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The Oldest Restaurants in San Francisco Restaurants (2024)

Updated: Apr 26

According to restaurant tech platform, Toast, there are 4,415 restaurants in San Francisco. Many are superlative in one way or another - best oysters, most famous drag show, best view of the Golden Gate Bridge... But in uncertain times like these we need to pay attention to the establishments with staying power and history. In that spirit, here are the classic, quintessentially San Franciscan restaurants that have aged long, and well.


Tonga Room

tropical drinks on the bar at the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco with garden lights in the background

Hollywood set designer Mel Melvin converted the famed Fairmont Hotel pool, frequented by celebrities like Frank Sinatra, into the Tonga Room in 1945. He used pieces of a ship that traveled between San Francisco and the South Pacific to create a stage in the center of the pool, where a band plays nightly.


The venue’s Tiki-style decor saw its heyday in San Francisco beginning in the 1930s, providing people with a momentary getaway in an era when borders were closed and means to travel were hard to come by.


The food, drinks, and decor have remained uncompromisingly tropical - served in pineapples and coconuts, complete with a tiny umbrella.


Pro Tip: The poke tacos pair extremely well with the Mai Thai.


House of Prime Rib

prime rib dinner at a red booth seating table with red wine, dessert and prime rib

Joe Betz, a German immigrant and somewhat of a local celebrity in the bay area, opened House of Prime Rib in 1949 at the age of 28. True to its name, the only main course option is prime rib. But what they lack in variation they make up in quality and presentation.


The marbled meat is carved at your table, cut to your specification, and comes with a medley of sides: tossed salad, mashed potatoes or a baked potato, and Yorkshire pudding. This place is a cult classic of bay area residents and definitely worth a visit for tourists.


Swan Oyster Depot

raw seafood in trays waiting to be served at Swan Oyster Depot

This classic San Francisco seafood restaurant has been consistently operating since 1903, with the exception of a brief recovery after the 1906 earthquake. Ownership has switched only once and has always been a family affair. While the founding family (the Laustens) were from Denmark, Sicilian immigrants by the surname of Sancimino and who met at the Golden Gate Park refugee camp after the earthquake remain in the kitchen to this day.


The menu and the food haven’t changed since the beginning - a daily rotating selection of fresh seafood and rare oysters, seafood salads, clam chowder... These are the foods that San Francisco is known for, and the Sancimino family’s mastery of all things seafood is an attraction in itself.


Pro Tip: Legend has it Swan Oyster Depot has a secret menu for over-the-top requests from long-time regulars. If you’re on the hungrier side and have deep pockets, try your luck and ask the staff about it.


Tadich Grill

vintage photo of mens in suits sitting around the round bar at lunchtime eating at Tadich Grill

Technically opening in 1849 (albeit just as a coffee stand at that point), Tadich Grill beats out even the Swan Oyster Depot as the oldest continuously-running restaurant in San Francisco.


The dings and clings of the diner-style venue bring you right back to its roots and the circular bar in the center gives off old-world vibes. The wait staff is dressed well and old-timey and there is a distinct cable-car feel to the experience. There’s no dress code here but you might feel a little ‘down-to-earth’ if you show up in your WFH attire when the lunch crowd of attorneys that has been meeting at Tadich for half a century shows up.


You can't go wrong with this menu but keep in mind that they’re famous for their cioppino - a seafood soup that has its own San Francisco history (a story for another time).


Here is a Google Map of all place mentioned in this blog, and for more recommendations on local sights and activities check out RentCafe.com's Top Things to Do in San Francisco.


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