SFGuide

Where To Forget The Internet Exists

Get ready to pretend that it's 1992.
Where To Forget The Internet Exists image

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

San Francisco has a complicated relationship with tech. We're less than 50 miles from Silicon Valley, and much of the city thrives on an enthusiasm for Waymos and living in a world where self-driving cars take you to the Apple Store to buy VR glasses. But sometimes you need a break from all that—a place that feels downright analog, where you can turn on your phone's do-not-disturb and look at a menu instead of a QR code. These restaurants do the trick. Many of them have been around since before the dot-com boom, one doesn't have cell service, and even the new ones are so engrossing that you’ll forget about the existence of ChatGPT.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

Chinese

Chinatown

$$$$Perfect For:Coffee & A Light BiteLunchBreakfast
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With its old-style big booths, giant pictures of food on the walls, and a relaxed staff that's in no hurry to take your order, VIP Coffee and Cakeshop is like stepping into an 80s Hong Kong cafe. Since opening in 1985, this spot has served as a gathering spot for egg tarts, pineapple buns, and macaroni soup, and a healthy dose of neighborhood gossip. Sure, it’ll take about 10 minutes to flag down a server, but your patience will lead to the best Hong Kong-style milk tea in the city. It's rich, creamy, and has an intense black tea taste. Plus, you can hang out for hours without anyone asking you to leave.

photo credit: Ricky Rodriguez

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsWalk-Ins

Your hands will be so busy rolling (and eating) the excellent bánh hỏi at this Outer Richmond Vietnamese spot that you'll be unable to constantly refresh your feed. Despite having moved from Little Saigon to the Outer Richmond at the end of 2021, Anh Hong retains the feel of a restaurant that’s been around for much longer. Giant round tables are constantly packed with people working together to build rolls with smoky meats, mint, and loads of nước chấm. Beer is constantly flowing, and family members are getting into friendly arguments in a way that makes for a place that feels like walking into a holiday gathering before kids were force-fed Cocomelon via iPad.

As the first espresso-based coffee shop on the West Coast (it opened in 1956), this place is less a typical cafe and more of a late-night haunt for the literary-inclined. Caffe Trieste is open until 10pm, and filled with people reading Nietzsche over a doppio. Sure, the chairs are crickety, the floor hasn’t been redone in decades, and the murals on the wall could use some retouching—but it all adds to the charm. The extensive drink menu can be overwhelming, but just grab an Italian drip and get ready to turn some physical pages of an actual book.

It’s been about 35 years since Panchita’s #2 opened in the Mission (unclear if there was ever a Panchitas #1), and they’ve been serving thick pupusas until 2:30am on the weekends ever since. While the corner of 16th and Valencia has seen many changes, this pupusa shop has stubbornly held on, tech be damned. Each pupusa costs about $5, and you can pile into one of the restaurant's many picnic tables to eat. With options like loroco flower and chipotle alongside classics like the revuelta—a mix of chicharron, beans, and cheese—these pupusas are a gooey (and delicious) mess. 

Like a great standup set, a meal at Pizzetta 211 is full of well-timed jokes that can make you forget about the outside world. The staff tease each other as they fling pies into the air, laughs accompany pours of basque cider, and even dogs cheerfully congregate around the tree outside. In other words, everyone at this tiny pizza spot in Outer Richmond seems to be having a great time, with no screens in sight. Plus, the food is good. The pizzas have a thin, golden-brown crust, and are all topped with seasonal options, like pea tendrils, lamb, and an egg.

It’s hard to find a quick meal in San Francisco that isn’t from a fast-casual, seemingly designed-for-social-media chain. Enter Hon’s Wun-Tun House. This wonton specialist has been in Chinatown for over four decades, and the space has barely changed. The inside is simple, with just a few tables on utilitarian tile. Service is a bit curt, and you’ll be in and out in 20 minutes. The wontons are generously filled with pork and shrimp, and the broth is packed with needle-thin noodles. There’s a range of meat options for your soup, but we like the semi-sweet BBQ pork and the fall-apart beef brisket.

photo credit: Melissa Zink

$$$$Perfect For:BrunchWalk-Ins

Trying to send a text message at El Mil Amores might be more frustrating than trying to find your friends at Outside Lands. This Mexico City-style brunch place tends to have no cell reception, so ignore the SOS service marker and focus all your attention on their tres leches pancakes. After the first bite, it won’t matter that your friend is growing increasingly panicked because you haven’t replied to their text about your Baker Beach plans.

There’s a certain mythology to Zam Zam (full name Persian Aub Zam Zam). This Haight St. cocktail bar has been around since 1941, has strong and cheap drinks, dim red lighting that makes it perpetually feel like 2am, and a mural that they had to restore in 2000 thanks to years of tobacco smoke. Rumor has it that back in the day you would be kicked out if you didn’t order a martini or sat at a table instead of at the bar. Now, you can order whatever drink you want, sit at the somewhat wobbly tables in the back, and pay with a card (although they’ll like it better if you pay in cash).

$$$$Perfect For:Drinks & A Light Bite

Despite opening in 2016, Horsies gives off the energy of a Mission fixture that existed before the rise (and devastating fall) of Ask Jeeves. Wine bottles cover the wall, string lights flicker overhead, vinyl spins, and it’s almost impossible to move around because it’s so small. Come to this horse-themed bar for a sense of community that’s thanks to the regulars that fill this space on the weekend, and the same two bartenders that run the whole operation. They only serve vermouth cocktails, wine, beer, and, for some reason, Underberg and hot dogs. The cocktails are great, and the occasional horse tchotchke makes the whole thing even better.

Passing through the front door at Brothers means turning your phone on silent and giving yourself over to the haze of charcoal and bulgogi smoke. The Korean spot in the Richmond is a dimly lit, meat-centric escape from whatever hellfire you had to put out today—mounds of bulgogi and marinated spicy pork sizzle away on a tabletop grill, and you’ll have to shout to be heard over the hood fans firing away at full throttle. Basically, prepare to spend the next couple of hours forgetting about everything except the smoky BBQ piles in front of you.

It’s easy to walk right past Rintaro, the Mission izakaya serving fancy drinking snacks and other seasonal Japanese dishes. But once you make your way past the shipping container-like exterior, you’re met with a serene patio lit up by glowing string lights, a dining room with curved wooden beams and tucked-away booths, and the sizzle of yakitori getting grilled until charred from behind the counter. Let the Japanese rock soundtrack drown out the “should I post this?” portion of your brain, and dig into housemade tofu and lacy gyoza while fantasizing about breaking your lease to live on an organic artichoke farm. 

At Bix, you’ll get serenaded by a jazz duo in suits, enjoy free bread from a velvet armchair, and eat American food straight out of a 1930s supper club. The Financial District restaurant drips with old-school charm—martini glasses are chilled over a humongous mound of ice, a mural of a lively dance floor overlooks the two-story space, and there’s not a white sneaker in sight. The food is just fine, but you’re not here for the best steak tartare in the city. You’re here to drink classic cocktails and pretend you don’t know what Bluetooth is.  

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