December 21

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Mission District Murals & Food Self-Guided Tour – 2023 New & Improved

By Mashav Shelef


Whether you have a whole day to spare or just a couple of hours, a self-guided food tour of the Mission District in San Francisco is a great way to discover this neighborhood and its diversity while tasting great dishes.

Why a food tour of the Mission District?

Mission and Valencia streets are the two parallel main streets that run through the neighborhood and dictate its character. Alternating from one to the other lets you glimpse, if only just superficially, of the extremities and uniqueness of this area. It’s a hotly debated subject among the residents of SF every time the term gentrification is mentioned. Still, you can’t ignore it here as one street preserved the way it used to be, and the next changed almost beyond recognition. While exploring the streets, enjoying the vibe and spirit of this neighborhood, notice the contrast between Mission st and Valencia st; and what seems like different points in time.

The Mission district is famous and influential for its restaurants. Dozens of taquerías are located throughout the neighborhood, showcasing a localized styling of Mexican food. San Francisco is the original home of the Mission burrito. There is also a high concentration of Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Nicaraguan restaurants and many street food vendors. Many Mission restaurants have gained national attention in the last couple of decades.

How to do this food tour?

How to take this tour is entirely up to you. I do suggest walking with at least one other person so that you can share the food. That way, you will try and taste more items (but you can definitely take it on your own!). You can take the entire route or pick and choose the stops that intrigue you, taste the dish I recommend, or try something else you feel excited about.

Combine with a Mural tour

The Mission district is known for its extraordinary street art and has one of the world’s highest concentrations of street art. More than 500 murals from the 70s to date, featuring countless artists. Exploring the Mission’s street art should be a must for every art buff and as impressive as a contemporary art museum.

A Google Map with the tour route and Murals points-of-interest and some additional restaurants and nightlife recommendations:

Plan your tour:

How many people can go on this tour?

The tour is best for a group of 2-5 people. But you can enjoy it alone (and pack all your leftovers!), or in a bigger group of up to 8, and then double the orders to ensure you order a good amount of food.

How long does the tour take?

It would take about 3.5-4 hours to complete all the tour stops, but if you feel like skipping some of them, it can be anywhere between 2-4 hours.

When is the best time to go?

  • Best time to do the tour to maximize opened stops would be Wednesday – Sunday between 11am-3pm
  • If you want to start a bit later, I suggest beginning anytime between 12pm-2:30pm. Monday and Tuesday are not too bad, but 2 of the stops are closed during these days.
  • Thursday is the Neighborhood’s Farmer’s Market day. If you’re going on a Thursday, it’s a great addition to the end of the tour!

How to get to the starting point:

  • BART: The quickest way to get from Union Square (and downtown SF) to the Mission is using BART. You can hop on at any station near Union Square. Exit at the 16th Street and Mission Station. After exiting the station, head west about three and a half blocks.
  • Bus: If you are coming from Fisherman’s Wharf, your best option is to take the Mission 49 bus. The 22 Fillmore electric bus stops at the front door.
  • MUNI: The J Church Streetcar stops one block to the west at Church Street.
  • Taxi/Uber/Lyft: make sure to put Misión San Francisco de Asís as your destination.
  • Car: Taking a car is another option. Parking on the street is quite difficult in this neighborhood, so I recommend parking in one of two main Mission garages: Mission-Bartlett Garage or Mission-Otis Garage.

More important info:

  • Bathrooms are available at most of the food stops (see description with details about that in each stop)
  • Plan on budgeting around $30 per person (before tax and tip) for the essential food cost for this tour. Budget $50 if you’re going by yourself. There’s one stop that takes cash only, so plan for that. I recommend budgeting a little bit extra in case you’d like to try more dishes and buy some interesting things along the way.
  • The walk is relatively easy, with no steep hills to conquer. Just 2.5 miles from the first to the last stop and another 0.8 miles to walk back to the starting point.
  • It’s encouraged to take leftovers with you; there are so many stops, you don’t want to fill up with the food in the first 2-3 stops! Keep it in mind.
  • Have fun and enjoy the delicious food!

What to bring?

  • Bring some cash; some stops are cash only.
  • Bring a tote bag – you’d probably want to buy a few groceries or other interesting items along the way!
  • Bring a water bottle or get a beverage at one of the stops.
  • Don’t forget your phone charger!

