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Noe Valley's Breakfast Champions
By Lorraine Sanders
You wake up and immediately know three things to be true: (1) you're hungry, (2) you want breakfast, and (3) there's no food in the house. So you decide to go out for breakfast. That part is easy. The hard part? Choosing which place in Noe Valley to make a beeline for.
The following list should reduce the guesswork and propel you toward the eggs, pancakes, and home fries you were oh so recently dreaming about.
1399 Church Street at 26th
Hours: Weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; weekends, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Seats: 20 inside, 16 outside
This cozy corner cafe feeds legions of fans each weekend morning and, in fact, all week long. Tables placed outside on warmer days and a small number of tables inside provide patrons with comfortable perches for breakfast or lunch. The menu is light and healthy, and food is presented more delicately than at most establishments. Like the fresh flowers placed in tiny vases on the tables, the scrambles and pancakes arrive looking fresh, simple, and wholesome. Popular breakfast favorites include the cinnamon croissant French toast, banana-walnut pancakes, and the red potato, cheddar, and onion scramble ($5.95 $6.95). Your food will arrive with your choice of seasoned home fries or a fruit cup filled with fresh melon, bananas, and strawberries. Staying true to diner-style service despite the quaint café ambiance, Chloe's never lets the coffee cups remain empty for long.
1361 Church Street at Clipper
Brunch hours: Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Seats: 35+ inside, 45+ outside
While Fattoush specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine, the weekend brunch offers an array of classic American scrambles, omelets, and pancakes. However, for a tasty departure from bacon and eggs, try the fisherman omelet, with crab, spinach, mushroom, onions, and mixed cheeses ($8.95); cornflakes French toast with maple syrup ($6.95); or the chicken apple sausage frittata ($7.95). There's usually a short wait during brunch hours, and a recent visit revealed a dining room made up mostly of couples. Fattoush's dark wood paneling and crisp white tablecloths add sophistication to the surroundings. On sunny weekend days, light pours in through the large front window. The sun also warms up those lucky enough to secure a table in the lovely patio out back.
Herb's Fine Foods
3991 24th Street near Noe
Hours: Weekdays, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; weekends, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The last of the neighborhood's beloved "greasy spoons," Herb's Fine Foods sends its standard breakfast combos across the counter and into its vinyl booths without an ounce of pretension. On weekends, the solo diners sit at the U-shaped counter reading the paper and sipping coffee, while families and groups crowd into the booths along the sides of the room. The food is predictable and a bargain compared to other Noe Valley eateries, so Herb's patrons remain extremely loyal. Favorites include the Denver omelet ($5.95) and the eggs and bacon breakfast ($5.45). The friendly, down-to-earth waitresses, an interior devoid of frilly decorations, and a 59-year history in the neighborhood secures Herb's as the sentimental favorite of Noe Valley's working stiffs.
1748 Church Street at Day
Hours: Weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; weekends, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Seats: 25 inside, 28 outside
Like Herb's on 24th Street, this tiny diner on the edge of Noe Valley near 30th Street serves up standard breakfast fare and scrambles, and even has waitresses who call you "Hon." Popular orders include the Breakfast Special with two eggs, toast, and jelly ($3.95) and Joe's Special Scramble ($5.95) with ground beef, mushrooms, and spinach. Hungry Joe's may be one of the more casual breakfast joints Noe Valley has to offer, but the recent addition of the Mimosa ($3.95) to the weekend brunch menu shows the influence of a younger, hipper crowd. Orange bolted-down seats, Formica tables, and framed retro posters add a '60s flavor to the decor. If it's sunny or if you have a canine companion, you can dine at one of the three or four outside tables. With its small seating area, Hungry Joe's often has hungry patrons lingering outside. But given the no-fuss efficiency with which the line cooks and wait staff serve up the food, the wait is never long.
Miss Millie's Restaurant
4123 24th Street near Castro
Brunch hours: Weekends, 9 a.m.
to 2 p.m.
Seats: 50 inside, 20 outside
This charmer of a restaurant transforms traditional breakfast fare into delicious creations like the Maine Crab Cake served over poached eggs ($13.90) and the gingerbread waffle served with pear compote, candied walnuts, and crème fraîche ($8.75). Brunch entrees arrive piled high with roasted potatoes ($4.25 as a side) and fresh bread. While brunch here is more expensive than at some other nearby restaurants, Miss Millie's innovative menu, '50s retro décor (the pale yellow walls are lined with an assortment of vintage china plates), and access to a sunny outdoor patio make your extra dollars worth the trip. There's a line out the door on Sundays, but the staff's pleasant demeanor and accepting attitude toward large groups and children keep the experience a special treat rather than a hassle. If you're in the mood to celebrate, the drink menu will help you make the first toast of the day in style.
