As a native New Yorker who has lived here for almost a decade, it still amazes me how San Francisco’s nightlife comes to a screeching halt at 2 a.m. At even the liveliest establishments, at precisely 2:01, if not earlier, there are no more drinks to be had. No more music. The band packs up, and the bartender starts wiping down the bar.
Those who want to stay out just a little bit longer and need some fuel to keep the evening going may find themselves at a loss for where to get some late-night fare. This is also hard to find in a health-conscious city where even the biggest party animals are known to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on a weekend morning to go cycling. However, those hunting for food in the wee hours do have options, from burritos and burgers to fine dining.
If you have spent the evening overindulging, greasy fast food may be in order. If that’s the case, head to one of the many taquerias, pizzerias, or hole-in-the-wall Thai and curry houses that pepper the city and are open until breakfast. But if you are seeking comfort food with a vintage twist, head to Mel’s Drive-In, of American Graffiti fame, which has four San Francisco locations and offers a slew of options, from hamburgers and cheese fries to cheesecake. On Fridays and Saturdays, both the Mission Street Mel’s (801 Mission Street, 415-227-0793) and the Inner Richmond location (3355 Geary Boulevard, 415-387-2255, the site of the original Mel’s) are open until 3 a.m. The Van Ness restaurant (1050 Van Ness Avenue) doesn’t close until 4 a.m. on those evenings, and the Marina location (2165 Lombard Street, 415-921-3039) stays open 24 hours.
One of the more classic late-night joints is Grubstake Diner (1525 Pine Street, 415-673-8268), which serves made-to-order burgers and breakfast until 4 a.m. every night of the week. Half of the restaurant, which was founded in 1927, is housed inside a railroad car that originally served the Key Line that ran between San Francisco and East Bay. The restaurant continues to enjoy its long reign as a pit stop for hungry partiers.
Folks who have been hitting the bars in North Beach should head to Buster’s Cheesesteak (366 Columbus Avenue, 415-392-2800), which churns out tender, Philly-style cheesesteaks and juicy burgers until 2:30 a.m. Although Buster’s is primarily a take-out joint, a few counter and sidewalk seats are ideal for grabbing a quick bite. Also in North Beach, 15 Romolo (15 Romolo Place, 415-398-1359) serves up locally sourced bar bites and carnival fare until 2 a.m. Head over for fresh-cut fries, funnel cakes with homemade jam, or, if you’re still thrill-seeking after midnight, a Fatted Calf frank from Napa, stuffed with cheddar and wrapped in a corn tortilla from the Mission district.
Speaking of the Mission, one of the latest additions to the late-night dining scene is Pig and Pie (2962 24th Street, 415-401-8770), which occupies the former Discolandia record shop. Open Friday and Saturday nights until 1 a.m., the restaurant offers house-made Italian sausage mac and cheese, a nice selection of beers on tap, and, of course, pies. Nearby in Bernal Heights, the tiny Salvadorian joint El Zocalo (3230 Mission Street, 415-282-2572) specializes in handmade pupusas, guacamole and spicy salsa, sure to ward off any late-night hunger pains.
In the financial district, Globe (290 Pacific Avenue, 415-391-4132) will put a plate of broccoli di ciccio or truffle-oil infused pizza in front of you until 1 a.m. most evenings. Closer to Union Square, Bouche (603 Bush Street, 415-956-0396) supplies the late-night culinary crowd with duck confit croquants, kale-stuffed risotto, and other small California/French plates until 1 a.m.
Desperately seeking sushi after midnight? Ryoko’s downtown (619 Taylor Street, 415-775-1028) has been a late-night dining staple for more than 23 years. Featured on the Food Network show Midnight Munchies, this affordable basement sushi bar is open seven days a week until 2 a.m., but last call for food is 1:30 a.m. On Friday and Saturday nights, the restaurant hosts a local D.J.
If you’ve been partying in the Marina Triangle and find yourself craving a post-midnight meal, stop in at Delarosa (2175 Chestnut Street, 415-673-7100), which dishes out Italian specialties such as beet carpacci, fennel sausage pizza, and gnocchi Florentine until 1 a.m. You can also make a beeline for Brazen Head (3166 Buchanan Street, 415-921-7600) in Cow Hollow for American cuisine in a cozy setting, or its sister Liverpool Lil’s (2942 Lyon Street, 415-921-6664) for English Pup fare. Both restaurants serve food until 1 a.m. several nights a week.
Two other locations for late-night dinners are Nopa (560 Divisadero Street, 415-864-8643) in the Western Addition/NoPa, where you can indulge in organic wood-fired cuisine like grass-fed burgers and Moroccan vegetable tagine seven days a week until 1 a.m., or Hayes Valley eatery Sauce (131 Gough Street, 415-252-1369), where Portobello mushroom fries, bacon-wrapped mini meatloaf, and other comfort food await you until 2 a.m.
For the true night eater, the ultimate challenge may be 25-year Inner Richmond veteran Korean Village Wooden Charcoal BBQ (4611 Geary Boulevard, 415-751-6336), where you can stuff yourself silly with grilled meat until 3 a.m. “year round, every day.”