Find the interactive Google map with all the stops of the tour plus all these recommendations here.

The Tour

Stop 1 – Starting point: Misión San Francisco de Asís

The Mission District was one of my favorite neighborhoods to explore while living in San Francisco for seven years. This is a great spot to begin our Mission District tour.

Misión San Francisco de Asís, founded in 1776, stands as the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. The Mission Cemetery remains one of only three burial sites within the city limits. If you look into the larger basilica next door, you may see a Quinceañera or wedding taking place.

Here’s a little history of the district to get you acquainted with how this place came to be:

Mission District History

The Mission District is unique among San Francisco neighborhoods. It is the oldest neighborhood in the city and was named after Misión San Francisco de Asís (also called Mission Dolores), the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. It has been home to many different cultures throughout history. It has an unusual microclimate, which means it’s often warmer and sunnier here than in other parts of the city, particularly on San Francisco’s famously foggy days.

Native Peoples and Spanish Colonization

Mission’s original residents were the Yelamu people who settled in what is now San Francisco 4500 years ago. These Native Americans were part of the Ohlone people. Spanish missionaries arrived in the area during the late 18th century. They found these people living in two villages on Mission Creek. The establishment of Mission Dolores by Francisco Palou in 1776 settled the area with Spanish-Mexican families. This period marked the beginning of the end of the Yelamu culture. During less than 10 years, the Indian population at Mission Dolores dropped from 400 to 50.

The Continued Rise of The Mission

In the decades after the Gold Rush, the town of San Francisco quickly expanded, and the Mission lands were developed and subdivided into housing plots for working-class immigrants. The Mission District was a mixed neighborhood of Eastern European, Irish, Swedish, and German immigrants.

Earthquake and population shifts

The neighborhood transformed after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It was one of the few neighborhoods in the city that were not burned to the ground in the devastating fires that ravaged the city after the quake. Residents of burned-out areas, especially the South of Market area, moved to the Mission and pushed out the middle-class families that had occupied the neighborhood, making it into a low-income working-class neighborhood and the most heavily Irish area of San Francisco. Many Italian immigrants also moved into the Mission after 1906.

The population shifted yet again during the ’40s-’60s with the influx of Mexican and Central American Immigrants.

In the late 1950s, the Latino community began moving over to the Mission. During the 1970s-80s, the neighborhood took on its Latino identity more fully.

In the ’70s, an arts scene developed in the Mission, and art spaces, galleries, film festivals, and street performances came to life. This creative environment proved fertile ground for the street art movement, and murals began springing up.

We’ll learn more about the neighborhood’s history at one of the following stops. You must be hungry, so let’s go get some eating done! Walk one block north to the corner of 15th street, then turn right and walk two blocks to Valencia st. Turn right on Valencia and walk to 443 Valencia St, where you’ll find Venga Empanadas.

Stop 2: Venga Empanadas

Info:

  • 443 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103
  • www.vengaempanadas.com
  • +1 415-552-5895
  • Open every day 8:30am-8pm Friday + Saturday open till 10pm
  • bathroom available!

Intro:

Great selection of vegetarian and meat empanadas, made by hand fresh and daily, from scratch, here in this little shop.

The empanadas can be found in so many cultures and cuisines in different forms, but here you’ll be eating Argentinean-style Empanadas. With a crisp, flaky baked dough, not too thick and full of goodness.

venga empanada

What to get here:

The Argentinean Beef Empanada ($3.90), and don’t forget to use the chimichurri and red pepper sauce. There are plenty of vegetarian options: get the 5 Pepper and Manchego Empanada ($3.90). One empanada is excellent to share between two people.

A little bit about Argentinian Empanada:

Empanada is a dough pastry filled with various fillings and baked or fried. The origin of the empanadas is unknown but believed to be in the northwest region of Spain. It’s common in Spanish, Latin American, and other cultures. The name empanada comes from the Galician verb “empanar,” which is “enbreaded” – wrapped in bread.

The Argentinean Empanada is served during festivals and parties. The filling is called “recado,” and the way the dough is closed is called “simbado.”

Different regions have their own variations. Typical fillings can be beef or chicken, and ingredients such as olives, onion, hard-boiled egg, raisins, peppers, garlic, potatoes, and peas are usually added.

