4320 Mission Street (at Silver)
San Francisco, CA 94112
"Joe grinds his own chuck fresh daily," reads the neon sign as you make your way into Joe's Cable Car Restaurant on Mission Street in San Francisco's Excelsior District. Part butcher shop, part hamburger mecca, since 1965 Armenian Joe Obegi has been serving some of the best hamburgers in the world to the citizens of and visitors to San Francisco alike.
What makes Joe's burgers special? Well, that's easy, it's the beef. Yesterday as I was seated at Joe's for my first burger there ever, I watched and listened as a man began talking to the patrons at the table next to mine. "All these hamburger restaurants keep coming into town trying to put me out business," said the man. "You know how I compete? I compete with quality he answered the question himself. Turns out, this man was Joe Obegi himself, who hops from table to table letting each of his patrons know why his burgers are different.
When my burger arrived I immediately began spreading mustard on the french roll that I'd ordered it on. Immediately Joe sprang over to my table. Wait, wait, wait, he said. Not yet. And with that, before I could close my sandwich and begin eating my burger he cut a little piece of the burger off with a knife and a fork and handed it to me. Try it this way first he said. And I did. And it was pretty amazing.
I buy my beef with 15% fat on it said Joe. I then cut it down to 6-8% fat here in our butcher shop. That 7% left is that juice that you see right there. None of it on the burger. The key is that it is fresh said Joe. And healthier for you. And with that he brought me out a brochure and showed me exactly where he gets his meat from -- right there on the diagram from the shoulder of the cow.
And with that I continued eating my medium rare burger with sharp cheddar cheese on it -- one of the best tasting hamburgers I've had in a long long time.
Eating at Joe's is about more than just getting an awesome hamburger though. It's an experience. From the bright colorful neon that decorates what seems like every inch of the restaurant, to the hundreds of Polaroids set up on the walls as galleries of past diners, Joe's decor is the culmination of over 40 years of decoration upon decoration.
I have to tell you a joke, said Joe. And with that he handed me my own card with a joke about cheap burger joints and HMOs. I borrowed it from Reader's Digest Joe added. And without breaking stride he continued going on about the month of December. Every December every customer gets a gift when he leaves my restaurant said Joe. And with that he turned and handed me a mug. When I got my change back from my bill, one of my dollar bills had been carefully crafted into a folded heart. Joe spares no marketing technique to make sure that all of his diners have a memorable experience.
In the land of McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Jack in the Box, Joe's is a notable exception. A monument to the local small businessman who hustles and entertains his customers and absolutely insists on competing by going to amazing lengths to ensure freshness and quality, Joe's continues on as a favorite burger about town. The walls are a monument to the awards he's received. Best burger awards from local newspapers, internet sites, a restaurant rating services.
You will pay a bit more for a burger at Joe's, but trust me when I tell you the extra that you will pay is worth every penny. Do yourself a favor and the next time you find yourself in San Francisco's Excelsior District eat at Joe's. And definitely bring your camera -- you won't want to miss the fantastic neon at this gem.
Joe's has free parking (for his VIP customers the sign reads) and the service is great. You can order your burgers in 4oz, 6oz, or 8oz sizes.
To check out all my photos of Joe's Cable Car Restaurant check out my Eat at Joe's set here.