What: At its core, San Francisco is a gold miner’s town, full of big dreams, decadent appetites, and the always-present possibility that today might be the day you’ll make it big. Appropriately, one of the city’s iconic dishes is the Hangtown fry, a heart-stopper of an omelet stuffed with bacon and oysters—and direct ties to California’s prospecting past. There are two creation myths here, each nicely echoing the make-it-or-break-it mentality of Gold Rush days. The first tells of a man (circa 1890s) who struck it rich, went to the Cary House Hotel in Placerville (then nicknamed “Hangtown” for its propensity for hangings), and demanded the most expensive thing on the menu. Eggs were difficult to transport over rough wagon roads, bacon came in from the East Coast, and oysters had to be carried on ice from San Francisco—voilà, a dish as decadent in price as in flavor was born. In another riff, a man condemned to death in the Placerville County Jail requested this omelet as his last meal for similar, if more desperate, reasons: The ingredients would take quite a while to reach him. Whichever tale holds true, this classic breakfast remains a delicious special-occasion treat.
Good to Know: Depending on the restaurant, sometimes the oysters are breaded and deep-fried before being tossed into the omelet.
Where: Keep it simple and old-school with the Hangtown fry at Tadich Grill (240 California St., betw. Battery & Front Sts., map). This landmark of classic San Francisco cuisine has been serving its Hangtown fry for more 100 years—clearly, they know what they’re doing.
When: Mon-Sat, 11am-9:30pm
Order: A Hangtown fry ($22.95). Here it’s served like a frittata—a hearty serving of eggs is studded with thick-cut diced bacon, whole oysters (that have been breaded and fried), green onions, and pockets of melty cheese. Be sure to ask for Tabasco sauce on the side: A splash of the vinegary heat cuts through the dish’s richness well. Pair it with a Bloody Mary if you’re feeling feisty.
Alternatively: We love the down-home (and decidedly cheaper) takes on the Hangtown fry at Brenda’s French Soul Food (652 Polk St., at Eddy St., map) on Polk and Just For You Cafe (732 22nd St., betw. Tennessee & 3rd Sts., map) in the Dogpatch. These are two of the best Southern-style spots San Francisco has to offer—expect oysters fried to perfection and side dishes that include grits, biscuits, and even beignets.
Photo courtesy of Craig Lee