In Buenos Aires, the Creole empanada is so essential that it has been declared a Cultural Heritage of Food and Gastronomy by the Argentine Ministry of Culture.

Continue south on Valencia st until you reach the corner of 16th st. There you’ll find Panchita’, our next stop.

Stop 3 – Panchita’s #2 Restaurant

Info:

  • 3091 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
  • panchitaspupuseria.com
  • +1 415-431-4232
  • Open every day 9am-10pm Friday + Saturday open till 11pm
  • Bathroom available!

Intro:

A family-run business serving Salvadorian food and specializing in Pupusas. Been around since 1989. Be patient, the pupusas are made to order here (as they should be), and it’s definitely worth the wait!

What to get here:

Try the Pork Pupusa ($5). It’s a cornmeal dough filled with cheese and slow-cooked pork, pan-fried until crispy outside and soft and a bit chewy inside.

As a vegetarian option, get the Loroco Pupusa ($5). Loroco is a Salvadorian edible flower bud with a unique flavor and aroma. With it, you’ll be served some red salsa (salsa Roja) and lightly pickled cabbage (curtido) to accompany the pupusa. Get one pupusa to share between 2 people, or add another pupusa if you’re in a bigger group.

Other things to get here: If you want to try a beverage, get the Tamarind Juice ($3), it’s so good and refreshing!

A little bit about Pupusa:

Pupusa is the national dish of El Salvador. It’s a griddle cake made from cornmeal and stuffed with different ingredients such as cheese, vegetables, beans, and pork. It resembles the Venezuelan and Colombian Arepa.

Continue south on Valencia st, until you get to the corner of Clarion Alley. Turn left into the alley; this is our next stop!

Stop 4 – Clarion Alley Street Art

Cross from Valencia to Mission st. by walking through this alley. Originally called “Cedar Lane,” the alley’s name was changed around the turn of the twentieth century to Clarion Alley. The street is notable for community and arts activities. The organization Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) has produced over 700 murals on and around Clarion Alley by artists of all ethnicities, ages, and experience levels, emphasizing emerging artists, new styles, and social justice framework. Read more about this alley’s murals, artists, and the CAMP organization on their website. They also arrange tours led by artists in the alley. This is a must-stop for any street art admirer.

History of the Mission, Part 2

The 1990s–present

From the late 1990s through the 2010s, young urban professionals moved into the area, especially during the dot-com boom. Property values have soared along with evictions and displacements. New multimillion-dollar condominiums have replaced gas stations and auto repair shops. It is widely believed that their movement initiated gentrification.

Many Latino American middle-class families and artists moved to the Outer Mission area or out of the city entirely to the suburbs of East Bay or South Bay area. Many Mexican and Central American immigrants continue to reside in the Mission despite rising rent and housing prices. However, the neighborhood’s high rents and home prices have led to the Latino population dropping by 20% over the decade until 2011.

For many years, the Mission has been the battleground for protests over evictions, tech shuttles, gentrification, and the soaring cost of living. The Mission’s longtime residents struggle to make businesses work, fighting to keep a foothold in their homes and coping with an unprecedented influx of wealth.

Today the neighborhood is home to extreme wealth and poverty and still provides the culturally rich and dynamic energy that has attracted so many.

This history is relevant to the Mission District because many murals illustrate SF’s immigrant history and political landscape. The Murals offer a visual history lesson on the immigrant experience, gentrification, and modern politics. While street art is all over San Francisco, the Mission has a highly concentrated brew of images and messages very particular to the neighborhood.

Walk all the way to Mission st, at the end of the alley. Now that you’ve seen Valencia st, look at Mission st and note how different it appears and feels.

To get to our next stop, turn right on Sycamore st and walk back to Valencia st. Turn left and walk to 659 Valencia st; you’ll find Curry Up Now.

Stop 5 – Curry Up Now

Info:

  • 659 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • www.curryupnow.com
  • +1 415-903-8700
  • Open every day 11am-9pm Friday+Saturday open till 10pm
  • Bathroom is available!

Intro:

Started out as a food truck, Curry Up Now embodies everything the San Francisco food scene is about: exquisite international cuisine rolled inside a burrito. After those deeply satisfying chicken tikka burritos, Curry Up Now opened a few locations and expanded their menu, focusing on Indian street food, matched with other cultures’ preparations. This fusion style works exceptionally well, and since they specialize in street food, it’s worth a stop here in this Mission tour.

