Expanding Mission: Best restaurants in San Francisco's hottest 'hood

Finding the "perfect" meal in San Francisco can feel like Mission Impossible. Who knew so many food options could be squashed into forty-nine square miles? If you're tired of climbing the hills of North Beach or pressing through the crowds of Chinatown, head to the unofficial "Foodie Central" of San Francisco: the Mission District.

Although it's renowned for its Latino dishes, a new wave of foodie fanatics has opened up the most popular restaurants the city has to offer. The best buzz for food is definitely in the Mission, with classics like La Taqueria still going strong, as well as overlooked gems like Yamo finally getting their just desserts (so to speak.)

Before dining, your appetizer should be walking up and down the hippest runway of the Mission, Valencia Street, where some of the most popular restaurants have opened. The Mission is mostly flat and gets more sun than any other neighborhood in San Francisco, so start your dinner search mid-afternoon, giving you plenty of time for Happy Hour sangria and soaking up the eclectic atmosphere of this vibrant community. 


Tartine Bakery

Devoted to premium, organic ingredients, this bakery willingly acknowledges that its menu selections depend on everything from seasonal goods to chef-driven whims. Even with such a (mild) disclaimer, it's pretty well certain you'll go away with a satisfied, happy tummy. The European-styled bakery has folks lining up for delicate tarts, fruit-studded brioche, artisan loaves, airy croissants, and addictive eclairs" and that's just to start. Later in the day, sandwiches are fashioned from great, homemade breads and dressed up with top-quality cheeses and herbs. Drinks include French wines, coffees, and a signature hot chocolate.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Known for its baked goods, Tartine is also a great spot for a quality meal.

Tom's expert tip: Don't let the long line out-the-door discourage you - it moves quickly.

Read more about Tartine Bakery →

One of three locations, the Valencia Street restaurant in the Mission District is where the magic that is Pica Pica first happened in 2010. Fitting in perfectly with its surroundings full of Latin flair, this Maize Kitchen is open for lunch, dinner and dessert. Most popular on the menu is the arepa (pocket composed of grilled corn and stuffed with vegetables, plantains, beans, cheese or meats. . .your choice). Also sample the ceviche or yuca fries as a starter. Don't leave without having a glass of sangria and a taste of dessert (yuca beignets or coconut quesillo). Bringing pure food, fantastic flavors and environmental awareness, all take-out containers are completely biodegradable.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Pica Pica offers hand-crafted Venezuelan food that's almost impossible to find anywhere else in the city.

Tom's expert tip: This is a small space with limited seating, so get your food to go during busy hours.

Read more about Pica Pica →

Flour + Water
Photo courtesy of Krescent Carasso

If you believe the most successful plan is a simple one, Flour and Water might just be the spot for you. The name says it all; Chef Thomas McNaughton is serious about the flour and water that goes into his many different kinds of pasta, pasta that he insists on getting right time and time again. (He was trained in Bologna by "committed pasta artisans.") But don't fear that dinner will just be a bowl of pasta; the pasta-based dishes are enlivened and dressed up with a gorgeous array of locally sustained fruits, vegetables and meats. This is cooking with a conscience, for sure.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Flour and Water is one of the most environmentally-friendly restaurants in the whole Bay Area.

Tom's expert tip: To taste their basic philosophy of fresh, local California ingredients assembled with Italian flair, try the heirloom tomatoes with blistered corn, golden sesame, tahini and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Read more about Flour + Water →

Photo courtesy of Aubrey Pick

If you want to experience the cutting edge of California cuisine with your steak, Lolinda is the best place to capture that avant-garde spirit. Situated in the red-hot Mission district, where new and inventive restaurants seem to pop open overnight, Lolinda combines the rich history of Argentinean steak with the new-wave foodie fanaticism that has grabbed this town by its collar-tucked napkin. That means you can start your meal off with traditional pequeno, an appetizer that can be cold like ceviche or hot like croquetas, and finish with an inventive peanut butter mousse. In between you can delight yourself with tira (crosscut short ribs), matambra (flank steak), or ojo de bife (ribeye steak).

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Hot Argentinean-style steakhouse in the smoldering heart of San Francisco's Mission District.

Tom's expert tip: Start off with the exquisite Ceviche Mixto (squid, shrimp, ono, rocoto, and fried corn), served cold.

