HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Canteen: Still My Favorite Brunch

After all these years. I used to go more frequently when I lived and worked closer; now it's only an occasional treat.

Walking up there on Sunday morning, I passed insane lines at that minature pancake place and Dottie's True Blue. Actually, the Dottie's line was beyond insane, perhaps institutionalized; the people at the end looked like they'd wait 90 minutes or so. And only a couple of blocks away, superior brunch to be had with little wait.

I ordered the chupacabra, my go-to. Actually, I think the eggs benedict is the best standard dish on the menu, but usually I get the chupacabra, for health reasons, so that I can die of a heart attack at age 50 instead of 45. Dave got the blueberry french toast; he'll tell you more about that.

The chupacabra was excellent. Soft scrambled eggs, black beans, pulled pork, and chopped tomatillo.

A bite goes like this: rich/warm/soft, crunchy/cold/refreshing. Rinse. Repeat.

I want to make the line cook move into in my kitchen and cook it for me every day. I'll even install a nice hammock for him.

I had the chai, despite the 80 degree heat that reminded us of other places (Me: "I feel like I'm on Cape Cod." Dave: "I feel like I'm in Greece." Me: "Oh yeah? Well I feel like I'm in Shanghai."). I think the chai is mixed there, and it's excellent.

Passing the Dottie's line on the way out, we discussed telling the people at the end of the line that they should head up to Canteen, but didn't. Our mistake, their loss.

817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Lovely writing, thanks for the post.

    1. Boy, every time I read a review like this, it makes me really want to go there. I just can't seem to get past the fact that their website is so archaic. Why can't they at least give a sample brunch menu, instead of the Week 142 dinner menu???

      I don't get it.

      5 Replies
      1. re: chemchef

        I know; I know. It's quirky, which is part of the reason why I like it. I especially like to grab books off the shelf while my dining companion is taking a call or running to the restroom. This Sunday I read "Destructive and Useful Insects."

        If you go to this page and click "menu," the third page is a sample breakfast menu. After about 10-ish they substitute in a brunch menu with more lunch-type dishes: http://www.menupix.com/sf/restaurants...

        1. re: pane

          Thanks, pane! I hadn't seen that one before (only the one on menupages, which is just as bad as the one on Canteen's website). I'm pretty adventurous, but my husband prefers more traditional breakfast fare, so I just wanted to see if it was the type of place I could bring him to, or if I'm better off going alone.

          1. re: chemchef

            It's a place I feel comfortable sending conservative eaters (you can get a simple plate of eggs, toast and sausage or bacon); more adventurous types would see a lot of value in the quality of preparation on even the simplest dishes and can order more creative creations, like the chupacabra and the excellent fish dishes.

            1. re: pane

              awesome! thanks for the great report and all the additional info!

              1. re: chemchef

                My pleasure. That's what the 'hound is for.

                Go! Eat!

      2. Do they take reservations, do you know? For breakfast/brunch or for lunch or dinner for that matter. Thanks for the report!

        1 Reply
        1. re: ccbweb

          Reservations for dinner are a must; they are not taken for breakfast/brunch. Sometimes I've had to wait 30 minutes for a table, sometimes I waltz right in (like this Sunday).

        2. It's funny - I was in line at Dottie's on Sunday morning, got there at 8:45 thinking I might beat it but it was 45 minutes or so. Yes, the lines can be ridiculous and some of it is guidebook hyperbole, and yes, I love Canteen too. But I can't understand why the Dottie's-bashing - is it their fault they have huge lines for a small place? I think it's one of the best traditional breakfasts in the Bay Area, flat-out - the pancakes are spectacular, the home fries stellar, and the daily baked goods and specials are often superb. Canteen is great for a more intellectually stimulating and "foodie" brunch, but don't knock a good old American breakfast just because the place is packed.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Deeg67

            I'm not bashing Dottie's. I like Canteen better.

            1. re: pane

              What's the miniature pancake place. BTW? You don't mean Sears, do you?

          2. I was at brunch with pane. I had the blueberry french toast, which I thought was good but not great. This was my third visit to Canteen - on both previous brunch visits I ordered the eggs benedict which are fantastic. I think they outshine both the french toast and the chupacabra. I think the sweet items (pancakes, french toast) might be better at Dottie's.

            That said, our meal was very good and for a brunch place that puts such care and thought into their food, it's very affordable. I think our total bill was under 25 dollars for 2 meals, a coffee for me and a chai for pane.

            I have only eaten at Dottie's twice, and I really liked it both times. However, when we left Canteen, the line there was quite short (maybe 6 people waiting) and the line at Dottie's was huge - at least 25 people waiting, if not more.

            I guess I don't think that any brunch is worth waiting that long for - the nice thing about Canteen is that if you arrive on Sunday before 10 you are usually OK, with little or no wait. It's also a more relaxed environent than Dottie's which can feel a bit hectic when it's busy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Dave MP

              Well, they both come with free entertainment along with great food - at Canteen, you get to see (if you're lucky) Dennis doing his thing behind the counter. At Dottie's it's the tourists getting freaked out by the local residents.

              It's interesting that just down Sutter from Canteen, you have another boy wonder local chef (Ian Begg) working his breakfast mojo at Cafe Majestic. Anyone tried their breakfast fare?

            2. I had another brunch at Canteen this morning. The food was great, as usual, but if you hear anything from any of the servers about coffee cake, or see a square of coffee cake (crunchy on top, with a blob of butter melting into it) heading to another table, or smell an incredible coffee cake aroma, do not pass go, and order it. We had finished eating, and were full to the brim with eggs benedict and hash, but when two of the other parties at the counter got the coffee cake, and we smelled it, we had no choice but to order some to go. As I said to my dining companion after my first bite "You know when you dream about the perfect coffee cake? This is better." It had apparently just come out of the oven. Amazing.