What to get here:

Deconstructed Samosa ($11) with your choice of protein (my favorite is Paneer). One order would be enough for up to 4 people as a snack. It’s one of their best sellers: mini Samosas piled with chutneys, chana (chickpeas), crispy sev noodles, and pico. All the flavors and textures are mixed together to create a great street snack. If you want to try a lighter version (or for a solo traveler), get the Samosa Chat ($9) instead, which features samosas, chickpeas, and chutneys but with a creamy yogurt sauce instead one of their curries. Other things to try here:

Pani Puri ($9) or Dahi Puri ($9) (but don’t get both, too similar).

A little bit about Chaat:

Chaat is a name for street food in India. It usually comprises a savory starch topped with vegetables and legumes (like chickpeas, tomatoes, and onions here), and a variety of chutneys that balance all the flavors: Creamy yogurt, sweet and tart tamarind sauce, and herby chutney. The dish you will taste here is a samosa chaat, and its irresistibility comes from the combination of sweet, salty, crunchy, spicy, and savory ingredients.

Continue on Valencia st until 18th st, then turn right on 18th st. Walk until the intersection with Lapidge st. You can’t miss the big building all painted in jaw-dropping murals. This is our next stop.

Stop 6 – The Women’s Building – Maestrapeace Mural

From The Women’s Building website: Meaning “Woman teacher of peace,” Maestrapeace Mural stands five stories tall and is the jewel of San Francisco’s Mission District. MaestraPeace Mural was painted in 1994 by the “Who’s Who” of Bay Area muralists: Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, and Irene Perez. One of San Francisco’s most prominent and best-known murals, MaestraPeace, serves as a visual testament to the courageous contributions of women through time and around the world. Every day, the mural attracts the awe and cameras of tourists from around the world. It is seen by them and the San Francisco Bay Area community as a work of artistic achievement and a symbol of the contributions of women throughout history and the world. To read more about the muralists, the artworks, and the history and renovation process, see here.

Continue on 18th st just until Linda st. Turn left and walk south until you cross 19th St. You’ll see a little park with a building in the middle. This is the mission Pool Building. You can walk around it using a little pathway that leads to Cunningham Pl.

Stop 7 – Mission Pool Murals (and around)

The mural covering the facade of Mission Pool at 19th and Linda St. from 1987 is called New World Tree of Life by Juana Alicia, Susan Cervantes, and Raul Martinez.

Before returning to Valencia st, stop by Cunningham pl to see a mural by André Karpov: Compassion Lives Here.

From the SFweekly article on this piece: “Andre Karpov drew himself in the mural — he’s the guy playing guitar on the left — but the artwork is much more a neighborhood and Bay Area narrative than an autobiographical piece. The evidence is in the worker with a broom, the sleeping man, the homeless figure digging through a garbage can, and the side-by-side housing that overlooks the scene — along with a long-haired woman whose hair blends in with the curves of a blue Golden Gate Bridge.”

Further in, you’ll be able to see a work by Victor Reyes.

From Cunningham Pl, turn right back into Valencia st and continue until 951 Valencia St where you’ll find the next stop.

Stop 8 – Xanath Ice Cream (update: permanently closed)

Info:

  • 951 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • www.xanath.com
  • +1 415-648-8996
  • Open Tuesday – Sunday 12pm-8pm Friday + Saturday open till 9pm

Intro:

If you think vanilla ice cream is boring, think again. Here, the specialty is vanilla bean. Forget about your standard white and artificially flavored vanilla scoop. These guys are serious about their vanilla. You can choose from different vanilla origins for your scoop, but you can also buy the vanilla pods here by the pound for a bargain price. You’ll notice that the vanilla ice cream is off-white and almost brownish – that’s because they use the whole vanilla pod and not just the seeds. The result is an intense vanilla-flavored scoop that’s really different than what you usually taste.

