 1960s with multiple building demolitions taking place in order to make way for the construction of Interstate 280 and the Glen Park BART station.
U-Toast-It – U-Toast-It at 20th Street and Potrero Avenue in 1951 evokes images of multiple electric toasters for use by the customers. The site is now a small neighborhood market.