Original Joe’s, San Francisco, California

Dear readers, by now I’m sure you’ve noticed Le Continental’s banner image and may be wondering if you can visit that restaurant. Well, the answer is no, and yes! Sadly, the original Original Joe’s was lost to a fire in 2007, but the new version of the restaurant is a wonderful reborn Original Joe’s, a great classic restaurant that is more a continuation of the original than a new restaurant. Previously I posted a little about the new Original Joe’s opening, but now I want to explore the iconic restaurant’s history in the Bay Area, show what the old one was like, and describe in more detail the new Original Joe’s, since I have now visited it several times.

Original Joe's, Taylor St, San Francisco, 1937-2007

Original Joe’s, Taylor St, San Francisco, 1937-2007


First, a bit of history. There are many restaurants called Joe’s in the Bay Area that share certain characteristics. Which one was the first? And are they all related? Our story starts with New Joe’s, which was a small 13-stool lunch counter that opened in 1934 on Broadway in North Beach (and closed in 1970). New Joe’s may have been named to distinguish it from a previous popular restaurant called Joe’s Lunch, but facts are scarce. In 1937 Ante “Tony” Rodin (a Croatian immigrant) and his partner, who were both employees at New Joe’s, left to open another small lunch counter (with 14-stools) downtown called Original Joe’s. Now, this is where the lineage to the current Original Joe’s begins, because Mr. Rodin’s daughter Marie Duggan now runs Original Joe’s (she joined the business in 1983) along with her son and daughter. Ante “Tony” Rodin passed away at 93 in 2006.

Ante “Tony” Rodin, 1913-2006, founder of Original Joe’s, image by San Francisco Chronicle


Before we continue with the history, you may wonder what was the origin of the name Joe’s as a restaurant name in the Bay Area? Was Original Joe’s (or New Joe’s) named after a specific person? In my opinion the answer is no. During the Great Depression (1930s) the phrase “Eat at Joe’s”, often seen in films and cartoons (see at 6:20) on a sign board (a sign board is carried by someone, being slung over their shoulders with straps), was a common expression. Joe’s was the “hypothetical everyman’s” small café or diner, often with a lunch counter, that was based on real restaurants named Joe’s (such as Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, opened in 1913 as a small lunch counter). So, although it may have been named after a real Joe, I believe New Joe’s and Original Joe’s were simply named after the fictional “average Joe”.


image by Chistopher Scott Conway on Flickr


In 1956 one of the original partners of Original Joe’s, Louis J. Rocca, opened an Original Joe’s in San Jose with his son and two more partners. The Original Joe’s in San Jose is still operated by the Rocca family. Over time some of the other partners in Original Joe’s started their own restaurants, including Marin Joe’s, San Rafael Joe’s, Westlake Joe’s, and Little Joe’s, which was the first one I visited when it was in North Beach – it has moved around since then and closed in 2012. There was also an Original Joe’s II at one time in the Marina neighborhood. As far as I know, none of the Joe’s are connected by ownership since Louis J. Rocca sold his share of Original Joe’s San Francisco in 1983.


Original Joe's

menu from Original Joe’s II in the Marina


Although they are not related by ownership, all the Joe’s share similar characteristics, which collectively have been labeled the Joe’s Style. One common element is an exhibition kitchen, or a kitchen that is open to the dining room, usually with counter seating that harkens back to the first New Joe’s lunch counter. Another similarity is the menu in general, which consists of a combination of Italian and American dishes, with charbroiled steaks and chops also prominent. In addition, there are a few specific menu items that are common to all the Joe’s:

  • Joe’s Special (a combination of ground beef, eggs, spinach, and onions cooked in a skillet)
  • a large hamburger formed by hand, charbroiled, and served on a sourdough roll
  • Italian side dishes available with your main dish, usually ravioli or spaghetti




In the 1950’s Original Joe’s was extensively remodeled, and it retained the 1950s appearance until it closed in 2007. As you can see in the previous photo from before the fire not much has changed since the postcard photo at the top of this post was taken in the 1950s. On entering the doors you would see the long exhibition kitchen and counter – a far cry from the original 14-seat counter!




The main dining room was all red vinyl banquettes, separated from the counter area by a room divider.




To the left past the decorative wine barrels you entered the amazing bar with its enameled copper mermaid reliefs.


