San Francisco’s Elite Café is Back, and Better Than Ever
If you’re a longtime Bay Area resident, or even a newbie, you’re likely familiar with San Francisco’s Elite Café. For 35 years, the popular Fillmore Street eatery has served as the Pacific Heights 'place to be.' Nearly every night of the week, the restaurant is packed with singles flocking to the long bar, and couples sequestered in the tall private booths that run the length of the restaurant. But ambiance is just part of the draw. One of just a few Bay Area spots that serve-up authentic Cajun style cuisine, crowds descend in search of genuine gumbo and étouffée.
Now, new ownership, a new interior, and a new executive chef provide new reasons for the Elite Café to retain its spot on “must” lists. Sidecar Hospitality spent nearly 10 months refreshing the place; they updated while honoring the space’s classic character. The mahogany booths, bar wall, and back bar have been retained and refinished. A new black and white tile floor replaced the existing beige tiles, returning the floors to the restaurant’s early 20th century origins. Large, custom art deco inspired pendants have been added, bringing interest to the generous 20-foot ceilings. A new bar top and booth tabletops crafted from Carrera marble are set apart by three large brass-topped communal tables that center the space and provide an interesting contrast to the private booths lining the wall. Above the bar hang portraits of historic San Francisco figures: Willie Brown, Harvey Milk, and Willie Mays.
New executive chef Chris Borges now oversees the New Orleans’ themed menu, which has always been Elite’s focus. He knows of what he cooks; a Louisianan by birth, Borges’ own palate was shaped by the flavors and ingredients of NOLA. Of his offerings he says, “If I didn’t eat it growing up, it’s probably not going to be found on the menu.” The Elite’s famous Meetinghouse Biscuits are still prominently featured on the new menu. In addition to the classic biscuit and jam combination, biscuit sandwiches feature fried chicken, ham hocks, and blackened catfish. Other classics like Duck Gumbo and Crawfish Étouffée are priced with small/large portion sizes to encourage sampling and sharing. Borges is intent on featuring local producers when possible, as highlighted in the Schmitz Ranch Pork Porterhouse served with a black eyed pea succotash and pole beans. Chicken jambalaya features confit leg, chicken andouille sausage, squash, and turnips. And don’t leave without trying Mom’s Warm Blue Crab Meat Dip - yum.
Borges also ensures that customers seeking lighter fare can find something to love. A Kale Salad (a Southern staple) includes smoked onions, figs, and pecans all dressed with a Satsuma vinaigrette. A Muffaletta Chopped Salad features all of the ingredients of the NOLA classic sandwich combined with Little Gem lettuce – it meets the Southern definition of healthy eating. A rotating selection of raw oysters on the half shell remains a favorite ‘go-to.’
For dessert, try the homemade pralines,
chocolate pecan pie, or traditional Beignets served with powdered sugar. For
the more adventurous, try The Bacchus, a giant Bananas Foster Sundae with crème
fraiche ice cream, chocolate pearls, toasted coconut, and walnuts that serves
And don’t forget the drinks – a must at any NOLA style eatery. Bar director Kevin Deidrich delivers a twist on classic cocktails and NOLA favorites like the Sazerac (Hine Cognac, Absinthe, Bitters), there’s also Frozen Irish Coffee (Tullamore Dew, Orgeat, cold brew coffee) and his version of the Hurricane (Banks 5 Island rum, Coruba dark rum, Galliano, citrus, passion fruit, bitters).
Happy Hour, featuring food and drink specials: Every day, 5 – 7pm, and again 10pm - 2am
Dinner: Monday-Friday: 5pm - 2am
Brunch: Saturday & Sunday: 9am
Elite Café, 2049 Fillmore Street at the corner of California in the heart of Pacific Heights, San Francisco. (415) 346-8400.