Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

Joe's Special Is the Real San Francisco Treat, Especially Remixed Like This

by 
Tamara Palmer
August 25, 2021

People who have never been to San Francisco may think of sourdough bread and (heaven forbid!) Rice-A-Roni as our main culinary calling cards, but Joe’s Special is one of the oldest local dishes that is still served in city limits. It doesn’t seem to be super well-known these days amongst newcomers or people under about 40-years-old. I’m taking it upon myself to fix that here.

Original Joe’s, an 84-year-old restaurant now located in the North Beach district of San Francisco, has long offered a dish called Joe’s Special. It’s described on the menu as a “signature scramble of ground beef, spinach, onions, eggs.”

Original Joe’s wasn’t the inventor of Joe’s Special — though there are various origin stories, that honor appears to belong to the defunct New Joe’s, a San Francisco restaurant that preceded Original Joe’s by a few years and closed way back in 1970. However, Original Joe’s is the restaurant that made the dish famous and carries the torch for it today. To give you an idea of what inflation looks like, according to SFGate, a plate of Joe’s Special at Original Joe’s was sold for 75 cents during World War II. Today, it’s $21.95, and mushrooms are $2 extra.

I have vivid childhood memories of pushing all the spinach pieces in Joe’s Special to one corner of the plate, which I think is a common reaction for a kid. So I set about to figure out a new version of this dish — or what I, as a professional DJ, would call a remix — that blended the spinach somewhere so it couldn’t be separated from the rest of the dish.

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My first thought in remixing Joe’s Special into something fresh and festive for the fun and lively new Roaring Twenties that are hopefully coming soon was to turn it into a spinach-packed burger, with a fried egg on top. But through messy trial and error, I decided to keep the essence of how the dish is made intact as a simple scramble and instead blend the eggs with the spinach beforehand to turn everything a wild green color.

As I admittedly first did when I tried this method, you may find yourself questioning my decision as the technicolor mixture froths up a bit in the pan when you mix it with the meat — it looks rather crazy! Please stick with it until the whole thing cooks through and comes together and you’ll end up with a fun, brain-teasing result.

Everyone gets a serving of sneaky spinach with no separating, but you can also serve some colorful raw or cooked veggies on the side for an even more vibrant and nutritious plate. It also makes for a good filling for pita bread, tortillas, lavash, or your favorite low-carb cauliflower or egg wrap.

Traditional Joe’s Special doesn’t have a sauce, but no one will fault you for adding a little hot sauce or ketchup. Whether kids are tickled by the color, or give it the side eye at first, I think you’ll get good feedback on the flavor, a combination that’s been making eaters happy for almost 100 years.

Joe’s Special, The Remix

Prep time: 10 minutes
 | 
Cook time: 20 minutes
 | 
Serves 6

Ingredients

6 eggs

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach

1 lb ground beef

1/3 cup concentrated tomato paste

2 tbsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp salt, divided (I use sea salt, but table salt is fine)

1/2 onion (or 1 small onion), diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced (or squeezed through a garlic press)

1 baseball/softball-sized heirloom tomato, or 2-3 Roma tomatoes tomatoes, sliced into big chunks

Neutral cooking oil (optional)

Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, squeeze of lemon and/or hot sauce for serving, if desired

Prep time: 10 minutes
 | 
Cook time: 20 minutes
 | 
Serves 6

Ingredients

6 eggs

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach

1 lb ground beef

1/3 cup concentrated tomato paste

2 tbsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp salt, divided (I use sea salt, but table salt is fine)

1/2 onion (or 1 small onion), diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced (or squeezed through a garlic press)

1 baseball/softball-sized heirloom tomato, or 2-3 Roma tomatoes tomatoes, sliced into big chunks

Neutral cooking oil (optional)

Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, squeeze of lemon and/or hot sauce for serving, if desired

Ingredients

6 eggs

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season spinach

1 lb ground beef

1/3 cup concentrated tomato paste

2 tbsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp salt, divided (I use sea salt, but table salt is fine)

1/2 onion (or 1 small onion), diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced (or squeezed through a garlic press)

1 baseball/softball-sized heirloom tomato, or 2-3 Roma tomatoes tomatoes, sliced into big chunks

Neutral cooking oil (optional)

Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, squeeze of lemon and/or hot sauce for serving, if desired

Directions

1. Add eggs, spinach and 1 teaspoon of salt to a blender and mix on low speed until you get a bright green liquid, about 10-20 seconds.

2. In a bowl, using your hands (gloves are great), mix ground beef, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and remaining teaspoon of salt.

3. Coat a large pan or skillet with your favorite cooking oil (if desired) and heat on medium for 30 seconds before adding meat mixture. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into several large pieces and then leave it all alone for 4-5 minutes to develop a good crust on the bottom. Drain fat from the beef if needed.

4. Flip the chunks of meat, add onion, garlic and tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Once the juices from the tomatoes have largely cooked away, slowly pour in spinach-egg mixture and cook on medium-high for 6-8 minutes. While it cooks, stir frequently and occasionally scrape the bottom and sides until all the frothy green liquid cooks away and the meat is coated in green egg.

5. Serve this on a thick slice of crusty sourdough bread with Parmesan, lemon, and/or hot sauce on top. You can also throw a handful of sliced mushrooms to the pan, like Original Joe’s restaurant in San Francisco does as an add-on option.

About the Author

Tamara Palmer

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