The lively Mission District in San Francisco is a hub of excellent dining spots, making a narrow list of choices a near impossibility. Here's a starter list of places to try if you find yourself in the area (in alphabetical order). Ranging from gourmet cuisine to local fare, to unforgettable donuts, these establishments offer a unique experience. Don't forget to try a burrito at one of the many Taquerias for a true Mission District experience.
Delfina is one of those places that's a bit too busy. You'll have to book way out to get a spot at the restaurant -- or take a chance at random bar seating. And once you're there, it's crowded, the quarters are a little tight. But, these drawbacks aside, it's also one of the Italian favorites around town, producing consistent, good, rustic Italian food.
Pizzeria Delfina, the more casual counterpart to Delfina, has a selection pizza (Margherita, Napoletana), antipasti and Dolce, in addition to its wine list (most available by the glass).
Bi-Rite Creamery is precisely what the name suggests -- a favorite ice cream spot using organic ingredients and rewarding the palate with flavors like coffee toffee and salted caramel. Because of Bi-Rite's proximity to Dolores Park, the sunny, weekend days bring out the dairy fans. You can also get popsicles, like a mint-tinged pineapple flavor, as well as a selection of baked goods.
You can count on a crowd at this popular bakery that carries eclairs, flourless mousse cake, bread pudding and croissants. You can also indulge in more substantial eats like a Croque Monsieur or one of a variety of pressed sandwiches available at lunchtime (noon).
Bar Tartine, the restaurant, serves dinner and Saturday and Sunday brunch. It has great ambiance with Italian marble bar, large wine selection and, of course, Tartine bread. The cuisine is California and Bay Area fare fused with Mediterranean.
Don't expect the Krispy Creme model at Dynamo. Flavors include more experimental and organic turns like lemon pistachio, maple bacon and chocolate spice. The donuts are somewhere between the texture of a cake donut and its more traditional brethren. You can also find Dynamo goods at Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission.
For more traditional donuts, try The Jelly Donut at 3198 24th Street (at Van Ness).
For another Mission coffee institution, head over to Ritual Coffee Roasters, a Mission favorite serving green coffee selections and striving for perfection in roasting technique.
South Indian cuisine, also served at Dosa Fillmore (1700 Fillmore). The restaurant uses mostly organic and free-range ingredients on a menu that incorporates tastes from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa among the southern states. What this means in terms of food is a variety of dosa, curries and traditional dishes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
Foreign Cinema has been around since 1999. It's a concept at first, in that the restaurant offers classic film screenings on the patio during dinner. It's a place to take first-time visitors for that uniqueness of ambiance. But there's also a great bar, a tucked away presence just off busy Mission Street and top-rated cuisine from chefs with both Zuni and Chez Panisse credentials.
The family-owned Limon stands out for its Peruvian-inspired menu and ceviche selections. The food is not strictly traditional, it's infused with other global flavors. The decor in the two-level venue is vibrant, the place is busy, service is friendly and you can enjoy wine by the glass or bottle, house cocktails, or a pitcher of sangria with your entrees and shared plates.
When it comes to taquerias and burritos, opinions can be heated. I admit to some Southern Californian longings when it comes to family-style Mexican restaurants (in the vein of Lucy's El Adobe, if you know the spot).
A few Mission favorites to experiment with: El Farolito, Pancho Villa and La Taqueria. La Taqueria closes the earliest in the evening (9p most nights), followed by Pancho Villa at midnight and El Farolito past midnight and well into the post-cocktail hours.