Original Joes bar


After the fire in 2007 there was a long wait as the city wondered if the restaurant would ever reopen, or if it would move. Finally in 2011, after much deliberation among the Duggan family over whether to reopen or relocate, it was announced that they planned to move Original Joe’s in a historic restaurant space in North Beach that had previously housed both Joe DiMaggio’s and, even more significantly, Fior D’Italia, a restaurant that started in 1886 and was located in the new Original Joe’s space for over 50 years (and sadly closed in 2012). The new Original Joe’s, to my surprise and excitement, incorporated many elements from the old Original Joe’s, including the bar stools, counter seats, wood paneling, door handles, signage, and the enameled copper mermaid wall hangings.


image by EaterSF


Since it opened I have drank and dined many times at the new Original Joe’s and am happy to say that it is true to the history and character of the old restaurant, from the atmosphere to the service to the food. It seems to me that the food is even better! All my favorites are on the menu (which even looks vintage) – the lamb chops, New York strip, Joe’s Special, hamburger sandwich – and I’ve discovered many new favorites – sauteed sweet breads, hamburger steak smothered in grilled onions and mushrooms, the pasta dishes, and the house made spumoni, the best I’ve ever had!


the perfect medium rare New York strip with just the right amount of crust

the perfect medium rare New York strip with just the right amount of crust, ravioli on the side


I love how the new restaurant is split level, which gives it a swanky 1950s feel. I love the wall of framed historic photos and memorabilia. I also love it that every table in the restaurant is a tufted vinyl banquette, just like in the old one. I love the brick fireplace in the lounge. Even the bar is like in the old location, with a tufted vinyl front and the original bar stools – but with better cocktails! They have a great $6 house martini (Gordon’s gin) and house Manhattan (Old Crow).


Original Joe's house manhattan

Original Joe’s house Manhattan


Original Joe’s
601 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 775-4877
Open Mon-Fri 11:00am-10:00pm, Sat-Sun 9:00am-10:00pm


Old Trieste, San Diego, California – CLOSED

Acting on a tip by Peter Morruzzi, last May I met some friends at Old Trieste, a 50-year-old Italian restaurant in San Diego. After my visit it has become a new favorite for me for the good food, but also for the wonderful old-fashioned service and elegant original decor and atmosphere. Thanks, Peter!


Old Trieste


Old Trieste was opened in 1963 by Ramiro ‘Tommy’ Tomicich, who was born in Trieste, Italy. In those days the dress code of dresses for ladies and jackets and ties for men was strictly enforced. Over the years Tommy hosted celebrities and politicians including Frank Sinatra, Anthony Quinn, and Dr. Seuss. In 1998 when Ramiro ‘Tommy’ Tomicich passed away his son Larry Tomicich took over running the restaurant that he has worked at since he was 13 years old. Larry greets you at Old Trieste when you walk in the door – talk about good ol’ fashioned service!


Owner and maître d' Larry Tomicich.  Image from Old Trieste's facebook page.

Owner and maître d’ Larry Tomicich. Image from Old Trieste’s facebook page.


The interior is lovely and appears mostly original from 1963. There is a curvy bar with great low-back vintage bar stools covered with sparkly blue Naugahyde, a dining room surrounded by booths with white tuck ‘n’ roll (all the tables are booths!), white linen tablecloths, vintage framed art on the walls, and chandeliers. The walls even have original wood paneling tiles, alternating with decorative mirrors with inlaid gold patterns (that were so popular in the 1960s), and red drapes.


Old Trieste dining room. Image from Old Trieste's facebook page.

Old Trieste dining room. Image from Old Trieste’s facebook page.


The menu is classic Italian / Continental fare. All tables receive the house special appetizer of fried zucchini. Specialties include veal and filet mignon, each offered in several different preparations, chicken livers Treistina, cannelloni, and seafood. Dinners come with pasta and soup or salad. I had the house special of chicken cannelloni and medaglione Romano (steak medallions with a mushroom sauce) and both were excellent. My photo came out very dark (I prefer dark restaurants) but here it is anyway because I want you to see that they still use vintage restaurant ware (from Syracuse China?).


