SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Neighborhoods/Shopping+Restaurants
MISSION DISTRICT’s BEST
MISSION STREET/24th STREET area
ON MISSION STREET, WITHIN THIS IMMEDIATE AREA
Note that most of Mission Street seems a cross between the blight encountered in Tijuana and the bustle found in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York. It has not been gentrified, though a few more upscale restaurants have found a home here. There isn’t much of interest between the two BART stations except for marijuana outlets and tattoo parlors.
24th Street BART Station SW corner of Mission St./24th St.
El Farolito 2779 Mission St./24th St., (415) 824-7877. Cash only. This is the original of a mini-chain of popular taquerias. Mission-style burritos are available here as a “regular” burrito--with rice and beans, salsa, and your choice of meat--or a "super" burrito--the same size but with cheese, sour cream, and avocado. Good nachos, tacos on mini corn tortillas, quesadillas Suiza, and aguas fresca are also on the menu. Decor includes neon-colored booths, and a jukebox defines the atmosphere.
La Taqueria 2889 Mission St./25th St., (415) 285-7117. No credit cards. For fast food Mexican-style, step through one of the two arches here and head to the order counter. Then pick a table, and kick back. Entertainment is provided by a colorful folk mural decorating one wall, by cooks in the open kitchen busily preparing orders, and by a jukebox with Mexican music. The menu is simple: either a taco made with two steamed corn tortillas or a burrito made with a flour tortilla. Fillings are a choice of pork, beef, sausage, chicken, or vegetarian (beans and cheese). Pinto beans and fresh tomato salsa round things out; avocado and sour cream cost a bit more. In 2014, the carnitas super burrito, dorado style, was named by FiveThirtyEight as the best burrito in the U.S., and was praised especially for its juiciness. Depending on the season, delicious housemade fresh fruit drinks include strawberry, cantaloupe, orange, banana, and pineapple.
Pick up a walk-away dessert next door at Dianda’s Italian-American Pastry, where everything is made from scratch and the cannoli are particularly good.
NORTH ON MISSION ST.
EAST ON 20TH ST.
The David Ireland House 500 Capp St./20th St., 1 blk. E of Mission St.
San Jalisco 901 S. Van Ness Ave./20th St., 2 blks. E of Mission St.
CONTINUE NORTH ON MISSION ST.
Gracias Madre 2211 Mission St./18th St. The contrast between the serene interior here and the sketchy exterior area is quite a jolt. But once inside you can enjoy good vegan Mexican cuisine with sophisticated seasoning and use of a wonderful cashew cheese and a noteworthy vegan chorizo. Dishes include open-faced stacked enchiladas, tasty mashed black beans, gorditas, and tacos with a choice of six fillings. Patrons especially like the Bowl Uno featuring a flavorful tempeh chorizo, flautas de camote--mashed sweet potato rolled in a fried tortilla, and a chimichanga made with tempeh chorizo, caramelized onions, red peppers, potatoes, black beans, cashew chipotle aioli, a guacamole topping. Tortas are made with organic bread from Acme Bakery in Berkeley, and chilaquiles are sometimes available as a special. All cheeses and milks are made using nuts, and tortillas and tamales are handmade with non-GMO organic heirloom corn. Desserts are particularly good and include chocolate cake, ice cream, and flan. Seating includes a big communal table plus an inviting front patio area.
Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission St./21st St. Operating within the dramatically remodeled interior of a former department store in which everything was ripped out and left bare and trendy, this wildly popular spot attracts the hordes down its long, votive-lit corridor to party and feast. Seating is either on an open-air patio (covered by a canopy in cool weather and well-heated), where diners can watch the foreign flick of the week, or in the roaring main dining room with its 20-foot-tall ceiling. Specialties include an expansive oyster bar, baked cheese with roasted potatoes, curry-roasted chicken, and chocolate pot de crème. Several communal tables are available for walk-ins.
ALONG 24TH STREET--EAST
Philz Coffee 3101 24th St./Folsom St. Known for its made-to-order drip coffee and investors that include Snoop Dogg, this coffeehouse began right here 20 years ago as a grocery store. Now it has 22 locations and counting, and is the coffee served on Virgin America airlines. But personally, I think the baristas here can be a tad too cheery. They spoil what could be a cooler, more unfriendly, beatnik-style ambiance. The mostly liquid menu includes an array of coffees (I favor the yummy mint mojito iced version), a thick hot chocolate, and some pastries and a good baklava.