The founder, Juan J. San Mames, started importing vanilla from Veracruz, Mexico, where Vanilla planifolia originated. The indigenous habitants of the region, the Totonacs, called it “Xanath” (sha-NATH), literally meaning “Hidden Flower” in their native language. Juan talks about the store’s history: “Years of buying, selling, visiting vanilla plantations, meeting farmers, packers, and manufacturers of extracts have given us a thorough understanding and a profound appreciation of true vanilla. It is from this love of vanilla that we decided to share its goodness directly with the people in our neighborhood, and that’s why we decided to start an ice cream shop right in the heart of the Mission, on Valencia Street, where we have been living and doing business since 1989”.

What to get here:

Stock up on vanilla beans by the pound (there’s also a paste and an extract form). Prices vary according to the origin. While you’re at it, you should try their vanilla ice cream. Get a child scoop ($2.50) of the Mexican Vanilla, made with a tremendous amount of vanilla beans using the whole pods– it’s intense. If you want to try two scoops and compare vanillas – there’s Madagascar vanilla and Tahitian vanilla with coconut. You might also want to try their Saffron flavor, of which they also sell the spice.

A little bit about the differences between types of vanilla:

The vanilla orchid was initially brought from Mexico to the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean in the 1800s, and those lands now supply two-thirds of the world’s vanilla. Madagascar leads the pack, with Indonesia in second place. While Indonesian vanilla comes from the same plant, it is said to have a smokier aroma and taste than creamier, sweeter Madagascan and Mexican vanilla.

Madagascan vanilla (also called bourbon vanilla, which is where this vanilla was grown) comes from the same plant and has the same flavor notes as Mexican vanilla. The only significant difference is that in Mexico, the plant is pollinated by a bee, and in Madagascar, humans need to pollinate the flower, leading to its higher price.

Tahitian Vanilla is a natural hybrid between two vanilla species: Vanilla planifolia, better known as Bourbon vanilla, and Vanilla odorata, very rare vanilla found in the forests of Belize and Guatemala. Tahitian vanilla bean is thicker than the Mexican variety, which is thinner and more subtle, and delicate on the palate.

The flavor of Tahitian vanilla is heavily influenced by the tropical climate and the soil. It contains flavor notes of caramel and anise, with delicate touches of chocolate that melt in the mouth.

Continue south on Valencia until 21st st, then turn left and walk east until you get to Mission st. Turn left and walk north until you get to 2475 Mission St. This is our next stop.

Stop 9 – Cafe La Taza

Info:

  • 2475 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • www.cafelataza.com
  • +1 415-824-7717
  • Open every day 6am-2:30pm (call to ask current hours) Saturday opens at 6:30am, and Sunday at 7am
  • Bathroom is available!

Intro:

People might pass by La Taza and think this is just a Café, but there’s so much more going on here. Café La Taza has been around for over 20 years, since 1998, owned and operated by the Martinez family, originally from Nicaragua. Taza started out as a mere coffee shop, selling pastries, bagels, fresh juices, salads, sandwiches, etc. But over the last 10 years, they’ve flourished to the point where they’re now a full-on restaurant – with a full bar!

What to get here:

Classic Ceviche de Pescado ($11) served with a dollop of sweet potato puree, cancha (toasted large Peruvian corn), and hominy. One order is enough for 2 people as a snack.

What makes ceviche an excellent ceviche is the balance of acid and salt. I often order ceviche in a restaurant only to be disappointed it wasn’t seasoned well. The whole point of ceviche is that perfect balance. When a ceviche is good, you’d want to drink the liquid left on the plate. Peruvians call this Leche de Tigre (“tiger milk”), the citrus and salt marinade that ceviche is cured in.

A little bit about Ceviche:

Peruvian ceviche is a traditional dish in Peru. In Peru, ceviche has been declared part of Peru’s “national heritage” and announced a holiday in its honor. The classic Peruvian ceviche is composed of chunks of raw fish, marinated in freshly squeezed key lime or bitter orange (Naranja agria) juice, with sliced onions, chili peppers, salt, and pepper. Corvina or cebo (sea bass) was the fish traditionally used. The mixture was traditionally marinated for several hours and served at room temperature, with chunks of corn-on-the-cob and slices of cooked sweet potato. Read more about the secret for a good ceviche and a mango-salmon ceviche recipe in this Always Tasting article.

If you have some time to make a detour to reach an excellent fishmonger and get yourself some oysters or seafood to take home, walk 2 blocks south in Mission street until you get to 2687 Mission St.

