518 S Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94110
Photos: Sherese Elsey
Amble up to Kenny’s Restaurant and you may be wary of what’s going on outside. The SRO next door means there are groups of people (that have probably had lives much more difficult than yours) congregating outside amongst street litter and the smell of urine. If you are looking to park your car or bike outside, you’re accepting some risk.
Inside Kenny’s is a welcome respite from the chaos outside. This no frills family-owned diner immediately disarms you. You take a seat on a stool for the classic diner experience and are greeted by the waitress, who is one of only two employees. She lets you keep your bike inside and pours you a cup of coffee best described as tasting like a “crappy cup of coffee” by Zooey Deschanel’s character in Elf. But what are you expecting? You skipped Blue Bottle and Ritual this morning for a reason.
While waiting for your order, your eyes dance around the joint making a checklist of just how much of a throwback this place is. Old-school cash register ✓. A sign indicating cash only ✓. A wall lined with booths that fit classic diner decor. The kitchen exterior is an old stone wall.
Your omelet, home fries, and toast is served and it’s surprisingly good for 6 bucks. Hell, you even get friendly service with a smile. The restaurant phone rings and someone orders two cheeseburgers for pickup.
By this time, another patron is seated at a stool reading a newspaper and another woman with a real mouth on her makes her presence felt. “I’m very disappointed, very angry. I’m not a vegetarian, I never have been, I never will be. Now I have to find another restaurant to go to.”
You can’t tell whether she’s crazy, senile, or just wants attention. You’re perplexed because the menu clearly has food for carnivores. “This restaurant isn’t even a restaurant,” her rant continues. “I like waffles. And pancakes. I like all that stuff. I’m not a vegetarian AND I NEVER WILL BE!”
The waitress ignores the woman as she’s been through this on a semi-weekly basis. Cheeseburger dude stops in to pick up his early lunch. The waitress comes back over to see if you need anything else and you learn that Kenny’s has been open around 50 years, placing its first day of business in the 1960s, although the original owner only held on to it for three years. She has been working the spot for over 15 years herself.
Before leaving, you make a pit stop at the restaurant to find an out-of-order urinal and stall, although at least one is functional. It’s grimy and sure they COULD do more to keep things looking fresh, but you don’t hold it against them. You’re just happy places like this still find a way to survive in San Francisco.