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Westlake Joe's - Report [Daly City]

Westlake Joe's - what a great place for a big family party. It's still got excellent chops, metaphorically (excellent service) and carnivorously (excellent meat at very fair prices) - in my opinion, and in the opinions of the 30 or so San Franciscan family members who met in the large, side, semi-private room there yesterday. The event was the wake for our Auntie Evie Krasow, an 86 year old native of SF, proud Girl's High grad who, as family fondly remembered yesterday, had over most of the last century enjoyed so many happy family celebrations there.

Yesterday was no exception. The food at Westlake Joe's is by no means in the "fine dining" category. It's a large, warm, cozy, old-school landmark San Franciscan restaurant. And the patrons are mostly old San Franciscans often eating family style with their children and grandchildren - the whole "meshpucha" (extended family) as it's fondly called in yiddish. Or business people enjoying the classic "Joe's Special" - the REAL San Franciscan treat - a huge scramble of hamburger, mushrooms, onions, and spinach with the eggs. The servings are large, the prices very fair, the service quick, warm and professional.

When I want the best hamburger I've had in SF within memory, I'll be going back to Westlake Joe's to get it. "Man, that is one GREAT cheeseburger!" I must have said half a dozen times while eating the half of it that was plenty for my lunch. Meat was perfecto - flame grilled, charred and smoky crusted to a perfect medium juicy rareness as requested. So beautifully beefy tasting - the meat could not have been tastier. A clean quality to the taste of the beef too - the taste that oh, so rarely you encounter that makes you want to eat some steak tartare if you could. Texture is dense, but not dry - by the time my half a burger that came home with me was reopened later the juice had soaked through the french roll - that's how nice and juicy it was. This I attribute to a kernal of information that was accidentally shared by the waiter in the course of my requesting grilled onions on the burger. He asked me if I was sure I wanted more onions because finely ground onion is incorporated into the meat itself during the grinding process. Great idea! It helps - so tasty! The burgers are served on a chewy, crusty, dense, toasted sourdough roll. Several people in our party also ordered the burgers and everybody loved them. My husband has a big appetite, and even he brought home half his meal for dinner.

The fries are the long rectangular flatish steakhouse type - I asked for mine to be cooked a bit longer and they arrived sizzling hot, and appropriately golden and crispy. Good fries - above average.

I ordered the sauteed spinach with extra garlic as one poster here recommended, and it was the bomb. Really deliciously garlicky (tons of garlic) and a HUGE portion which I shared with 4 people and still had enough to take home for a good portion with my leftover burger. (I mixed in several pats of butter to bring the dish up to my own self-indulgent standards before passing it around - I hope nobody had a heart attack last night - oh boy! A chance for another delicious wake at Joe's - er...sorry, just kidding! I kid! I kid!). The spinach is a "must have" if you're getting a meat entree.

My standard operating procedure when sizing up the general lay of the land in a busy restaurant when I want to reconnoiter is to slowly stroll around, hopefully inconspicuously rubbernecking what everyone's plates look like. Luckily, a lot of people in this crowd were old friends and relatives so I had no qualms about asking questions. What a great research sample I had! We were about 30 people literally from 8 to 80-something. Jewish people, if you'll excuse the stereotyping, are not shy to find fault (if fault exists) in their food. Everybody's a food critic. Everybody loved what they ordered.

There was only one meal that I saw that I would have been disappointed to receive myself. It was a seafood louis. It was so tiny! Served on the smallest sized white oval dish - on which most restaurants would bring a side order of pickles perhaps - Perhaps 7 inches by 5. Uniquely small. Maybe somebody under sixty years of age in the kitchen management at Joe's has gotten a hold of the obviously confusing newish phrase "small plates" and took it literally in this weird context. Admittedly, this louis was shellfish heavy and light on the vegetal matter, but still. It looked like something someone would order because thay were on a diet and then feel secretly jealous and resentful of everybody around yelling about how great their juicy big burgers tasted.

The grilled filet of sole I saw was huge, golden and lovely looking. The veal scallopine was also a huge portion. Spag. bol. with meatballs, or any of the Italian pasta offerings, looked as if they remain as I well remember them - like something left over from a spaghetti feed fund-raiser somewhere in the Midwest. Shameful in San Francisco. The liver and onions got thumbs up from someone who claims it's the best liver around but who is still pining for the chicken livers Joe's USED to feature, which were, apparently, heavenly. The description of which was accompanied by hand, I should say arm, gestures indicating a huge steaming mound of wonderfulness.

