City of San Francisco Dinner Menus

The cover of this menu shows Nob Hill in San Francisco. The description doesn’t say so, but the red building on the right is the Huntington Hotel; the large building in the center is the Mark Hopkins Hotel; and the small building peeking from behind the Mark Hopkins is the Stanford Court Hotel. Huntington, Hopkins, and Stanford were three of the “Big Four” founders of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, and all three (plus the fourth, Charles Crocker) built giant mansions on Nob Hill.

Click image to download a 1.7-MB PDF of this menu.

After the Big Four’s deaths, all of the mansions were destroyed by the fire that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the hotels were built in their places (except the Huntington was built across the street from the site of his mansion, which is now a park). The red building on the left is the only mansion to survive the fire; it is now the Pacific Union Club. The building behind the Pacific Union Club is the Fairmont Hotel, which was under construction when the earthquake hit.

Click image to download a 1.8-MB PDF of this menu.

The above menu is identical on the inside to the Nob Hill menu but with a different cover. Comparing the menu to the 1958 City of Portland dinner menu shows just how different Southern Pacific menus were from those of partner Union Pacific.

The Union Pacific menu has just five table d’hôte meals; a choice of red or white California wine; and no a la carte. The Southern Pacific menus have five table d’hôte meals; a choice of nineteen California wines; while its a la carte section (which is curiously mislabeled “Table d’Hote,” but is on the right side) has eight entrées (most of which were also on yesterday’s lunch menus) plus appetizers, soups, salads, breads, desserts, and beverages.

At $5 (about $40 today), the most expensive item on both UP and SP menus is the charcoal broiled steak. The UP version comes with cottage-fried potatoes; garlic-buttered French bread toasted; salad; and beverage. As the SP version also comes with soup, along with salad; French fried potatoes; hot tea biscuits; and beverage, it seems to be the better deal.

When a passenger train was shared by two or more railroads, the dining car crews from one of the railroads would usually serve passengers for the entire length of each trip. So it appears that Southern Pacific crews worked on the City of San Francisco all the way to Chicago, while Union Pacific crews worked the other trains.


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