It was the pull of pancakes that brought me over to San Francisco’s Potrero Hill.
My travel buddy (and former housemate) and I have a connection through pancakes. It’s Tyler’s signature dish – well, that and the most amazing molten lava chocolate pudding – and, after waking up a little bit jet lagged from our flight from Australia, we decided that a good stack of pancakes would help us feel ready to tackle our San Francisco adventure.
The line at nearby Washington Square’s Mama’s deterred us from my mission for a minute – two hours is a little too long to wait for pancakes – but a nearby business owner told us about their favourite pancakes in town which have the reputation for ‘fluffiest’ in the city. These I had to try.
Located on the eastern side of the city and founded as a working-class neighbourhood, Potrero Hill is now a peaceful neighbourhood known for it’s views of San Francisco Bay and the city skyline.
I’d call it quiet, perhaps sleepy, but there is a growing artistic scene in the area with boutique stores and quaint cafes open for business, selling bespoke pieces made by local artists.
Away from the tourist path, Portero Hill is a place where locals relax at cafes and enjoy summer sunshine. In my mind, it would be an ideal neighbourhood for those wanting to visit San Francisco and stay in an airbnb property as it’s just a short bus or taxi ride into the city.
There was a line at Plow – the restaurant recommended to me – but in comparison to Mama’s the line was short, with just a 30-40 minute wait ahead of us. Brunch is a big deal in San Francisco!
Putting our names down, instead of grabbing a coffee like many others in line and sitting outside, we decided to explore.
Centrally located along Potrero Hill’s hub, the 18th street corridor, Plow is conveniently located near many trendy restaurants and boutique stores. Heading west down the hill on one side are proud Queen Anne Victorian-style homes, on the other side is leafy pavements and an array of small stores.
It was Collage Home & Gallery that caught Tyler’s eye. The store was filled with colourful, quirky pieces that mixed contemporary with vintage typewriters, lockers covered with map sections, and mannequins and cabinets full of bespoke jewellery. As I ooh-ed and aah-ed over each piece, and pondered the logistics of taking a vintage typewriter back to Australia, the girl serving suggested I wait 20 minutes and check next door at Gaelan for even more creative jewellery pieces and small label clothing.
When mentioned that I’d left my name at Plow, she told us they had “amazing” potatoes. Something else I had to try.
I can’t ignore a good bookstore and Christopher’s Books, on the corner of 18th and Missouri, looked too inviting to pass by.
Their speciality is hardback books. Rows upon rows of beautiful hardbacks, including the latest releases, displayed neatly yet eclectically on top bookcases and in a side table drawer. I couldn’t resist running my fingers along the spines of the autobiographical section, hidden a little from staff in case they thought I was strange for relishing such a feeling.
Unlike chain stores, Christopher’s Books encourage you to stay and linger a while. With chairs and stools set up around the small store to coax you into sitting and finding that perfect read.
When not serving, the shop attendant was keen to chat about recommendations, the neighbourhood, and the store; and was even more curious what we were doing on this side of town when I mentioned I were are Aussies.
Many of the books on offer in Christopher’s Books are chosen by the staff based on their favourites – and of course, what’s new, hot, classics, and reading lists – so you’ll find plenty of books you might not encounter in chain stores, but their business section is almost entirely curated by their former owner and locals.
Service is key. The woman serving us went as far as ringing the owner of the store to see if he had read one particular book Tyler couldn’t decide if he should buy. In the end, both of us walked out carrying new books in brown paper bags, and the second recommendation to try the pancakes at Plow.
We’d spent nearly an hour in Christopher’s Books so we headed back to Plow to stake our claim on seats outside for a well-deserved breakfast in the shade of the building on the humid summers morning.
We’d already been told what to order by the people we’d encountered around the neighbourhood; a serving of their famous Lemon Ricotta Pancakes ($14) and their crispy potatoes ($5), were ordered quickly along with a grapefruit mimosa ($10.50), house-made strawberry lemonade ($4.75), and as part of ‘The Plow’ – a meal of two eggs cooked your way, two lemon ricotta pancakes, crispy potatoes, and the choice of pork sausage patties, Nueske’s bacon, or chicken apple sausage ($16.50).
After hearing the murmurs of appreciation, by those seated around us as plates were delivered to hungry diners, and even the claim that the pancakes tasted like “lemon meringue cake” by the guy sitting behind me, I was still surprised with just how good Plow’s pancakes were.
