Not so long ago, Valencia Street was a funky mix of car-repair shops, seedy dives and stores and bars. Though a number of these businesses still thrive, this area has become quickly gentrified.
Just a couple of blocks away, and parallel to Valencia, is Dolores Street. Hilly, quiet and beautiful, it's shaded by palm trees and lined by grand old Victorians. Dolores Park remains a favorite for those who wish to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Mission.
Dolores Park: Local residents mentally divide Dolores Park into two distinct worlds. In the bottom half you can play tennis or soccer or walk your dog. In the upper half you can relax and get a stunning view of the city and the East Bay. On warm days, sunbathers and Latino families barbecuing corn and chicken share this portion of Dolores Park.
Mission Dolores: At the corner of 16th and Dolores streets, overshadowed by an ornate basilica, sits a modest adobe chapel, one of the two original missions in San Francisco and the oldest standing building in the city. The inside of the chapel (note the ceiling patterned after Costonoan basket weaving -- Costonoans were the native inhabitants of the area) and the mission's cemetery and gardens will give you a feel for old times. (Web site)
Women's Building Mural: Don't miss the incredible mural on the Women's building on 18th Street, between Valencia and Guerrero streets. (Web site)
826 Valencia Writing Project: Author and publisher Dave Eggers set up this space to provide an educational work space for kids ages 8 to 18 who want to improve their writing skills through free tutoring, or learn new ones in workshops that range from cartooning to computers. The whimsical space also features fake trees, a tented reading space with a barber chair, tiers of curved platforms that climb the wall and a pirate supply store. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 826 Valencia St., (415) 642-5905. (Web site)
Boogaloos: This Caribbean-influenced eatery is best visited for weekend brunch, when local residents drift in early or brave late-morning lines to feast on eggs Benedict amid the lava lamps and the bright jumble of artwork. 3296 22nd St., at Valencia Street, (415) 824-3211.
Bruno's: The latest incarnation of this retro-swank supper club, in operation in one form or another since 1940, features small plates of Southern-inspired food. Look for New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp with fried grits, watermelon gazpacho garnished with pickled watermelon rind, and short rib grillades with French bread gnocchi. Open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, with live jazz every night. Also check out the newly-bookable Green Room for private parties. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 2389 Mission St., between 19th and 20th streets, (415) 550-7455. (Web site)
Burger Joint: You can find burgers all over the city, but this Mission District spot serves them with Niman Ranch beef, which is free of growth-supporting antibiotics or hormones. The menu has only five items, but the burgers are juicy, the veggie burger better than most and the hand-cut fries are crisp and thick. To fit into its hip Valencia Street location, the colorful decor is a postmodern take on '50s diner style. (-SF Chronicle) 807 Valencia St., between 19th and 20th streets, (415) 824-3494.
Cafe Ethiopia: An accessible introduction to Ethiopian food, good doro wot and kitfo and a sizable selection of vegetarian dishes. The kitchen is a bit conservative with its seasonings, but dishes that are billed as "hot" do have a smoldering intensity. The dining room is spare almost to the point of utilitarian. (--SF Chronicle, read full Chronicle review) 878 Valencia St. (near 20th Street), (415) 285-2728.
Cafe Que Tal: One of the few holdouts from the past era of this hip intersection, Que Tal ("what's up" in Spanish) sticks to its guns, serving medium-roasted, strongly brewed coffee, standard lunch items, and a wide variety of medicinal and herbal teas. Sidewalk seating for four gets plenty of afternoon sun. Never too crowded and always offers friendly service. 1005 Guerrero St., between 22nd and 23rd streets. (415) 282-8855
Cha Cha Cha: The cavernous, industrial second location of the ever-popular Haight Street restaurant never fails to pack 'em in. Caribbean small plate favorites include the black beans and plantains, the fried new potatoes and, of course, the sangria. This location gets particularly loud when it's busy, and service can go by the wayside, but it can also accommodate large groups. 2839 Mission St. (at 24th), (415) 282-0283. (Chronicle review of Haight St. location)
Chava's: This locally popular Mexican restaurant features good soups, as well as standard fare, homemade tortillas and a satisfying weekend brunch, all at cheap prices. 2839 Mission St. (at 24th), (415) 282-0283.
Cha-Ya: Vegan diners no longer have to head across the bay for Japanese food -- the chef of Cha-Ya in North Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto has recreated the menu for this casual spot. A variety of ingredients and flavors are combined in fresh, feels-and-tastes-good-for-you vegan dishes like soba noodles and soy vinaigrette garnished with seasonal vegetables; slightly sweet steamed tofu custard with medley of mushrooms, kabocha, soybeans, ginko nuts and other vegetables; and tempura-style eggplant stuffed with potato, corn, seaweed and soybeans. Desserts include a vegan chocolate mousse cake. (-SF Chronicle) 762 Valencia (near 18th Street), (415) 252-7825.
