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Report: Tennessee Grill

I've been meaning to write about Tennessee Grill but it's one of those place half the people get and half don't...and of course I'm hesitant to kill the vibe. It might be the last of its kind in SF.

Tennessee Grill is one of those places that aren’t around much any more – a hole-in-the-wall American diner that makes most of its food from scratch (nothing is over-salted) and yet is inexpensive. It reminds me of old school Chinese American places like Jackson Cafe and Valley Cafe but without a Chinese menu...but the concept/food is similar (including the frozen peas/carrots).

Out in the Sunset District it’s definitely not trendy but that's part of its charm. I’m a fan. Reasonable prices, well-prepared food, the clientele and the diverse staff. I don’t think anything is over $10 bucks…most plates are around $6.25 for a la carte, $7.50 for full.

In the morning it's usually packed with senior eating breakfast...a sign of value. At lunch and dinner I’ve see many single senior men, which I gather is a sort of a default meal plan for these guys...an old school social function, and it's nice to see.

My highlights:

Chicken Fried Steak – cooked from scratch, mashed potatoes, veggies and 4 slices of Boudin’s sourdough and butter. (I have no idea how it compares to stuff in the South but for $6.25 in SF I’m don’t care really.)

Fried Chicken – a full ½, cooked to order and fresh, veggies, mash potatoes.

Typical specials might be roast beef, ox tails, roast pork, corned beef and cabbage or salmon. Prices range from about $7.50 to $9.00. I’ve never had anything bad served except some dry roast pork (maybe 10 years ago) just don't expect anything beyond good solid diner food.

For all full meals, $1.25 more gets you tea/coffee, a big bowl of soup (usually minestrone) or the salad bar (to be avoided).

Burger – The Tennessee special; fresh beef, cooked to order, char-grilled, fries (frozen…only okay) and cheese - $4.10. In my mind this is a huge value and beats Bills because it’s cooked over a charbroiler/grill. Most sandwiches/burgers are in the $5 buck range.

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Tennessee Grill
1128 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116

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  1. Love this place -- must find out when oxtails are served. Bashful Bull on Noriega/19th Av has similar type food, service, clientele and ambience.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sarah

      There's a Bashful Bull II way out on Taraval by the ocean as well.

      1. re: NoeMan

        Sarah and NM, thanks for the tip. I've never been to Bashful Bull but of course have driven by a million times. Unfortunately I don't live out there any longer so if I'm in the 'hood, I go to TG. I'm going to have to stop in.

        Another greasy spoon breakfast place is New Taraval Cafe, a block from TG. Not as good as TG, breakfast and lunch only but it has a few things going for it -- they roast a fresh turkey every day for hot plates and sandwiches and they serve an Irish breakfast and lots of Irish contractors come in for it. Less expensive as Tennessee (I mean cheap), as hard as that might be to be believe.

        1. re: ML8000

          I'll give it a try. I love Irish breakfasts

          1. re: ML8000

            I just called TG and found out oxtails are served on Thursdays -- yay! Thanks for the tip!

      2. I first heard about this place in a Dan Leone column many years ago and by that time he had led me so undeliciously astray so far too many times that I just wrote it off as another disaster waiting to happen to my tummy. Thanks for another look at it (unless, of course, you're Dan ... :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chuckles the Clone

          Or whatever her name is now............

        2. I worked in the neighborhood for awhile, and it was always a treat if I could make the time for a little longer lunch so that I could have the fried chicken. Since it's fried to order you need more than fifteen minutes (my usual lunch time in those days). Always moist white meat, nice tasty and crispy skin, and good mashers. I miss the joint, so thanks for the reminder.

          1. Thanks for the report. Can't wait to try the CFS.

            As I mentioned in the other thread, the owner of Tennessee Grill also has Larkin Express Deli in the Tenderloin. He's been wanting to start a breakfast service there. If he hasn't already, I hope he can get it going soon, as he seems to understand the morning meal well!

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            Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
            452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1 Reply
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Ah I know who you're talking about. He mans the register in the evenings. Seems like a nice guy.

            2. This thread got me hungry, so I just finished breakfast there. Same as always. Hope it always is. Sat next to a guy from Marin who was just passing thru and used to eat here with his parents in the 50's and says it hasn't changed. We were both marvelling at the system.

              1 Reply
              1. re: NoeMan

                I'm one of those passing-thru-ers now that I don't live in the Avenues. In fact yesterday I was thinking about swinging by since I was in the Richmond around 4 p.m....but it was too early, not hungry enough and in the wrong direction. Not having it close by makes you appreciate it a little more. Not changing since the '50s...in this case it's a good sign.