If you want to skip the detour, continue north on Mission St until you encounter an entrance to a parking lot on 2351 Mission st with big signage that says “El Capitan” this is the next stop.

Stop 10 – Detour – Sun Fat Seafood Co

Info:

  • 2687 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • www.facebook.com
  • +1 415-282-9339
  • Open every day 9am-5pm

Intro:

If you’re willing to make a slight detour and walk a few extra blocks to find a quality little fishmonger shop, now is your chance.

What to get here:

Great variety of fish and shellfish, reasonable prices. Check out the live oyster selection and pick a dozen to take home. My personal favorites are the Kusshi Oysters.

Walk back north on Mission st 3 blocks until you encounter an entrance to a parking lot on 2351 Mission st with big signage that says “El Capitan” this is the next stop.

Stop 11 – El Capitan Murals

From an SFGate article: (read the entire piece for more information): just the concrete breezeway between Mission Street and the parking lot, you’ll see a “battle of the bands” with music-themed murals celebrating everyone from the Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix to Guns N’ Roses (which Mace painted himself). Walkout back to the roughly 100 car parking lot, and you’ll find a museum’s worth of street art.

Alex “Mace” Douhovnikoff, a Lincoln High School teacher and a street artist, has helped transform a formerly trash-ridden lot behind an SRO into an outdoor gallery befitting the building’s ornate front facade (it was previously a historic theatre).

Walk back to Mission st, and continue north until the corner of 19th st. Can you spot the mural we’re about to see here?

Stop 12 – Para La Mission – Santana Mural

Santana (2015) by Mel Waters and David Cho. Mel Waters about his artwork: “My motivation to paint this mural was the rich history and artistic culture of the Hispanic and Latino community within the Mission district of San Francisco. Another part of my motivation was the change going on in the neighborhood. Evictions resulting in gentrification were heavy at the time. All the mural’s magical parts came together with the hope and faith that I could make Mission district natives proud. I poured my heart into my work and reached out to my fellow artist, David Cho, hoping it would bring positive energy back into the community….”

Continuing on Mission st, cross 19th st until you find 2288 Mission St. This is our next stop.

Stop 13 – Taqueria Cancun

Info:

  • 2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • taqueria-cancun.cafes-world.com
  • +1 415-252-9560
  • Mon, Wed, Thu 10:00 am – 12:30 am Fri – Sat 10:00 am – 2:00 am Sun 10:00 am – 1:30 am Tuesdays – Closed
  • cash only!
  • Bathroom is available!

Intro:

A tour of the mission district will not be complete without a visit to one of its great taquerias. Taqueria Cancun is a solid choice if you’re around 19th st; if you don’t want to hike down to 24th st. It’s an old-standing and reliable institution and a great place to explore what SF taquerias offer. It’s a no-frills eatery with all the classic offerings that will have the newbie and the taco expert happy and satisfied.

For a much more in-depth experience of the mission district’s taqueria scene, download our upcoming taco crawl tour of 24th st (for another day!).

What to get here:

The burrito is what this place is known for, but a massive burrito would be too large to consume and not so sharing-friendly for this food tour. We suggest trying a taco here, which is excellent and suitable for tasting or even sharing between two people. Get the Lengua Super Taco ($5) with tender pieces of beef tongue. Get the Al Pastor (marinated pork) Super Taco if beef tongue isn’t your thing. One taco per person is a good amount as a snack. You’ll also get a heaping basket of their addictive tortilla chips and salsas with this order. Come back here for a late-night munchies attack and devour the Burrito Mojado – a sloppy wet version of the mission burrito smothered in enchilada sauce, guacamole, sour cream, and melted cheese.

A little bit about the Mission Style Burrito:

A Mission burrito (also known as a San Francisco burrito) became popular during the 1960s in the Mission District of San Francisco, California.

Many taquerías in the Mission and greater San Francisco Bay Area specializing in Mission burritos. It is typically a jumbo tortilla wrapped around a variety of ingredients such as rice, beans, meat, cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and a host of veggie elements, from avocado and pico de gallo to jalapeño pepper and lettuce, served in a piece of aluminum foil, to hold the structure together.

The Mission-style burrito is unmatched for its sheer size and quality of the ingredients that add to its cylindrical shape.