4000 24th Street at Noe
Brunch hours: Weekends, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Seats: 87, including outside seating
If you've only been to Pasta Pomodoro for its cappellini, try out the weekend brunch the next time you're foraging for food on 24th Street. Maybe because it's known for pasta or maybe because it's a chain, Pasta Pomodoro rarely has the crowds that other 24th Street establishments do on the weekends. But the restaurant is still busy. The most popular brunch dish is the Firenze ($6.50), two poached eggs on toasted foccacia, with spinach and mushrooms topped with parmesan cream sauce. The brunch menu keeps the restaurant's Italian theme with omelets such as the Napoli ($6.50), with mushrooms, pancetta, and ricotta cheese, and breads like the panettone ($2.94), served with warm mascarpone cheese. On sunny days, you can dine at sidewalk tables.
1793 Church Street at 30th
Brunch hours: Weekends, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Seats: 35 inside, 9 outside
The most recent addition to Noe Valley's brunch portfolio is Pomelo, which opened last spring. While not strictly vegetarian, Pomelo bills itself as "vegetarian friendly," for dinner and for brunch. Its spare but handsome modern decor is accented with a clutch of bright red chopsticks on each table. Brunch-seekers will find a range of offerings, from the Chelsea, two eggs your way or in a tofu scramble ($6), to the Makena, banana-stuffed French toast with roasted macadamias and warm coconut syrup ($7), to the Eastlake, smoked trout and red potato hash with wild rice, two poached eggs, and toast ($8). While the "housemade chorizo" served by its predecessor (Valentine's Café) was a creative vegetarian version, Pomelo's "housemade chorizo" is the real thing and a featured item.
3913 24th Street at Sanchez
Hours: Sun. Thurs., 8 a.m. to
10 p.m.; Fri. Sat., 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Seats: 100+ inside, 55 outside
Visit Savor for brunch this weekend and you'll find a swarm of hip hopefuls hovering outside on 24th Street. If you can see past the crowd, the front window showcases chefs and their (sometimes) flaming pans. Guests can plant themselves in the large dining area or in the spacious back patio to enjoy dishes like the Tsunami ($7.50), a frittata featuring tofu and veggies, whole wheat pancakes with ginger and cinnamon ($5.95), and a selection of 19 sweet and savory crepes ($3.95 to $7.95). Try the Barcelona crepe ($6.25), with fontina cheese, glazed onions, spinach, and mushrooms, or the Oruba ($3.95) with fresh strawberries, cinnamon, and brown sugar. This place also serves a great hamburger.
24th Street Cafe
3853 24th Street at Vicksburg
Hours: Mon. Sat., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Seats: 25 inside, 6 outside
Happily floating somewhere between a cafe and a grill, the 24th Street Cafe is a bustling haven for those seeking solid breakfast or lunch fare. An eclectic crowd of regulars and tourists -- singles, couples, and families -- keeps the dining room pleasantly full during the noon hour and provides an audience for the cooking acumen on display in the open kitchen. You can sample all the usual egg-and-bacon dishes or try a more exotic omelet ($7.45 and up), such as the Marina, with fresh tomatoes and cheese, or the Jerusalem, with feta, sun-dried tomatoes, and scallions. The café is spiffy, the staff is friendly, and you can't beat the location, across from a great used bookstore.
4063 24th Street near Castro
Brunch hours: Weekends, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Breakfast also served weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Seats: 55 inside, 12 outside
Wish you were enjoying your petit déjeuner in the French countryside? Le Zinc's prix fixe weekend brunch menu ($18) delivers a luxurious breakfast with a generous serving of French charm. When you order this option, you'll receive fresh squeezed orange juice; gourmet coffee, tea, or hot chocolate; fresh fruit salad or cereal with fresh fruit; a French baguette and toast with jams; and an egg dish of your choice. Egg dishes ($8.50 on le weekend), like Eggs Benedict or eggs with smoked salmon, are also available à la carte. In addition, the à la carte breakfast menu includes a selection of briks, crispy wheat crepes from North Africa with ingredients like salmon, feta, raisins, hazelnuts, mixed greens, and mint ($7.50 $9.50). The sleek interior and pricier menu make this one of Noe Valley's more upscale breakfast retreats.
-- Lorraine Sanders, with the help
of many veteran breakfast eaters
on the Voice staff