Coffee Shoppes: The Mission

Earlier this week I documented the San Francisco Coffee Paradox, an insight into the New Yorker’s impossible quest for a good cup of joe in this foggy “city.” Since then SFIW has been inundated with requests (OK, two) for a suggestion of our favorite locales.

So, for those of you looking to embark on the Kung Fu-esque personal quest in attempt to summon the patience for (an admittedly delicious) cappuccino, we are proud to present our first ever review of our favorite coffee places. This first review focuses on establishments in and around The Mission (think East Village circa 1983 – graffiti, heroin addicts, public urination and all).




Ritual Coffee, Riteous Logo

Ritual Coffee, Righteous Logo

Vibe: Deconstructed cool. Lots of single track bikers abound. A rotating art exhibition lines the wall and piles of stacked-up coffee bean bags and a large roaster constantly remind us all that they roast their beans on the premises, dammit! Baristas are tattooed and cute by San Francisco standards (i.e. not really that cute) and often assume a refreshingly arrogant attitude that makes novice coffee aficionados feel like they never quite order correctly. There’s even often a line out the door…Loves it!

Wireless: Yes, but the covered outlets have the skinny-jean-set up in arms.

Expert Coffee Review: Excellent coffee and delicious espresso drinks. They even have one of those fancy Clover coffee makers (but you had better order correctly).

Average Wait Time: More than an eternity

Overall Rating: 9


Fort Barell

Fort Barrel

Vibe: Large warehousey space nicely converted. High ceilings, exposed beams,  poured concrete bars, good fixtures and the all-important coffee roaster make you feel like you’re somewhere important. Its slightly-off-the-beaten-path locale cuts down on long lines. A tiny selection of good pastries keeps the caffeine-buzz in-check.

Wireless: Um, none!?!?!?

Expert Coffee Review: Excellent coffee and delicious espresso drinks.

Average Wait Time: Less than an eternity

Overall Rating: 8 (no internet? I mean come on. If you didn’t want unemployed degenerate bloggers to freeload in your space for hours you shouldn’t have opened a coffee shop!)


Coffee, meet pastry

Coffee, meet pastry

Vibe: Small shop that focuses more on pasteries than coffee, but they still do a good job. Tartine is kind of “famous” so tourons from around the globe descend on this pace making it constantly packed. And not in the “cool, this place actually has a nice energy” kind of packed but the “you need to share a table with an old lady” kind of packed. Weak.

Wireless: Not sure, but it’s not an ideal vibe to camp-out for hours. Maybe OK to attempt to read a small book, but the constant churn of humanity hungrily eying your table makes it an uncomfortable place to idly update your Facebook status (i.e. “Adamahata is wondering when the Germany family precariously balancing their plates of croissants and pastries will get the hint that he’s not giving up his seat”).

Expert Coffee Review: Excellent espresso drinks (but get them to go). Not sure about the coffee.

Average Wait Time: Much more than an eternity.

Overall Rating: 8 (+1 for ridiculously amazing bread, – 3 for tourons)


Speedy Cafiney!

Speedy Cafiney!

Vibe: Let’s just cut to the chase: this place is cool because they rent video tapes and DVDs (the clerk didn’t even know what BluRay was…ADORABLE!) and they make very good espressos, very fast! The only place to sit is a bench outside the front door, and except for the aforementioned videos lining the shelves and some other hipster/artist accouterments, there’s no real design. But that’s not the point. Need a good, quick espresso? Go to Faye’s!

Wireless: Probably not.

Expert Coffee Review: Great espressos, great price

Average Wait Time: Like 30 seconds? Seriously fast!

Overall Rating: 10!

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Irregular Coffee

A coffee heart-on

A coffee heart-on

A curious paradox exists here for visiting and transplanted New York coffee lovers. There are dozens (dozens!) of  fantastic coffee shops scattered throughout San Francisco. Most every neighborhood boasts a handful of establishments that approach the art of coffee brewing with the meticulous detail that’s made the Pacific Northwest a mecca for java fanatics for thousands of years.

For purists, most shops boast an impressive variety of delicious organic, free trade, fair wage, sustainably-harvested beans from throughout African, Jamaican, Colombia, Cambodia, Czechoslovakia, Brazil and every other important coffee producing mecca throughout the world. For the more European-minded of you, the espressos are smooth, cappuccinos are silky, the lattes are perfectly balanced, and I believe baristas here attend mandatory multi-year internships in Florence to study feather, heart and/or tree design that they meticulously paint on the top of each foaming cup.