Old Trieste dinner


You really need to visit Old Trieste on your next visit to San Diego if you like a classy, old style restaurant experience with perfect service in a vintage dining room that takes you back to another time, before cell phones and the internet (wait, this blog is on the internet!). Seriously, get dressed up, go to Old Trieste, and wish them a happy 50th anniversary!


Old Trieste
2335 Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 276-1841
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9:00pm, closed Sunday and Monday


CLOSED – Caesar’s, San Francisco

Last night I went with friends to a San Francisco Italian restaurant that has been open since 1956, but is sadly closing in about a week: Caesar’s. I’m posting this quick post as a suggestion to visit it while you can. It was packed last night (and noisy!) so make a reservation soon, and bring patience because it took a while to get our food and they were out of many items. Despite their business our waiter was efficient and helpful even while obviously rushed.



Art nouveau bar. I wonder where it came from, or what bar was here before Caesar’s?


The dining room has been remodeled recently but there are a few booths and the tables and chairs looked vintage.
I ordered the house specialty, Cannelloni Alla Romana.


Cannelloni Alla Romana


Crab Cioppino


Petrale Dore



It’s sad to see another San Francisco classic close its doors.


Arrivederci, Caesar’s.

2229 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, 4:30pm-9:30pm; Sat-Sun 1:30pm-9:30pm (through August 31st, 2012).

Dan Tana’s, West Hollywood, California

I finally made it to this historic Italian restaurant that has been on my “to visit” list for a long time. It’s been open since 1964, and remains popular to this day, so I wasn’t too worried about it closing soon. I went with a friend who lives in Los Angeles and we were somewhat surprised that a lot of families were dining there on a Saturday night. Many of the dishes on their extensive menu are named after famous people so they must frequent the place. The proprietor, Dan Tana, has lived a fascinating life as a soccer (football) player in Yugoslavia, an actor (he played a maître d’hôtel in the Peter Gunn episode “The Dummy” in 1960, and was in a 2011 movie called “Coriolanus”), a nightclub owner (he ran the Peppermint West in the early 60s), a restaurateur, and as chairman of both English and Yugoslav football clubs!

The restaurant is decorated in classic Italian-American style, with red checked tablecloths and hanging Chianti bottles, and the walls are covered with art, photos of famous people with Dan Tana, sports stuff, and movie posters. A pretty casual atmosphere (get dressed up or don’t), but the waiters sport bow ties and red or black jackets for that touch of class that I always appreciate.

The menu is overwhelming! Veal and chicken is prepared in 10 different ways! I had the chicken Vesuvius, Brian Kennedy: very tender chicken pieces cooked in white wine, garlic, and lemon, and it was delicious! I had it with spaghetti on the side.

Chicken Vesuvius, Brain Kennedy

My friend had the chicken Florentine, Bob O’Lena (?).

Chicken Florentine, Bob O’Lena

The restaurant is very expensive, as you can see from the menu. But whether you want to splurge in a historic place or just get some spaghetti and meatballs, and maybe see a celebrity, Dan Tana’s is worth a visit! And they are open with a full menu until 1:30am every night!

Dan Tana’s
9071 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Open 5pm-1:30am daily

Rigazzi’s, St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis is a great city for old restaurants, as well as for architecture and public gardens. On “The Hill”, the popular name for the historic neighborhood originally settled by Italian immigrants, is Rigazzi’s, the oldest remaining Italian restaurant on The Hill, open since 1957. They have a huge menu of Italian and American food, but they are famous for their toasted ravioli and St. Louis style pizza.

toasted ravioli at Rigazzi’s

I loved the toasted ravioli, crispy deep-fried breaded ravioli, topped with parmesan cheese, and meat sauce to dip the ravioli in. I also loved the pizza, which is made in St. Louis with a unique smoky, sharp cheese called Provel, made from provolone, Swiss, and white cheddar, on a thin crust and cut into squarish pieces. The sauce is flavorful and the pizza is sprinkled with dry oregano, which, with the Provel cheese, gives it more flavor than most pizza in other parts of the country. Different, but excellent! Rigazzi’s is also known for its huge icy schooners (called the Frozen Fishbowl) for your beverage of choice. For me a crisp, cold St. Louis beer is a must.

Rigazzi’s pizza

4945 Daggett Ave,  St Louis, MO 63110
(314) 772-4900
Open Mon-Th 8am-10:30pm; Fri-Sat 8am-12am, closed Sunday