Great places to eat along the California Coast
Don't expect to find a complete list here of every hoity toity spot along the California Coast. In fact, none of these places would qualify as hoity toity, so if that's your bag, look elsewhere. But if you like a place where you can go for great, reasonably-priced food without worrying about shaving or wearing fancy clothes, these places are for you.

The impetus for creating this page was my experience after moving from Austin, Texas to the San Francisco Bay Area. My wife and I had lived in Austin for several years, so we knew every great place to eat, especially breakfast places. In the Bay Area, things were different. Even though I had grown up out here, I had no clue about dining establishments, and so began the process of discovering the places we liked, which is ongoing. This page reflects the fruits of our search.

Ole's Waffle House. 1507 Park Street, Alameda. One of the best breakfast spots in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is an old-style diner, a Bay Area fixture from a by-gone era when Bay Area residents didn't turn up their noses and exclaim, "Eek, red meat," when asked if they know of a good steak house. The restaurant opened in the 1920s, and has not changed its menu to adapt to the times. Thank God. Great waffles and pancakes, and if you like your swine, get the breakfast special, which consists of two eggs, 3 pancakes, and a very thick ham steak. Also recommended for a hearty appetite is the pork chops and eggs. A regularly-appearing daily special to get when offered is the corned beef hash which, of course, you should order with eggs over-easy. One owner supervises the grill while the other waits tables.

Marti's Place. 1905 1/2 Encinal Avenue, Alameda. Marti's is another great breakfast place in Alameda. The establishment is run by Noreen Swafford, who waits on every customer herself. The dish my wife and I usually get is the "Hungry Swede," which is two eggs, bacon and swedish pancakes. Very good bacon, always. Crisp, but not too crisp. The swedish pancakes are amazing. In case you've never had them, they are more like crepes than what we usually think of as pancakes, with lots of butter, and served with lingonberry jam. Although they will bring it if you ask, you definitely do not need syrup, just spread the lingonberry jam over the pancakes. A little goes a long way. For the child in you, there are also chocolate chip pancakes. Hmm, Hmm. Marti's is open from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays.

Patterson's Pub. My wife and I discovered this place on our first visit to Mendocino. It was early evening in December, dark, hailing, the power was out in a lot of places after a big storm, and everything was closed. Everything, that is, except Patterson's Pub. It was a warm, cozy oasis, assuming your idea of an oasis is a friendly, neighborhood bar. The dinner specials are amazing, and include a meat entre, very tasty green vegetables, and potatoes, all for around ten dollars, with large portions. This place fills up, and they do run out of the more popular specials, so get there early. This is where the Mendocino locals go, and for good reason. Sure, there are gourmet places all over the village of Mendocino, but Patterson's is a fraction of the cost, has food that rivals that of the more expensive places, and you can hear all the local gossip. If you visit Mendocino, GO THERE. NOTE: children under 21 years of age are not allowed.
Patterson's Pub Website

Negri's Original Italian Restaurant. 3700 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, California, 95465. Where is Occidental, you ask? It's on the Bohemian Highway. Where is the Bohemian Highway? It connects Freestone to Monte Rio. Still no help? In other words, Sonoma County, west of Santa Rosa, near the Russian River. Occidental used to be a stop for the train running from Eureka to San Francisco. The train is long gone, but the over one-hundred-year-old family-style Italian restaurant remains. If you order the "old world" dinner available with several entrees, you get massive amounts of food. First minestrone soup. Then salad. Then antipasta. Then ravioli. By this time, most people are already full, but that's when the main course arrives, which itself comes with sides. There is also sour dough bread, of course, to go with all this. These huge dinners only cost about $17.00 (sometimes less, depending on what you get). A great place for families and large groups. Plan the trip to Negri's to include a visit to some of the local wineries.
Negri's Website

San Francisco
Red's Java House. At Pier 30, Bryant and Embarcadero. This place has been there since the early 1920s, a vestige of a time when "the Port of San Francisco" was for ships and longshoremen, not tourist traps and their prey. Their no-frills burgers come on a sour dough roll, with onions and mustard (no lettuce). Be a real working man (or woman) and get the double cheese burger, fries and beer special. If you're the pretentious type, pay a little extra to get an Anchor Steam rather than Budweiser. They won't laugh at you. They also roast their own coffee beans. Open for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. As the picture shows, just south of the Bay Bridge on the Embarcadero.

