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Dining in The Mission, the Castro, and Noe Valley

You'll never go hungry here, in some of San Francisco's most jam-packed restaurant neighborhoods. From dirt-cheap taquerias to hip tapas joints, city dwellers know this sector as the go-to area for a great meal.

Head over to the Mission to dig into Mexican and Latin American menus. In recent years the Latino community has been sharing the neighborhood with legions of twenty- and thirtysomethings who pack the dozens of eateries along Valencia Street, between 16th and 24th streets, and Mission Street from 19th to 24th streets. East of the Mission, Potrero Hill is home to a cluster of casual dining rooms in the blocks around Connecticut and 18th streets.

The Castro neighborhood, the epicenter of the city's gay community, is chockablock with restaurants and bars. Market Street between Church and Castro streets is a great stretch for people-watching and café- or bistro-hopping. Just south, in Noe Valley, everyone seems to be pushing a baby carriage, but they're all eating out too, mostly along 24th Street from Church to Castro streets, and on Church Street from 24th to 30th streets.

Wake Up

A placard at the door says to sign in and wait to be seated at homey Chloe's Café (1399 Church St., between 26th and Clipper Sts. 415/648–4116). That wait for your croissant French toast or banana-walnut pancakes is bound to be long on weekends—hey, everyone else has the same delicious idea—so come with your patience. Come with cash in your pocket, too, as no credit cards are taken.

Mexican versus Italian

For years the Mission was where San Franciscans went to eat burritos and tacos, enchiladas, and tamales. But in the mid-1990s new Italian eateries began to open up in this Mexican stronghold, with Parmesan and pasta becoming as common as queso fresco and frijoles. (And the number of Italian places opening just keeps growing.) Thankfully for diners, there are plenty of tasty choices on both sides of the menu.

And for Dessert

The Mission has ice cream in every flavor imaginable. Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th St., near Valencia St. 415/626–5600) balances orbs of salted caramel or soft serve in organic cones. And the venerable Mitchell's (668 San Jose St., at 29th St. 415/648–2300) has been scooping flavors like toasted almond and Mexican chocolate since 1953. Cult ice-cream shop Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison St., near 24th St. 415/550–6971) is famous for irreverent flavors like Thai chili lime sorbet. For something baked, wait in line at the ever-busy Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St., at 18th St. 415/487–2600), where the staff pulls devil's food cakes, banana-cream tarts, éclairs, and brownies from the oven daily. And if doughnuts and coffee are your thing, head to Dynamo Donut & Coffee (2760 24th St., between Potrero and York Sts. 415/920–1978), and dunk a chocolate-star anise doughnut in a cup of joe.

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