It is debated where was the original Mission-style burrito born. Some credit the owners of “La Cumbre” Taqueria near Valencia and 16th. Some pin it back to the owner of El Faro as the originator of the San Francisco Mission‑style “super burrito” on September 26, 1961.

It has been referred to as one of three major styles of burritos in the United States, following the earlier, simple burrito consisting of beans, rice, and meat. It precedes the California burrito, developed in the 1980s, and includes cheese and French fries.

Our next stop is the neighboring spot, one store down, on 2290 Mission St.

Stop 14 – Fiestabowls

Info:

  • 2290 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • fiestabowls.us
  • +1 415-913-7164
  • Open every day 12pm-6pm Friday + Saturday open till 7pm

Intro:

Stepping inside this cheery and colorful store in the heart of Mission street feels like you’re walking into a dessert stand in Mexico City. They have all the popular Mexican snacks and desserts, and they make their own sherberts and ice cream in-house.

What to get here:

Try a traditional Mangonada (small size $5.50) if you never had one. One is enough for 2 people. Get the bigger size if you’re a bigger group. They also have a similar cup of Piñanada made from pineapples. We tried it, and it’s also pretty good. But if you wish to try something even more interesting, go for the El Gazpacho ($4.50), which is a similar concept but with various fresh fruits and vegetables.

A little bit about Mangonada:

The mangonada is a staple in Mexican communities. Usually consists of Mango Sorbet (here it’s made in-house), Chamoy—a savory condiment made from pickled stone fruit and lime, and Tajín, a lime-flavored chili powder. The cup is topped with fresh diced mango, and a tamarind paste-wrapped straw rolled in chili powder. Sweet, tart, and savory, this dessert is very refreshing. You can also find it in street festivals around the Mission and sometimes sold by street vendors.

Now that you’ve seen and tasted some of what Mission st and Valencia st has to offer, did you get a chance to feel the gap between those two streets? I find it fascinating. We’re walking back to Valencia st for our next two stops, so if you feel like exploring Mission st a little longer, now is your chance. You can stroll around and wander inside some fascinating shops, grocery stores and possibly spot some street vendors. Doesn’t it feel like a parallel universe than where we started?

To get to our next stop, walk back to 19th st; turn right and walk east until you reach Valencia st. Turn right and walk north until you reach 766 Valencia St; this is our next stop.

On your way, you might find the entrance to the acclaimed 2 Michelin star restaurant, Lazy Bear, sitting there between the polarized streets. I find it symbolic.

Stop 15 – Bernal Cutlery

Info:

  • 766 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • bernalcutlery.com
  • +1 415-355-0773
  • Open every day 12pm-6pm

Intro:

A real culinary tour will not be complete without a specialized culinary store. Bernal Cutlery opened for business in 2005 and specializes in all things knife-related. Owner Josh Donald tells how he started the business: “I began Bernal Cutlery as a sharpening service from my apartment in Bernal Heights San Francisco in 2005 when my first son was a baby. I was laid off,… so to make ends meet, we put up some flyers in the neighborhood, and I would pick up knives in the hood and sharpen them during my son’s naps. Shortly after that, I began refurbishing vintage knives and selling them on eBay and around town to cooks. I started the business with $40 and a few Japanese stones at the house. We opened our first brick & mortar shop as a part of the then-new 331 Cortland small business incubator collective in 2010. We have since moved twice due to outgrowing our shells and are now at home on Valencia Street in the dynamic Mission District.”

What to get here:

Maybe you feel like getting a new knife, a kitchen gadget or a cooking book. They have great aprons, and there’s even a section for enticing condiments.

To reach our next spot, walk up a few stores until 740 Valencia St. Ready for a final bite for this tour?

Stop 16 – Dandelion Chocolate

Info:

  • 740 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • www.dandelionchocolate.com
  • +1 415-349-0942
  • Open every day 11am-7pm Saturday + Sunday till 9pm
  • Bathroom is available (and it’s a really nice one!)

Intro:

Stop here and fill your nose with the thick chocolate aroma; the place is a mini chocolate factory specializing in single-origin dark chocolate of the highest quality. There are usually a few tastings of their different origins chocolate bars on the sidewalls of the store. They also do chocolate tasting flights from different regions of the world, and the chocolate is used in a variety of desserts.

