San Francisco's Zuni Café was founded in 1979 by Billy West–“with a huge heart and exactly ten thousand dollars.”
In its early days, the restaurant occupied only one narrow storefront of the triangular 1913 building it fills today. The dramatic corner storefront was home to the eye-catching Red Desert cactus store, with giant saguaros in the twelve-foot windows and sand on the floor. Billy appropriated the southwestern theme: He plastered his interior to look like adobe and named the new café after the Zuni, one of the indigenous Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.
The Zuni Café’s earliest menus were inspired by the cookbooks of Billy’s culinary idols, Diana Kennedy and Elizabeth David; but they were limited by a kitchen that consisted of little more than a toaster oven, an espresso machine that doubled as an egg-cooker, and a kettle grill in the back alley. Those humble beginnings didn't stop it from winning the James Beard Foundation Award for ‘Outstanding Restaurant’ in 2003.