Ah, diners, drive-ins and dives, some blonde spiky haired dude who talks too loud has made this term well known across the eater universe as it were. In San Francisco there are a fair share of diners that range from dives to sort of a dive to on the edge of being a dive. Usually one ends up at these places because they are pretty much the only place open when you get out of a bar, wake up really early in the morning or in our case get out of a movie around 10pm on a Saturday night. The food court has already closed and the choices along this stretch of Mission between 3rd and 5th are limited to a handful of places, several of which are on the first floor of a parking garage. YES PEOPLE A PARKING GARAGE! Classy. But when you are kind of hungry for something you are not sure of, it helps to find a place with a wide ranging menu like a diner and so it was we ended up at Mel's drive-in Diner.
This particular one is probably a bit grungier than the other 4 locations around town, just by virtue of being in a borderline nighttime semi-sketchy area that gets a fair amount of tourist food traffic. PLUS IT'S IN A PARKING GARAGE! I hadn't been to a Mel's in quite some time but, you know, it was there, it was open and we were like why not. Always great ways to pick a restaurant. Walking into this particular location the ceilings are a bit low and lends a bit of claustrophobia to the place even though one side is all windows looking out on lovely Mission and 4th street.
It's all shiny metal, linoleum, Formica tables and harried waitresses. Not to mention gaggles of tourists and kids, which just makes any restaurant lots of fun. We grab a 2 seater by the window so we can gawk at passersby and they can shake their heads at us. Mel's menu is busy and graphically oriented, basically a graphic designer's nightmare. But there's a lot of stuff on it and that's what we wanted. Since it is a diner I feel compelled to get some kind of burger even though it's late and will sit on my stomach all night, but hey, what's a little grease between friends right. In order to try different things at once I get the slider trio.
A braised short rib, a beef burger with onions and a turkey burger with goat cheese served on brioche buns with a side of sweet potato fries (which I had to pay extra for by the way making them not a bargain for a diner). As for the sliders, I think the term perfectly serviceable is what comes to mind. I liked the brioche buns, they were toasted, soft and buttery. The short rib tasted a little like pot roast and just a bit on the chewy side. The beef and onions was all about the onions which were caramelized and probably re-heated making them very sweet. They did manage to cook the really tiny patty to medium rare but it could have used some seasoning. The turkey burger was totally lost under a heavy dollop of goat cheese and some green leafy things. It could have been turkey, could have been chicken, could have been anything it was so thin. But let's be real about this, Mel's is a diner and you don't come here for molecular gastronomy or inventive. They are not trying to re-invent the wheel here just feed the masses basic American food in a kitschy setting. And for that they've got it covered. Though I do think their prices are a bit on the high side for a diner, I think that has something to do with the tourist trade they get.
I mean what can I say Mel's is Mel's, you pretty much know what you are going to get when you go. It ain't the greatest food in town, but it ain't the worst either. When it is late and you don't have many choices and might be a little drunk, it can definitely hit the spot, and hang out there for a while also.