*Editor’s note: Freelance photographer and longtime friend of The Hamblogger, David Paul Morris, continues his burger adventure as he fills in while Justin takes a break from the daily burger grind. David is a recovering vegetarian with a keen appetite for well made burgers, steak, chicken and fish. He is a photographer who covers news, features and sports as well as commercial and corporate assignments based in San Francisco with frequent trips to Asia.http://www.davidpaulmorris.com
Some things are better left unchanged. This holds true for a lot of things – including burgers and venues to eat burgers. This has been the philosophy for Bruce Chapman and his sister Sheila Chapman, co-owners of It’s Tops Coffee Shop in San Francisco, who think they’re doing something right – and they are. Celebrating 25 years in business after taking over from their father Richard “Dick” Chapman, the brother and sister team plan on keeping everything the same. Originally opened in 1935, It’s Tops has been in the Chapman family since Dick Chapman bought it in 1952 and instilled a tradition of quality food and great service set in a relaxed atmosphere. The retro eatery is on the fringe of the Castro on the corner of Market and Octavia streets sandwiched between Grooves Vinyl Attractions and Al’s comics.
When you first walk into It’s Tops you immediately get it. It feels like you’ve just taken a ride in Marty McFly’s time traveling DeLorean going back in time and landing in a 1950’s diner. The ambience includes several working coin operated soda fountain wall mount jukeboxes and every square inch of wall space is covered with a mix of photographs, signs, posters and items spanning over 70 years.
Upon opening the menu, it didn’t take long for me to spot the #6, the California Burger ($10.75, $12.25 with sautéed mushrooms). Made with a 1/4 pound of organically grown beef that is blended special by Golden Gate Meat, the burger comes with avocado and cheese. I read recently that adding avocado to your diet will help lower your cholesterol. Not sure how the cheese and beef would counter that, but I felt somewhat healthy about my choice. I chose Monterey Jack cheese over Swiss and Cheddar and declined the mushrooms and the mayo. For my beverage of choice I went with the first thing that moved me, a Bloody Mary made with Soju from South Korean distiller, Jinro.
I sat in a booth but soon after I was served my perfectly spiced Soju Bloody Mary, I moved to the counter so I could peruse the environment from a better angle. As I sat on the stool scanning the Seeburg Wall-O-Matic 100 jukebox with tunes from Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Chuck Berry, I was imagining what it was like to be here 50 –60 years ago. From the art on the wall, the red vinyl covered seats and the uniforms Sheila and Bruce were wearing it was evident that everything is pretty much the same now as it was back then.
Sheila delivered my burger surrounded by a load of the most beautiful golden brown fries I had ever seen. They were long and lean and the skins were left on – which in my opinion adds so much flavor to the spud. Bruce didn’t give away too many secret when we talked, but when I asked him what made his fries so good he would only comment that the potatoes are freshly cut daily and he has a technique of soaking and seasoning the potatoes that was passed down from his “Pops”.
That was all good, but I was here for the burger, which, according to their sign outside, was voted “best burger”. I looked around the burger trying to figure out the strategy of my first bite. I picked my angle and chomped down on what I thought was burger heaven. The ratio of fat to meat on this burger was perfect and it was mildly seasoned with just the right amount of cheese that melted evenly on top of the meat. The avocados were below the burger, which I thought was clever and stayed within the bounds of the bun.
And this brings me to the thing that keeps burgers together, the bun. I think, second to the meat, the bun is very important and the bun used on this burger was soft enough to melt in your mouth. Once again I tried, but I couldn’t get name of the bread they use from Bruce. It’s another secret, but my guess is that is made locally and delivered fresh. As I grazed on this burger delight, I knew that I found a place I would be coming back to again and again.
If you are looking for a place in the heart of San Francisco that offers a frozen-in-time décor and great burgers done right then I would recommend going to the place that lives up to its name – It’s Tops Coffee Shop. Parking is relatively easy and if you’re coming from out of town it is right off the 101 freeway. If you’re a late afternoon/early evening eater, be aware that It’s Tops closes for a break between the hours of 3pm and 8pm on Monday through Saturday but reopens for the late night crowd on Wednesday through Saturday staying open until 3am.
RATING: 5 out of 5
It’s Tops Coffee Shop
1801 Market Street
San Francisco, Ca 94103
Hours: Days: Monday – Saturday, 8:00AM-3:00PM
Nights: Wednesday-Saturday 8:00PM-3:00AM