Food & Wine Photo Credit: Eric Wolfinger

5 Must-Try Restaurants in San Francisco’s Mission District

Braving long lines and full reservation books in San Francisco’s hottest ’hood.

People in San Francisco love to line up for food, and that’s especially true in the Mission District. It’s one of the sunniest spots in foggy SF, and a paradise for everything foodie, ranging from the most basic taco stands to the highest-end, locally foraged, impeccably served inventions. In a recent quest to eat only within walking distance of our Mission rental, we picked out five great places to visit (and we’ll tell you how long you can expect to wait).

Hawker Fare
Hawker Fare, photo by Aubrie Prick.

Hawker Fare

A big, bright room, with plastic floral tablecloths, rug-covered walls and lights strung above like a street market. This is rich, bold Thai food: gaeng pla duok, a jungle catfish curry, was dark brown and powerfully spiked with jolts of young ginger shoots. A starter of blistered green beans was amped up with a smoky curry paste and chunks of pork bacon. Tiki drinks, including a jackfruit daiquiri, completed the armchair-travel experience.

The wait Had to try twice before getting in—at the opening time of 5:30 p.m.

Californios
Californios, photo by Remy Hale.

Californios

They say there are 12 courses in the $97 tasting menu, but I counted 19 small plates at my table. That sort of extravagance was par for the course at this buzzy haute-Mexican spot in a big, rich living room of a restaurant. This was all subtle Mexican takes: a starter of small pickled turnips, Hawaiian tuna with agua chile oil and green strawberries, Snake River rib-eye steak served with spicy sauces, pozole with baby flowers and blueberries. Worth every American penny.

The wait Showed up at 9 p.m. on a Friday, by myself, and was seated instantly.

Al's Place San Francisco
Al’s Place, photo by Molly DeCoudreaux Photography.

Al’s Place

At the corner of 26th and Valencia, Al’s Place has been open only since early this year, but was just named Bon Appétit’s best new restaurant in America. The plant-dominated selection features simple, fresh ingredients (blue Dane radishes, anyone?). In a compact menu where everything seems a must-order, we were transported by our choices: the campanelle with roasted tomatoes and goat’s Gouda—a smoky, rich dish—and the trumpet mushrooms with fava mayo and green peach and pluot relish.

The wait Arrived at 6 p.m., and was told 45 minutes. Seated at the bar at 7:30.

Tartine Bakery San Francisco
Tartine Bakery San Francisco, photo by Eric Wolfinger.

Tartine Bakery

The neighbourhood’s standard-bearer still kills it at 18th and Guerrero. Pastries here pair French tastes with American exuberance: big, buttery, flaky, rich. A coconut cream tart is a huge, cloudy puff of velvety richness. Sandwiches, stuffed with swish meats and cheeses grilled with their much-loved Tartine country bread (its legendary hard, rugged crust and welcoming, soft insides are the stuff of epic poems), are rich enough to cover the caloric intake needed for a full day.

The wait Arrived at 12:30 p.m., got order in and found a table in the tiny room by 1.

Aster San Francisco
Aster, photo by Eric Wolfinger.

Aster

The most elegant and meat-centric choice: the milk-fed lamb, on a bed of pole and shelling beans, was a substantial survey of the entire animal fanned out on a platter, and the duck mousse had bits of duck-heart confit in it. And your reward for such richness? Desserts like a chocolate ganache with black caramel and cocoa nibs, so dense that two of us could barely finish. (We did, of course.)

The wait Actually takes reservations!

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