In an ideal world, you would never have to wait for a meal. But in that ideal world, we also wouldn’t have forgotten our Bitcoin account passwords when that stuff was worth actual money. But you do. And we did. So where does that leave us, aside from not in our own Nob Hill crypto-mansions?
It leaves us where when you do have to wait in line, it better be worth it. That’s what this guide is for. You shouldn’t be wasting your time at a classic breakfast spot if the food isn’t worth going out of your way for, or a trendy pasta place that has better taste in mid-century lighting than the actual food they serve. These are our favorite places in SF where the pretty much guaranteed waits are actually worth the time and effort - unlike trying to remember that impossible password to unload our fake money.
When you’re in line at Jane on Fillmore, there’s an odd feeling that everyone there is in a rush to slow down. That’s because all of the people in line know that on the other side of the queue, once you’ve found a table, Jane on Fillmore is one of the most peaceful places you can find yourself. Their pastries and cookies (including the many gluten-free options) are all amazing, and so are their house tea blends and toasts.
This is our favorite breakfast spot in SF, and if we have the morning free, hopping in line here is on our short mental list of things we should do - right above laundry, but right below breathing. The thing to order here is The Plow, which gets you eggs, Plow potatoes, sausage or bacon, and lemon ricotta pancakes. If they have any left, order a biscuit with honey butter too.
If you’re one of those people who has a set grocery/laundry day and demands to be the scribe at trivia night, the line at Tartine may not be for you. That’s because instead of being a straight line, Tartine’s freely snakes around the entire space. But even though this place’s line organizational skills are terrifying and make no sense, their breads and pastries are some of the best in the city. It’s the kind of place that you’ll walk into for a croissant (which you should get), and walk out with a loaf of country bread, gougeres, lemon bars, and everything else you can carry (including a croissant), and it’ll all be worth it.
If you’re not a morning person, standing in line for breakfast is about as much fun as riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland with a stomach virus, but the lemon pancakes at Mymy are worth it. Stop somewhere for coffee on your way, join the crowd on California Street, and if the coffee isn’t doing enough, order some mimosas once you sit down.
Tartine Manufactory feels like the restaurant that would exist in a universe where brunch is the most important meal of the day and you’re required to get a glass of white wine with every meal. It’s big and open, surrounded by glass, the bar is some sort of indoor pergola, and you always somehow feel like you’re here with healthy intentions - even if your plan is to get some soft serve, a slice of almond cake, and a morning bun and not come up for air for a while.
If you’re anything like us or Oprah, you love bread. And if you’re going to wait in line for it, it better be more than worth it. Neighbor Bakehouse makes great croissants, but what takes this Potrero Hill bakery over the top is everything else you can get here. From kimchi toast to German coffee cake, you can load up, go home, and spread the pastries around your living room floor like you’re a kid on Christmas and with just as much enjoyment.
The trick to dodging the line at Molinari is to avoid going any time that could be mistaken for lunch, but if you’re one of those people who eats lunch at lunchtime, there will be a queue. Take a number at the door, choose your bread from the bin in the back, and start thinking about what you’re going to get. We always go custom and make sure to load it up with basil garlic spread, but you could do something like the ever-changing North Beach Special if you don’t keep a mental rolodex of cured Italian meats and cheeses like we do.
If it’s a nice Saturday and you wake up needing a burger, it’s tough to beat going to Gott’s Roadside in the Ferry Building and grabbing a table outside in the sun. There’s pretty much always a line, but it moves fast enough and the burgers are completely worth it. And if you don’t have a date later, so are the garlic fries. Plus, Gott’s has insanely good wines by the glass by any restaurant’s standards, not just a burger joint’s.
Unless you get to Swan at 10am, you’re going to have to wait (and even then you have to wait for the restaurant to open at 10:30am), but the line is just as much a part of the experience as eating all the raw seafood inside. That’s not a problem though, because if you’ve got the time to wait, you can go to the liquor store close by, get a few tallboys, and brown bag it while you wait and make friends with the people around you - a lot of times we end up sitting with the people we meet in line. The staff here knows more about seafood than you know about yourself, so ask them how to navigate the menu if you feel lost. Aside from oysters, get a Sicilian Sashimi and make sure there are raw scallops with that.
You’re going to end up waiting longer for a scoop of ice cream at Bi-Rite than it would take for that scoop to melt, but it’s something we’ll happily do - even when it’s a perfect day in Dolores Park and your friend brought their new teacup elephant. We like the salted caramel, but it’s hard to go wrong. And if the teacup elephant is too adorable to walk away from for too long, skip the line and buy pints to go, or just walk a few steps down to their soft-serve stand instead.
If you live in San Francisco, Nyum Bai has two waits: the one at the restaurant and the one in the ride to Oakland. But it’s one of those places that if a friend called us up and asked us to drop what we were doing to venture over, we’d hang up the phone in a dead sprint to their house. This is not only because that’s how much we’d want to go, but also so we can arguably have worked out enough to merit ordering more food. From the banana leaf salad to the pork belly Koh, we love everything here, so the running is very justified.
When people look back at today 100 years from now, once they get over the fact that we somehow survived without socks that shriek in terror if their partner falls under the dryer, they’ll probably view Nopa the same way we look at the roaring ’20s or the 1950s. The restaurant is large and lively, but still feels like it could be everyone’s neighborhood hang out - just grander. The bar is first come, first served, but even if you have a reservation, you’ll probably end up waiting for a bit because no one ever wants to leave. It’s just that cool of a place to hang out and the food is that good. Everything from the flatbreads to the pastas are great, but if they have the porchetta, make sure to order it.
At State Bird, you won’t be stuck making fake friends in line for a few hours, but the wait is a very real thing when you don’t have a reservation. If it’s a special occasion and you want dinner to have a little more oomph than your existing plans, put a balloon with a crudely drawn face in you office chair and leave work a little early. Get to State Bird when they open, and put your name down before you go meet whoever you’re eating with at a bar nearby, or instruct your cubicle mate to shoot a well-timed dart at your balloon clone right before you get back to your chair. The menu changes regularly, but they always have the fried quail, aka the State Bird, and you should get it.
When we say that Cheese Board does one thing and one thing only, we don’t mean that they only make pizza. We mean that they only make one single type of pizza per day and they’re beyond good at it. You’ll find yourself waiting in an out-the-door line for something like a lemon pizza, but after your first trip here, you’ll be planning when you can come back to Berkeley for another slice.
It’s still pretty tough to get a reservation at Flour + Water, but it comes with the territory when a restaurant makes pasta as good as they do and the space is cooler than your living room ever has a shot at being. Fortunately, the bar and the communal table up front are always open for walk-ins, and while there might be a line, you can use the time to discuss if you’re going to go a la carte or just order the pasta tasting menu.
You’d think there’s always a line at Elephant Sushi because this place is pretty small, but once your inside, you’ll quickly realize that you were wrong. The quality of the sushi is excellent, and we typically load up on sashimi, but if you’re in the mood for a roll, try the White Out with yellowtail, avocado, seared butterfish, and garlic ponzu.
You’re probably here because the bar you were at in North Beach had last call, but this isn’t a move out of desperation. The big square slices of focaccia pizza from Golden Boy are as good as they are cheap - one slice will run you about $3.75. And that’s really all you need, but you’ve been drinking, so you’re going to get two.
Mensho Tokyo has one of those night club lines that causes people to look at the queue and think, “Ok, I am not waiting in a line” shortly before swallowing their pride and going to the end. When you get to the front, you can check out the menu before you sit, but we like the lamb ramen and the Shoyu ramen.