Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant in San Francisco is where “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily”. A large sign on the outside of the restaurant declares this in bold type. Joe’s has been around since 1965. It is a charming place on Mission Street just south of highway 280. You can’t miss it driving down Mission. Windows are loaded with neon signs of the Golden Gate Bridge, a cable car and other San Francisco landmarks. Joe obviously likes signs. There must be 30 signs in the parking lot warning you not to park without permission.
Entering the restaurant one is struck by its cleanliness and nostalgia. Christmas lights with little Santas are still strung neatly from the ceiling. Fake flowers adorn the room, but somehow they work because they haven’t become a dusty relic, but are clean and new looking. The floor shines bright. One of three energetic waitresses greets and escorts a diner to a seat.
The menu is impressive with photos of al the burgers on a laminated card. Burgers come standard with 4-ounce patties, but can be upgraded to 6 or 8 ounces. I decide to upgrade to 8 because after all “Joe Grids His Own Fresh Chuck Daily”. I order the No. 5 bacon burger, adding cheese and grilled onions. The price comes to a staggering $17.10. I also ordered the onion rings for $3.50 and fries for $2.25. I also decide to top of the feast with a chocolate milk shake for $5.10.
After ordering I look around the restaurant. A steady stream of regulars makes its way in to the restaurant. My favorite was a group of “ladies at lunch” in their 70s and dressed-to-the-nines. Joe, ever present, greets them all by name. In fact, I didn’t see a single customer that was not personally addressed by Joe himself. Everyone is made to feel welcome.
A cable car bell would ring every few minutes signaling that another order was ready. One of three waitresses in white smock and black stretchy pants would quickly whisk the meal off to its recipient. The bell rung and my feast arrived. First came the shake. It was served in its metal mix cup accompanied by a frosty glass mug, and a plastic spoon and straw. Each item was sitting on its own “Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant” napkin. The first sip of the shake was a pleasure. Cold, creamy and not too chocolaty, the shake was very good.
Next came the burger, fries and onion rings. Onion rings were, thick, crispy, battered beauties, but not especially hot. I loved them anyway. They would have rated a prefect score had they been hotter. The fries were nothing special. Medium cut, with skins on, although they were hot and had the right amount of salt.
The burger was fantastic – eight ounces of perfectly medium-cooked beef sitting on a pillowy white grilled bun. The crisp and salty bacon sat on top of the blue cheese melted perfectly around the patty. The grilled, red onions were sweet and firm. The first bite rang on my tongue like a cable car bell. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing, but I could not stop.
The tab of $30 was a little bracing, but other than that, I can say that Joe’s Cable Car Restaurant was a real treat. I can see why “Joe Grinds His Own Fresh Chuck Daily.”
Joe’s Cable Car
4320 Mission Street at Silver
San Francisco, CA 94112
- Also published on Hoosier Burger Boy
by David Latt