If you keep the sort of hours I do, you know that dining can be a very haphazard thing. Generally, I’m up at the crack of noon. Don’t judge. The validity of my lifestyle aside, everyone’s lunchtime is when I’m having my breakfast. The primary reason I get a late start on the day is that I invariably work, absorb culture, and/or cavort until 4 a.m. most nights. It’s a function of a career that has entailed journalism (specifically, covering pop music, film and other arts, some involving live presentation deep into the night) and disc jockeying until the wee hours. And it’s now habitual. That’s why I am grateful for whatever 24-hour-a-day eateries are out there — within reason.
There are many people who work the night shift and have a sleep schedule as non-traditional as mine, but they are more likely to take their principal meals at home. Not me. The last time I actually used the kitchen in my San Francisco apartment for anything other than the storage of unused plates, pots, pans and silverware was well over a decade ago. I think I boiled up some pasta and sauce for a quick, filling meal on a quiet, rainy winter night on my own in 2004. That’s about it.
I’m in Los Angeles as often as I’m in S.F., and I keep a stocked larder in neither city, since I often need to leave one for the other at the last minute. Both cupboards are bare, and I’m fine with that. To put it bluntly, I’m not a fan of my own cooking or of the clean-up that must follow. As a result, I’ve become increasingly reliant on restaurants, cafes, and the Whole Foods salad bar in a multitude of locations. It’s not a bad thing, as long as you choose the right places to eat and know how to order/purchase the best and healthiest dishes. But there is the issue of wrapping one’s business at 11 p.m. or midnight without having had that last meal of the day. So the rare all-night joints — or at least the ones that are open past 2 a.m. — are to be cherished in both cities when hunger strikes at those unlikely times. As such, I’ve tried to know where to go and how late I can get there and still be served in what can be a changing terrain. And I don’t mean those acts of 3 a.m. desperation that would be Denny’s, IHOP and other round-the-clock chain restaurants.
It was a shock and an inconvenience to discover that Sparky’s Diner — one of San Francisco’s most reliable yet freaky 24-hour restaurants and LGBTQ, etc.-friendly Church & Market destination for generations of club-going rock-and-rollers, nightcrawlers, and insomniacs — had shuttered its doors early this year. A less-than-stellar assessment by city health inspectors contributed to its demise, leaving behind an empty space where a galaxy of fun-filled, grease-dappled, and occasionally drug-and-booze-fogged memories were made. It’s a darn good thing that the long-running Orphan Andy’s is still rocking its all-day menu up Market at 3991 17th St. off Castro. Burgers, fries, shakes, chicken-fried steak, and omelets are in full effect. That anytime-breakfast is a real boon when the sun is just about to come up after hours of hard partying.
Almost as satisfying but located downtown, the Pinecrest Diner, 401 Geary at Mason, provides similar home-style dishes, including some filling sandwiches and desserts, and never closes its doors! And near to the Pinecrest are two ever-open branches of Lori’s Diner — one at 336 Mason St., the other at 500 Sutter St., and both with 1950s-style décor and classic fare. Plus, you can find Cafe Mason at 320 Mason St. and in a similar mold to Lori’s as far as menu, trappings, and hours. And back down Market at Van Ness, there’s the rather more utilitarian All Star Café, also open 24 hours a day. As for the Grubstake, the longtime all-night diner/faux streetcar at 1525 Pine St. off Polk changed hands a while back, added some Portuguese dishes to the usual diner offerings, only it now closes at 4 AM.
DUSK TO DAWN AND BACK
There are a few outliers like the Louisiana Fried Chicken fast-food stand at 761 3rd St., south of Market, serving its specialty from dusk to dawn and back. Plus, a few spots are open after 2 a.m. but not until sunrise. If you get to the extremely compact counter at Sam’s Pizza and Burgers, 618 Broadway at Grant in North Beach, before 3:30 a.m., you can grab that establishment’s quintessential and immensely satisfying burger and fries at bargain prices. The popular Chinese restaurants Yuet Lee, 1300 Stockton at Broadway, and the New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant, 606 Broadway at Columbus, are usually open throughout the week until 3 a.m. — except for Yuet Lee being closed on Sundays. (The salt-and-pepper squid at Yuet Lee is to die for at any time of day.) And El Farolito, 2779 Mission St., is Burrito & Taco Central until 3:30 a.m., while its location at 4817 Mission St. goes until 4 a.m.
In Los Angeles, the range of options is a little wider. There are certainly more chains and franchises open 24/7. (Add Norms to the list with Denny’s and IHOP.) My favorites include three super-hip/borderline chic and somewhat upscale hotel restaurants: Alma and the appropriately-named 24/7 Restaurant at The Standard, 8300 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, and 25 Degrees at the Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., a pub where you can get a burger and a Guinness milkshake smack in the middle of Hollywood’s theater district. As for corned beef sandwiches, Matzo ball soup, babka, rugelach, and other kosher delights, how can you go wrong with the show-biz shrine that is Canter’s Deli at 419 N. Fairfax Ave., a few blocks from Television City, the Farmers Market, and the Grove outdoor shopping mall? The pricier Pacific Dining Car steakhouse franchise has a couple of locations, evoking a 1920s railcar at 1310 W. 6th St. and presenting a cozy, clubby vibe at 2700 Wilshire Blvd. But I much prefer the Asian goodies at Yangji Gamjatang, 3470 W. 6th St., for Korean, and Pho Western, 425 S. Western Ave., for Vietnamese, both 24-hour havens, and Pho 24, 3450 W. 6th St., Pho 2000, 215 N. Western Ave., and Thank U Pho, 3522 W. 8th St., also for Vietnamese — all in L.A.’s bustling Koreatown.
No matter what time it is, any San Francisco or Los Angeles denizen can be well-fed. You just need some cash, this column, and a GPS.