Written and photographed by Stephanie Stiavetti
There’s no arguing that San Francisco is a city of food. With a nine-month-long growing season, some of world’s freshest seafood and an international community rivaling that of almost any other American city, SF is a veritable gourmet paradise. There’s a reason that San Franciscans are notorious for never leaving the 7×7 borders of their town. They don’t need to.
My favorite San Francisco neighborhood is the Mission District. With its dizzying array of restaurants, you could easily spend a month in this part of town and never eat in the same place twice. Hell, you might be able to stay for an entire year and still find a great new dining establishment every day. Another big plus of the Mission is that BART—the Bay Area’s lightrail system—runs right through the middle of it, so you can easily get there from suburban lands as far away as Fremont, Richmond or San Jose.
It was exceptionally difficult to whittle down my favorite restaurants to a manageable number for this post, but I’ve managed to come up with a list that should treat you right, whether you’re a local or just visiting. While these places are great to sit down and eat, most will let you take your dish to go so that you can enjoy it on the palatial lawns of Dolores Park, something I highly recommend on a sunny day.
The Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th St. at Dolores, 415-626-5600) is a Mission staple, dishing out the best in dairy goodness. My personal favorite is Sam’s Sundae: two scoops of chocolate ice cream topped with orange-bergamot olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. A small shop that tends to have a line out the door, the creamery is directly across the street from its equally popular sister-business, the Bi-Rite Market, which boasts an insane deli counter that matches the Creamery’s ice cream flavor selection.
If you’ve never heard of Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St., 415-487-2600), you must be living under a rock. This corner patisserie may seem small upon an initial inspection, but their reputation is grand enough to account for a shop ten times its size. Local pastry lovers make weekly pilgrimages to the acclaimed Tartine, whether it be for their Tres Leches cake or a Membrillo and Idiazabal pressed sandwich (an incendiary taste experience with lightly smoked sheep’s milk cheese and quince jam).
If you want to take a little piece of Tartine home with you and don’t think the eclairs will survive the flight, pick up a copy of the Tartine Baking Book.
In a city full of iffy crepe places, Ti Couz (3108 16th St. at Valencia, 415-252-7373) is a gem. Their menu includes not the bulbous, two-fisted crepes that we’re used to seeing in SF creperies; rather, Ti Couz will dazzle you with an entree that’s likely less than half an inch thick.
Don’t let the size fool you, though—these little pillows of love will fill you up and then some. With a series of authentic French flavors that are rich beyond belief, don’t let your dinner stuff you to the point that you don’t get to order dessert. The only thing better than Ti Couz’s savory crepes is their sweet selection.
Along with a plethora of gourmet hot spots, Mission Street is also home to a proliferation of Mexican taquerias and bakeshops. Pancho Villa ( 3071 16th St., 415-864-8840) and Taqueria Cancun (2288 Mission St., 415-252-9560) are two particularly notable burrito joints, but don’t limit yourself to the flour wrapped gut-bomb and try exploring their other offerings, such as chicken enchiladas and carne asada tacos. You’ll also find countless little Mexican bakeries, all offering a colorful selection of fresh cookies, cakes and biscuits.
If you’re wandering the area looking for food, then you have to stop by Dolores Park and check out the myriad food carts that park nearby at lunchtime. Food carts have become the next big thing in San Francisco, and the Mission is the best place to find them.
These carts are indeed mobile and sometimes hard to locate, but thankfully Twitter has become the easiest way to track them down:
And no mention of San Francisco’s culinary world would be complete without a note about Omnivore Books (3885 Cesar Chavez St., 415-282-4712). While technically in Noe Valley, Omnivore is just a quick hike over the hill. If you’re a cookbook zealot like me, Omnivore may very well be your own personal Mecca; with a selection of new and vintage cookbooks that will make you cry, you might be well served to leave your credit cards at home.