With an exceptionally light and fluffy texture, it’s the gentle smooth hit of lemon on your palate that makes these pancakes special. Paired with their Virginian maple syrup – a little on the weaker side than Canadian syrups I’ve had – it’s clear why people keep coming back.
Personally, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the eggs – I chose scrambled, but should have chosen the talked about Eggs Benny – but the crispy potatoes and pork sausage patties more than made up for it.
The potatoes, with skins still on, are fried and seasoned lightly. That delicious mix of crunchy ‘bits’ and perfectly cooked chunks has me still wanting more.
Even with the queue of people waiting, the food came quickly (around 10-15 minutes) and was eaten with gusto by Tyler and I after an early morning queuing up for last minute Alcatraz tickets.
It’s hard to call a place that has a line out of the door quaint, but the atmosphere remains. My only complaint is that there is only one bathroom on site so lines can get a little long and there’s not a lot of waiting room without infringing on the service window.
Seriously full from breakfast at Plow, we began walking down the hill again towards the now open Gaelan Boutique. It did not disappoint with jewellery made by local friends of the business owner and a mix of trendy, practical clothing pieces that you wouldn’t find closer towards the city center.
As I kneeled to change camera lenses on the street, a guy, who I later found out is the owner of new cafe called Provender said “It’s better without the bins” as I readied to photograph the pretty walkway that was lined with trash cans.
Speaking quickly – he was on the way to open the cafe – he asked if I was here shooting for a project. I shook my head, “just for myself… and to find a good coffee on par with Melbourne’s.” He chuckled and told me to check out Provender, and I promised I would.
It was this section between Missouri and Connecticut that charmed me most. Each shop has wooden benches outside for patrons of the flower shop, cafe, or wine cellar to sit with their purchase of choice and gaze across the street to a brightly coloured mural next to a powder blue Queen Anne Victorian.
Sitting beneath the leafy trees I people watched, as I sipped on my latte and enjoyed the sunlight trickling onto my skin as the wind and branches danced together.
By suggestion of Camilla from Gaelan Boutique, Tyler and I ventured into the open door of Ruby Wine. The dimly lit cellar was small but sweet with the smell of corked wine. The gentle voice of Erin greeted us.
The wine shop, owned by Plow’s owners Joel Bleskacek and Maxine Siu, may appear small but the choices are varied. While they specialise in Californian wines, Erin has managed to slip in a few Australian wines from Jamsheed, a producer in Beechworth, Victoria, from the years he spent working there.
We’d come to Ruby Wines not just to have a look (and taste!) of the local wines but to decide which region we’d travel to later in the trip; the famous Napa or the equally impressive but quieter Sonoma.
Speaking with Erin, who was serving that day we presented him with our road trip dilemma. Asking us questions about our favourite styles of wines and the taste we were looking for it was decided that Napa was the best fit for us.
Later I was told by the barista at Provender that the best time to visit Ruby Wine’s on Friday afternoons when they host a ‘wine flight’, or selection of wine tastings, with local producers.
One place I didn’t have the opportunity to visit was Bloom’s Saloon – located between Texas and Missouri – is regarded as having one of the best patio views of the San Francisco skyline, sports on the TV’s, and regarded as having a “charming” atmosphere by most people I’d met on my walk around Potrero Hill.
Perhaps I should go back for a nightcap…
Let me know in the comments
Which is your favourite San Francisco neighbourhood?
Tell me: Where are the best pancakes in the world!
How to get to Potrero Hill: The fastest way to get to Potrero Hill is by cab or Uber. It takes around 10 minutes from downtown San Francisco (Union Square) which costs around USD$15.
Alternatively, the 22 bus runs along 18th Street in Potereo Hill. Costing $2.25 per journey, it connects with the downtown MUNI. This takes approximately 28 minutes from downtown San Francisco to outside Plow (stop 18th Street & Texas Street).
1299 18th St, San Francisco
Collage Home & Gallery
1345 18th Street, San Francisco
Hours vary. Find them here.
1331 18th Street, San Francisco
Tuesday to Saturday: 11-6pm
1400 18th Street, San Francisco
Monday to Sunday: 10am-9pm
1419 18th Street, San Francisco
Tuesday – Friday: 1pm-9pm
Saturday & Sunday: 11am – 9pm
1415 18th St, San Francisco
Monday – Sunday: 8am – 7pm
1318 18th St, San Francisco
Monday – Saturday: 11:30am – 1:30am
Sunday: 10am – 1:30am