The Mission is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. It also is not-so-coincidentally the neighborhood in which I live. It’s got easy access to BART (i.e. easy access to SFO), interesting culture, and most importantly, lots of good food. Here are some of my favorite spots in the Mission.
Mission Chinese Food ($$): This is a polarizing choice, but this is my favorite/most frequented restaurant in San Francisco. Not for people who dislike spicy or heavily spiced food. But the food at Mission Chinese is unlike the food I’ve had anywhere else, and I don’t think you can find a better interesting-food-unit-per-dollar-spent metric anywhere else. Top picks: the thrice-cooked bacon (it’s more like a version of Shanghai rice cakes), salt cod fried rice, and the mongolian long beans. Pro tip: get there before 7pm, or else be ready to wait. Vegetarian/vegan friendly (I get the thrice-cooked bacon without bacon all the time).
Commonwealth ($$$): Interested in molecular gastronomy but don’t want to shell out $150 for a tasting menu at a fancier restaurant? Go to Commonwealth, where you’ll get interesting, tasty food with a dash of molecular gastronomy for less than $75 per person (not counting alcohol) if you order a la carte. If you order the $75 tasting menu, $10 even goes to charity. Somewhat vegetarian friendly.
Pizzeria Delfina ($$): There are lots of arguments as to the best pizza in the city, but Pizzeria Delfina is at least near the top of any list. I’m a fan of the basic margherita, but you can’t go wrong. Vegetarian friendly.
Yamo ($): Most people talk about Burma Superstar or Mandalay when they talk about Burmese food in San Francisco, but Yamo is a hole-in-the-wall place in the Mission that serves up tasty Burmese food for ridiculously cheap prices. Like $6 a plate kind of prices. If you want to try the stereotypically Burmese dishes, you need to try the tea leaf salad. This is not the kind of place where you necessarily want to dine in, as it’s just a tiny spot with a couple of counter seats, and eating there will leave you smelling like your food for the rest of the night. Vegan/vegetarian friendly.
Papalote ($): There are tons of Mexican places in the Mission, but Papalote stands out because of its salsa. That’s all you really need to know. Their salsa is like crack. Vegan/vegetarian friendly.
Knead Patisserie ($): Similar to Papalote, all you need to know is pomme d’amore. Creme brulee baked into puff pastry with a layer of salted caramel to prevent the creme from making the pastry too soggy. What’s not to love? Vegetarian friendly. And Local Mission Eatery, the restaurant that surround Knead Patisserie, isn’t bad either (but as my friend says, the portion sizes are small).
Humphry Slocombe ($): Birite is great, but Humphry Slocombe is my favorite ice cream place in San Francisco. Where else can you get flavors like Salt and Pepper or Pepper and Mint ice cream? The must-try is Secret Breakfast, which is bourbon and corn flakes. Humphry Slocombe has the most interesting (and often quite literal) flavors of any ice cream place I’ve ever been to. Even if the ice cream isn’t the smoothest, I’m always delighted after going to Humphry Slocombe. Vegan friendly.
Other places to consider: Tartine is a must if you like baked goods (get the morning bun); Chaya is an interesting vegetarian Japanese restaurant (cash only, though); Gracias Madre is probably my go-to Mexican place, but that’s just because it’s vegan and delicious; Udupi Palace serves South Indian food (rather than the more typical North Indian food that most people associate with Indian restaurants), and it’s super cheap (but cash only); Limon Rotisserie is popular with groups and serves Peruvian food and rotisserie chicken; Wise Sons is the closest thing you’ll find to a Jewish deli in San Francisco (not that that’s saying much).
There are far too many places in the Mission to list, but this list should be a good start. Let me know if you have specific request for recommendations, or if you think my list is bunk.