Sounds amazing, right? Too bad you, my New York friend, will most likely never experience the delights of a good cup of coffee in San Francisco. Oh sure, you’ll visit one of the shops – lured in by the scent of fresh roasted coffee beans and the calming sounds of the unemployed quietly clicking on their keyboards. You’ll saunter up to the counter, push your designer sunglasses to the top of your head and ask the tattooed young artist behind the counter for your favorite brew…

And then you’ll wait…

And wait…

And wait…

And after 15-minutes you’ll leave – bewildered, thirsty and empty handed.

You see, a cup of coffee, which I’m sure you’ll agree should take about zero-seconds to deliver, can take up to twenty-minutes* here! A delightful little macchiato may take up to an hour and cappuccinos will simply never arrive.

Scientists have proven time and time again that it is physically impossible for New Yorkers to wait while a cup of drip coffee is hand prepared, individually, just for them.

Luckily there are plenty of both Starbucks and Starbucks II (aka Peet’s) stores here that operate on a more realistic time frame, so you’ll be able to maintain your fix. But there are no coffee carts dotting the corners, and nobody knows what a “regular” cup of coffee truly means.


* All times converted to the Exaggerated Manhattan Scale (EMS)

SFIW reviews Mission Neighborhood Coffee Shoppes

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Thou Shalt Yelp!

As I have previously discussed, San Franciscans are exceptionally nice and freakishly tolerant. In fact, the only thing I have universally seen San Franciscans get upset about (besides not adequately recycling or composting of course) is lacking to respect The Yelp.

I refer to the internet-based, social networking, community-oriented, crowd-sourced, B to C to C2, review everything site: Yelp.

I hear some of you asking, “hey SFIW, WTF?” You remind me that Yelp is an international website. Heck, perhaps you’ve even used it to find reviews about dermatologist-bikini-pet-waxers in your city. What, you ask, is so San Franciscan about Yelp?”

Ah, my naive friend, while you may have “Yelped” before, until you step foot in San Francisco you will not understand the day-to-day importance of this happy little website. I personally believe The Yelp may actually be the cultural backbone of San Franciscan society!

Nary a denizen of this fine town leaves home without first “Yelpping” the destination, the surrounding area, local amenities and neighboring hot spots.  There’s a religious fervor surrounding Yelp! And like all religions, there are of course men and women of the cloth.

Yes, Yelp is an open-source forum where every man, woman and child can verbosely share their profoundly insightful opinions about In-N-Out Burger. But, just like Animal Farm (and to a lesser extent season eight of American Idol), not all Yelpers are created equal. Tucked amongst the millions of reviews lay the razor sharp critiques of the Yelp-clergy, the “Yelp Elite Squad” (that’s their real name, I’m totally cereal). These fine men and women have been singled out by The Yelp as the best-0f-the-best. The people who have the responsibility…nay the obligation…to share their own expertly crafted and meticulous honed observations above-and-beyond all others.

So before you embark on a trip to this fine “city,” might I suggest you take a few weeks to peruse the Yelp reviews as you craft your itinerary. Hundreds, if not thousands of strangers have taken hours out of their perfectly good day to extol the virtues and pitfalls of every local attraction. Whether you think of it as non-professional reviews or a glimpse into the neurosis of thousands of people, it’s just a damn good time.

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Burn, Baby Burn

It's getting hot out there

It's getting hot out there

Once a year a group of artist and technically inclined pyromaniacs make their way to a remote corner of the world. They  hang out, listen to strange music, build giant art projects, and then set them on fire. No, I’m not talking about Burning Man, I am of course referring to The Crucible’s Annual Incredibly Dangerous Festival (or as the organizer’s optimistically refer to it, the Fire Arts Festival).

Instead of deserted desert playa safely nestled in the middle of nowhere Nevada, the Incredibly Dangerous Festival takes over an empty parking lot under a perfectly good highway in West Oakland.

For the ninth(???) consecutive year The Crucible (a very “San Francisco” organization that teaches tech geeks and hippies alike how to weld, cast metal, blow glass, etc) has somehow convinced the city of Oakland to provide them with unfettered rights to create massive fire and napalm spewing creations.

And the only thing separating you (ME!) and the rest of the visitors (including a myriad of children innocently roaming about) from the giant gaseous fire goblins are a handful of bike rack barricades that gently suggest “you may not want to enter here lest you are engulfed in flame.”

But even if inadvertently being set on fire isn’t your idea of a good time, the Incredibly Dangerous Festival offered something weird for just about every San Franciscan, including:

Burning Heart

A Burning Heart!

A Unicorn!

A Unicorn!

Operate a Flamethrower!

Shooting a Flamethrower!

Didgeridoo? No Way!

A Didgeridoo!!!