Taqueria Guadalajara 3146 24th St./Shotwell St. Burritos, tacos, a salsa bar, and hand-painted murals. What more could you want? Unless you’re starving, go with the Super Baby Burrito.
Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen 3150 24th St./Shotwell St. You’ll find Jewish classics and sandwiches here. Meat is prepared in house and stacked high in the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, and each includes a heaping side of delicious potato salad or coleslaw and some pickle spears. Rye bread, challah, and babka are baked fresh. The Downtown Special consisting of a half sandwich, side salad, and matzo ball soup is a bargain.
Luz de Luna 3182 24th St./S. Van Ness Ave. This store is stuffed to the brim with everything Mexican, and has more Frida Kahlo than the gift shop at the Frida Kahlo house museum in Mexico City.
Alley Cat Books 3036 24th St./Balmy St. All the appreciated features of a small independent bookstore plus a Zoltar Fortune Telling Machine in the back.
Balmy Alley A fine collection of outdoor murals runs down this alley off 24th Street to 25th Street.
Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Off 24th St., at 2790A Harrison St. Among the crazy flavors are Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Secret Breakfast, and bourbon and cereal flakes. But don’t miss the Jesus Juice or Bourbon Coke Float.
Haus Coffee 3086 24th St./Folsom St., (415) 374-7353. This is not your usual coffeehouse. It has a minimalist decor, a great back patio with umbrellas, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of room to spread out.
La Victoria Panaderia 2937 24th St./Alabama St. Take a tray and tongs from the counter, then browse the tantalizing pastry display at this panaderia. Choose a jelly roll, a pastry horn filled with lemon custard, a macaroon, a soft concha (a sugared roll), a fluffy Ninos Embueltos with jam and coconut, a slice of tres leches (three milks) cake—or any of the other traditional pastries and cookies. In October you can get pan de muerto for Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Drinks, fresh tortillas, tamales, pinatas, and Mexican condiments are also for sale. A small restaurant in the back has an inexpensive menu written completely in Spanish. Salsas are particularly tasty.
Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center 2981 24th St./Harrison St. Guided tours of the area’s murals are scheduled on most Saturdays and Sundays.
La Palma Mexicatessen 2884 24th St./Florida St. No cards. All that’s needed for a picnic feast is a can of refried beans, a few avocados, and some handmade corn tortillas freshly cooked on huge griddles in the back of the grocery. Or just order up a made-to-order taco or burrito. And don’t forget to pick up some fresh housemade tortillas, tamales, and Salvadorean papusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese and spicy pork) to take home. Mexican and Central American cooking supplies and colorful, inexpensive piñatas are also available.
Roosevelt Tamale Parlor 2817 24th St./York St. Opened in the early 1920s and featuring a bare-bones decor that hasn’t changed much since then, this popular spot serves up huge portions of delicious tamales, enchiladas, and chicken mole. It is the oldest Mexican restaurant and tamale parlor in California. The Jaliscan menu uses recipes from a former owner’s grandmother. Photos given to the family by President Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson adorn the walls. The house specialty is big, round “bocce ball tamales” made with Niman Ranch ground beef and smothered in red tamale gravy. Look for sweet tamales made with strawberries or pineapple at Christmas, and don’t leave without some extra tamales to take home. Beans are made with lard, but oil is used in other items when flavor is not sacrificed. A few vegetarian items are available, including a burrito and chimichanga. Coming soon: wet burritos, chorizo and eggs, enchiladas rancheros. The dining room retains some of its original 1919 features, including a marble bar and alabaster light fixtures.
St. Francis Fountain 2801 24th St./York St. Here since 1918, this informal cafe retains its old-time wooden booths and counter with swivel stools, and it claims to be the oldest ice cream parlor in San Francisco. Specialties include a Guinness float and a hot vanilla shake. The menu features typical diner fare, including pancakes, waffles, soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers, plus many vegan options.
Keep walking east and you wind up at Potrero Hill.