Delfina and Pizza Delfina: Popular Italian-Mediterranean restaurant Delfina pleases critics and neighborhood diners alike. The food has its roots in traditional Italian cooking (Tuscan white beans accompany many a dish), but the mood is distinctly contemporary. Next door, the retro-chic, 24-seat Pizza Delfina offers a menu of six Neapolitan- and New York-inspired pizzas with other daily specials and antipasti. They specialize in takeout. (SF Chronicle/SF Gate) Delfina: 3621 18th St., (between Dolores and Guerrero), (415) 552-4055. (Chronicle review) Pizzeria Delfina: 3611 18th St., (415) 437-6800.
Dolores Park Cafe: This clean and airy café overlooks the foot of Dolores Park and offers a clutch of sidewalk tables. Choose from a menu of creative light fare and blended fruit drinks, in addition to coffee drinks and desserts. 501 Dolores St., at 18th Street, (415) 621-2936. (Web site)
Dosa: One of the few places in San Francisco that focuses on food from South India. Various types of dosas -- savory paper-thin crepes -- come stuffed with spiced potatoes, panir, eggs or spiced lamb. The modern decor rises well above and beyond that of typical hole-in-the-wall Bay Area Indian restaurants. While waiting -- which you probably will, as reservations are only accepted for six or more -- join the ranks by sipping a cilantro-mint mojito or a chai white Russian. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) Dosa, 995 Valencia St. (at 21st Street), (415) 642-3672.
El Majahual: Offers good Colombian food, especially arepas (corn-based pancakes stuffed with cheese). 1152 Valencia St., near 22nd Street, (415) 821-7514.
Foreign Cinema: Foreign Cinema has something for everybody: those who like to be entertained, those who like to see and be seen, and those who enjoy great food. The name is derived from the foreign films that play nightly, projected on the wall of the enclosed patio. The dining room features large windows looking out over the action and a chic industrial interior, with high ceilings and a slate-faced fireplace. Partners Gayle Pirie and John Clark worked at Zuni many years, and their food is straightforward and delicious. (-SF Chronicle) 2534 Mission St., (415) 648-7600. (Chronicle review)
Garcon: French bistro cuisine from the team that opened Cafe Bastille and also have their hands in B44, Plouf and Chouchou. The style is sleek and warm, with a friendly feel, a full bar and a good wine list. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 1101 Valencia St. (at 22nd Street), (415) 401-8959. (Chronicle review)
Herbivore: Vegans and non-vegans alike come to this place for healthy, inventive fare, all at bargain prices. The lasagna, stuffed with tofu ricotta and covered in a hearty tomato sauce, is served with garlic bread for a satisfying main course. You can find vegetarian versions of everything from pad Thai to kung pao to shawarma, and of course, the veggie burgers are also great here. (-SF Chronicle) 983 Valencia St., between 20th and 21st streets, (415) 826-5657. (Web site)
Jay's Cheesesteak: Jay's has cheese steak made with Niman Schell natural beef, and it comes in a variety of flavors, like pizza, teriyaki and barbecue (there's even a seitan version for vegetarians). They also serve great Niman burgers, garlic fries, onion rings and buffalo wings. Colorful local art adorns the walls, making Jay's a fun place to eat. 3286 21st Street, between Valencia and Mission streets. (415) 285-5200.
Kiji: Enthusiastic servers, fresh fish and tranquil surroundings, with an extensive menu of sushi and cooked options. Wash down the fish with a three-glass sake sampler. Chef-owner Eddie Hong has previous experience at cult favorite Sushi Groove. (-SF Chronicle) 1009 Guerrero St. (near 22nd Street), (415) 282-0400. (Chronicle review)
La Taqueria: Crowded, loud and bursting with vitality, this famed taqueria draws hordes eager to eat fresh, carefully prepared tacos and burritos. The carnitas are to die for. Seating is on picnic-style benches or on small tables overlooking Mission Street. Cash only. (-SF Chronicle) 2889 Mission St. (at 25th Street); (415) 285-7117. (Chronicle review)
Luna Park: You may need a reservation even early in the week, but once you've reached your table, look forward to a reasonably priced menu of comfort food with a twist. Try reliving the campfires of childhood with a s'mores fondue of chocolate and marshmallow. 694 Valencia St., between 17th and 18th streets, (415) 553-8584. (Chronicle review)
Luna Park to add delivery
Maxfield's House of Caffeine: Morning sun bathes the sidewalk seating in front of this spacious neighborhood cafe. Inside is comfortable, with a few cushioned chairs and a sofa populated by the "freaks and geeks" set. Maxfield's offers free wireless and hosts open-mic jazz every Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. 398 Dolores St. at 17th. (415) 255-6859.