              1. We went back for brunch today, and I had the best "fish hash": generous portion of rock cod mixed in among the onions and potatoes + a delicious curry sauce + a perfectly poached egg on top. Really, really good.

                Finally got to try their much-acclaimed brioche rolls as well, which didn't disappoint. So airy and light.

                This was the first time I noticed how brusque the service can be, though, at least when they're dealing with their brunch rush. Didn't bother us, but it was definitely noticeable.

                2 Replies
                1. re: abstractpoet

                  What are the brunch hours at Canteen?

                2. Hey Pane and Dave,

                  I was there Sunday too, very jet-lagged from a long trip home (22 hours in planes from India), trying to get a tasty meal. I sat at the bar, maybe you were right next to me! My fourth or fifth time for brunch at Canteen. I've been making a point of trying the most CH-recommended brunch places, and Canteen stays at the top of my list. Have gone multiple times to Prospect, Nopa, Foreign Cinema, Bar Tartine, SPQR, Mission Beach Cafe, and Boulette's Larder. All very good, but Canteen keeps drawing me back. I've tried all the "normal" breakfast items (French Toast, Pancakes, Eggs Benedict) and have found them all to be benchmarks. Maybe I should branch out to some of the more esoteric choices, but somehow I always stick to one of those three.

                  Always looking for more choices in the City of course but I'd be surprised if I find something better.

                  560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                  Foreign Cinema
                  2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                  Mission Beach Cafe
                  198 Guerrero St., San Francisco, CA 94103

                  Bar Tartine
                  561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: LAMark

                    Hi, LAMark! Unless your jet lag was a result of a trip in a time machine, I doubt you were sitting next to me and Dave--we were there in 2008! Though I'm glad to hear Canteen is still holding up.

                    I agree that Canteen's breakfast is a bit finer than the usual suspects--maybe branch out with one of their excellent brioche rolls next time?

                    1. re: pane

                      Nope, no time machine, just a little carelessness which I can conveniently excuse by having spent two full days in airplanes in a week. Canteen is definitely holding up. I'll try the brioche next, thanks for the tip.

                      1. re: LAMark

                        Canteen's coffee is what holds me back from ever returning for brunch. It's only drinkable loaded with milk and sugar.

                        So far, Foreign Cinema is top on my brunch list - but I need to return soon to be sure.

                        Foreign Cinema
                        2534 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                        1. re: scarmoza

                          Leary seems to have the same coffee at AU and Canteen - was it Mr. Espresso or something? And I agree it's a letdown. Anyone have any theories why? Does he have anti-third-wave coffee opinions? Or are there people out there who love Mr. Espresso?

                          1. re: afdawson

                            leary's always been kind of quirky - he's the only chef i know cooking that style of food who uses berkeley farms dairy

                    2. re: LAMark

                      Hah, i just saw this now. I wish I had been there in 2011 as well....

                    3. Always do their omelettes....last week I did the gruyere and asparagus omelette. Wifey had the blueberry french toast. OMG!

                      1. Oh boy - I'm hopefully headed there this weekend for brunch. I am pretty set on ordering the souffle pancake, but now I hear everyone talking about the blueberry french toast! Can someone who's had both please describe both dishes in a bit more detail?

                        If I go around 12:30 or 1 on Saturday or Sunday, how bad is the wait?


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: j.jessica.lee

                          You can get a reservation for brunch at Canteen now, FYI.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            Only, I'm pretty sure, at the early brunch hours, at least on Open Table -- is it different if you call? I've tried to make reservations for brunch at Canteen before, and the only options are 8, 9 and 10 am.

                            JJL, if you're single person who can sit at the bar, I don't think the wait will be that long; I've definitely seen single parties seated immediately. For a party of two, it might take 30 minutes or so.

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              when I went, I think (?) I called for the reservation, though it was probably fairly early. Still, definitely worth a call if the OP, like me, hates waiting. It is fairly common not to put all the spots on OT.

                        2. I was planning to head to Dottie's this Sunday, but this post has me drooling. Hopefully I'll check out Canteen this weekend instead. This is why I love CH so much.

                          1. Had breakfast at Canteen on Sunday. At 8:00 AM when they opened there were two other pairs waiting, all with reservations. No one else came in over the next 40 minutes we were there, which is amazing to me given the line we saw a little while later in front of Sears Fine Food.

                            Excellent from beginning to end. I had the Chupacabra and my DW had the big pancake. I also ordered the brioche. Maybe the coffee has changed from previous encounters. Mine was strong, hot, and tasted great as was my DW's decaf. Actually, tasted far superior to the Blue Bottle I had at the Farmers Market the morning before. That was the second time I have had Blue Bottle, and have not been impressed. I just don't get it, but I digress.

                            The only thing odd about our experience at Canteen was that we were told immediately that they did not have the salmon or the eggs benedict. Probably wasn't going to order either, but seemed strange they wouldn't have it ready to go.

                            Anyway, if I lived nearby, I would be a regular.

                            Sears Fine Food
                            439 Powell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                            Blue Bottle Cafe
                            66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Ian F

                              Regarding the coffee: I must ask because I want to understand this - do you take your coffee with milk or black?

                              1. re: Ian F

                                How's the dinner? I have a reservationat the counter to catch up with an old friend, is it good for talking?