The urban mix of San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood is legendary: a blend of cultures from around the world which dovetail sublimely with each other without effort, yet highlight the gifts, colors, and vibrancy of ethnicities from around the globe. No place is this fusion more prevalent than on 16th Street at Valencia, in the burgeoning culinary mix of restaurants that feature casual, upscale, and low-brow affordable neighborhood fare served up to visitors and locals alike.
Here are some of its finest finds, with enough stellar food to satisfy the hole-in-the-wall aficionado as well as hipster groove-seekers, too.
Picaro Tapas Restaurant
A truly grand experience of Spanish cuisine, Picaro Tapas is a slammed cultural scene on any weekend evening. Specializing in paella – seafood, fish, or vegetarian – the dish is served in huge metal paella pans and makes a splash at the table in both style and taste delicacy. The menu is huge, with a gargantuan array of tapas, including calamari, salmon, scallops, clams, grilled artichoke and asparagus, spinach béchamel, and much more. Beyond the amazing dishes is the contagious experience in pure dining delight: a fast-paced, delightful clamor of tables full of international types having an exquisitely fine time. Prices range from $5-$9 for tapas and $15 per person average for paella.
Picaro Tapas Restaurant, 3120 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 431 4089
Pittsburgh-Italian style right down to the last menu item, this slick-table-topped, urban eatery specializes in ‘All-In-One Sandwiches.’ At Giordano Bros, thick slices of Italian bread are piled with grilled Italian meats and provolone, with freshly cut fries and a tart, vinegary coleslaw served on top. Choose from steak, pastrami, coppa, spicy sausages (both hot and sweet), salami, Kielbasa, fried egg and bacon. The metal-topped bar draws even midday crowds, and the feel is easy and neighborhood like, with house cocktails called ‘Partly Cloudy,’ ‘Hound,’ and the ‘Govt. Mule.’ Prices range from $7-$8.50 for sandwiches and cocktails from $7-$9.
Giordano Bros., 3108 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 437 2767
The Pork Store Café
Slick, urban and neighborly at the same time, The Pork Store is an upscale breakfast, lunch and dinner establishment. With an elbow-friendly bar and a lazy Susan-like assortment of meats to choose from, the place is a sandwich fan’s dream come true. Classic Reubens, crab cake sandwich (real crab), hot pastrami, BLT with egg and cheese, and tons of breakfast specials, including a chicken-and-waffles special as well as a handful of veggie specials, the eatery has a little something for the whole clan. Prices are moderate, ranging from $9-$10 for sandwiches.
The Pork Store Café, 3122 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 626 5523
A spin on the traditional pub scene, this thriving bar offers a long list of beers (with tons of Belgian labels on the list) and high-end ‘pub fare.’ Citrus-marinated olives, salt cod croquettes, and a pretzel knot with cheese fondue spin the Monk’s Kettle appetizer menu into a whole new category, while handcrafted charcuterie and mains like duck confit bread salad, whole rainbow trout, and grilled flank steak grace tables with exquisitely plated, delicious flavors. The cast-iron schmaltz-fried chicken sandwich is not to be missed.
Monk’s Kettle, 3141 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 865 9523
A tiny café serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine, its noodle dishes, veggie delights, and chicken and fish dishes meet the absolute criteria for hole-in-the-wall delights. The place is warm and toasty inside on a chilly evening, and the sweet smell of pan-fried and steamed delicacies fill the room with heart-warming scents. Red tablecloths adorn the tables, and steaming plates of steamed or crispy sea bass, pepper prawns, spicy calamari and more come pouring out of the efficient kitchen. Prices are moderate with most dishes at $9-$15.
Just next door, find the perfect falafel and shawarma café, a small but lovely neighborhood vibe where locals line up forMediterranean treats. Find truly tasty homemade falafel at Truly Mediterranean – served with quick-to-make-you-sweat hot sauces – lightly crispy on the outside and chock-full of parsley and herbs on the inside. Chicken and lamb shawarma roast on spits near the grill, and melt-in-your-mouth Baba Ghannoush graces the menu. Prices range from $7-$10, so the place is a bargain.
Truly Mediterranean, 3109 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 252 7482
Rounding out the 16th and Valencia block is Stanza Coffee, a moodily lit, dark wood café specializing in fresh roasted beans and pastries. The perfect place to hang for an afternoon and shoot the breeze with a friend or while the hours away with a favorite novel, this place is intimate with a laid-back neighborhood vibe that will please even the midday café novel reader.
Stanza Coffee, 3126 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, +1 415 529 1592
By JoAnneh Nagler
JoAnneh Nagler is a travel writer and the author of the books How to Be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind, Your Shirt or Your Creative Compass, and The Debt-Free Spending Plan, an Amazon Top 100 Book. www.AnArtistryLife.com.