What little charm and authenticity left in the Upper Haight is barely peeking its head above the noxious, briny waves of retail commerce, the crowds of shopping tourists fresh from Union Square, and the crusty punks badgering them for money while their slobbering dogs shit all over the sidewalks. There’s Pork Store, which a few years ago was sold by its original owners and has since took a dive in quality. Aub Zam Zam is a stubbornly cantankerous cave of a bar, a flower whose black pedals are as-yet un-wilted by the discouraging spectacle outside its doors. My favorite diner up there is still All You Knead, completely unchanged the ten years I’ve been frequenting its cavernous interior.
These days, if I want something to eat on Haight Street, I hop on my bike and head east, past Masonic, down the steep grade at 30 mph through Divisadero Street to the lower and better half of that storied street, where things still feel somewhat real. Old favorites (Toronado, Noc Noc, Rosamunde, Nicky’s) coexist with newer establishments (Maven, Ricky Bobby) with relative ease. You don’t get the sense that these newer, shinier joints signal the creeping demise of the neighborhood as we know it, something you can’t say about The Mission.
There are few spots more emblematic of The Lower Haight than Kate’s Kitchen, located at the eastern edge of the commercial strip. It’s been there nigh on 20 years, a fixture of a neighborhood once considered a dangerous place to be after dark. In that respect, The Lower Haight has seen change, even in the ten years I’ve called S.F home. Safe or not, Kate’s has been there, ensconced among pipe shops and ramshackle storefronts, serving up good diner food for the masses. And they be masses; you can count on a thick swath of humanity crowding the sidewalk any day of the week, jockeying for a spot between the hours of 8 a.m. and about 1 p.m., which is why I usually roll in about two o’clock for a late breakfast. Standard fare is in the offering in addition to an array of different pancakes and french toasts, among which is the notable pumpkin french toast, a confection for which I’d gladly give myself a preemptive foot amputation. If savory is your preferred profile of flavor, go for the corn beef hash and eggs, which includes big slices of glassy, caramelized onion, potatoes and sliced carrots seemingly poached in butter. The decor inside is all over the place in a manner endemic to S.F, featuring work by (presumably) local artists and a smattering of kitschy knicknacks. While the food is very good for the price, I give the coffee (by San Francisco Coffee Company) my unequivocal endorsement. It blows that other coffee company (whatsitsface? Horse Fly?) people have been fetishizing of late out of the water.
471 Haight Street (@ Fillmore)