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San Francisco’s best-kept secret is a diner everyone thinks is closed

A person stands behind a diner counter with stools, walls adorned with pictures, and checkered floors.
Larry Shih, who co-owns and manages Al’s Good Food in Bernal Heights, said customers have stopped dining in his restaurant because they think it’s closed. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

A historic San Francisco diner is fading in the shadows of the city’s more trendy restaurants as it struggles to bring in even some of its longtime customers—partly because many people think it’s closed.

On most weekend mornings, a line of customers dressed in trendy streetwear ropes around the block in front of Al’s Good Food, also known as Al’s Super Cafe, near the border of the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods at 3286 Mission St.

But the fashionable crowd isn’t in line for Al’s. These young restaurant-goers are instead waiting for a table at Four Chairs, the TikTok-famous brunch restaurant next door.

Meanwhile, the tables inside Al’s are usually empty, with just the charismatic co-owner, Larry Shih, and a single chef behind the counter.

A retro diner with checkered floors, red tables, and nostalgic wall decor.
Tables are set, with no one to sit at them, at Al's Good Food, or Al's Super Cafe, located at 3286 Mission St. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

The meals are reasonably priced at just $7 for two eggs, hashbrowns and your choice of toast. Tack on an additional $3 to add sausage, ham or bacon, or go with the chicken fried steak for $11 total. 

The walls, which welcomed their first customers in 1942, are decorated with classic movie memorabilia, the mimosas are strong and it isn’t hard to imagine the diner filled with customers in years past. 

A plate with eggs, hash browns, fried chicken, gravy, toast, and a jelly packet.
The chicken fried steak with two eggs, hashbrowns and toast will cost you $11 at Al's Good Food. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

“We are an old traditional diner,” Shih said. “We don’t buy processed food. Even the hamburger, we make our own hamburger.” 

Shih said when he and his wife bought the diner 12 years ago, it was a bustling enterprise with six or seven servers at a time tending to the packed house. 

Jackie Ampie, a San Francisco native who was eating at Al’s with her son Tyson on Friday, said she remembers the diner’s glory days from when she was a teenager. Ampie raved about the food, saying she was confused as to why the restaurant is no longer popular.

“The crowds that are coming around here, I think it’s more of the gentrification going on,” Ampie said. “Maybe they think it looks old without even knowing that this is really good food.” 

Ampie said it saddens her to see the restaurant lose business, even as crowds of people line up for food just next door. She admitted she thought the restaurant had closed until recently because of its early closing time—3 p.m.

“I only thought it was closed briefly,” Ampie said. “But then I pulled up and saw, ‘Oh, they’re just closed at 3.’”

Two breakfast plates on a red table: one with an omelette, bacon, toast; another with eggs, gravy-covered biscuit, hash browns, and coffee.
A veggie omelet sits on a table next to biscuits and gravy at Al's Good Food in Bernal Heights. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

Since the closure of a similarly named restaurant AL’s Place, just down the street, Shih said many faithful customers haven’t returned. 

“A lot of people tell me, ‘I thought you guys were closed,’” Shih said. “No, we’re not closed. … We’re open.” 

Shih said he’s been keeping the lights on by focusing on deliveries made through apps such as DoorDash and Grubhub. Still, he said he misses the camaraderie that once filled his life—and the restaurant—with joy. 

“We are a family-community type of restaurant,” he said. “Let’s put it this way: A lot of older people like our place.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Al’s was in the Outer Mission. It is, in fact, on the edge of the Mission District and Bernal Heights neighborhoods.

David Sjostedt can be reached at