Fred's Coffee Shop. 1917 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965, 415-332-4575. Not too many people “just happen to be passing through” Sausalito. You have to make a point of going there. One reason to go there is Fred’s Coffee Shop. Fred’s has been a Sausalito fixture since 1966. Fred’s is, or should be, world famous for its French toast. The first time my wife and I went there, she got the French toast, and I got something else. Although my breakfast was great, her French toast was amazing (I only ate about half of it). It is very sweet, more like funnel cake than what you typically would think of as French toast. The first unique thing is the batter. It has eggs, of course, but also ice cream. Yes, ice cream. Thick slices of bread are dipped in this egg-ice-cream batter, then cooked on the grill. After that, they are deep fried, and served with butter and powdered sugar on top. This is really more of a dessert than a typical breakfast, but if that makes you feel guilty, you should order it with bacon, so it’s more like a traditional breakfast. And the bacon – very thick and juicy, and you get five slices.

Another dish unique to Fred’s is marinated short ribs, which come with two eggs, hash browns, and toast ($11.99). I have to admit, although I like my eggs with meat, I had never had them with short ribs before Fred’s. These are the Asian style ribs, so if you like those, this is the dish for you. Weekends can be crowded at Fred’s, but if your day off is on a weekday, you can easily get a table. It’s also a good stop on a longer trip up Highway 101. Finally, be aware that since they have a limited number of tables, parties of one and two share tables with others. This is actually kind of fun, because it forces you to be social. Fred’s is open every day, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and serves breakfast and lunch.

Stinson Beach
The Parkside Cafe. Very good breakfasts, and excellent fresh fish for dinner. If you like salads, try the organic spring mix (I get it almost every time). Parking is hard to find on the street, but readily available in the parking lot for the beach. Just enter the national park administered beach and pick a spot away from the beach, which is right next to the cafe. There is a walkway crossing a small stream from the parking lot to the cafe. Since the beach parking lot closes in the evening, you will need to park on the street for dinner. Also, if you're in the mood for burgers, try the aptly named Parkside Burgers, which is right next door. There is no inside seating, but you can bring your food over to a nearby picnic table next to the parking for the beach.
The Parkside Cafe Website

Valley Ford

Dinucci's Italian Dinners. If you find yourself driving on Highway 1 in Sonoma County, between Tomales and Bodega, you will pass through the tiny farm community of Valley Ford, population 60. If it's dinner time, or lunch time on Saturday or Sunday, and you are VERY hungry, Dinucci's Italian Dinners is a must. Like Negri's in Occidental, Dinucci's is a family style Italian restaurant. But -- dare I say it? -- it's better than Negri's. It's the minestrone soup. Consistently, it's the best I've ever had. The bar looks really cool, too; a large part of the ceiling is lined with abalone shells. This is very much a blue collar place, bar and restaurant, and I love it. I've had the veal parmesan, chicken parmesan, and the fried chicken. All great. And last time I went, I had french fries (rather than healthier vegetables) as a side, and they were clearly freshly cut and tasty. Of course, by the time you get your entree, you'll probably already be full, since you've had soup, salad, pasta, antipasto, and great french bread. But no matter. You can take your leftovers home. And take a quart of minestrone soup home while you're at it.

All Over California (and beyond)
In-N-Out Burger. You have not lived until you've had a Double Double (double meat, double cheese). In-N-Out is what McDonalds maybe once was, but definitely ceased to be years ago. The french fries do not have gluten or dairy products added to them. Just potatoes fried in vegetable oil. They are made fresh each day: just look behind the counter at any In-N-Out and you will see a recently-hired employee putting whole potatoes in an old-fashioned hand slicer. The employees at EVERY store are always totally on the ball, polite and hustling. In-N-Out used to be only in the Los Angeles area, but now they're all over California, Nevada and Arizona. So make it a part of any trip to California. You will become a convert. Buy a shirt and wear it proudly back home. People will approach you, probably drooling, to talk about their favorite burger joint on the planet.
In-n-Out Burger Website

Cool Spots in Places Outside California

Austin, Texas

Casino el Camino. A goth-decor bar with 3/4 pound angus beef burgers, on 6th Street in Austin, Texas. A favorite of Austin's service industry employees.

The Salt Lick. The best barbecue on the planet happens to be located a few miles outside of Austin, in Driftwood, Texas.