Assuming the city of Oakland doesn’t start valuing human life in the next twelve months, the Incredibly Dangerous Festival should be back next year!

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A Few Good Hills

You may have heard that “San Francisco is hilly” or that there are “a lot of hills in San Francisco”.

Those are gross understatements.

This “city” is teaming with giant, steep and incredibly treacherous hills! And the crazy part is, everyone here goes about their day as if it’s completely normal to park your car on a 23% grade or hike-up the equivalent of the Appalachian Mountains to fetch a cup of  coffee!

So Steep, they added staris!

So Steep, they added stairs!

San Franciscans have adopted a series of intricate guidelines, rituals and even laws that help them adapt to the terrifyingly vertical landscape. Here a a few to keep in mind:

1) Navigate in Three Dimensions



In San Francisco, it’s not sufficient to know your way along a standard X-Y axis. Here you always need to consider the Z access before you set out on any journey. Otherwise, a simple trip to the tattoo parlor could strand you on the top of a freezing cold windy peak or at the base of an impenetrable cliff!

The good news is, there are a few well documented Hill Avoidance Routes (HAR’s), like The Wiggle, which effortlessly brings bike-riding hipsters between The Mission and Golden Gate Park.

2) Parking

Curb your wheels...

Curb your wheels...

Evidently, from time-to-time, parking brakes fail and cars have been known to careen down the aforementioned steep hills of San Francisco, subsequently smashing into buildings, other cars and people. This is not a good thing.

So the “city” of San Francisco has a strictly enforced, and easy to remember, “curb-your-wheels” law: If you’re parked on the right side of the street, facing up a hill, turn your tires to the left and set the emergency break (or use the easy to remember abbreviation: RSFUHTTLSEB). If you’re parked on the left side, facing down a hill, you’ll of course turn your ties to the left (or LSFDHTTLSEB).

3) Views

Actual view from an actual hill

Actual view from an actual hill

OK, so once you get to the top of hill there’s often a really nice view. That is if you survive the hike, or your bike has incredibly low gears or your car recently got its clutch replaced.

Good luck!

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Still substantially cooler than rollerblading

Still substantially cooler than rollerblading

There’s a long standing debate in San Francisco about the coolness of various self-propelled rolling devices. The “city” is split among many different factions (without rancor of course, this is San Francisco) about which device is truly the coolest.

Over the last few months I have infiltrated the semi-courteous debates among tattooed,  pierced  and skinny-jeaned hipsters and I am proud to announce that SFIW has uncovered not only what the coolest SPRD is, but for the first time ever, an official, sanctioned, top-10 raking!

The Official SFIW

Top Ten Self Propelled Rolling Devices

  1. Skateboard
  2. Kid’s Sneakers with Built-In Wheels
  3. Bicycle – Fixed Gear (no fly wheel)
  4. Bicycle – Single Gear (with lame fly wheel)
  5. Long Board
  6. Roller Skates
  7. Bicycle (with super lame gears and brakes)
  8. Scooters
  9. Parrot / Thigh Powered Stand-Up Roller Thing
  10. Rollerblades
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OK, all kidding aside, how can you trust a “city” with no squirrels? I mean, I’m willing to forgive the 2:1 ratio of seagulls to pigeons and even accept the harbor is infested with barking sea lions (true story), but where the hell are all the squirrels?!?!

Yes Bay Area zoologists, there are squirrels over the bridge in Oakland, but there are none in the city of San Francisco. For the love of all things holy, the enormous Golden Gate Park is even home to a herd of buffalo (also true) but not a single squirrel!!!!

That’s just weird.

No squirrels in San Francisco...

No squirrels in San Francisco...

But plenty of buffalo!

But plenty of buffalo!

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The Panhandle


As everyone in New York (and, um, the rest of the world???) knows, if approached by a panhandler you simply avoid eye contact, ignore the request and keep moving.


Hell, it doesn’t even need to be someone asking for money…directions? Help? The time? Endangered child? Escaped tiger? It’s all the same:

1. Avoid eye contact
2. Ignore
3. Keep moving

Manhattan school children learn the mantra right along with stop, drop and roll. It’s just second nature.

Which is why your first few encounters with panhandlers (and there will be many) in San Francisco may be incredibly unsettling. Panhandlers in San Francisco are accustomed to (a) people being nice and (b) having the right to do whatever they want – including asking you for money.

So the normal tactics don’t work here because panhandlers simply think you didn’t hear them. They’ll raise their voice, follow you down the street and even (shudder) touch you! Yes, panhandlers here will actually touch you to get your attention if you ignore them. And unlike Giuliani/Bloomberg’s New York where homeless people are put to death for even blocking the path of the gainfully employed / showered citizen, it’s evidently not against the law for panhandlers in San Francisco to gently touch you.