Read more about Lolinda →

Loló restaurant is a beloved Mission District institution. The restaurant is family-owned and operated by Executive Chef Jorge Martínez, his wife Lorena Zertuche and General Manager Juan Carlos Ruelas. Loló's bright and vibrant interior, designed by co-owner and artist Lorena Zertuche, is uniquely San Franciscan and fits perfectly with the cultural spirit of the neighborhood. For the interior, Lorena took inspiration from rural Mexican culture and from her childhood growing up on rancherías in Torréon, Coahuila. The interior evokes the cultural and creative spirit of The Mission, using locally found objects and fabrics to create an atmosphere that is unapologetically bold and playful. And the creative cuisine at Lolo matches the interior for an unforgettable dining experience.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Lolo is a clear, and beautiful, attempt to retain some of the authentic Mexican culture of the Mission.

Tom's expert tip: Make time for a cocktail at Agave Bar, where the drinks are as inventive and colorful as the food.

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Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

The Mission is known for its cheap but excellent Mexican food (see: La Tacqueria). Yamo keeps the price low but switches the cuisine by going east, as in the Far East, as in Burma. If you like hole-in-the-wall bars, then you'll like the atmosphere of this hole-in-the-wall eatery, which can become so packed you'll think your own elbow is sizzling on the always active wok. If you're not into that kind of unasked for press-the-flesh atmosphere, then order ahead for take-out. The low price for this kind of quality is unheard of, particularly Yamo's sinfully crispy samusas and egg rolls, which should come before whatever else you decide to order.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: In a neighborhood known for cheap Mexican food, Yamo brings cheap Burmese to the table.

Tom's expert tip: Very small, cramped space that gets extremely busy. Order take-out; cash only.

Read more about Yamo →

Arinell Pizza
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

For those who like their pizza with thin crusts and simply made, Arinell's is the place. Their flagship spot in the Mission, beloved by locals, is small and not fancy, but the time they saved in creating atmosphere they put into making simple, delicious pizza. If you're in the Mission and need something other than a burrito, slip into Arinell's and grab a slice (or two or three). You'll get a taste of Italy and some needed energy for your big night out in the Mission. (Also a great spot to swing by after your big night out in the Mission.)

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Arinell has been serving authentic New York-style pizza to hungry Missionites for yers.

Tom's expert tip: Most bars near Arinell will let you bring in one of their slices to partner up with your beer.

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Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Simplicity and authenticity reign at this small, popular restaurant. Zinc tabletops and exotic hardwoods bear this out, as does the incomparable Italian fare with its top-notch ingredients. Treat yourself with grilled calamari salad, braised rabbit, steak frites, roasted chicken, or salmon with fresh vegetables. Although Delfina has garnered much acclaim since it premiered, the trattoria still delights with a casual ambiance, friendly service and satisfyingly reasonable prices â€" all boons to dining aficionados. Delfina is highly regarded not just locally but nationally, so if you have time for only one Italian meal on your trip, you can't go wrong with Delfina.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: Delfina started the whole transformation of the Mission's restaurant scene way back in 1998.

Tom's expert tip: Delfina serves simple but delicious warm bread from San Francisco's favorite local bakery, Tartine.

Read more about Delfina →

Foreign Cinema
Photo courtesy of Postcard Communications

While Foreign Cinema's misleading moniker may seem a better fit for a movie theater than an oyster bar, this restaurant's real attraction is their Mediterranean-inspired menu and outstanding oysters. They do, in fact, offer film showings in the adjoining courtyard, an added perk for those savoring tasty shellfish like the Hog Island Sweet, Marin Gem, Chatham and Steamboat oysters. The dinner menu changes regularly, and brunch is served on weekends. If you're looking for that "one-stop that has it all" date night, make it the Foreign Cinema, because, after the meal and movie, you can slip over to their adjoining bar, Lazlo's, and dance the night away.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: One of the best "date night" spots in the whole city.

Tom's expert tip: One of the most romantic restaurants in the city - and the oysters don't hurt that a bit.

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At La Taqueria, you'll not only get a great Mexican meal, but you'll save a little cash too! The menu specializes in burritos, tacos, and quesadillas served with beef, pork, sausage, or chicken. Carne asada comes highly praised, and chorizo sausage must be sampled before you leave. Long wooden dining tables are shared by guests, so enjoy a delightful meal and the opportunity to socialize with locals and tourists. Don't be discouraged by long lines; the staff has been doing this for years, and they'll get your order to you so quick and so sizzling hot you'll need extra time for it to cool down.

Recommended for Mission District's Best Restaurants because: If you only have time for one taco in the Mission, it has to be from La Tacqueria.

Tom's expert tip: What makes these "Mission-style" burritos so distinct - and popular - is the lack of any rice.

Read more about La Taqueria →


Meet Tom Molanphy

The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.

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