Red's Java House: A San Francisco Landmark, but Skip the Burger

Red's Java House: A San Francisco Landmark, but Skip the Burger

Dan Myers

Red's has been in business for 60 years.

Located on the Embarcadero right next to the Bay Bridge is a narrow shack overlooking the water called Red’s Java House. Step into this inviting little building and you’ll discover that it’s much longer than it is wide, with a well-lit dining room in the front and plenty of outdoor seating in the back; a small bar area and kitchen are in between. You can order at the counter and grab a seat at one of its well-worn stools, or head out back if it’s a nice day.

Red’s got its start as a lunch counter called Franco’s in 1930, and in 1955 it was bought by a pair of brothers (one of whom happened to be nicknamed Red) who renamed it Red’s Java House. This place is full of old-school charm, and is surprisingly gleaming. It looks more like something you’d find in an old summer camp than in San Francisco, if that summer camp happened to have an in-house dive. The painted wood walls give it the aura of a cute brunch spot, but wall decorations like the mugshot of Patty Hearst give it an offbeat vibe. It’s an unusual place, but it all works.

As for the food, you can have your choice of a burger, a hot dog, daily specials like fish and chips and corned beef hash, and a handful of breakfast items like pancakes and an undefined “breakfast sandwich.” There are a handful of beers on tap, but just walking through the door puts you in the mood for a cold bottle of Bud, for some reason.

Dan Myers

Ordering a single-patty burger is a mistake.


The burger is the most popular item on the menu, and it’s a decent one, if nothing special. It’s wide and flat, cooked completely through on a well-greased griddle, and served on a nondescript scooped-out Italian roll that’s a little bit chewier than it should be. It’s topped with a slice of Cheddar, some diced onions, and a squirt of yellow mustard. Ketchup bottles are on every table, and the menu makes a point to note that they serve no lettuce or tomatoes, which have no place on a burger anyway.

Get a double cheeseburger instead of a single, because the bread will otherwise completely overwhelm the meat. And as for that meat, well, sadly, it doesn’t taste much better than what you’ll find at a fast food chain, grey inside and outside. But sitting outside at Red’s on a sunny day with a stunning view of the bridge and a beer may be a cure for what ails you.

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