The Big 4, Huntington Hotel, San Francisco

I used to avoid hotel restaurants. In the past I have found many to be overpriced and not that great. There are exceptions, like here and here and here…and HERE! OK, I’ve been all wrong about hotel restaurants. Many great historic restaurants still exist in hotels and some are well-preserved.

I’ve heard about The Big 4 restaurant in the Huntington Hotel for years, usually described as very expensive and stuffy. It was a regular restaurant on the annual Dine About Town prix fixe menu event in San Francisco. But I never made it there. Well, I finally went because a friend informed me that it is threatened since new owners took over the Huntington.

The Big 4

The Big 4 Restaurant opened in 1967 in the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill, which started as a luxury apartment building in the 1920s but was converted to a hotel in 1945. The restaurant is named after the Big Four entrepeneurs from Sacramento (Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker) who started the California Republican party (strongly anti-slavery, they were instrumental in getting Lincoln elected) and later started the Central Pacific Railroad (part of the first transcontinental railroad), which greatly expanded into the Southern Pacific Railroad conglomerate. Eventually the Big Four moved to San Francisco, where the railroad’s headquarters were, many or all of them living in mansions on Nob Hill. Though the Huntington Apartment building probably was named after Collis P. Huntington, he didn’t own it as he died in 1900.


Big 4 creature

The restaurant is very dark and opulently furnished in dark woods and medium green leather upholstery and is filled with 19th Century antiques and artifacts from early California history, collected by Newton Cope. It was difficult getting good photos in such a dimly lit restaurant, but I didn’t mind as I love dark restaurants. The atmosphere is very cozy, not at all stuffy, and it truly seems like a restaurant that is older than it is.

The bar

The bar


The food I would describe as classic American food with gourmet touches, and usually there is a wild game dish on the menu. I had the smoked wild boar chop with corn-cheddar spoon bread and roasted apple. The chop was superb – lightly smokey and pork-like but more tender than most pork chops that I’ve had before. Not at all gamey (if you worry about such things). I had excellent shoestring fries as well.

Big 4 dish


The service was impeccable – friendly, helpful, and attentive. They have live piano entertainment every night as well. California and railroad history buffs will love this restaurant! I am definitely going to return to the Big 4!


The Big 4
1075 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone: (415) 474-5400
Open for Breakfast: Mon – Fri 7am – 10am, Sat – Sun 7am – 11am
Dinner: 5:30pm – 10pm daily; Bar: 4pm – 12am, daily

Parker’s, Boston

Image from the Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, 1955

The Parker House (now the Omni Parker House) hotel opened in 1855 in the heart of Boston, making it the oldest continuously operated hotel in the United States. Parker’s restaurant, which dates way back to 1832 when Harvey Parker took over Hunt’s Cafe, introduced or popularized many now famous recipes, including Parker House rolls, Boston cream pie, lemon meringue pie, and Boston baked scrod (arguably it is not a specific fish, instead it is the best local white-fleshed fish available, though often it is cod).

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many notable writers and intellectuals met for dining and drinking at Parker’s on the last Saturday afternoon of every month. The men-only Saturday Club included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Francis Parkman, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many others.

Very fresh, tender Baked Boston scrod with soft & fluffy Parker House rolls

Many famous politicians and stars of stage and screen have stayed at the Parker House, but perhaps the most notorious guest was John Wilkes Booth, who stayed there and ate at Parker’s a few days before he assassinated President Lincoln (his brother was a successful actor in New England and was appearing at the Boston Theater). More trivia: Ho Chi Minh (future leader of Vietnam) baked Parker House rolls in the bakery in 1911-13, and Malcolm X was a busboy at Parker’s in the 1940s.

Boston Cream "Pie"?

On my recent visit for a late lunch (to a nearly empty restaurant) I enjoyed the delectable baked Boston scrod with Parker House rolls (which I could not stop eating!), but I was somewhat disappointed after ordering Boston Cream Pie when the waitress brought me their new, single serving version of the “pie”. She assured me that the ingredients are the same, but this was more like a cold, dense vanilla cake. I looked up the recipe online and the basic ingredients are sponge cake, vanilla custard, and a chocolate glaze, which didn’t seem to be the recipe served here. Is this the original, which has been modified over the years?

A brief history of the Parker House and restaurant.

Omni Parker House
(617) 227-8600
Parker’s Restaurant hours:
Breakfast M-F 6:30am-11:00am, Sat 7:00am-12:00pm
Lunch M-F 11:30am-2:00pm, Sat 12:00pm-2:00pm, Sun – bar only
Dinner Mon-Th 5:30pm-10:00pm, Fri & Sat 5:00pm-10:00pm, Sun – bar only
Brunch Sat & Sun 11:30am-2:00pm