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Dining in Haight, Richmond, and Sunset
The Haight-Ashbury was home base for the country's famed 1960s counterculture, and its café scene still reflects that colorful past. For ethnic flavors, go to the neighborhoods on either side of Golden Gate Park.
Over time, the Haight has become two distinct neighborhoods. The Upper Haight is an energetic commercial stretch from Masonic Avenue to Stanyan Street, where head shops and tofu-burger joints still thrive.
There are a few upscale restaurants, like neighborhood favorite Magnolia Pub & Brewery (1398 Haight St. 415/ 864-7468 3:A4), with top-notch house-brewed beers and an organic approach to pub fare, including an excellent burger and a killer brunch.
Meanwhile, the modestly gritty Lower Haight has emerged as a lively bohemian quarter of sorts, with mostly ethnic eateries lining the blocks between Webster and Pierce streets. Chic newcomer Maven (598 Haight St. 415/829-7982 3:C3) is shaking up excellent cocktails paired with small plates.
The Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods encompass the land on both sides of Golden Gate Park, running all the way to the ocean's edge. Both districts have welcomed a dramatic increase in Asian families. And not surprisingly, scores of Asian restaurants have opened up.
The shoebox-size Pizzetta 211 (211 23rd Ave., near Clement St., Richmond 415/379-9880) puts together thin-crust pies topped with the kinds of ingredients that are worth the (almost) constant wait. The selection changes daily: the tomato, basil, and mozzarella pizza and the Sardinian cheese, pine nut, and rosemary pie are a couple of the only constants on the menu (the white anchovies that top the pizzas here are also stellar). Pizzetta 211 is open daily for lunch and dinner, but doesn't take reservations and is cash only. Go early to avoid a long wait.
Since the early 20th century the Richmond District has been a desirable family address. Today those families are primarily Asian, and the neighborhood has been dubbed New Chinatown, though its dining choices go far beyond the People's Republic. Locals in search of a meal head to four main areas: Clement Street from Arguello Boulevard to 26th Avenue, Geary Boulevard from Masonic Avenue to 26th Avenue, and Balboa Street from 5th to 8th avenues and 33rd to 39th avenues. Clement Street is a sea of temptation.
If you'd like to try the complex curries and salads at the always-busy Burma SuperStar (309 Clement St., near 3rd Ave. 415/387-2147), put your name and cell phone number on the waiting list as soon as you get to the neighborhood.
A cluster of plain-Jane storefronts fire up smoky charcoal braziers on Geary Boulevard between Arguello Boulevard and 10th Avenue, including the Wooden Charcoal Barbecue House (4611 Geary Blvd. 415/751-6336), which serves up Korean bulkogi, or grilled beef ribs.
Nostalgia hangs heavy in the dining room of the half-century-old Cinderella Bakery and Restaurant (436 Balboa St., near 5th Ave. 415/751-9690), where diners tuck into borscht, dumplings, and cabbage rolls while sipping kvass, or beer brewed from bread. Be sure to stop at the bakery counter on your way out for a flaky napoleon or cheese pastries. The homey Katia's (600 5th Ave., at Balboa St. 415/668-9292) has samovars ready for Russian tea service, along with hearty pel'meni (dumplings) and excellent pies during the holidays. Not far away, at Moscow and Tblisi Bakery (5540 Geary Blvd., near 19th Ave. 415/668-6959), locals line up for some of those same old-country tastes, including piroshki (meat- and vegetable-filled pastries) and poppy-seed rolls.
And for Dessert
Out in the Richmond, you would be hard-pressed to find a longtime resident who didn't spend some of his or her youth in the truly kitschy Toy Boat Dessert Cafe (401 Clement St., between 5th and 6th Aves. 415/751-7505), where Double Rainbow ice cream competes with a battalion of vintage toys. You won't find toys at the funky Joe's Ice Cream (5420 Geary Blvd., at 18th Ave. 415/751-1950), or a "Joe" either. But Mutsuhiko and Aki Murashige have been keeping Joe's name honest since 1979, when they bought the business. They fashion thick milk shakes and put together their own It's-It, San Francisco's iconic ice-cream sandwich—using house-made ice cream. For the finest princess cake in the city, look no further than Schubert's Bakery (521 Clement St., at 6th Ave. 415/ 752-1580), known for their excellent cakes (since 1911!), along with tarts, cookies, and more. There are a few tables where you can sit and enjoy your sweets.
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