Travel Food Guide: 24 Hours of Eating in San Francisco’s Mission (Plus a Donut Detour)Nov 25 2013 · 1 comment · Bakeries, Travel
I was pretty despondent when my best friend moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area a couple years ago, but it’s been great visiting her and getting to know San Francisco, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities. She’s a culinary school graduate and an extremely talented baker, so of course, she knows some of the best spots to eat and drink in the city. Here are some of the places she introduced me to on my last visit:
Loqui 3609 18th Street. Friday and/or Saturday (7:30ish-11:00 p.m. or sold out)
The food adventures started at Loqui, a Mexican street food pop-up that opens on Friday and Saturday evenings in the back of Tartine Bakery. Each weekend brings one type of antojito, and on the night I was there, there were two carne asada taco options—regular and primo. After consulting with the chef, I got the primo, which is the standard taco (meat, onions, cilantro, salsa, guacamole), plus a layer of beans and cheese. So many good things about this taco, starting with the incredible homemade flour tortilla with its charred blisters and soft, flaky layers. The meat is grilled then braised, making it tender and flavorful, and the thin layer of beans and cheese gave the taco the perfect amount of creaminess and saltiness. Adding some dry salsa—ground chilis and seeds—took it to a whole new flavor and texture level.
Linea Caffe 3417 18th Street
Newly-opened Linea Caffe combines several concepts in its compact 300-square-foot space. The shop is a collaboration between Andrew Barnett, founder of Ecco Coffee, and Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese Food, Mission Bowling Club, and Commonwealth. The coffee menu consists only of espresso-based drinks, and food options include sweet and savory waffles as well as substantial salads. My macchiato was excellent, sweet and balanced, and aesthetically enhanced by the gorgeous Heath Ceramics demitasse and saucer. Intrigued by the savory waffle choices, I ordered the egg soufflé waffle topped with chèvre and fines herbes. The waffle was light and airy, and the fresh, bright combination of herbs was especially wonderful paired with the pungent, melted chèvre. I’m not sure how well salad goes with espresso, but they sound pretty delicious, and as an added bonus, $1 from each salad goes to 350.org, a grassroots movement devoted to solving the climate crisis.
Craftsman & Wolves 746 Valencia Street at 18th Street
Peering at the pastries in Craftsman & Wolves is like looking into a jewelry counter—everything is so beautiful and artfully executed. I ordered the chocolate croissant stack, mostly because it was so pretty. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment. The dough seemed tough, like it had been overworked or over baked, and there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate in each bite. The passion fruit poppy seed madeleine was much more successful, with the sweet tartness of the cake and crunch of the seeds making it a perfect companion to my coffee. My friend decided on the B-A-N-A-N-A-S (brown butter, blond chocolate, vanilla, marshmallow, banana shortbread), which turned out to be the absolute winner of our combined order. It was a study in textures and tastes with the sweetness and softness of the banana mousse and delicate layer of blond chocolate, the slight saltiness of the banana-infused shortbread crust, and the chewiness of the toasted marshmallow garnish.
Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop 18th Street soft serve window, next to 3692 18th Street
Adjacent to the perpetually long lines of Bi-Rite Creamery is their much calmer soft serve window, which offers two flavors of soft serve every day AND (previously unknown to me) cookie ice cream sandwiches! I was tempted by the dark chocolate cookies with mint chip ice cream, but my all-knowing friend steered me toward the sugar cookie balsamic strawberry sandwich. It was an unseasonably warm day in the Bay Area, so we walked across the street to Dolores Park, where we could sit and enjoy our treats. Immediately after finding an unoccupied patch of grass at the park, I tore open the wrapper and promptly entered ice cream heaven. The soft cookies would have been a tad too sweet on their own, but the tang of the balsamic complemented them perfectly.
Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero Street
Any trip to the Mission would not be complete without a stop at Tartine. Having just gorged on my cookie ice cream sandwich, I didn’t get any pastries, but I had to stop in for a freshly baked loaf of bread. Tartine bread occupies a league all of its own—deep, rich brown loaves with crackling crusts and moist, chewy interiors. My favorite is their sesame bread, the basic country loaf encrusted with toasted sesame seeds. The sweet, nutty seeds work so well with the complex, earthy, slightly sour dough. Fresh loaves come out around 4:30 p.m. daily, expect to wait in line for them.
Mission Chinese Food Inside Lung Shan Restaurant, 2234 Mission Street
The nondescript exterior of Mission Chinese Food gives no hint of the inventiveness happening inside. But once you enter, you know you’re in for some excitement. There’s a party atmosphere, with loud music blaring from the speakers and a brightly lit, red paper dragon hanging from the ceiling. My friend is vegetarian, so we stuck to the meatless options. Two of our dishes—Ma Po Tofu and Egg-Egg Noodle—were lackluster, but the Tiger Salad was fantastic. In simplest terms, it’s a minty green salad wrapped in thick rice paper and drizzled with spicy chili oil. The flavors were diverse with the nuttiness of the white and black sesame seed garnish, slight bitterness of the greens and herbs, savory saltiness of the roasted seaweed, tang of the turnip vinegar, and sweetness of the rice wrapper. The restaurant was packed, so we shared a four-top with a couple who was awesome enough to let me try their squid ink noodles, and I am so glad they did. This dish was absolutely incredible! The noodles were stir-fried in lamb fat, with chickpeas, fennel, cumin, and mint, and served with lamb broth for dipping. I wanted to be polite and only had one bite (it was a struggle), so I can’t make too many comments on the dish, but let’s just say, if this is on the menu when I go back, I’m ordering a whole plate for myself.
Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop 621 Polk Street (open 24 hours, cash only)
Several hours later, close to 1:00 a.m., we turned up at Bob’s Donuts in Nob Hill, where a line had formed for fresh, hot donuts. Bob’s is the place to go for quality, classic donuts, made entirely from scratch. It’s also the place to go if you want to participate in their donut challenge, which entails consuming a donut that’s around a foot in diameter in under three minutes. (Someone attempted it while we were in line. The donut won.) I settled on a raised crumb donut that I’d seen coming out of the fryer. I was excited about having a different texture alongside the basic glazed, but the flavors of the yeast donut and the cakey crumbs didn’t mesh well for me. Fortunately, my friend ordered a few more donuts for us to try: a glazed, a maple glazed, and a buttermilk bar. The glazed was one of the best I’ve ever had—light, fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. The maple glazed was also great, a touch light on maple flavor, but not overpoweringly sweet. I’ve never been much of a buttermilk bar girl, but Bob’s version is amazing—dense and moist inside and covered with a thick layer of glaze. We put the leftover half in the refrigerator when we got home, and it was just as good—maybe even better—having it cold the next morning.
Outerlands remains one of my favorite spots in the city. The interior with its wood walls and organic decorations is so cozy, and blankets are provided for those sitting at the outdoor tables. It was my first time at the restaurant for brunch, and my friend recommended that I get their popular Dutch pancake. I ordered the savory version with bacon, maple syrup, and housemade ricotta cheese, and she chose the sweet one with fresh strawberries. We also ordered hot ginger lemon apple cider with bourbon. I’ve since replicated the sweet, spicy beverage at home; it’s a perfect remedy for colds and chilly autumn nights. Baked in a cast iron pan, the pancakes looked like pieces of art, perfectly browned and impressively puffy. The dough was slightly sweet, and paired equally well with the salty, thick chunks of bacon and the jewel-like strawberries. The ricotta was absolutely elegant—so smooth, so creamy, so subtly sweet and salty. Absolutely dreamlike, just like the restaurant as a whole, and a perfect way to close out the weekend.
Tip: if you don’t have a reservation, kill some waiting time at tiny Trouble Coffee with a brew and their delectable cinnamon toast, or next door at Celia’s with a margarita.
Jessica is staff writer for Eastside Food Bites. Read more about her on our Contributors page.