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My hope is to inspire you to be fearless in the kitchen, to try new things, to take the time to make things the homemade way and most importantly, to have fun doing it!

Visiting San Franciso, Part 2: The Mission District

Thanks for all of your lovely feedback on the first in my series of posts about our trip to California! These posts take quite a while to organize and create but I am thrilled to know that many of you find them enjoyable and useful. I thoroughly enjoy writing them! (Side note – I’m including links to the actual business websites as well as to their TripAdvisor pages for your easy trip planning. I rely a lot on TripAdvisor so I just can’t leave those out!) One more note – if you are familiar with the Mission District food scene, you may notice I’m omitting a couple of San Fran icons from this particular post. Those will be in my next and final SF post, i.e. the quintessential things that deserve to be featured separately.

Today I’m focusing on the San Francisco’s Mission District. You may remember that last summer when we visited Rome, we went on a guided food tour of the neighborhood where we stayed. Before that time, I never would have considered myself a guided tour kind of person, but that tour changed everything! Now I realize that a well curated food tour is a perfect way to explore an unfamiliar area. It allows you to try some of the best food in the area while chatting with a knowledgeable local who can provide even more recommendations than you have time to try in the scope of the tour. In Rome, I made the mistake of doing this on our last day there. This time I got it right and scheduled it as the first official thing we did (after wandering to the Ferry Building, that is.) We met up with our tour guide at the Women’s Building which sports this incredible mural. Talking about that amazing work of art is beyond the scope of this post, but read about it if you have the time. It is fascinating and inspiring!

I’m not going to share every stop from the food tour but I will share a couple of highlights. It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I would have been on cloud nine had every single stop involved Mexican food. That was not the case, but two out of four ain’t too shabby! The first stop was West of Pecos and I knew I was going to love it before we even set foot in the door because they had a sidewalk sign that read, “Margaritas are my spirit animal.” Truth. One of the owners, Tyler MacNiven, stopped by to chat with us for a while and I really enjoyed getting to learn about his back story and how he and his brothers came to open the restaurant. Also, the food – so good! We had a pork belly flauta with chipotle aioli which was on point, as well as their version of a bloody Mary, a bloody Maria. Though I love cocktails I have never been a bloody Mary fan so I was giving this the side eye for sure. However, it was wonderful! The muddled cherry tomato in place of the usual tomato juice was fresh and not overpowering, and I absolutely loved this! It’s not always easy to keep Tex-Mex cuisine feeling fresh but they do it very well. (West of Pecos on TripAdvisor)

The next stop, Tacolicious, was a case of love at first hearing the name, and this was quickly reinforced by the appearance of cocktails, chips and salsa, and a huge platter of tacos with multiple sauces at our table. The drink I ordered was the Pasion, a passion fruit cocktail with habanero-infused tequila (which I have since made from their cookbook and posted about here!) The tacos we had were the baja-style cod taco (which I have also posted about) as well as the shot-and-a-beer-braised chicken taco. Everything was fabulous and if we had ended there and I had lazed away the afternoon with more of their drinks and chips and salsa, I would definitely not have been mad about it. Right next door they have a tequila bar which I would definitely love to check out sometime. (Tacolicious on TripAdvisor)

Let me take a moment here to personally thank our tour guide Sean for such a fantastic time! His hard work and preparation paid off and I am so appreciative of his recommendations, both during the tour and beyond. Sean works with Avital Tours and I cannot recommend this experience highly enough! Avital offers a variety of guided culinary tours in the San Franciso area. This was the Mission District culinary experience, but they also have a Union Square craft cocktail tour and an Italian-centric North Beach food tour. They have recently expanded into L.A. as well.  Avital has graciously provided a 10% off discount code for my readers. Thank you so much! Use the code ANNIESEATS16 to receive 10% off any San Francisco or L.A. culinary experience! (Avital Tours on TripAdvisor)

(Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this partnership. I paid in full for my tour, and Avital only learned of my blog during/after the experience. They reached out to offer the discount for you all and I am very glad to be able to share it with you, because I love what they are doing!)