“Our chocolate has just two ingredients: cocoa beans and organic sugar. Since our earliest days, we’ve focused on bringing out the nuances within really good cocoa, using only two ingredients: ethically sourced, well-fermented, carefully roasted beans and organic cane sugar. To allow the most flavors to shine through, we don’t add cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, flavorings, or preservatives—all commonly used in chocolate making.”

What to get here:

Try the European Drinking Chocolate ($4.50). It’s a liquid cup of bittersweet chocolate, and you can add a homemade marshmallow on top. Another option is to try their Brownie Bite Flight ($6) which includes three mini brownies, each made from different single-origin chocolate. I’ve also heard that their Chocolate Chip Cookies are divine ($3).

An excellent way to finish this tour is to walk a few blocks to the famous Dolores Park and enjoy the views of the city. If you want to explore the streets some more, feel free to do that instead. Just make sure to check out the list of additional recommendations of the area. If you’re ready to get to the finish line, walk south on Valencia st, back to 19th st, and turn right. Within two blocks, you’ll find yourself entering the park. Make sure you find a good spot that overlooks the city.

Stop 17 – Finish line – Mission Dolores Park.

A perfect spot to finish this tour would be a visit to Dolores Park. Mission Dolores Park is a vibrant representation of cultural diversity. The park is also known for its brilliant views of the San Francisco Bay, the East Bay, and the city skyline. The park opened in 1903 on a former Jewish cemetery site, which was moved to San Mateo County. It served as a refugee camp after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Today, it’s among the most popular parks in San Francisco for everything from sports to picnic areas. On a sunny weekend day, you can find crowds of up to 10,000 people visiting the park in a day.

So by now, you must have tasted some of the wonders this neighborhood has to offer, explored its unique shops, snacks, restaurants, and local gems. You probably won’t be surprised to find out there’s still much to enjoy and explore here.

More Recommendations:

Here are some additional recommendations for coffee, bars, restaurants, and more in the Mission between 16th and 23rd streets.

If you’re here on a Thursday, don’t miss the Mission Community Market for some beautiful produce.

Open Thursdays 3-7pm, March-November

Bars and Nightlife:

  • WesBurger n’ More
  • ABV
  • The Monk’s Kettle
  • Curio
  • Trick Dog
  • Blondie’s Bar
  • Loló
  • Bon Voyage!
  • Etcetera Wine Bar

Restaurants:

  • Mission Chinese Food – A real fusion restaurant with delicious food. Try the kung pao pastrami.
  • Hawker Fare – Northern Thai / Laos. Try the Laab.
  • Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar and Izakaya – People say this is the best vegan sushi in the city.
  • Udupi Palace – Southern Indian vegetarian cuisine. Almost everything is a great choice. My personal favs are Saag Paneer, Samosa chat, Batura, and cauliflower Dosa.
  • Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine – Great for the vibe, cocktail, and fun Thai over-the-top feast. Try the Panang Neua or their Volcano Cup Noodle.
  • Rhea’s Deli & Market – Try their Korean Steak Sandwich
  • Ramenwell – Ramen and Hawaiaan bites. Get their signature pork Ramen and don’t miss their Spam Musubi
  • El Techo – Great spot to enjoy cocktails and some Latin fare on the rooftop when the weather is nice.
  • Tartine Manufactory – go here for the famous Tartine bread, sandwiches and pastries.

Bakeries and Coffee:

  • Craftsman and Wolves
  • Tartine Bakery
  • Four Barrel Coffee
  • Stable Cafe

Cool Stores:

  • 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store
  • Community Thrift
  • Dog Eared Books
  • Stranded Records SF

Links and Sources:

For more information about the history of the Mission Neighborhood check out these great links:

Soon to come…

Ready to explore more of the Mission District? Stay tuned for the soon-to-be-released food tour of 24th Street of the Mission District, which would center around Tacos, Murals, and much more. Another soon-to-be-released food tour of the Mission would include a totally different set of must-try stops around the same part of the neighborhood as this tour explored.

Also, don’t forget to check out more of Always Tasting Self-Guided Food Tours in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and New York (coming soon).

Mashav Shelef


I’m a trained chef, a food writer, a culinary traveler, a food explorer and a mom. My mission in life is to inspire and motivate people by helping them experience life through food.

Mashav Shelef

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