Skip to main content

Walnut Creek Magazine

How San Francisco’s Balboa Café Continues Its Marina Reign

Oct 07, 2018 10:48AM ● By Fran Miller


Through the decades, neighboring bars and eateries have come and gone, yet Balboa Café continues its reign at the corner of Fillmore and Greenwich in San Francisco’s Marina District. To call the established bar and eatery ‘popular’ is an understatement. ‘San Francisco institution’ is the apropos term. 

Established in 1913 as a butcher shop and grill, Balboa Cafe is one of the oldest dining and drinking establishments in San Francisco, and that’s definitely part of its charm. Yet somehow it’s also hip and fresh, and continues to be a draw for all ages. How does it do it?

Ownership is one factor. In 1994, Balboa Cafe was taken over by The PlumpJack Groupa hospitality management company that always seems to know what its customers and guests most desire -  and it delivers in spades. From Napa wineries, to destination restaurants, to boutique hotels, The PlumpJack Group is recognized as a signature Northern California lifestyle and hospitality brand.  

Even with great ownership, no restaurant or bar survives without delivering the goods, and while Balboa Café fans will always and forever be able to order a classic Bloody Mary with their Balboa Burger on a Baguette or their Robert H. Cobb Salad, the kitchen and bar pull-up the anchor every now and then to add a twist or two. Cases in point, the bar’s recent addition of on-tap cocktails -  a Moscow Mule and an Espresso-tini - and a new menu recently unveiled by Executive Chef Goran Basarov, whose dishes celebrate the classics for which the kitchen is known, and then kick them up a notch. 

Basarov’s new menu includes the former PlumpJack Cafe’s signature Tuna Cones with a Balboa twist: yuzu, avocado, chives and candied orange. Other starters new to the menu include Shishito Peppers with spring onions, roasted garlic and lemon aioli, Citrus Cured Salmon with house made herb Boursin cheese and pickled mustard seeds on sourdough toast, and Heirloom Tomato Toast with sherry-marinated heirloom tomatoes and roasted garlic.

New main dinner options are Diver Scallops with fricassee of seasonal vegetables, crispy prosciutto Americano, Mojo Picon and Aji Dulce, Pan Seared Salmon with coconut rice and fennel salad; Bourbon Brined Pork Chop with spring onions, heirloom carrots, pickled mustard seeds and pork jus, and Bacon Wrapped Bavette Steak with charred asparagus, Royal King Trumpet mushrooms and warm shallot marmalade.Weekly specials, like the popular Wednesday Chicken Paillard and Sunday Prime Rib, remain. New lunch and brunch dishes have also been introduced. Find the menus here.

For dessert, new offerings include Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with raspberry gelee, whipped cream and vanilla tuile, Sir Lawrence William with gooey brownie, pecan brittle, toasted coconut, chocolate ganache and caramel, and New York Cheesecake with strawberries and cream. Basarov oversees all baking and dessert operations.

Fittingly, Balboa Café’s wine list continues to be one of the most reasonable and affordable in San Francisco, with an expansive collection of New World and Old World wines. After all, The PlumpJack Group began as a single wine shop, located just across the way. 

And finally, it’s the vibe. For visitors seeking an authentic San Francisco aura, Balboa Café is the place. The vibrant spot serves as an extended living and dining room for many local residents of classic San Francisco neighborhoods such as Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, and the Marina. Grab a seat at the bar or at an outdoor patio table and you too can live like a local, if only for an hour or two.

Balboa Café, 3199 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA