By Judith Kahn
When Bill, the original owner of Bill’s Place, started his restaurant in 1959, his vision was to serve the best hamburger in the City.
Bill’s Place is a neighborhood dining establishment with a spacious outdoor patio. It is located in the Outer Richmond on Clement Street, between 24th and 25th avenues.
Hamburger aficionados and lovers of the great American sandwich have made this restaurant a consistent destination for their food of choice.
Today the Jarrar family, the current owners, still pride themselves on the fact that they cut, grind and form the beef patties seven days a week, and they continue to use fresh potatoes to make their fries.
Between Bill’s death in 1980 and today, the restaurant changed hands a couple of times. As of 2016, the Jarrars have taken on the legacy of Bill’s, and patrons from years past will be pleasantly surprised by how much of the original menu remains after the more than six decades since it opened.
The Jarrar family came from Jerusalem 23 years ago, looking for a better life and a place to start a family in the United States. Prior to purchasing Bill’s, the family-owned a sandwich restaurant called Togos in Santa Clara. When they tired of working in the franchise business, they decided to buy Bill’s Place.
Reda Jarrar, who now runs the classic throwback restaurant, has been working at Bill’s Place since he was 18. He is now attending the University of San Francisco to earn a degree in Business Administration. He says every day in the restaurant is a learning experience, especially as longtime customers share stories about their own memories of the place over the years. Some have been coming to Bill’s Place since they were children, and they are delightedly sharing their Bill’s experience with their grandchildren. Bill’s, for Jarrar, is a second home.
Both cooks at Bill’s have been there for more than 20 years, so it is truly an ongoing legacy affair. The Jarrars want to embrace the long history and tradition of Bill’s, but they also want to modernize it to include menu items that reflect 21st-century tastes, such as sweet potato fries, veggie burgers and jalapeño poppers. Jarrar says the patty melt – a 1/3 lb. burger between two pieces of melted American cheese on grilled rye bread – is still a perennial customer favorite.
He also recommends the Giants Burger, with cheddar cheese, bacon, and avocado topping the patty. Don’s Burger, named in honor of the previous owner, tops the meat with sauteed mushrooms and cheddar cheese. But these examples barely scratch the surface of an expansive offering of 25 different hamburgers, including The Famous Bill’s 50th Anniversary Gourmet Burger, topped with four different cheeses and four slices of bacon. If you like spicier food, try a Mexican Burger, topped with jack cheese, salsa and jalapeño pepper slices.
Many hamburgers are whimsically named for local celebrities, politicians, opera singers, musicians, journalists, and television personalities in San Francisco, all of whom have eaten at Bill’s Place. For example, one offer is the Herb Caen Burger, named for the legendary San Francisco newspaper columnist, and the Senator’s Choice, honoring State Senator Milton Marks. Of course, you are welcome to design your own burger. Along with veggie, chicken and turkey options, many classic sandwiches, such as Reubens, ham and cheese, and tuna melts, are available from the grill.
The kids’ menu includes hot dogs, a grilled cheese sandwich, and PB&J. If it is before 1 p.m., diners can also get a breakfast of buttermilk pancakes and three-egg omelets, served with hash browns and your choice of toast or an English muffin.
If you remember milkshakes or, going still deeper, malts, Bill’s is justly proud of their thick and generous ice cream drinks. They are brought to the table in the original, frosty, stainless steel container they are blended in, to be poured out into a tall glass, or two, if you are sharing. This is a serving feature that some younger patrons may never have seen, but it was the norm in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and it is still the norm at Bill’s Place.
In fact, the variety of fountain offerings at Bill’s is like stepping into the last century – in a good way – with hot fudge sundaes, banana splits, brown cows and ice cream floats. If your beverage tastes are more adult, beer, wine, and vodka drinks are also available, and the outdoor patio allows patrons to socially distance themselves while enjoying the fare.
When you go, take a look at the nine commemorative president’s plates along the wall. Jarrar says they came with the restaurant, so a previous owner must have fancied them and purchased them at an estate sale or auction. They are part of the old-fashioned atmosphere at Bill’s, friendly and comfortable, with moderately priced food. It’s a great neighborhood location for a family lunch or dinner, a casual meetup with friends or a hearty breakfast.
Bill’s Place was recently voted “best burger” in the Richmond District by the readers of the Richmond Review newspaper.
The Jarrars hope to continue this Richmond District legacy restaurant for “abundant years to come.”
Bill’s Place is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is located at 2315 Clement St. For more information, call 415-221-5262.