The tour finished up at Bi-Rite Creamery which I have been dying to try since forever, and I was thrilled to check a must-do off my list during the tour itself. I’ll talk more about Bi-Rite, both the stores and the creamery, in my next post. They deserve a bit of a spotlight!

After reading about La Taqueira extensively on both TripAdvisor and Eater, I knew I couldn’t leave San Fran without checking this place out. It is packed to the gills with people waiting in line to try the food that has earned them such a reputation. I’m still a little unsure about how I feel about this place. The food was very good, but the logistics of the insane line, barely anywhere to stand, haha if you think you’re going to be able to sit, people stepping on me, me stepping on other people…I’m not sure it’s worth it. We went at an off hour too, I think it was mid-afternoon, and it was still that busy! I’m pretty chill and laid back about waiting in line and such, especially when kids aren’t a factor, but this pushed even my limits. I suppose I would put it in the category of worth trying once but not sure I’ll go back. Or if I do, the food needs to be way more amazing to justify the stressful line experience. I love a great burrito but ultimately this just missed the mark for me. (La Taqueira on TripAdvisor)

A favorite mural that we passed during the food tour, and again in our later wanderings. Unfortunately I believe it has since been painted over but I am glad we were able to see it. Very Seuss-ical, don’t you think?

Some pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I wish so much that this one could be worth a thousand tastes! That brilliant blue facade you see above is the outside of Al’s Place, a Mission District hot spot. And when I say hot, I mean hot! I made our reservation more than a month in advance and even so, the best time I could snag was a 9:45. No matter, it was well worth it for the dining experience within. Because of the late hour and therefore, bad lighting, I have no good photos to share with you. I do have the memories though, and they are plentiful and make my tastebuds smile just thinking of it. Their frequently changing menu offers a variety of items from “snackles” (new fave word) to larger entrees. These can be experienced a la carte or, as we opted to do, family style. This meal was such a treat from start to finish, and we were blown away by the quality and the number of courses. All were wonderful but highlights for me included the brine pickled french fries (seriously, you MUST try them), the baby lettuce dish which was simplicity at its best, and the campanelle – even though I was already way full by the time it arrived, I could not resist it! My mouth still waters every time I think of it! In addition to the unbelievable food, the atmosphere and service at Al’s Place were both top notch. The meal was perfectly paced and beautifully orchestrated, which was especially a delight given their overall casual and fun vibe.  (Al’s Place on TripAdvisor)

We passed by Mission Cheese during our food tour and Sean pointed it out to us as a place that they sometimes visit on the tour. As soon as the words “cheese flights” entered the conversation, I knew I would be making a return trip for sure. This place made me wish my stomach were really the bottomless pit it often feels like so that I could try literally every item on the menu. Unfortunately it was more of a pre-dinner snack so I had to be semi-reserved, but that didn’t stop me from smashing the monger’s choice flight and a brown butter gouda chocolate chip cookie with utter delight. I badly want to try everything else though – if nothing else brought me back to SF, Mission Cheese just might! (Mission Cheese on TripAdvisor)

While I believe Nopa isn’t technically in the Mission District, it’s a very short walk away (I know, I walked it) and I want to fit it in here so I’m going to! This is an absolutely stunning space with a reputation for fantastic brunch. Having tested it out, I can say I think this reputation is very well deserved. I loved the overall atmosphere, the waitstaff was welcoming and friendly, and the menu had a nice selection of enticing options. I was very tempted to try the burger, and kind of kicked myself for not ordering it after seeing it delivered to many other tables.

The food we both ordered was wonderful but the things that left the biggest impression were the cocktails and the biscuits. Oh, the biscuits. They are the stuff dreams are made of, and I do daydream about them quite often actually. I wasted a good chunk of time when I should have been writing this post just staring at the above photo and drooling. I will absolutely return to Nopa if or when I am in San Francisco again. (Nopa on TripAdvisor)

Stay tuned for one more post on my San Franciso travels before I move on to wine country things. I truly love sharing my travels with all of you!

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