Blast from the past

Pub date May 21, 2008
SectionSF Blog

Intern Phil Eil checks out his neighborhood diner – without nearly kissing his mother.

Does your license plate read, “MCFLY”? Have you been scanning Craig’s List for a Flux Capacitor? Well, while you’re waiting for that “Your DeLorean is ready,” phone call (the waiting list is eight months last time I checked), head over to Al’s Good Food Cafe at Mission and 29th Street. The place is a time machine, itself — definitely where Doc Brown dines when he’s in the Bay Area.

Al’s opened in 1947 and it hasn’t changed much since. From the original Cattle Queen of Montana poster signed by Ronald Reagan to the menu descriptions (“Maiden Christina’s Special: A breakfast feast for the delicate lady with the big appetite…”), the place is steeped in old-school American allure. As “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” played over the speakers, I ate a Jo’s Special — three extra large eggs scrambled with ground chuck, fresh spinach, green onions and mushrooms — and tried to named the movie stars pictured on the walls. Jimmy Dean. Audrey Hepburn. That other guy from Rebel Without a Cause.

But while the décor of Al’s is the real deal (as opposed to, say, Chili’s), the reason to eat there is not the Bing Crosby champagne bottle (“He only gave them to his closest friends,” Jean, my waitress, told me) or the Thank-You note from Florence Henderson. It’s the hospitality. Al’s daughters Jean and Joann have been working there since the restaurant opened, and they keep it grounded in its original principles. “Everyone here aims to please,” Joann told me. Jean added, “My father always said, ‘Soup and coffee is like saying, ‘Hello.’”

Leaving the restaurant, I put on my sunglasses, popped in a lollipop (it came free with the bill), and headed back out to Mission St.—back to the future.

Al’s Good Food Café
3286½ Mission, SF
(415) 641 – 8445

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When this thing hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious…scrambled eggs.