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!

Okay, okay.

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 have 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.

 The  California  burger with crispy fresh-cut fries The California burger with crispy fresh-cut fries  The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings

For sides, Drew chose the crispy onion rings and I went with the fresh-cut fries.

 Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot! Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot!

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.

 Drew: Me am in happy place. Drew: “Me am in happy place.” Me: This is a burger. Yep! 

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.

The Highlights:

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, 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!

 Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain't no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess! Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain’t no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess!

Bonus photos:

 Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland's Feelmore adult sex shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!   Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland’s Feelmore adult shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!    I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.  I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.    California  burger:  It's Tops  best-selling burger according to our waitress.  California burger: It’s Tops best-selling burger according to our waitress.   The goodness inside!  The goodness inside! 

365 Covfefe Days Later: Comedy with a Cause

 The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis  The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis

Now that all the turkey and leftovers have been digested, it’s time for a little reminder of just how fast this year has flown by. I’m so not ready for Christmas yet!

For many of us, myself included, 2017 has been a tough, trying and super political year. So to keep the momentum of community organizing going, I wanted to update you on the results of Organizing for Action San Francisco’s free comedy show and donation drive for our friends at Hospitality House.

 Comedian Samantha Gilweit Comedian Samantha Gilweit

The Nov. 9th event raised an impressive $190 in cash donations and a big pile of in-kind donations to help those living on the streets get through these cold winter months.

 Comedian Joe Gorman  Comedian Joe Gorman 

Nearly 40 people came out to PianoFight for a night of laughs with our fantastic guest comedians Drew Harmon, Joe Gorman, Samantha Gilweit, Valerie Vernale, and Matt Gubser. The comics kindly donated their time but OFA made sure to give them each Participation Ribbons to celebrate their special comedy snowflake-ness.

 Comedian and Host Drew Harmon  Comedian and Host Drew Harmon

We also want to send out a special thank you to Tess Davis, Development Manager at Hospitality House for collecting all the donations, and Development Director Allan Manalo for stopping by to support us!

 Comedian Valerie Vernale  Comedian Valerie Vernale

For those of you who still want to donate new basic necessities, click here for more information. Since Hospitality House does not take used items, you can still drop them off at the nearby St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco.

 Comedian Matt Gubser  Comedian Matt Gubser 

Until next time…

Dare to Know. Tedx San Francisco

The world is a very messy, confusing place right now. So in the spirit of finding peace and inspiration, I thought I’d share my experience after attending the incredible TEDx San Francisco.

It should be noted that every person’s experience is different. After spending nearly 20 years in the business, I quit my television news career and began one of the most revealing and scariest journeys of my life.

But I had to work on one thing first– rebuilding my self-confidence. While I worked hard compiling an impressive news resume and Rolodex (analog and digital) of contacts, I was completely starting over and had no idea what I wanted to do! Not only that, I left the business with a sorely bruised ego. I spent the first three months relaxing, traveling (Havana, Cuba), sleeping, and re-energizing.  The next three were spent on giving back and volunteering. I volunteer for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA for short. I also graduated from a rigorous, six-week Organizing for Action fellowship that has changed my outlook on life. I’m now the Director of Coalitions and Partnerships for OFA SF! Of course having mentors, a close circle of friends and family, and a therapist who can help me see through all the mess have been essential.

This last month or so has me back in busy bee mode. I am going out more, talking to more people, and just… connecting.

This is where TEDx San Francisco came in. The big event, which takes so much time and an army of people to plan, is intended to inspire, inform, and share personal stories of struggle, success, and hope. It was broken into four categories: Precision, Currencies, Empathy, and Intelligence. For someone looking to make a big career or life change, I figured this was a good place to start.

The popular event easily sold out but I was one of the lucky ones to grab a seat at the impressive Herbst Theater. It’s a modern space that also pays homage to San Francisco history.

I spent the entire day here so I can safely say I stayed for the whole experience that included laughs, tears, and inspiration. There were nearly 30 speakers at this event so rather than go through each one, I am detailing the Top 5 speakers who simply blew me away.

1. Gabe Zichermann: CEO/Co-Founder of Onward

In our massively connected world, technology has always been a part of addiction and Zichermann knows all about it. He says from birth, we are wired in our brains to be addicts in order for us to stay alive. The Toronto native saw addiction in everyday life, from the massively popular Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Double Down sandwich (I’ve never tried it but it looks damn delicious) to the late politician Rob Ford’s crack adventures (there are plenty of videos and news about his downward spiral that eventually cost him his life). But addiction does not have to be a death sentence and with the assistance of good mental health programs, we can clear our minds and live our best lives. Zichermann goes into detail about ways to overcome your addictions using the Onward Method which seeks to spread low-cost, mental health care to balance your online obsessions with your offline life.

2. Mar Cabra: Head of Data and Research for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

No matter what I end up doing in my career, responsible journalism will always have a big place in my heart. What I didn’t know after spending years in the newsroom is that those piles of papers and documents that reporters have stacked on their desks can be pure gold. Mar Cabra is looking to archive that gold especially with the disappearance of newspapers and popularity of digitalization around the globe. This impressive journalist from Spain led a team of reporters to expose a network of corruption known as the Panama Papers. The investigation could not have been possible without the painstaking task of having to go through 11.5 million financial and legal records. Cabra says we have to reframe the way we look at sharing by creating a searchable database that we can have access to, forever. Kudos to you Mar!

