photo credit: Krescent Cassaro

Balboa Cafe review image

Balboa Cafe


3199 Fillmore St, San Francisco
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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 where we go for above-average people-watching, 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 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 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.

Balboa Cafe review image

photo credit: Krescent Carasso

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 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 spin classes made their way to Union Street.

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Food Rundown

Deviled Eggs

You’ve seen deviled eggs all around town. But this version, with bacon jam in them, is pretty damn good.

Balboa Cafe review image


Nicely seasoned with some Old Bay. No one will complain about this.

Balboa Cafe review image


It’s a solid burger, but the baguette-as-a-bun just isn’t our thing. The french fries that come with it are entirely forgettable.

Balboa Cafe review image

Taco Salad

Take a taco and make it into a salad. This is a pretty decent dish, especially if you add chicken.

Balboa Cafe review image

photo credit: Krescent Carasso

Eggs Benedict

Basic eggs benedict with no whimsical touches. It’s not going to win any awards, but it does the job. We like the roasted potatoes on the side a lot.

Huevos Rancheros

A boatload of avocado is the saving grace of this dish, which comes on two not usually crispy enough tortillas.

Balboa Cafe review image

Bloody Mary

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 and spicy, and we tend to come here solely to drink them and eat disappointing food to soak it all up.

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