They say if you want to know what passion drives a city, listen to people’s conversation. In San Francisco, talk is all about the restaurants. The city’s location on the edge of the Pacific Rim draws influence from the many immigrants who have settled here, particularly those from China and Japan who opened many of the city’s first restaurants. In fact, it’s here where Asian-fusion cuisine was born.
While sampling Asian food is a must when in San Francisco, you may want to consider passing on Chinatown and instead head to the multi-ethnic Mission District to indulge your appetite. As the city’s first neighborhood, the Mission District is edgy and artsy, and you’ll find delicious meals in venues ranging from funky new pop-ups to elegant eateries.
Quince – 470 Pacific Avenue
This divine Jackson Square restaurant, housed in a historically landmarked brick and timber building, offers a truly special-occasion-style dining experience. Its menu, created by Chef Michael Tusk (2011 recipient of the James Beard award “Best Chef-Pacific”), features an Italian-inspired menu with some French influences. Quince’s menu selections change to celebrate the seasonal bounty of Northern California and the restaurant even lavishes a four-course dinner menu and a Chef’s Tasting Menu that change nightly. An extensive wine list features a particular focus on Italian reds from Piedmont.
Foreign Cinema – 2534 Mission Street
“Dinner at a movie,” you ask. How good could the food possibly be? Well, if the grilled cocoa-ajwaan kobe bavette steak with truffled potato-celery root puree and Zinfandel butter at Foreign Cinema is any indication—very good indeed. And did I mention the oyster selection is amazing? This is no gimmicky spot at all, but rather white-tablecloth elegant. The films, independent and foreign (with subtitles), are projected on the restaurants courtyard wall for an incredibly romantic atmosphere. Not to be missed is Foreign Cinema’s adjacent bar, Lazlo, which exudes a very cool industrial-chic ambience with unique small plate offerings.
Commonwealth – 24 Mission Street
The Mission District is also home to one of the city’s most buzz-worthy restaurants whose hallmark is producing “serious food in casual surroundings.” Commonwealth’s progressive American cuisine incorporates an array of international ingredients and standout dishes include sea urchin with sweet potato tempura. The restaurant offers a 6-course tasting menu for $65, from which $10 is donated to a local charity.
Mission Chinese Food – 2234 Mission Street
This hip restaurant serves up creative Asian food in a space shared with the old-school Chinese restaurant, Lung Shan. Best described as a “dive” (I mean that in a good way), it’s getting rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times’ Mark Bitman, scores of food bloggers, and even came in #2 on Bon Appetit’s Best New US Restaurants for 2011. Bon Appetit’s restaurant editor, Andrew Knowlton, says, “…it’s worth the wait to get some of the most out-of-this-world creative (and seriously delicious) Sichuan-inspired dishes in America right now. The cumin lamb belly? Fiery and addictive. Warm egg custard with duck confit and sea urchin? Brilliant. Hot-and-sour pork dumplings made to order? Further proof that the runaway success of MCF is no accident…”
Heirloom Café – 2500 Folsom Street
This charming rustic café—think wooden floors, high ceilings and common tables—offers simple, seasonal and very well-prepared food at reasonable prices. It features an open kitchen and its cellar, boasting mature, impeccably sourced wines from California and Europe is its pride and joy. Insiders tell us that the best dish is not on the menu. Ask for the Heirloom Burger, which has Époisses cheese worked into the ground sirloin.
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