3. Elaine Fong: Art Director for Blue Bottle Coffee

All right. Get that tissue box ready. You may also want to call your mom after seeing this talk. While I have my own opinions about Blue Bottle (why did you have to sell to Nestle BB, why?), Elaine Fong had the most beautifully tragic story to share. While she found great success in her career in design, she never thought she would have to take on such a personal challenge… helping her mother end her own life. Fong’s mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and even though she was in remission for 12 years, the disease came back and this time it was terminal. But rather than become a vegetable with a tumor behind her ear, her mother wanted to leave this world knowing who she was. Death with dignity. After a long and painful discussion, Fong says her mother died peacefully by drinking a lethal medical cocktail on her own terms. No matter where you stand on the issue, Fong left us with this question to ponder: If you could design your own death, what would your experience be like?

4. Fran Guijarro: Creative Director/Filmmaker, and Moses: Witness/Storyteller/Musician

It is absolutely true that San Francisco has a homelessness crisis on its hands. After organizing two recent events on the issue, I am wholeheartedly trying to be more knowledgeable about the problem. Filmmaker Fran Guijarro also wants the public to have a better understanding of what and more importantly, who are affected by homelessness. Guijarro spent over 10 years and captured more than 600 hours of footage to create “Moses“, a film that tracked the life of one man who lived on the streets of San Francisco after creating music with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The movie is now in post-production and still needs help getting distributed! After the talk, Moses went on-stage and performed “Peek A Boo”, a song written 40 years ago that tells people that while they may not see the homeless, the homeless see you.

5. Catherine Hoke: Founder/CEO of Defy Adventures

Now this woman was not only well-dressed (I loved the plaid dress that she sewed herself, the hair, the shirt, everything), she knows how to hustle and she wants you to transform your hustle. Catherine Hoke spends much of her time teaching formerly incarcerated men and women how to re-enter society and tap into their entrepreneurial spirit. Hoke admitted she had troubles of her own with the law and that too often, people don’t judge you by what you’re trying to accomplish now, but by what you did in the past. Her main question… What if you were only known for what you did?

So that’s it! What did you think? Of course, there were so many other inspiring talks from this day. You can see all the videos here. Let me know by commenting on this post, on Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media connections. Ciao for now!

Cider Summit San Francisco 2017

San Francisco, CA- San Francisco’s 4th annual Cider Summit made a return to the Civil War Parade Ground in the city’s Presidio neighborhood and I could not have been more excited! 

I attended the very first summit a few years ago and am so happy to see this event continue to grow. An estimated 2,500 people went to sample 180 offerings of some the finest and most diverse ciders from around the world! Other popular cider summits are held in Chicago, Portland and Seattle. 

If you purchase the $50 VIP Pass, you get in an hour early while the crowd is smaller and get 10 tasting tickets instead of the usual 8. The average pour goes into these great little glasses you get to keep. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I tried…

  1. Common Cider (Auburn, CA) – Pineapple Guava 
  2. Humboldt Cider Co. (Eureka, CA) – Cherry (sweet, but tasty)
  3. Indigeny (Sonora, CA) – Apricot. One of my personal favorite cider producers. If you get a chance, visit the gorgeous 160-acre orchard reserve in Sonora and stock up! 
  4. Mission Trail (Bradley, CA) – Ron Tropico Fruit Cider 
  5. Tilted Shed (Windsor, CA) – This one had a great challenge where you could line up and get a tasting through a barrel, catching the cider with your tasting glass! Watch the video here.
  6. Wine Cellers Ltd. (France & Spain) – Le Brun Organic Cidre from France 
  7. Wildcraft Cider Works (Eugene, OR) – Wild Mirabelle Plum (fantastic finish and color) 
  8. William Tell (Lodi, CA) – This company offers a wine/cider mix! I tried the Blueberry Zinfandel and it was terrific!
  9. Wildcide (San Jose, CA) – Wildcide Hard Cider 

I chose these ciders at random with the goal of getting a good pour and sampling those from both the domestic and international market. Visitors can also read up on the companies, ciders they have to offer and take notes on what they liked/didn’t like in a convenient newsletter. 

New this year: 

  • A Cider Cocktail Lounge sponsored by J. Seeds Apple Whiskey (Personally, I didn’t try the cocktail ciders seeing that I’m still a cheap date when it comes to adult beverages and would probably have to be “carted” out if I did both the cider tastings their cocktail counterparts!)

Other offerings: You can’t go imbibing tons of cider without some sustenance to keep you going!

  • Cypress Grove Cheese table — Need I say more?! My favorite among the four samples was the Humboldt Fog cheese. 
 Award-winning Humboldt Fog Cheese! Like creamy butter in your mouth. Noms!
Award-winning Humboldt Fog Cheese! Like creamy butter in your mouth. Noms!

  • Whole Foods Market (they were the main presenter/host of the event) and Slow Hand BBQ had food trucks ready to soak up all that delicious cider.
  • KRAVE jerky table

I didn’t check out the Cider Summit Event Store this time around. I would have wanted to buy everything on hand! But you should check it out. The store offers extra tasting tickets ($2 each), bottles to buy and take home, cider merch and books! 

Another great cider event in San Francisco. I hope you’ll check it out next year! In the meantime, here are some parting pics to enjoy! Cheers!

 Some of the special Gravenstein apples used to make cider at Tilted Shed
Some of the special Gravenstein apples used to make cider at Tilted Shed
 Dogs were definitely welcome at this event! The Summit even works with the  Berkeley Humane Society  to promote its Pints for Paws event in June.
Dogs were definitely welcome at this event! The Summit even works with the Berkeley Humane Society to promote its Pints for Paws event in June.
 Nice cider company run by brothers Paul and Michael Scotto in Lodi, CA. 
Nice cider company run by brothers Paul and Michael Scotto in Lodi, CA. 
 Happy Cidering! 
Happy Cidering!