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This single block near the Mission District might be San Francisco’s coolest street

A 49-seat theater may soon go into this former real estate office on what’s probably the coolest block of Mission Street. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Is a single block of Mission Street along the boundary of the Mission District and Bernal Heights the coolest street in San Francisco? 

This week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a vacant commercial space formerly housing a real-estate firm may become a 49-seat theater called The Portal, right next door to PizzaHacker and its sourdough crusts. Proprietor Nellie Killian wants it to be a home for experimental theater and art, comparing it to the Mission’s eternally cool, 110-year-old Roxie Theater.

Anywhere else, and a project like that might be risky—downright quixotic, even. But a theater at 3293 Mission St. makes perfect sense—and it would only deepen the appeal of a part of town positively stuffed with incredible, if occasionally under-the-radar, restaurants.

From Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, Mi Lindo Peru and Al’s Super Cafe to the recently relocated Jasmine Tea House and one of San Francisco’s four Taqueria Cancun locations, the upward-sloping 3200 block of Mission feels like a distilled version of food-mad San Francisco, the kind of low-key, neighborhood-serving dining corridor that’ll probably never be on Michelin’s radar

Good Frikin’ Chicken may be long gone—a Northern Iranian restaurant called Komaaj has now been there for almost six months—leaving the fried chicken at Blue Plate as the bird to beat.

It’s no slouch on bars, either, what with punk rock superstar The Knockout, the vinyl-and-margaritas dive Royal Cuckoo and the pool-and-karaoke Lucita’s Niteclub. Mothership, Rock Bar, Cellarmaker and the peerless jewel that is El Rio are all within a block or so. 

Is it the Mission? Is it Bernal Heights? Is it Noe Valley? Is it "Mission-Bernal"? Your call. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard
"Good Food," the slogan of Al's Super Cafe, could apply to the entire 3200 block of Mission Street. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

Undoubtedly, San Francisco is a city filled with microhoods, those tiny patches of the urban fabric that have a distinct character all their own. 

Valencia Street between 17th and 20th streets in the Mission, Irving and Judah streets between 44th and 47th avenues in the Outer Sunset, and Green Street between Columbus and Grant avenues in North Beach are great examples. They’re concentrated versions of their surrounding neighborhoods. 

But this one block of Mission between Valencia and 29th streets stands out.

The Knockout is about as eclectic of a venue as you'll find anywhere, hosting bingo, reggae shows, dance parties and "evil vinyl" nights. | Source: Astrid Kane/The Standard

And while the neighborhood is considered “Mission-Bernal”—so says the giant mural in the Bank of America parking lot, anyway—it’s arguably “Noe-Bernal,” as Noe Valley is the area immediately to the west. 

Or, as San Francisco urbanist Burrito Justice termed it, the neighborhood is actually “La Lengua,” Spanish for “tongue,” referring to its narrow shape and neither-heights-nor-valley vibe. 

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack owner Emmy Kaplan thinks of it as “Mission at the foot of Bernal.” A few years ago, she relocated her restaurant from a block away, across the street.

“It was a great move. I love it there,” Kaplan told The Standard. “It’s very local-centric. Our whole block is people that actually live in Bernal/Mission. We have a crazy family-friendly Tuesday night where kids eat free, and it brings all the families in Bernal together.”

For her part, Killian is definitely a fan.

“It’s really magnetic street,” she told The Standard. “You’re a block away from Mitchell’s. You’re a block away from El Rio. You’re a block away from Thrillhouse Records. It’s a place where you can really spend a day.”