The Inner Richmond is a practical and comfortable neighborhood with a citywide reputation for fantastic restaurants. It's often called "New Chinatown" because it's almost as full of Chinese groceries and restaurants and Cantonese chatter as Grant Avenue, but most tourists overlook it, as did early S.F. residents, who wrote off the entire Richmond as a "Great Sand Waste" between the City and the sea.
The Richmond did almost became a miniature Colma, housing the municipal and Chinese cemeteries. But after World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, Irish and White Russian immigrants and Middle Eastern Jews bought homes in the area. Two waves of immigration after World War II brought Japanese residents and added to the sizable Chinese population.
Since then, the Inner Richmond has become a bustling multicultural soup with cute stucco houses, grand mansions, easy access to the Presidio, a plethora of inexpensive eateries and a good variety of shops. The Richmond lacks the hype of the Mission, and the fog does roll in a little earlier in the afternoon, but on its main dining and shopping drag, Clement Street, you'll find great Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, Chinese bakeries that sell siu mai (steamed meat dumplings), BBQ pork buns and other dim sum for under a dollar and produce markets that offer bitter melon, several kinds of choy (greens) or 10 lemons for a dollar. Browse the stacks at one of the city's best bookstores, suck down some Hong Kong-style pearl tea (complete with marble-size tapioca balls) or sit down for a French bistro meal, and you'll come to appreciate the modest neighborhood that has sprouted from the sand dunes.
Mountain Lake Park: There are almost as many ducks as there are people at this little neighborhood park, situated right underneath the Park Presidio ramp that heads straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. You'd think the roar of traffic would deter people -- like chess players, for instance -- from visiting, but the park attracts them, as well as throngs of joggers and dog walkers.
Golden Gate Park: You can drive into the park on 8th or 10th avenues or at Arguello, but when you're as close as the Richmond, why not just walk? Stow Lake, the museums and the Japanese Tea Garden are all an easy, pleasant amble from the Richmond.
The Presidio: The Presidio, now a national park, was the longest-lasting continuously used military post in the United States, and it boasts military buildings dating from 1848 in a variety of styles, from Spanish Colonial to Georgian. It's also home to many native California plant species, and some rare birds and animals. Joggers and dog walkers can follow portions of the marked Bay Area Ridge trail or discover secret tracks through the cypress and eucalyptus trees. The Presidio is accessible by car from Arguello or Lombard streets, Marina Boulevard or 25th Avenue, or you can get through on foot or by bike at 14th or 15th avenues.
The Richmond is packed with great cuisine, but when dining there you must remember the old maxim: You can't always judge a book by its cover. Some of the best food is served in modest, or even divey, surroundings; you'll see few to none of the chic touches -- stainless steel counters, cushy booths, blond wood -- so common in the gentrified Mission. You're more likely to see wobbly Formica tables, vinyl chairs, fake wood paneling or walls festooned with 4-year-old calendars and pictures of Thai film stars. However, you'll feast on excellent food at vastly superior prices, and if you really miss the Mission that much, simply focus on all the double parking that goes on outside Richmond restaurants and you'll feel right at home.
Angkor Wat: Why should the cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam get all the credit? Cambodian food is just as tasty as the biggies of Southeast Asian cooking, and Angkor Wat is a good place to find this out for yourself. 4217 Geary Blvd. (at 6th Avenue), (415) 221-7887. (Chronicle Review)
Bistro Clement: What's better than one neighborhood French restaurant? Two neighborhood French restaurants. Laurent Legendre, owner of Clementine, has opened this less expensive and more casual restaurant right across the street. Rustic French dishes are at home in the comfortable dining room, which is painted a rich dark orange and embellished with a large mirror. The tile floor and Belle Epoque posters contribute to the French bistro feel. A covered patio seats an additional 45 and will eventually have heaters for year-round dining. Wines are modestly priced. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 127 Clement St. (between Second and Third avenues), (415) 387-6966.
The Blue Danube: Okay, so it's not a Viennese coffeehouse, but the Blue Danube offers good coffee, decent breakfast and lunch foods, a hip, youthful clientele and a great view of busy Clement Street. The place has several beers and cider on tap, plus wine and enough quiet that you can read what you just bought down the street at Green Apple Books. 306 Clement St. (at 4th Avenue), (415) 221-9041.
Brothers Restaurant: Grill your own dinner at the table at this popular Korean BBQ joint; even if you think you can't cook, the results are delicious. 4128 Geary Blvd. (between 5th and 6th avenues), (415) 387-7991.
Burma Superstar: Few of us can point out Burma (now called Myanmar) on a map, much less name the distinguishing flavors of Burmese cuisine, but if you like Thai, Indian and Chinese flavors, Burmese will definitely please your taste buds. Don't miss the Rainbow Salad, a wildly popular dish composed of 22 different ingredients, among them two kinds of rice noodles, wheat-flour noodles, bean-thread noodles, crispy fried garlic, diced potatoes, tofu, dried shrimp, fried onions, green papaya, roasted chilies, crushed yellow beans, cilantro, won ton chips and cabbage. 309 Clement St. (at 5th Avenue), (415) 387-2147, website. (Chronicle review)
Chapeau!: Sample classic French-bistro fare, like cassoulet, duck a l'orange, coq au vin and creme brulée for dessert. Top it off with Beaumes-de-Venise, a heavenly dessert wine from the Vaucluse in France. C'est magnifique! 1408 Clement St., (415) 750-9787. (Chronicle Review)
Cinderella Bakery: Cold Russian nights require one to have plenty of meat on one's bones, and the offerings at Cinderella show you how to put it there. Piroshki stuffed with fried cabbage and onions, fish or meat pirogi and forget-the-diet hamantaschen undoubtedly keep patrons very warm at night. Eat in or take out. 436 Balboa St. (at 6th Avenue), (415) 751-9690.
