It’s easy to spend your entire day just wandering around the Mission District. There’s someplace inviting to eat and drink every few feet, interesting shops, galleries, independent bookstores (there are still a few left) and of course, the Mission Dolores, for which the area is named.
Our itinerary included some of all of the above. First, lunch at the ever-popular Pizzeria Delfina. We’ve enjoyed many delicious dinners at Delfina www.delfinasf.com, a lively, casual Italian restaurant that many say marked the beginning of the Mission District’s popularity as a dining destination back in 1998 when Craig and Annie Stoll first opened their doors. Today, we’re looking for lunch, and Delfina serves dinner only, so it’s Pizzeria Delfina (right next door) for lunch.
There is almost always a lengthy line of hungry folks waiting for the pie at Pizzeria Delfina www.pizzeriadelfina.com. No reservations are accepted but there is a chalkboard right inside the small space– write your name and the number in your party then stand on line and wait your turn. Watch the pizzaoli as you wait—it’ll be your turn soon enough!
The menu has a nice variety of pizzas with perfect thin and crunchy crusts (puffy on the edges—just like I like it), salads, antipasti and some desserts. There is limited seating inside but there are also some tables on the sidewalk. Wine and beer are available along with soft drinks. Service is friendly and pizzas are delivered to your table prontissimo.
If pizza is not what you’re after, Tartine www.tartinebakery.com is right on the corner. When we were loitering around the closed Pizzaria Delfina one sad Monday—the only day they are not open, owner Craig Stoll directed us to Tartine— one of his neighborhood favorites.
Superb sandwiches, salads, light meals and beautiful pastries are available in this small storefront, which also almost always has a line, especially on the weekends. If you grab a table near the back, you can watch the bakers at work and enjoy the heady aroma of baking bread.
If you haven’t satisfied your sweet tooth, walk a few blocks over to Valencia St. for dessert and learn how chocolate is made at Dandelion Small- Batch Chocolate.This café and factory has organized tours (book online at www.dandelionchocolate.com) but even if you haven’t been able to reserve a formal tour, it’s easy to see the chocolate makers at work in the open kitchen area and they are happy to answer questions.
We couldn’t join a tour but Lisa Vega, executive pastry chef, was kind enough to show us around and explain the chocolate making process from bean procurement (high quality, single source beans from numerous countries including Ecuador, Madagascar, Belize, and Venezuela), to sorting, roasting, winnowing, melanging, blocking, tempering, and finally, wrapping the bars for sale.
After you’ve satisfied your curiosity, sample the wares while you wait to place your order for a delicious cocoa or coffee drink and something sweet to eat. There are plenty of tempting items both to enjoy at the café and to take home.
Dandelion Chocolate also has a small kiosk in the Ferry Building, which sells their tasty products, books and other chocolate-related merchandise. The Ferry Building location is at the same end of the building as Miette Patisserie www.miette.com and Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream www.humphreyslocombe.com— just across the way from Slanted Door’s take away place, Out the Door www.outthedoors.com.
Dandelion has plans for a cocoa café there as well, so you can enjoy their delicious drinks even if you don’t make it to the Mission.
If it’s cheesy goodness you’re craving, check out Mission Cheese www.missioncheese.net. This little shop is across from the “parklet” on Valencia and just two doors down from Dandelion Chocolate. Sample and purchase a wide variety of cheeses both domestic and imported, or make a meal of it with their gooey mac n’ cheese, a pressed cheese sandwich, charcuterie or a cheese flight. They also offer a fine selection of wine, beer and ciders, plus coffee, teas and dessert.
Need pirate supplies? Pop into 826 Valencia St. in the Mission www.826valencia.org It’s the only “independent pirate supply store” in San Francisco.
There you’ll find an assortment of pirate paraphernalia including “Scurvy Be Gone,” pirate flags, booty chests, tattoo removers (metal brushes aka “the low cost option”), looking glasses, maps, eye patches, tee shirts, books and much, much more.
In the back room, you’ll see what makes this space so important—it’s the free writing/tutoring lab author and 826 Valencia co-founder Dave Eggers began in the storefront in 2002, along with educator Ninive Calegari.
826 Valencia is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting underserved Bay Area students ages six to 18 by working with them to develop their writing skills. According to the 826 Valencia’s website, the group serves more than 6,000 students annually thanks to their 1,700 Bay Area volunteers. They also have an outreach program for teachers. Books by the young authors, including numerous anthologies, are available for sale, as are quarterly subscriptions to the young writers’ work. For more information on in-store events, volunteer and donation opportunities, and the writing programs, visit www.826valencia.org. Proceeds from all sales in the pirate shop support the free writing programs, so stop by and pick up a few treasures, matey.
Borderlands Bookstore www.borderlands-books.com is also on Valencia and home to new and used sci-fi, mystery, horror and fantasy titles. Independent bookstores like these are getting increasingly hard to find, and in fact, Borderlands was in danger of closing earlier this year due to the dramatic increase in minimum wage now required by the state of California. A community meeting and the clever idea to sell 300 $100 sponsorships have kept the doors open so far.
Borderlands has special events including author readings and signings and a nice café right next door, too. I always like to support independent booksellers and encourage everyone else to do so. If you’re in the neighbor and your shelves are looking a little empty, stop in and buy a book or two.
Finally, a visit to the actual Mission www.missiondolores.org, the oldest intact building in San Francisco. As we mentioned earlier, the Mission District takes its name from the Mission San Francisco de Asis established by Father Junipero Serra in 1776, but also commonly called Mission Dolores because of a nearby creek, Arroyo de los Dolores or “Creek of Sorrows.”
If the Mission Dolores seems familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in the movies. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart was filmed here in 1957. Visitors are welcome, and for a small fee, can tour the church with it’s brightly painted wooden ceiling and alter piece, outbuildings and gardens, as well as the small cemetery, which was the final resting place of missionaries and parishioners alike.
There are antique vestments, a diorama depicting how the mission functioned, paintings and Native American artifacts on display. There is also a small gift shop with handicrafts, devotional candles, rosary beads, prayer cards and Alfred Hitchcock bobble heads—really!
Take a few hours, an afternoon, or the whole day, and explore this fascinating area of San Francisco. Buy some books. Enjoy a meal or a drink. Pick up some chocolate, cheese or even a bobble head while you’re there!