I'm mad for Universal Cafe, which offers some of the best food and most expert service in San Francisco and makes it look easy. They are devastatingly popular at brunch, for which you can expect to wait up to an hour while you loiter on the sidewalk and help yourself to cups of their delicious coffee. Luckily it's worth the wait. The brunch is outstanding; it's almost impossible for me to choose between breakfast (French toast) and lunch (lamb burger) options every time.
But, bucking the trend, I prefer to save my Universal dollars for dinner. The place is usually much quieter then (except on weekend nights), and you can take your time and enjoy something from their great wine list while you peruse the ever-changing menu. This menu might be one of the more pleasurable ongoing literary works in the city. Here's a short poem from a recent edition: "Roasted Hoffman Farms chicken, parsnip-potato purée, Savoy cabbage braised with house-smoked bacon." Sign me up for a year-long subscription! And please do partake of a salad while you're here - they offered my hands-down favorite salad in the city last spring when they combined Rainer cherries with garden lettuces - and imagine how pretty it looked, those yellow-and-red cherries gleaming on that bed of gorgeous bright green. My mouth waters just thinking about it! They also have generous home-style desserts, a knockout cheese option (try the Wabash Cannonball, for reals), and wonderful ports. Go ahead and make it a late night, I'm sure you deserve it.
(P.S. Please note that Universal is closed on Mondays.)