Good Luck Dim Sum: This is not a fancy dim sum restaurant with gleaming carts of food. Ignore the shabby decor and get in line with the hordes of regulars. Grab a pink menu on your way to make ordering easier once you get in. Don't miss the sparkling fresh shrimp dumplings, fried taro with pork, or chive dumplings. Carry out and take it a few blocks to Golden Gate Park, or, if you can't wait, grab a seat at one of the spare tables in the back. (-SF Chronicle) 736 Clement St. (near Eighth Avenue), (415) 386-3388. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Monday. (Bargain Bites 2004)
Java Source: Those who like nicotine with their coffee but don't like to be completely exposed to the elements will relish Java Source's partially covered, mostly windproof front section. The coffee isn't bad, either, and it's a great place to soak in the true flavor of the Richmond. 343 Clement St., (415) 387-8025.
Katia's Russian Tea Room: This is a cozy place to wolf down borscht, chicken Pozharski, beef stroganoff and other Slavic delights. 600 Fifth Ave., (415) 668-9292. (Chronicle Review)
King of Thai Noodle House: The pair of popular noodle shops that operate under this name serve cheap, tasty Thai noodles and soups in a no-frills atmosphere. 639 and 346 Clement St., (415) 752-5198.
Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe: Teens and 20-somethings, usually on their way to or from a club, perch on turquoise and orange armchairs, giggling and gossiping as they devour Hong Kong style desserts like mango with black sticky rice, sesame dumplings and egg puffs, while a flat-screen TV alternates between Hong Kong music videos and "Saturday Night Live." Specialties include steamed snow frog fat (rumored to be good for the complexion) with papaya or coconut. Open until 2 a.m. on weekends, 1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 393 Seventh Ave. (at Geary), (415) 876-1289.
Mandalay: Serving San Francisco since 1984, this reliable Southeast Asian place offers an amazing selection of salads, soups and stir-fries, a solid combination of Burmese and Mandarin cuisines. Try the remarkable tea leaf or green papaya salads. (-SF Chronicle) 4348 California St. (at Sixth Avenue), (415) 386-3896. (Chronicle Review/Bargain Bites 2004)
The Richmond: More expensive than the typical neighborhood restaurant, but thoughtful touches -- such as the demitasse cup of homemade warm apple cider that begins each visit -- give The Richmond an extra edge. Whenever possible, the California cuisine is made with high-quality ingredients from local purveyors. Starters are ambitious but entrees are more rustic. Desserts are one of the high points of the evening. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 615 Balboa St. (between Seventh and Eighth avenues), (415) 379-8988. (Chronicle Review)
Roadside Barbecue: In a neighborhood known for Korean barbecue, this American joint stands out for it's slow-cooked meats and Southern-themed side dishes such as red baked beans and sweet potato fries. Takeout family packs are perfect for large groups. 3751 Geary Blvd., at Second Ave., (415) 221-7427. (Chronicle Review)
Tawan's: With its sunny yellow paint, wonderful art and pleasant staff, Tawan's is a tiny, placid haven away from Geary's rushing traffic. The pad se ew is less oily than at other Thai joints, and the creamy, spicy tom kha gai is graced with generous dollops of coconut milk. 4403 Geary Blvd. (at 8th Avenue), (415) 751-5175.
Toy Boat Dessert Cafe: The interior of this whimsical hangout is decorated with loads of cool toys you never got for Christmas, plus newer classics like talking Pee Wee Herman dolls from 1997 and 2000. The shop also sells Pez dispensers featuring Simpsons, Looney Tunes and Peanuts characters. Oh, and there are cakes, sandwiches, smoothies, malteds and coffee drinks, not to mention Double Rainbow ice-cream cones as well, but it's hard to concentrate on dessert with your eyes on all those toys. 401 Clement St. (at 5th Avenue), (415) 751-7505.
Troya: Billing itself as a "meze bar," this restaurant has a menu that veers all over the Mediterranean, with everything from Middle Eastern spreads to Greek salads, plus some dishes not seen in the Bay Area. Many diners make a meal almost entirely of meze, the Middle Eastern appetizers that are perfect for sharing. On Tuesday nights, live music adds even more to the festive atmosphere. (-SF Chronicle) 349 Clement St. (at Fifth Avenue), (415) 379-6000.
Wing Lee Bakery and BBQ Restaurant: At $3.25 for a two-item special that is large enough to last for two meals, nothing can beat Wing Lee. There are some vegetarian dishes, but you have to be able to eat them while surrounded by some very cooked animals. Then try the large assortment of baked items at the bakery next door. (--SF Chronicle) Bakery: 503 Clement St. (at Sixth Avenue); (415) 668-9481; BBQ: 501 Clement St.; (415) 831-7883. Bakery: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; BBQ: Lunch and early dinner daily. Cash only. (Bargain Bites 2004)