The First Timer's Eating Guide to the Mission District
The Mission is one of the most eclectic and multicultural neighborhoods in the city, which makes it one of the most interesting to dine in for sure. It also smells like tortillas and grilled meats; prepare to get hungry. You’ll want to walk around Valencia Street and 24th Street to take it all in—consider riding a bike, it’s flat and full of bike lanes.
Foreign Cinema (2534 Mission St.)
One of the most atmospheric venues in the city, this Mission pioneer has a huge patio where they screen films on the back wall while you dine. The industrial chic interior still impresses after 15-plus years. The Cal-Med menu includes quality charcuterie, oysters, (sometimes) their incredible fried chicken, and the weekend brunch is one of the city’s best (they do magical things with eggs). www.foreigncinema.com
Dosa on Valencia (995 Valencia St.)
Explore the lighter cuisine of Southern India, which includes dosas (similar to a crepe) and uttapam (like a tangy pancake), fish and coconut, and some incredible brunch items (like pani puri!). This spot is casual but urban, with a full bar, well-chosen wines, and a California sensibility for quality ingredients. Dosa is a great option for vegetarians and people with allergies. www.dosasf.com
Lolinda (2518 Mission St.)
This spacious restaurant is built for groups, birthdays, and the dim lighting makes it right for a date, too. The Argentine steakhouse menu features a variety of meats and cuts from the grill, with salads, Latin American small plates, and good cocktails as well. www.lolindasf.com
Lolo (974 Valencia St.)
This lively Mexican restaurant is going to initially hit you with a blast of color and playful décor, and then the cutting-edge cocktails are going to steal your attention, quickly followed by the inventive dishes made with seasonal and local ingredients, like the taco tropical, panko avocado taco, chicken tinga tostadas and tuna tacon. Brunch is also served Friday–Sunday.
La Taqueria (2889 Mission St.)
Anyone who comes to San Francisco and doesn’t experience one of the (off menu) “tacos dorados” at this benchmark taqueria is missing out. A crispy taco comes wrapped in a soft one, stuffed with your meat of choice. Get their superlative carnitas or carne asada, and whether you want it super or not is up to your appetite. Their atomic salsa verde is pure magic. Pro Tip: You can also get any of their burritos “dorado” style as well.
Belmar Meat Market – La Gallinita (2989 24th St.)
If you want a true 24th Street experience, head to this Mission meat market which also serves tacos inside. The salsas are fiery, the meats are freshly cut (try the salty cecina and suadero), and if you speak Spanish, it will come in handy but isn’t necessary.
Taqueria Cancún (2288 Mission St. & 3211 Mission St.)
Everyone likes to battle over which taqueria makes the best burrito, but the perfection of the al pastor super burrito at Cancún is tough to quibble with. You can also get tacos here, and their nachos are pretty tasty (in spite of the fact their chips are infamously sub-par). But the super burrito is what should be experienced first—and even meat eaters enjoy the vegetarian burrito here.
Bar Tartine (561 Valencia St.)
Some of the most crafted, complex, and hard-to-categorize dishes are coming out of this creative powerhouse kitchen. You’ll find layered and intriguing flavors that span the Mediterranean, plus Nordic, Japanese and Californian culinary references. Ideally you’re dining with people who like to share. The room has a bohemian-cool look to it, with warm service and unique wines to explore.
Delfina (3621 18th St.)
A longstanding San Francisco classic for Cal-Italian, you’ll find dishes that follow the Italian culinary ideology: simply prepared, and letting the ingredients stand on their own. The spaghetti, trippa alla fiorentina (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!), and hanger steak are all local faves, but the seasonal dishes really shine. The city’s best panna cotta awaits. (Next door, you’ll find the much-adored Pizzeria Delfina, and on Valencia is Locanda, their Roman-inspired restaurant with a full bar.)
Gracias Madre (2211 Valencia St.)
An organic, vegan Mexican restaurant is a dream for many who eschew meat, but one bite of the molé enchiladas (in housemade tortillas) and meat lovers won’t be missing a thing—same goes for the butternut squash quesadilla. The space is casual, with big wood chairs and tables, which is where you’ll be sharing the dulce de leche “ice cream” for dessert.
Californios (3115 Mission St.)
For those looking for one of the city’s up-and-coming gems, Californios is the ticket. This intimate and stylish restaurant features a modern tasting menu, highlighting ingredients and inspiration from Mexico and California. The multi-course menu is $97, and offers quite the exciting culinary journey, both playful and serious. Wine pairings are a smart choice since you won’t know what’s coming next—the menu is a surprise.
Wise Sons Deli (3150 24th St.)
Anyone craving superlative matzo ball soup, chopped liver or pastrami on rye needs to come to this Mission deli, with everything made in-house. Dishes like pastrami cheese fries, pastrami and eggs and their patty melt (with pastrami ground into the patty) will keep you returning. Open all day, brunch is popular, too.
Tacolicious (741 Valencia St.)
For those looking for well-crafted margaritas to go with a variety of tacos (like beef short rib, Baja-style fried Pacific cod, or potato and chorizo), chile con queso, and other playful Mexican and Mexican-inspired dishes, this is a Valencia Street spot that’s popular with a younger crowd (it gets boisterous). Weekend brunch is also a scene.
Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column, tablehopper, about the SF dining and drinking scene, get all the latest news at www.tablehopper.com. Follow @tablehopper on Twitter and Instagram for more SF finds!
Photo via Wise Sons Deli