Burger Review: It's Tops -- A San Francisco staple since 1935
March 4, 2018
Cruise down Market near the U.S. 101/I-80 Exit to Octavia Street and you will rush right past it but it’s there-- been there since 1935. It’s Tops Restaurant and Coffee Shop has managed to stay in business despite the inevitable developments surrounding the once Bohemian-thriving city by the bay. The guy who runs the joint today, Bruce Chapman-- along with his wife and partner Sheila-- watched his father Richard Chapman build the business since he came back from the Korean War in the 1950s and yes, you can still see Bruce greeting customers and making old-school milkshakes at the counter to this day!
Life definitely slows down inside this historic San Francisco diner. Tightly wrapped around luxury condos, overpriced bistros, $5,000 bike shops, It’s Tops shares a wall with one of the most eclectic record stores in the city-- Grooves, where we picked up The Best of the Everly Brothers, The Doors eponymous first album, and a snappy ragtime jazz album, all on vinyl.
But you’re not reading this entry for the history lesson. You want to see the burgers! C’mon, Leila, get to the damn burgers!
It’s Tops has a pretty decent menu for carnivore-loving burger fans.
Since the blog has been on hiatus for a few years-- sorry but we got bills to pay and life happens-- there were only two of us this time around. Still, the hunger was real and Drew and I were ready to gorge!
After much pondering and lots of oohing and ahhing, I went with the "California" burger with cheese, avocado, and Feeeex-ins!!! (mayo, lettuce, tomato and grilled onions-- not too shabby) Drew-- who continues to be well-hung and deviously charming to the point of danger (his words, not mine)-- went basic bitch and opted for the "S.F. Giant" burger sans tomato, with cheese and fixins. We both got cheddar cheese-- because nothing is better than a classic-- although you could get Monterey Jack or processed American cheese cuz well, ‘Muhrica. I grew up on the plastic wrapped Kraft ™ slices of goodness with the generic Oscar Meyer ™ brand of bologna between two slices of white Wonder ™ bread! Don’t judge me. By the way, folding the American cheese over and over again until it resembles a sticky Jenga ™ tower was a fond pastime for my brothers and me in suburban Detroit.
For sides, Drew chose the crispy onion rings and I went with the fresh-cut fries.
The verdict: Excellent. The fixins, which were very fresh, didn’t overwhelm the patty which is key to quality and taste. Nothing is worse than biting into a beautifully-assembled burger and you can’t taste the damn meat! You know who you are past burger blog offenders! The patty was juicy, not too overdone, pink in the middle, and perfectly seasoned!! Brava It’s Tops. The bun is a simple sesame bun and while I tend to favor a nice potato bun, this one didn’t bother me since it really let the meat be the star.
The piece de resistance? Mint…. Chocolate… chip… milkshake!
Assembled the old-school way via homemade milkshake machines from the 50s, I was entranced by the whirring of the mixer as the waitress carefully watched it reach the perfect consistency of thickness and iced cream yummery. Yes, that's a word now. I've decided. The list of flavors is plentiful and next time, I totally want to get down on a Root Beer Float.
Cost: $$ Two out of four dollar signs.
I’m sure the items on the menu used to be much more affordable-- we paid $35 for two burgers, fries, onion rings, a milkshake, and a Coca-cola and water-- but it’s San Francisco y’all. $3,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. This is a deal for the food and the experience!
Napkins: 1 out of 3
Might not be first-date worthy because of the messiness that will end up on your lap or favorite t-shirt, but this place is a classic diner and exudes a feeling of romanticism from the early 50's and 60's. Take your wife, husband, spouse, partner, cisgender friend, parents, grandparents, side piece, whatever!
On the Jukebox:
Yaaaaaaasssss! A personal jukebox on every booth and table! I believe what’s playing in the background at a restaurant can either make or break your experience. Drew and I had to listen to some awful techno music that was blaring in the background while we enjoyed some delicious Thai food at a well-known Mission District restaurant. DM us if you want to know which joint this was.
Here’s what was playing at It's Tops while we noshed.
Ain’t No Sunshine by Al Jarreau
Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Llyod Price
Splish Splash by Bobby Darin
Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers
Cut Across Shortly by Eddie Cochran
No Particular Place to Go by Chuck Berry
Lollipop by The Chordettes
Service: 2 out of 5
While the lovely ladies manning the fort were very nice, they weren’t super attentive and we had to go up to the counter a couple of times to get noticed. I get it. It’s a diner job that attracts customers who just want a quick bite and might leave a buck or two next to their messy plate. On a positive note, one of the waitresses took her break enjoying a burger from the kitchen (photo above). Points for servers who eat and actually like the items on the menu!
Disclosure: The staff didn't know we were there to do a burger review. It helps with the authenticity of the experience. We don't want special treatment! Okay, maybe we could use another sponsorship with Chevrolet but that was years ago and I realize we have to build the brand back up!
That’s it. What do you think? Have you been to It’s Tops? Did you like it/hate it? Where should we venture off to next?
Thanks for reading and happy burgering errbody!