Having this wake, the Rabbi called it "the meal of consolation" (what a perfect appellation for what it was) at Joe's Westlake was an inspiration. I'm going to add on to the document I keep here in my desk that, loyal adopted San Franciscan and chowhound that I am now, I want my own wake to be held, hopefully many-many years from now...at Westlake Joe's. Toasts were made to the dearly departed auntie, and tastefully short speeches given in her honor, and a fine time, and some mostly fine food, was had by all despite the sadness that united us.

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  1. And here you were so worried. You gave me the nudge I needed to go to Joe's, since we're down there pretty frequently.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Atomica

      You're right. I'm a pessimist and it's about time I turned into an optimist. Why, not? Life would be more fun that way. I'll work on it.

    2. even though it's like stepping into a timewarp, it's clear that there are LOTS of people who like westlake joes since the parking lot is always full! i'm a fan of their ravioli and the BF loves loves their pot roast.

      you should try marin joes one today and see how it compares.

      11 Replies
      1. re: katg

        Personally, I really like stepping into a time warp. The currently popular interior design and architecture is depressingly cold. I hate Frank Gehry - his buildings make me feel dizzy. Westlake Joe's design is what's called moderne. Kind of post art deco. I'd like to try Marin Joe's. Where is it located? Did anybory ever figure out if all or any of the Joe's are owned by the same people?

        1. re: niki rothman

          Marin Joe's is in Corte Madera just North of Mill Valley off the freeway on the west side. Take the Corte Madera exit, and follow the frontage road south.

          Marin Joe's is a true Joe's time capsule. The only thing missing from 1957 is the smoke in the cocktail lounge.

          My understanding is that they are all spinoffs from each other but there is no mutual ownership.

          1. re: Sharuf

            There is also a "Joe's" in San Rafael........

            1. re: ChowFun_derek

              Alas, in remodeling San Rafael Joe's, they've removed all traces of its honky-tonk-bordello-rec room allure. Now it's a below-average Joe's, including the food, which has less gusto than Marin Joe's.

              1. re: Sarah

                good to know...thanks for the update......

                1. re: Sarah

                  Right. SR Joe's isn't as Joe-ish as Marin Joe's.

            2. re: chocolatetartguy

              It is a wonderful period of design is it not?
              I managed a design gallery in NY called Modernism and we had signed pieces by these wonderful designers!

              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                Restaurant design, to my knowledge, is an underexplored area of art history documentation. Sure, you see cutsey retro coffee table books that are photo essays on things like diners, but there's so much that should be being photographed, documented and written about - critiqued. As one poster noted one local Joe's was recently re-designed (desecrated) and lost all its vintage retro soul. A lot of fabulous architecture and design is on private property and we mostly only get to experience the outer shell, like the Eichler houses some poster's relatives were priveleged to own. But restaurants are uniquely shared public places where we relax and are in a receptive state hopefully to enjoy ourselves - indulge our senses - or, unfortunately have our senses assaulted by bad design. Restaurant design is the part of that experience that we appreciate with our other senses besides the sense of taste. It's worthwhile, while waiting for your food to arrive, to consider how the design environment affects your mood as you eat. How differently it feels to eat in a Japanese restaurant or a Macdonalds, or for that matter a Westlake Joe's where the design and everything in the restaurant environment puts you in mind of the well-padded (comfy booths) American abundance of the 50's beginning to edge toward the hard edged brittleness of the 60's. Being in my 50's, Westlake Joe's reminds me of the way the world looked to me as a little suburban kid.

              2. re: niki rothman

                I've always been under the impression that while all the "Joe's" (Original, New, West Portal [now defunct], the old Bruno's et al.) had a general similarity, the defining characteristic was having "Joe's Special"--scrambled eggs with ground beef and spinach--on the menu. Which Joe's originated this dish (which I never especially liked) I can't say, but they all had it. Bruno's used to have sautéd chicken livers and sautéd sweetbreads on the menu; they were served with a generic brown gravy that I think was drawn up from a vast underground pool that also had outflow pipes at the Hoffman Grill and Mike's Pool Hall on Broadway.

                1. re: rootlesscosmo

                  That's hilarious. Yes, perhaps that old school brown gravy pool is located somewhere near the giant factory that supplies all the SF all-you-can-eat Indian buffet restaurants with exactly the same sad food.

                  I agree about all the Joe's that I've been to being very similar in menu and ambience, yet I've heard they are not connected in any other way.

                  About the Joe's Special egg/mushroom/hamburger/mushroom scramble: it's healthy, moderately tasty, I suppose, but really - so easy to make at home, so why pay a restaurant to cook it for you?

                  After reading all the fine comments elicited by my original post, it seems the consensus is that Westlake Joe's is a really great place to get meat grilled over mesquite charcoal at a very fair price, in a comfortable, olde SF environment. I'm still fondly remembering that great/perfect hamburger with the wonderfully flavorful beef grilled perfectly to juicy medium rareness. Honestly, I can't wait till the next time I have a reason to go to western DC. You know what, that burger, with the perfect side - sauteed spinach with extra garlic, is so good that it's worth being a destination restaurant WITHOUT having an ulterior reason for driving that far from Dolores & 14th. where I live. My highest personal rating - which is shocking considering how mediocre I thought it was previously based on only having eaten their Italian food and breakfasts.

                  1. re: niki rothman

                    Another nice thing about Joe's-style places is that they serve a martini large enough to bathe a Dachshund in (if that's your idea of a good time.) Yes, I think we'll have to get out to Westlake for burgers and those big crisp-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside fries.

                    One more reminiscence: the old Vanessi's, which was kind of an upscale Joe's. I was there one night when Carol Doda stopped in on her break from the Condor, just down the block; the maître d' called out loudly "Miss Doda, party of two!" which if you remember her claim to fame was a perfect way to annnounce her.

            3. Thank you for the informative report. What a great idea to share a meal at a restaurant your Auntie enjoyed. The next time my husband is craving liver and onions, I will know where to suggest we go. And yes, I am going to order that delicious sounding burger!

              1 Reply
              1. re: foodseek

                Yeah, after yesterday I'm really planning on making Westlake Joe's our restaurant of choice when heading to the west side of DC. But, actually I really like Dim Sum King a lot too. It's a bit south of Joe's.

                Oh, about the liver - I'm going to order it too one of these days. I love liver and haven't eaten it in years because I don't know where to buy it - I don't really have a good butcher myself - I try to buy Niman Ranch beef, and lamb at TJ's but neither feature liver. When I do get around to ordering the liver at Westlake Joe's I'm going to ask for it medium rare. Liver is so easily ruined by overcooking it until it's dry. Rare isn't a word one really comfortably associates with the idea of liver, but medium rare would just mean nice and tender and not dry - which is what you want liver to be. I'll order it with extra onions too.

              2. It's a hard choice between Westlake Joe's and Banana Island (located in the Westlake Shopping Center) I know each restaurant serves entirely different food but both are yummy. The spaghetti and meatballs in the tomato sauce is the best ever. Joe's also mixes up all those good oldtime drinks that your parents also ordered-old-fashions, manhattens, stingers-all made full of liquor. While Banana Island serves a mixture of Thai, Malaysian and Singapore foods with ice cold Thai and Chinese beers. The 'pancake' served with a green curry sauce is a must. Service at both places is friendly and fast but the staff never makes you feel rushed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: charlotteowens

                  Coincidentally, Auntie Evie was certainly a restaurant-chowhound (she never cooked, they went out every night) and right before she sadly, had to go into the nursing home, Banana Island was her absolute favorite restaurant.

                2. I am surprised by all of the positive reviews for Joes West Lake. Our family used to go often, and I always enjoyed the bar experience before moving into the main dining room for pasta with meat sauce or sauteed fish and the ever present ravioli.
                  Over the years each return visit became more and more unbearable, and we've almost stopped attempting to return.
                  Something about the space and our own nostalgia implores one or two of us to return a couple of times a year, and we are reminded why we swore it off the last time.
                  I know we'll forget our past dissapointments and try it again sometime, so this thread is encouraging, if a little hard to believe.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rabaja

                    Yes, in writing that you have a bad taste in your mouth about the place, you mention the Italian food - that was my bad memory too. Actually though, the Italian food I've had there - ravioli and veal parmesan, was not that bad - they give you two big cutlets and the ravioli is as good as I would make myself if I bought some from Molinari's deli in Northbeach (frozen) and just made it with a mediocre marinara sauce. And please bear in mind, my rave in the o.p. was really just based on a great (perfect) hamburger and the delicious sauteed spinach with extra garlic. I actually made the spinach slightly different by mixing in a few pats of butter (what a pig).