Why We Love Haight-Ashbury

The allure of today’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is unquestionably anchored in its past.

9 min read
Cx Blog_DoorDash-HaightStreet_Feature

Though the Summer of Love was more than 50 years ago, a visit to Haight-Ashbury proves its influence is as enduring as the legendary psychedelic music it inspired, and not just to the delight of tourists who come to soak up remnants of ’60s Flower Power. 

Murals celebrate bygone local musicians; the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane all lived and rocked out here. Stores selling Tibetan ponchos, crystals, sage smudge sticks, and bongs still dot the corridor. 

But these days this epicenter of ’60s individualism and rock and roll seduces visitors and locals with a more contemporary counterculture rarity: a community of small, independently owned businesses and restaurants that keep the peace-loving, bohemian spirit alive and thriving. 

Cx Blog: DoorDash_SFHaightStreet Gus-sCommunityMarket interior article

A hub for the street is the individually owned and well-stocked Gus’s Community Market. Opened in 1981, it keeps everyone flush with basic groceries, excellent produce, a well-curated wine selection, and enough ready-to-eat foods to make all your Golden Gate Park picnic dreams come true. A few blocks to the west, Haight and Cole Liquors provides cocktail essentials, snacks like ice cream and chips, and even fresh limes for late-night margaritas. 

Within seven short blocks, you’ll find a globetrotter’s roster of casual, wallet-friendly restaurants. Make a meal of the artful rolls and chirashi bowls of Ginza Sushi & Sake or fingerling-potato-shaped falafels, lemon-kissed hummus, and kabobs from Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill. Stop for classic hamburgers from Flippin Burger or the meatless options of VeganBurg. Parada 22 offers Puerto Rican specialties; What the Cluck specializes in Thai- and Singaporean-influenced street food; you’ll find excellent curries and even gluten-free naan at Om Indian Cuisine, and enjoy heaping plates of Mexican favorites at Street Taco. And that barely scratches the surface.

The variety of anchor establishments here is as diverse as the people traipsing the street. But they all share one common thread: reverence for the character of the street. 

A Taste of Haight-Ashbury’s Bohemian Beginnings: Pork Store Cafe

If any business owner understands the street’s ethos, it’s Michael Musleh of Haight Street’s oldest freestanding restaurant, the Pork Store Cafe

Opened by a Czech couple in 1916 and run as the Haight Street Pork Store butcher and sausage shop until the ’50s, the Pork Store Cafe got its beginnings during the street’s heyday as a workaday bohemian settlement of European immigrants. After it was acquired in 1983 by Musleh’s dad, Palestinian immigrant Nick Musleh, it became the beloved hangover-friendly breakfast and lunch joint it is today, complete with 100-plus-year-old stained-glass signage, plenty of counter seating, and famed bacon breakfast burritos, gut-hugging biscuits and gravy, generous chicken-fried steak, and crispy hash browns.  

Michael grew up cooking in the restaurant and soaking up the Haight Street vibe. (Today, he’s a board member of the Haight Street Fair.) Reflecting on Haight’s unwavering personality, Michael explains, “The street doesn’t like to change. It wants to be Haight Street. It has a special character that you can’t take out of it.” 

Handmade in the Haight: Escape From New York Pizza 

Another longtime resident, Escape From New York Pizza, is a small counter-service nook near the western end of Haight Street. Established in 1986 and run by original owners Paul Geffner and Joe Goldmark with three partners, it’s known for its original concert posters from the historic indie concert venue The Fillmore, autographs of visiting rock and rollers, and great pizza made with unwavering commitment to its founding principles. 

Cx Blog_DoorDash-Haight- Escape from New York Pizza

“We’re still making and prepping our pizzas the same way we did when we started,” says partner Adam Levin, who’s helped preside over the restaurant’s pies since 1987. “Our commitment has always been making our dough every day and keeping the product as fresh and handmade as possible. We’ve used the same flour for 30 years, no pre-cut vegetables, and the same tomato sauce base. We have no machines, no pizza press. Our cooks have to learn how to spin a pizza because it gives a lighter feel to the dough. If we have a hiccup in the supply chain on flour or cheese, it’s a problem, because we are committed to consistency.”

This dedication goes a long way in serving a slice of the past. Escape’s pies taste as chewy-good today as they did decades ago when residents would pop in for a slice after seeing Metallica, Duran Duran, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers across the street at the iBeam nightclub. The concert venue is long closed, but the flavor of the nostalgic era lives on here with every delicious, thin-crusted bite. 

A Newcomer with an Old Soul: Brioche Bakery & Cafe

Across the street and two blocks down in the former Sparrow Bar and Kitchen space, the next generation of nostalgic flavor is incubating at Brioche Bakery & Cafe

The second location for chef Edson Garcia and his wife Naima Moutaim — the first is in North Beach — the French bistro is charming residents with eggs Benedict slathered with lemony Hollandaise, single-serving fresh quiches, and easily portable “Hot Sandwich Boxes.” Served in a bright and airy dining room or on the cafe’s clandestine and highly cherished backyard deck, the food is contemporary yet casual.

Edson came to the United States 21 years ago from El Salvador, worked in San Francisco restaurants like Epic Steak, bygone Cafe des Amis, Blondie’s Pizza, and others, all the while dreaming of opening his own place. Naima is from Morocco, and during her 23 years in the US, always wanted to run a bakery. When Edson stumbled upon the space on Haight Street during the Covid pandemic, he fell for it immediately. But it was the neighborhood that hooked him. “I’d been in love with Haight Street for more than 10 years already — I was one of the sous chefs at [nearby Cole Street’s now-closed] Padrecito. Haight has values. The people have love: love for food and love for pretty much everything on Haight Street. You can see it in the people. They respect everyone.”

Adam Levin agrees: “People are loyal to the Haight. It has never changed. There’s always been the hippies and the homeless and the street kids and the bridge-and-tunnel kids. We’re still about music and the neighborhood and the culture that we grew up in. We are what we are and we don’t want to change.”  

Photo credits:

  • Gus’s Community Market by Erin Ng

  • Courtesy of Escape from New York Pizza