But don’t fear, after many months I have devised an innovative and foolproof (albeit counterintuitive) method for avoiding the harassment of panhandlers in San Francisco. When asked for money, pause, look the assailant in the eye and say “sorry dude.”
I know it sounds crazy, but it works:

1. Pause
2. Eye contact
3. “Sorry dude”

The panhandler will shrug and walk on. It’s seriously like magic and it will blow your mind.

Good luck.

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Two Great Tastes…


This doesn’t quite qualify for my Weird Restaurant Category (great food, good lighting, $12 – $14 entrees), but there’s still something oh, so San Francisco about it!

Plus seriously, after you’ve had an order of chow meain (or a burger), don’t you often crave a delicious donut?

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No Judgments?

2008 "Hunky Jesus" Contest

Winner: 2008 "Hunky Jesus" Contest

There’s a pervasive vibe that resonates throughout San Francisco: “people should be able to do whatever they want” (which is fine), “and without judgment” (which is ridiculous). Sure, you can be a topless grown man who chooses to wear purple tights and publicly hula-hoop in broad daylight (true story), but I should be able to ridicule you to my friends.

In New York it’s survival of the fittest: the good looking, socially normal and trend-setting survive while the freaky deviants are relegated to…well, San Francisco. In San Francisco not only do you have the right to be an overly-pierced, tattoo-covered, fleece-clad, patchouli smelling, performing hippy, but we all are expected to accept you – NAY, even encourage your eccentric “unique” behavior.

So yupeat empotor (conservative beware), I pretty sure it’s the law here. Just like having your own blog.

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Lego New York

Christopher Niemann brings New York icons and sensibilities to life through legos.

Loves it!

While I figure out the appropriate San Francisco response I encourage you to check out the entire collection at the NYT Blog.

Spare a quarter?

Spare a quarter?

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Weird Fish (Weird Restaurant)

People eat out more in New York. Sure, there are many people that eat out a good amount in San Francisco too, but due to busier lives and smaller apartments, more people eat out more often in (and around) NYC. This fact has spawned a class of rarely unheralded yet fantastically delicious, comfortable (not too expensive) and reliable restaurants, and one of the things I miss most about my home town.

In my previous post I bemoaned this “city’s” dearth of yummy eating establishment with $12 – $14 entrees. A place that you could comfortably go two or three times a week (even in this challenging economic time).

The good news is that there are a few, very good, “New York Style” restaurants: small (wonderfully verging on cramped), well lit (although you don’t quite need to use the light of your cell phones to read the menu), yummy and very reasonable priced. First up, (with no relationship to this blog I assure you):

Weird Fish
2193 Mission Street (at 18th)

Located in a funky, East Village Circa 1985-ish stretch of the Mission, Weird Fish is a small, warm and welcoming enclave. Their are a dozen or so tables made of encased tin ceiling tiles surrounded by vaguely nautical accoutrement’s and a few images of mermaids. The decor is tastefully done, being authentic with a perfect hint of we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously nonchalance.

They do, however, take their relatively simple food seriously. Being in San Francisco, Weird Fish of course boasts locally grown vegetables and sustainably farmed fish and they also have a blog, which I’m pretty sure is a law here (although, to their credit, it’s not updated much, which perhaps means they’re spending more time in the kitchen?).

They make a kick-a** fish and chips giving you an option of 2 or 3 pieces of perfectly fried talapia for $10 or $13 respectively. My favorite is the dijon-almond encrusted rainbow trout (only $9!!!) and they also make great fish tacos with all the fixins for five bucks. All the sides are great and only cost $4. I really haven’t been disappointed with anything on the regular menu. I have been less impressed with their signature dish, the Suspicious Fish. A gimmicky, nightly changing entree. They won’t tell you what it is, but will give you hints. I’ve had it a few times and never been blown away.

Since the place is small and good and has a cool vibe there’s often a wait, but the attentive staff does their best to get you in quickly and keep in you realistically abreast of the wait. There’s a small but adventures wine list with some nice options and draft beer is available by the pint or expensive Belgium beers by the bottle.

Really impressive food at a great price in a fantastic neighborhood environment, what more could you ask for? How about a small satellite kitchen located in the back of a fun bar a few blocks away? They serve the same Fish and Chips and Fish Tacos, but have added fried pickles, sandwiches and even a burger. The satellite is  open Tuesday – Saturday from about 6pm until the cook is done. Typically about 11pm or midnight…crazy late night for San Francisco! How weird…

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