If you were looking to cast The Real Housewives of San Francisco, Balboa Cafe would be an excellent place to start your search. The old-school corner spot in Cow Hollow is home to cougars, classic if unexciting food, and great Bloody Marys. Probably due mostly to that last one, we usually end up enjoying ourselves here.
Established in 1913, Balboa is a throwback to earlier times, before the Internet or Soylent or washable cashmere were words that even existed. And not much appears to have changed since its opening. The basic American food is richer than more modern options around, and the decor dates to the days when you treated yourself to a steak and crab dinner to celebrate a raise, and people drank a LOT at lunch. There are white tablecloths, as well as a long bar where divorcees and lawyers and people who mostly don’t work at companies that have apps come to unwind. It’s not uncommon to see a suit and tie. And it’s pretty fun to observe.
While nothing on the menu is offensively bad, most dishes are completely forgettable. If you have picky friends or five-year-old nephews who like white toast and hamburgers well done, they will be very happy at Balboa. Everything is safe and recognizable, and served in hearty portions. Healthy options are none, and execution could generally be described as ‘fine.’ What is better than fine are the Bloody Marys - they are delicious and spicy and will make whatever basic food you’re eating taste a hell of a lot better.
Since we’re all-in on the bloodies, people-watching, and outdoor tables, we tend to keep Balboa visits to the weekend daylight hours. The food won’t blow your mind, but you’ll probably have a pretty good time. And get a feel for how San Francisco used to spend its Sunday afternoons before hot yoga made its way to America.
While deviled eggs may be a relatively new dining fad, Balboa has been throwing them down since the olden days. There is bacon on them, and they are damn good.
Nicely seasoned with some Old Bay, but besides a sprinkling of seafood crack powder, your basic fried calamari. No one will complain about this.
Not sure how we feel about the burger on a baguette play. Not very American, AMIRITE? It’s a solid burger, but the bun situation just isn’t our thing. The french fries that come with are entirely forgettable.
American food at it’s finest. Take a taco and make it into a salad. It’s not good for you, and it tastes fine. If you add chicken, it’s a pretty decent meal.
One of the more underrated and probably best things on the menu at Balboa. Crispy chicken, cheese and a funky coleslaw on a soft roll. Get it.
Basic Eggs Benedict with no whimsical touches. We tend to swap smoked salmon in for ham and are generally pleased with the result. Not going to win any awards, but it does the job. We like the roasted potatoes on the side a lot.
A boatload of avocado is the saving grace of this dish, which comes on one not usually crispy enough tortilla. Fine.
Going to Balboa and not getting a Bloody Mary is like going to Disney World and refusing to attend the character breakfast. You just do it. These are strong, spicy and bad-ass drinks and we tend to come here solely to drink them and eat disappointing food to soak it up.