Why St. Francis Fountain Remains One of San Francisco's Most Beloved Diners

St. Francis Fountain, San Francisco's oldest ice cream parlor, continues to draw crowds of all taste preferences
st. francis

Credit: Yelp / Tim O.

Weekends mean big lines outside of one of San Francisco's favorite old-school diners, St. Francis Fountain, located in the Mission District.

Since its founding in 1918 by an immigrant from Greece, St. Francis Fountain in San Francisco has evolved into a completely different establishment: one that caters to just about anybody, any meal of the day. St. Francis got a huge makeover in 2002, when its current owners decided to buy the former family-ran confectionary and ice cream parlor and entirely renovate it. The owners also decided it was time to expand the menu and, in doing so, transformed it into what it is today.

This vintage eatery is lightyears away from your average, gimmicky “diners” that most are used to. Stepping in to St. Francis feels like stepping into a different era. Though the menu has changed, the owners have fully maintained an old-fashioned and classic diner style. If that’s not enough reason to come, this diner also has a novelty candy collection that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else! Bazooka Joe gum, jaw breakers, 21 Jump Street collectible cards and bubble gum, Pez dispensers… it’s a candy aficionados dream. With cozy booths, an always-bustling countertop, traditional soda fountains, and massive portions of food served on red-checkered plates, the St. Francis endures with its genuine, homey charm.

There is big selection of breakfast and lunch items here. From huevos rancheros and corned beef hash to soups, salads, and burgers, it’s tough to decide what to order. Not to mention that, unlike most stereotypical diners, St. Francis offers plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. If you’re a carnivore like me, things like vegan chorizo, vegan sausage, and seitan — at first glance — may seem unappetizing, confusing even, but there’s a reason why native San Franciscans flock here.

Come very hungry, maybe even borderline starving, because the signature breakfast items are huge and satisfyingly hearty. Favorites include: The Nebulous Potato Thing, which is a large mound of potatoes, melted cheese, and an assortment of toppings like sour cream and salsa, and The Chef’s Mess — an equally large helping of scrambled eggs with potatoes, bacon, mushrooms, dressed up with a load of cheese, and of course, more toppings. St. Francis also serves dense biscuits and gravy, buttermilk hotcakes, and vegan pancakes.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a whole bunch of non-meat options that impress most, meat-eaters or otherwise. I ordered the eggs with vegan chorizo hash — under the impression it was actually meat chorizo — and still loved it. The “chorizo” was surprisingly tasty and well-seasoned. In fact, the only reason I knew it wasn’t meat was because of its texture.

For lunch, the diner serves common favorites; however, interesting standouts include The Devil Burger. This “burger” is vegan and made with marinated and grilled seitan. The consensus among most patrons is that it is almost pastrami like in flavor and is basically a thinly sliced, wheat gluten deli meat. Definitely something to try next visit.

Lastly, one colossal incentive to dine here, one that should be obvious, is the extensive menu of fountain classics, milkshakes, sundaes, pies, brownies, and banana splits! Fans of cream sodas need to try the orange Dreamsicle — it’s creamy, refreshing, and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Those over 21 might prefer the Guinness beer float or the variety of Champagne cocktails. St. Francis’ milkshakes are super popular as well, and considering they’re almost 100 percent ice cream, it makes sense why. Though St. Francis doesn’t make the ice cream in-house any longer, it uses what is arguably the best ice cream in the Bay Area: Mitchell’s. No complaints here.

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