The generally accepted story of brunch originates in England in 1895 with a man named Guy Berginer and his essay “Brunch: A Plea.” Beringer argued for brunch as a method of recovery on Sunday for those who indulged heavily on Saturday night.
In the US, brunch began in the 1930s in Chicago. Intercontinental trains would pass through Chicago in the late morning and early afternoon, when riders would disembark for a meal. Over time, it expanded across the country and grew to be a major part of the culture in metropolitan areas like New York.
Once a simple, light meal, brunch has grown more controversial, as some see large, luxurious feasts on weekends as an expression of privilege while many struggle to get by.
This is certainly the case in San Francisco. With dozens of brunch options across the city, you’ll find just about anything you could want, whether it’s traditional breakfast fare, bottomless mimosas, Mexican brunch, or indulgent buffets. More interestingly, many of these brunches have taken on the character, history, and culture of the city. With so many options available it can be hard to know where to go, but a few restaurateurs have made brunch their own to provide unique experiences that shouldn’t be missed.
The brunch here isn’t exactly a culinary masterpiece, but that’s okay – you’re going for the show. Most Saturday and Sunday mornings, Balançoire serves brunch with a drag revue featuring a rotating cast of talented performers. You’ll always hear excellent singing, but there is a variety of other entertainment, the best of which features frequent visits from a former Mr. Leather San Francisco who is incredible on electric violin.
Constructed on the site of a mansion destroyed by fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Mark Hopkins hotel is a California historical landmark. In 1939, the penthouse was converted into Top of the Mark restaurant. With some of the best views in the city, the restaurant still operates today.
Brunch at Top of the Mark is pricey but well worth it. In addition to the history and beautiful views, it also has an incredible buffet featuring dim sum, a caviar bar, and fresh prime rib, along with all of the usual breakfast and lunch fare. When you’re done with the first course (or two or three), there’s a dessert bar with food that’s as delicious as it is beautiful.
Though it isn’t strictly in San Francisco, Sam’s Anchor Cafe in Tiburon offers another fantastic brunch with a deep history in the area. Besides, getting there by ferry is half the experience. Founded in 1920, the restaurant is known for an enormous deck that sits over the water. Lesser known is it’s the only restaurant in the area with a public dock, so if you’re lucky enough to own a boat, you can ride it over and tie up there.
The brunch is your traditional fare, and you’ll want to order one of the famous Bloody Marys. Once you have food and drink in hand, sit back and enjoy the sun and the water.
Tucked into an alley in a less-than-glamorous location in the Financial District, The Pink Elephant Alibi is one of the best-known brunches in San Francisco. While it’s got some great dishes, it’s really distinguished for its unrivaled bottomless mimosa spread. For $22, you have access to the DIY mimosa station, where you pour your own champagne and then select from about 20 different juices ranging from the usual orange and peach to some you probably never thought to mix with champagne such as coconut and aloe vera.
Pink Elephant feels more like a club than a brunch venue – expect low lighting and loud music. If you want to get your Saturday or Sunday started off with a bang, this is the place to do it.
Cooper Daly works in tech, writes on the side and is a tremendous lover of brunch. He graduated with a BA and MA from Stanford University, along with a creative writing minor. Read his work at www.sfbrunchclub.com