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Craig’s Place

A Finer Diner

The corner of 18th and Guerrero has not been kind to the restaurant industry. The spot seems like a shoe-in, due to its proximity to all of the Mission Grande Dames (Delfina, Tartine, Limon, Maverick, Range, etc.), but it appears to be a cruel mistress. It was a decent Eritrean restaurant for a number of years. Then Platanos moved in, and reinvented itself more times than Madonna. Now there’s a new contender in the ring -- a diner, bravely attempted by a San Francisco restaurant newcomer.

While Craig's Place might not be aptly poised to play with the big dogs and merit valet parking for those coming from afar, its decent food, fair prices, and mass appeal fill a neighborhood niche for hangover omelets like no one else. And they’re bound to get cozy in this inhospitable corner’s folds.

But, first things first. Prepare to wait to eat. On a busy weekend visit, there weren’t enough servers or bussers, and judging by the wait for what is usually quick-slung food, chaos must have ensued in the kitchen.

Prepare yourself for this as well: the coffee is terrible. Every cup on every visit has been inferior to what I have in my own Bodum at home. They serve Mr. Espresso, which is usually a fine roasted bean, but the finished product tastes as if it has been run through a sieve of dank dishtowels before serving. The most stunning beauty of the brew is that our mugs never reached bottom. Coffee is, after all, similar to so many carnal pleasures. Even when it’s bad, you still want it in abundance.

It’s difficult to take such a blow for the first meal of the day, but it gave me ample opportunity to cruise the interior without distraction: warm and bright and airy, simple and chatty, with a wide-ranging crowd of Mission residents who had both early and late nights the evening before.

Like the awful coffee, our plates, too, never reached bottom. In true diner fashion, dishes are served in quantities designed to ensure that you don’t eat the rest of the day. And here, there are many fine touches to make the food more appealing, like Niman Ranch beef and pork along with homemade and Bi-Rite Bakeshop desserts.

The quality of each individual dish, however, is a Russian roulette of diner food. The club sandwich ($10) makes me want to be a member, delivering a tower of turkey, bacon, and toasted wheat aside an entirely sharable mess of crisp shoestring fries. The Belgian waffle with fruit ($8), on the other hand, made me want to revoke my membership, as it was reminiscent of a box of Duncan Hines -- cake mix sweet and chemical-ly. The “fresh” melon on top was a further insult to injury.

Better choices were the corned beef hash ($11), an excellent and simple chop of meat, onions, garlic, and fried eggs. I mostly ate this from my partner’s plate, leaving behind half of my omelet with avocado, spinach, cheddar, and loads and loads of bacon ($10). There were no surprises with this omelet, other than the beautifully executed hash browns on the side, and my own schooling that bacon is best enjoyed outside the moist wrap of tender eggs.

Absolutely do not miss the treasure trove in the dessert case, not all of it sweet. The restaurant’s owners honor their Greek heritage by putting their family to work, and the peppery, savory cheese and spinach phyllo pies are the real deal -- as are the cookies, which are the perfect crumb of post-meal sweetness, and made by the owner’s mother. If they’re available, leave behind your unmemorable scramble and take them home for later use. Or, pick some up next time. As there will -- most likely -- be a next time.

Diner, American

Reservations essential? No.