Thank you, San Francisco, for being utterly shameless about your pastries. Thank you for collectively indulging without grimace or second-thoughts, without judgement and idle. Perhaps most importantly, thank you for baking pastries that are so completely worth every morsel. On the flip side of that, thank you for opening new, health-centric cafes where I can balance out the pastries with bowls of fresh, organic vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruit. Conveniently, both sides of the coin can be found in the Mission.
If you are like me and you plan your days around cafes and restaurants, keep lists on your iPhone for every city east to west, and trust the Bon Appetit editors as if what they pronounce is gospel, then you likely spend a lot of time in the Mission when in San Francisco. The choices are seemingly endless, and even the locals are challenged with keeping up with the inundation of new restaurants. You could confine your dining to this area for a year and still not have exhausted it. After a rather eventful flight into the city on a recent trip, I woke the next morning with one goal on the agenda: check off as many ‘Priority’ spots as possible. Let this be merely a sample of all there is to eat and imbibe.
The smell of the famous morning bun with candied orange zest is a silent, scented catcall that brings loyal clientele and visitors from all corners of the world. They happily stand in line for a long while; maybe they prefer the croissants the size of my head, both sweet and savory, the seasonal fruit tortes, the brioche bread pudding, the quiche… I will stop there, but it’s endless. I sat at the communal table with my excellent Four Barrel Coffee cappuccino and watched Tartine go round me. I watched a gentleman take boxes of morning buns to-go on his way to work, (bonus points for that guy). I watched a woman with her well-behaved golden retriever sans leash share a pastry at the bar while waiting for a giant cafe-au-lait. I watched the two gentlemen in the photo above slice into their croissants, flakes of pastry falling to the plate, layers of Valrhona chocolate revealed, mixing with the scent of my cappuccino. I promised myself to return for an indulgence, and I headed back out into the morning. The line was out the door when I left.
I needed to pace myself. I ducked into Green Heart Foods on 20th for a re-balance, a ying/yang experience. The loveliest young woman helped me decide on a healthy breakfast: a bowl of greek yogurt with lots of fresh, organic berries and homemade, sugar-free granola. I also opted for a locally made vegetable juice, and I took one of the sesame cookies to-go, knowing that my sugar would drop at some point in the day. I felt fantastic, but I needed more coffee. I hopped over to Sightglass.
Sightglass’s 20th street location has become the blueprint for new-wave coffee houses from Portland to Oslo; a double-ceiling, open plan with a black, white, and wood color scheme, oodles of natural light, and an in-house roaster. It is perhaps one of the most instagrammed cafes in all of San Francisco and an ever-popular design favorite on pinterest. Underneath the custom-designed art-deco pastry case, I graze my eyes over a myriad of morning goodies. I choose a cherry and chocolate scone made by local world-renowned baker b.Patisserie, and I tuck into a banquet seat beneath a tall wall of original, lead-glass windows.
If you find yourself in the mission around lunchtime, or if you made a point to be there around lunchtime like I did, go for the ‘Bowl’ at Green Heart Foods. Mine was made with quinoa, black beans, kimchi cabbage, carrots, kale, sweet potato, and seeds. It was big enough for three lunches, but after a morning of hiking and exploring, I welcomed the large serving. Later, dinner options will send you spinning. You can eat any cuisine you ever dreamt of or remember from faraway travels, imbibe on any cocktail you can invent in your increasingly creative San Francisco mind, and indulge in any sweet afterthought for which you have saved ample room.
For a cozy, romantic evening,or equally appropriate with a friend or visiting parents, slip into the dimly-lit, sweetly designed Frances on 17th street, technically in the Castro. San Franciscans dine early, and you may find yourself waiting for a table even if you arrive just after the 5pm opening. SF darling and highly esteemed chef Melissa Perello keeps close ties with local farms and purveyors in order to offer a daily-changing menu that welcomes locavores and vegetarians alike. The dishes are beautifully presented but not overly fussy, enabling a soft, welcoming and unassuming atmosphere and a lovely ambience. I love the details in the simple but thoughtful decor; the small bar big enough for just a handful, the basket filled with perfectly rolled towels in the sweetly smelling bathroom, the simple red wooden chair at the end of the hall. We loved the little bowl of grilled beets, the fresh gem salad with charred citrus vinaigrette, and the divine, aptly named Lumberjack cake, made with whichever mandarin or persimmon relation is at the height of its season, medjool date, and other secret ingredients, and balanced with muscovado ice cream. I trust that Frances will become a regular spot for me, although not too regular, because I would never be able to resist the Lumberjack. In fact, after that dinner and all of the time spent tasting the Mission, I felt quite akin to the Lumberjack.
Frances: 3870 17th Street
Green Heart Foods: 3321 20th Street
Tartine Bakery: 600 Guerrero Street
Sightglass Coffee:3014 20th Street