Gritty. Edgy. Artsy. Great character. Up-and-coming. These are all the things the realtor said about The Mission District in San Francisco when we first moved out here in 2010.  We looked at a few places there, but having come from Manhattan, we were ready for something quieter. Plus, those terms usually describe neighborhoods that are much hipper than I am (eg, just about anywhere in Brooklyn).

So we settled in across town, closer to the parks and the ocean and my office. We always talked about going back over there to really explore, but then, we didn’t.  “It’s crowded” and there’s “not going to be any parking” we’d tell ourselves.

But I promised you folks we were going to live like tourists out here, so earlier this week, I got my work wrapped up right around lunchtime and made a proclamation; “We’re going into the Mission for tacos.” 

Pause for an aside. For those of you who don’t know, The Mission District in San Francisco is known for authentic, quality Mexican food. There’s even a style of burrito named after it (see here).

So I filled my pockets with quarters for the meters, threw the baby carrier in the trunk, and we set out. I had one destination in mind.

Pause for an additional aside. After nearly 14 years of living in big cities (Philly, NY, SF), this is about the best piece of advice I could offer any visitor to a new city: If a local (ie, non-chain) place draws a big line, go there. When it comes to food, city folks tend to tire of mediocre quickly. They weed it out in brutal fashion, leaving it to be picked over by the out-of-towners. Conversely, they will reward good with slavish, almost-to-the-point-of-absurd, loyalty. Hence, the lines.

Ok, back to the story. We were going to La Taqueria (24th and Mission); widely, and consistently, regarded as one of the best among the best in the Mission. We got there relatively early, and as expected, there were already people lining up.

I don’t know why, but places that get this busy really throw me off my game. Like Costanza with the Soup Nazi, I’m rehearsing my order in line, afraid to get yelled at or to look stupid among the regulars. But the lady at the cashier was friendly, and the menu was simple enough, that I think I made some decent choices. Plus, I had Yelp as my guide: “Dos tacos con pollo, uno con carnitas, y uno con chorizo” to split between Denise (and Madison), and myself.

I don’t fancy myself a food blogger, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed them. Original. Fresh. Tasty. But really, this was always more about just having fun. It was something completely different than we had intended for the day. I was glad we made the effort.

In fact, I was so much into the spirit of the tourism thing, that I decided to track down a place that a buddy had bragged about for years. It was time for dessert.

Headed down 24th to York to Dynamo Donuts. A local favorite that had even been featured on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Bacon Episode” for their “Maple Glazed Bacon Apple” Donut. And even though I’ve grown increasingly skeptical, and critical, of this bacon craze we seem to be going through—bacon having become a trendy, and lazy, culinary substitute for originality—I wanted to try it. When in Rome, after all.  

Afterwards, Denise would say, “tasted like a really great doughnut…that someone sprinkled bacon on.” I can’t say she’s 100% wrong, but I thought it worked. The bacon wasn’t overpowering, and the donut really was as good as that fella from the Food Network promised. Whether or not the bacon is necessary at all, or just clever marketing, I’ll leave to the experts. I know that I didn’t pick it off, and I didn’t leave a crumb on the plate. In fact, the only of us who left a crumb was Madison. We thought we’d let her try her own vegan, Spiced Chocolate donut. But by then, she was over our little excursion, and wanted to get home for a taste of the familiar; a bottle and a nap. Being a tourist can be exhausting. 

Destination: La Taqueria between 24th and 25 on Mission Street.

Y dos cervezas por favor. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it right.

Was so anxious to get started, got halfway through my tacos before I remembered to pause and take a proper picture. Still, doesn’t that look tasty?

Having a blast. Note the line in the background, now well out the door.

Baby Tourist gets her first taste of the Mission. She didn’t complain.

The fallout. On to dessert…

Had to go bacon, despite some of my recent misgivings. Part of this tourist thing is trying new things. Plus, before the hipsters commandeered bacon and flavored everything with it for their own ironic purposes, it was a pretty great thing, no?

Maple Glazed Bacon Apple (front), Vanilla Bean (back left), Spiced Chocolate (back right). Note the tiny little shadow of a hand creeping in up top. Baby Tourist was about to get hers.

What is this? Vegan? Seriously?!? Take it away. And take me home, I’ve had enough.

Adios Mission. You were great.