When you are downtown in San Francisco, stop in for a complete breakfast or just coffee-and at any of these reliable spots. Most open at around 7 a.m. Then, properly refueled, at around 10 a.m. you can head out to a morning of shopping or sightseeing.
●Emporio Rulli Caffè On Union Square/Stockton St. The menu is simple: hot drinks and Italian pastries in the morning, wines and beers and sandwiches in the afternoon. My favorite is a coffee au lait with a kipfen—a puff pastry confection stuffed with almond paste. Some seating is available inside, and plenty more is scattered outside on the square.
●La Boulangerie de San Francisco 222 Sutter St./Claude Lane, 3 blks. from Union Square. Since splitting with Starbucks in 2015, La Boulange has reopened a few of its bakery-cafes. This one reopened in its former space featuring one gigantic room with a high ceiling and supporting cross beam. It is so spacious that it looks like it just moved in and still needs to fill things up. Patrons line up at the pastry case to place their order. At breakfast that might be a fruit tart, muffin, almond croissant, or other flaky delight. Breakfast sandwiches include several crepes and chicken & biscuits, and egg dishes are available. Drinks include a menu of coffees and tea, but I favor the cafe au lait that is served in a Very French bowl. Lunch items include baguette sandwiches, open-faced tartine sandwiches, and salads. Thinking ahead, you can purchase baguettes and rolls to go.
●Bar Norcini 225 Powell St./Geary St., in Villa Florence Hotel. Located off the hotel’s lobby and with a view of the street, this small Italian wine bar is a cheery spot to greet the day. Coffee drinks, house-baked fresh pastries, seasonal fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola are on the limited menu.
●Scala’s Bistro 432 Powell St./Sutter St., in Sir Francis Drake Hotel. San Francisco tourists are the luckiest in the world. They can step out of their hotel into a restaurant like this. Diners in the main room sit under a dramatic 25-foot-high ceiling featuring its original ornate tin work. The full breakfast menu includes a fried egg sandwich, chilaquiles, and crab cake Benedict, as well as steel-cut oatmeal, housemade granola, and muffins. Coffees and juices, too, but of course.
●Cafe Bellini 235 Powell St./Geary St. Sit out on the sidewalk or back in the deep interior of the windowless womb that is the dining room here. But first, choose from an array of pastries and confections waiting in the display case. Egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches, crepes, and pancakes, as well as coffee drinks, are also available.
●Lefty O’Doul’s 333 Geary St./Mason St. Named for the long-time manager of the long-gone San Francisco Seals, this popular spot is better known for its hof brau-style lunches and dinners. The breakfast menu includes the usual egg dishes as well as biscuits & gravy and Belgian waffles, plus lighter options such as granola, oatmeal, and a bagel. The usual coffees and fortified Irish Coffee are available along with a Bloody Mary and Mimosa.
●Sears Fine Foods 439 Powell St./Sutter St. In business since 1939, this cozy San Francisco restaurant serves its acclaimed breakfast menu until 3 p.m. Choices include a plate of 18 of their world-famous, silver dollar-size thin Swedish pancakes (made with a mix of buckwheat, soybean, rice, and barley flours and served with whipped butter and warm syrup), crisp waffles, sourdough French toast, eggs Benedict, banana-nut bread, and a variety of fresh fruits. I was given a golden coin with my pancakes and informed that I could try my luck with it in the restaurant’s slot machine and maybe win a gift certificate or other prize. I didn’t win anything, but it was fun trying. Solo diners will appreciate the option of sitting at an old-fashioned swivel stool counter but are also welcome in the windowless main back room or the smaller front room with a view of the sidewalk action.
●Cafe de la Presse 352 Grant Ave./Bush St., across from the Chinatown gate. Large windows offering views of the sidewalk from the cheery front room make the place to be for breakfast. On warmer days, you can opt to sit on French cafe chairs outside by the sidewalk. Dine here on a small but sufficient menu of croissants (the almond is to-die for) and flavored lattes as well as waffles, pancakes, egg dishes (oeufs), French toast (but of course!), and oatmeal. When I ordered cafe au lait and asked the waiter what sizes it came in, he replied, “One size. We’re not like Starbucks.” Plus, it is served French-style in a bowl. International newspapers and magazines are for sale in the cafe’s small gift shop.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers blogs at Travels With Carole.
copyright 2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers; updated 2017
These are some great locations to try new menu items, especially if you don't want to make a fancy breakfast for yourself at home. Making your own pastries can be challenging if your kitchen is not up to date and is in need of a full NYC kitchen remodeling job.