Mission District

NEIGHBORHOODS:

A largely Latino neighborhood that's rapidly seen the face of gentrification in the past few years, the hipsters are having their day in the Mission. A few years ago every new Monday brought with it a new cafe, but after the Dot Com implosion, the Mission became a happy hybrid of Latinos and scenesters.

Hit the Mission in mid-late afternoon and stay well into the night. Start with a dose of culture and take the Precita Mural walking tour (415.285.2287) and get up to speed on the area's vibrant outdoor art. If a tour isn't being offered, check out Balmy Avenue (between 24th & 25th, near Folsom), the best of the lot. With a little culture in your hip pocket, move on to sex and into Good Vibrations (1210 Valencia), a clean well-lighted place for sex toys that is women-owned and run, but highly tolerant of all sorts of chromosomes. Keep moving north down Valencia Street for a feast of thrift and antique shops, as well as a bevy of new and used bookstores like the small-and-funky Dog-Eared Books (1173 Valencia), or bigger Modern Times Books (968 Valencia), it with one of the best 'zine racks on the West Coast.

For dinner, at Ti Couz (3108-16th) creative crepes are unbeatable and a good bite to grab before catching a flick across the street at the Roxie, a theater which fancies '40s film noir festivals, unreleased indies and the occasional Japanese lesbian killer flick. A bit pricier but one of the best deals of the trendy spots is Val 21 (995 Valencia), which offers a yummy fusion of California and Southwestern food with the freshest organic veggies around.

After dinner, it's time to hit the bars, and the Mission's well stocked. The long, thin Dalva (3121-16th) features DJs who spin a wild jazz mix, and the eclectic jukebox is one of the best in town. Jack's (3200-16th) is famous for its 65 beers on tap, while the 500 Club (500 Guerrero), with its large neon champagne-glass welcoming the thirsty, feels more local than most other popular Mission watering holes (get there early and secure one of the big, bar-side booths). The Make Out Room (3225-22nd) is packed with hipsters with jobs and has what's got to be the best name in town. For music, the Elbo Room (647 Valencia) bar has an upstairs room which favors local jazz acts like the graceful acid-jazz of the Broun Fellinis and a cover that rarely exceeds a five-spot. While one sometimes wonders whether Elbo's see-and-be-seen crowd appreciates what's in front of them, down the street at Kilowatt (3160 16th St.), the music is taken quite seriously at a spot whose pint-sized quarters houses a consistently good local band scene and draw a crowd that looks like it could use some sleep. A few steps up is Dr. Bombay's (3190 16th St.), a must on Friday nights for brave new wave DJs spinning Britpop and Psychobilly.

If the late-night munchies hit, the Mission remains the place to be, a spot where the hungry soul is never more than 20 feet away from a humongous burrito. Philly has its cheesesteak, New York has its pizza and San Francisco has its burrito. Meaty, beany, big and bouncy, the S.F. burrito is a must. Friendships have been lost, gained and temporarily put on hold, over the discussion that's always in progress: Who makes the best burrito? If your virgin burrito is anywhere else but in the Mission, you should be jailed immediately. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why I so love the burritos of Taqueria Cancun (2288 Mission), El Farolito (2777 Mission) and El Castillito (2092 Mission) above all others, but the not-so-secret common denominator is that each of these places grills the tortilla, creating a crispy skin that holds the time-tested combo of rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, chicken, beef and sometimes chorizo. And go ahead, hold the sour cream -- at this point even the locals won't balk.

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