SAN FRANCISCO — Even on the rainiest of nights, the neon-lettered sign breaks through the fog, and the door opens into a dim, moody restaurant where a very long deco bar looks like the wooden deck of a ship.
With its first proprietors having set up shop in 1849, Tadich Grill bills itself as the oldest restaurant in California and among the oldest in country. Now in San Francisco’s Financial District, the seafood restaurant has seen it all, from the gold rush to Covid lockdowns, through big earthquakes and tech bubbles. It is, proudly, the most resilient of vessels on this coast.
“Few restaurants last 50 years, let alone 150,” The New York Times wrote about Tadich in 1999, the restaurant’s sesquicentennial year. “In a city known for cutting-edge restaurants, Tadich’s is old-fashioned, a nostalgic shrine to local piscine tradition.”
Tadich Grill’s story began when three immigrants from Croatia arrived in California in 1849 — the year before the Golden State joined the Union — and began serving coffee out of a tent on San Francisco’s Long Wharf, a pier that reached a half-mile into the Bay close to where the Ferry Building is now.
They built a reputation for coffee and good fish among the newly arriving forty-niners, and in 1852 they relocated to the New World Market, then San Francisco’s central produce market, on Commercial Street. It was so successful that they soon restarted it as a larger saloon, just a few blocks away.
The restaurant changed hands and moved several times until 1934, when Tom Buich took over as owner. He moved the restaurant for a final time in 1967, to its current spot at 240 California Street, and gave it the Art Deco, inside-a-boxcar look it still has today.
“I tell people getting old is good — better than the alternative: dying,” Kurt Niver, the restaurant manager, who oversees a 39-person staff, told me.
In all of the United States, only a few restaurants have been continuously operating longer than Tadich. Among them are the Union Oyster House, which opened in 1826 in Boston, and Antoine’s, which was started in 1840 in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Tadich’s guest book records illustrious diners including Cary Grant, David Bowie and Tim Burton, who recently took up a whole page to draw instead of signing. The Coppolas have always been among the regulars. The Times reported in 1999 that San Francisco’s mayor at the time, Willie Brown, was a fan.
Jure Bracanovic, 59, one of the few Croatians still working at the restaurant, told me that nothing is more Dalmatian than fresh fish on the grill, one of Tadich’s specialties. Only instead of the Adriatic Sea, the fish served here is fresh from the Pacific.
More on California
- Struggling to Recover: Weeks after a brutal set of atmospheric rivers unleashed a disaster, the residents of Planada in Merced County are only beginning to rebuild.
- Exploring Los Angeles: Walking down Rosecrans Avenue is not necessarily a pleasure. But it does offer a 27-mile canvas of the city’s vastness and its diverse communities coexisting.
- A Bridge Goes Dark: A light installation across part of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, had to be turned off because of the region’s harsh weather. They hope to raise $11 million to refurbish it.
- California’s Heavy Snows: Back-to-back storms left many people stuck as snow piled high. More is still in the forecast.
The restaurant’s best seller is probably its cioppino, a seafood stew cooked with tomatoes and red wine that was long ago devised by San Francisco’s Italian American fishermen. I tried it on my recent visit, and it was the kind of dish for which you need a knife, for the amount of fresh fish in it, and a spoon, so as not to leave a drop of soup behind.
If you read one story, make it this
Before a series of warm storms reached California, Lake Tahoe residents raced to clear snow to keep their roofs from caving in.
What we’re eating
Roast chicken with cumin, honey and orange.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Olga Villanueva, who recommends a scenic spot in Marin County:
“I tell people who may not get a chance to travel the world and cross oceans and whatnot, you can find many places much closer to home that are just as beautiful and will fulfill that need to travel. One of my most recent ‘discoveries’ is Drake’s Beach. It’s just gorgeous. The cliffs, the bay, you can see what the first Europeans saw when they landed in California. They saw a place that reminded them of home.
Getting there is a beautiful drive. Once you arrive you will pass a boulevard of cypress trees that you can walk along. There is a lighthouse nearby that you can visit. You got fresh oysters not too far to stop for lunch. Easy hikes along the cliffs. It became one of my new favorite places in California.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Grandfathers are often left out of societal narratives about relationships between generations, often seen as secondary to grandmothers. In popular culture, “grandfathers typically are checked out,” said Greg Payne, 53, who struggled to find books about grandfathering after his first grandchild was born four years ago.
But some men are forging a new grandfathering path, even without cultural norms to guide them.
Barry Sage-El, 69, a retired software designer, describes himself as “the master of the sleepover — and the sleepover breakfast.” Because his wife still works, Sage-El oversees walks to the parks and the gelato store with his grandchildren, ages 3 and 5, and the pancakes they make together the following morning.
“We just like to see them grow,” he said. “I’m not only their friend, but an influencer who can help shape them with things they’ll remember.”
Jonathan Wolf, 64, has been watching his 3-year-old grandson five days a week since early in the coronavirus pandemic, when the boy’s parents were initially uneasy about sending their toddler to day care.
Wolf, a retired high school physics teacher, called his response “instinctual and automatic.”
“I’m not working,” he said. “If they need me to help, I’ll help.”