Medjool: Three sections include a ground floor cafe serving light fare with a Middle Eastern emphasis; A restaurant and bar-lounge offers Mediterranean small plates; At a mezzanine overlooking the first floor there is more dining and a DJ. The next two floors are a youth hostel, and on the fourth floor the building's developer is planning a roof garden for alfresco brunches. An elevator opens right onto the roof. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 2516 Mission St. (near 21st St.), (415) 550-9055.
Osha Thai Noodle: Skimpy on service and style, this is the younger, hipper sister version of the Tenderloin late-night favorite. The noodles really star -- try the lath nah with Chinese broccoli and mushroom gravy, the spicy pan-fried noodles or one of the huge bowls of steamy soup. Spicy string beans with strips of pork are also good. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 819 Valencia St. (near 20th Street); (415) 826-7738. Also at 696 Geary St. (Chronicle review/Bargain Bites 2004)
Revolution Cafe: Sidewalk tables here get great afternoon sun, and if it's cold, the patio heaters will keep you warm. The place is typically filled with hipsters, and the coffee's nothing to write home about, but the Sangria and late hours (till midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends) are enough to make this coffehouse accessible to anyone who appreciates Eurpean-style cafe-sitting. 3248 22nd St. at Bartlett. (415) 642-0474.
Ritual Coffee Roasters: A couple of transplants, one from Seattle, one from Portland, have teamed up to do coffee right in this "mid-Valencia" cafe. The coffee comes from Stumptown roasters in Portland for now; Ritual is planning to get on-site roasting in the near future. Exquisite detail (red and black color scheme), nice touches (hand-stamped logos on to-go cups), spaciousness, ample seating, free wireless Internet, and just plain old good coffee make Ritual a must-stop on any Mission adventure. 1026 Valencia St., between 21st and 22nd street. (415) 641-1011. (Web site)
San Miguel: Squeeze yourself into a table in this family-style restaurant and transport yourself to tropical Guatemala. Everything about the room is intimate, from the straw-and reed-woven walls whose every inch is covered with memorabilia to a ceiling hung with gourds, hats, plants and colored birds. Try the tostaditas and the cak-ick turkey soup (weekends only) that comes with an entire drumstick spanning the bowl. The plato San Miguel offers steak, pork sausage, fried plantains, cheese and black beans. (-SF Chronicle) 3520 20th St. (near Mission Street); (415) 826-0173.
Taqueria Cancun: The subject of great debate over whether their burritos are awesome or overrated. Supporters favor the veggie burrito. Can be a little sketchy later at night. 2288 Mission St., near 19th Street, (415) 252-9560.
Tartine: Tartine's baked goods demand return visit after return visit. The pastry cases are filled with French-inspired wares, including lemon and banana cream tarts, lemon meringue cake and all manner of perfect cookies. And the croissants, well, even the snobbiest Francophile will have to admit perfection. There are plenty of savory offerings and sandwiches as well, built from baker Chad Robertson's breads. Quiche, hot pressed sandwiches and a swell cheese plate are among the items from which to build a lunch. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 600 Guerrero St. at 18th, (415) 487-2600.
Beauty Bar: Cuticles looking a little ragged? Thirsty for a retro-coiffed (but not retro-priced) cocktail? This is your consummate destination. Beauty Bar is a fun, if not quite as authentic, take on bouffant glam. And on Wednesday nights, the venue offers roaming manicurists, making this a pink-vinyl haven in the heart of the Mission corridor. (-Jan Richman) 2299 Mission St., at 19th Street, (415) 285-0323. (Web site)
Elbo Room: This popular spot has a long bar, pool tables and a photo booth downstairs, and live music upstairs on most nights (acid jazz, hip-hop, funk and dub, to name a few genres). 647 Valencia St., between 17th and 18th streets, (415) 552-7788. (Web site)
Latin American Club: Go to the Latin for a Make-Out Room feeling on a smaller scale. A pool table takes up most of the floor, while big, booth-side windows give patrons a view of their fellow nightcrawlers. Margaritas come in a pint glass. 3286 22nd St., between Valencia and Mission streets, (415) 647-2732.
Lexington Club: San Francisco's best-known lesbian bar has a pool table, a good jukebox and a hip and friendly vibe. 3464 19th St., (415) 863-2052.
Lone Palm: This hushed and elegant bar puts candles and white cloths on its tables, casting a "Casablanca" spell on its stylish clientele. It gets crowded on weekends. 3394 22nd St., at Guerrero Street, (415) 648-0109.
Make-Out Room: This cavernous bar, which occasionally hosts local and touring bands, features a decorating scheme of animal heads and dangling lingerie. Go on a weeknight if you want to put the moves on your date in peace; on weekends the place is jammed by 10 pm. 3225 22nd St., between Valencia and Mission streets, (415) 647-2888. (Web site)
The Marsh is a dive where respected and/or obscure solo performance artists, comedians and poets strut their stuff. 1062 Valencia St., at 22nd Street, (415) 641-0235. (Web site)