Hot Johnnie’s Pastrami Gives East Coast Elitism a Run for its Money

By Tyler Lyn Sorrow


Jonathan Young, 36, opened Hot Johnnies, at the height of the pandemic, in 2020. Despite the odds stacked against him, he made his goal a reality, and he’s been smoking ever since. Hot Johnnies is best known for its two-week aged pastrami; which has made the Dutch Crunch a house favorite. Named for the bread that San Francisco loves for sandwiches. However, Hot Johnnies serves an entire diverse menu that now includes all-day brunch items and a vegan corned beef, which has seen rave reviews.

Jonathan Young in front of his shop ‘Hot Johnnies.’ in the Castro, San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, Sep. 29, 2022. Photo by Tyler Lyn Sorrow/The Guardsman

Before making the schlep over to the Castro, I wanted to check in with someone well acquainted with the San Francisco food scene. Andrew De Los Santos, a popular local Instagram, and TikTok, food and culture blogger. He agreed to speak with me about his experiences. 


“When you first walk in. It has this old school tiled theme. It gives it a little retro vibe and then there’s a giant neon sign that says ‘Best Meat in the Castro.’, He continued, “It’s a classic diner meets Castro, with a beautiful back patio that is perfect for going with a friend. You can get your sandwich and a Coke in a classic glass bottle, the entire experience, is really what makes Hot Johnnies so unique” – Andrew De Los Santos, AndrewToursSF Instagram/TikTok


De Los Santos loved the pastrami, but for him, the new brunch menu had the real gem, The Fried Chicken Benedict. An interesting take on a classic, with sous vide eggs, arugula salad and rainbow potato medley, on open-faced texas toast. 


Hot Johnnies is located just down from Castro and 18ths’ Hibernia Beach corner, a notable queer landmark that was once a cruising corner but now memorializes members of the community that have passed.

The calling card of the ‘Texas Toast’ is the two week aged pastrami, havarti cheese and house made quick pickles. Grilled onions and mushrooms top the sandwich as well making it quite large for those with small appetites. Photo by Tyler Lyn Sorrow/The Guardsman


Young is from San Francisco with a 15 year prior history in the food industry, broken up by some time as a Financial Advisor. Before that, Young spent most of those years working with family friends. He said, 


“It wasn’t until I stepped into the restaurant business as a server or hostess. That was when I actually developed my love for the restaurant business specifically.” – Jonathan Young, owner of Hot Johnnies.


In both his pastrami and pork, Young uses a dry rub that he wouldn’t disclose the ingredients of. I asked him what sort of wood chips he used, he denied using hickory, but again he wouldn’t say claiming it was “A Secret.”


 He did share his ingredients for the shops ‘quick pickles’ which were a brown sugar and vinegar base. For those that don’t know, ‘quick pickling’ refers to a type of unfermented pickle that only sits anywhere from a few days to a few weeks but always in the fridge. They are not shelf stable.


The star of his restaurant is the Pastrami, which goes through a two week process before it’s ready to serve. What comes out is not only delicious but a leaner version of the typical New York Pastrami. If I had one hang up about pastrami it would be the fattier cut of meat so this is preferable to me. 

Not all of Hot Johnnies customers are human. Bear, of @bearthbernese, was voted top six dogs in San Francisco to follow on Instagram. Photo by Tyler Lyn Sorrow/The Guardsman

Out of everything I tried that day, the smoked pork was my favorite. There’s an art to cooking smoked meats and, in my opinion, pork is second only to chicken in difficulty when  balancing flavor, texture and visual appeal.

Whether you go for the traditional smoked meats or the vegan corned beef, you’re sure to have a great time. You can find Hot Johnnies on Instagram @hotjohnnies or place an online order at Andrew De Los Santos is on Instagram @andreweatsinsf or you can find his culture account on both Instagram and TikTok  @andrewtourssf. Parking for Hot Johnnies can be found less than a block away, across from the GLBT Historical Society Museum on 18th St. in the Castro.

The Guardsman