Teeming with tasty taquerias and creative cocktail bars, the Mission District has a completely different flavor from the rest of San Francisco because of its distinct history. This sunny colorful neighborhood takes its name from the Spanish Mission founded here in 1776 and still has a vibrant Latino community. Authentic restaurants reflect residents’ native lands, from Mexico and Guatemala to Ecuador and Peru. Vibrant murals all over the neighborhood pay homage to immigrant cultures as well as indigenous peoples. Thanks to this rich Latino cultural legacy, the Mission is an exciting place for foodies to discover and most of all a haven for Chocolate Lovers but with a Hispanic nod to the origins of Cacao: traditional Mexican Chicken Mole sauce made with dark chocolate; chocolate donuts coated with chipotle-cinnamon sugar; spicy hot chocolate inspired by ancient Mayan recipes; and mixed drinks that incorporate cocoa!
Breakfast at Dynamo Donuts
Begin the tour with a donut and coffee for breakfast in the sunny garden patio of Dynamo Donuts. This gourmet donut shop bakes small batches daily using local organic ingredients. The menu changes with the season, but certain classics like vanilla and chocolate are available year-round. Chocoholics will appreciate the variety of chocolate donuts. Recommended for this tour is the Spiced Chocolate Donut. Tossed in chipotle-cinnamon sugar, this delicious dark-chocolate donut represents a synergy of the Mission’s culinary heritage and the latest trends. The cinnamon-sugar coating is reminiscent of Mexican churros, the spiciness harkens back to recipes for Mayan hot chocolate, and the artisanal quality is all the rage in the Mission right now. Dynamo Donuts also has other excellent chocolate donuts, including Chocolate with Chocolate-Anise Glaze and gluten-free Chocolate with Raspberry-Black Pepper Glaze. Often many flavors of donuts sell out by late morning. To make sure you’ll get your choice of donuts, pre-order the day before on the Dynamo website.
Take a Stroll and Admire the Mission Murals
After your Dynamo breakfast stop, stroll around neighborhood to discover the colorful ambience. The area is full of small shops and restaurants run by locals. Heading west on 24th Street, you’ll pass by a few interesting murals. At the corner of 24th and Florida streets is an impressive work that covers two sides of a building; the scenes depict the history of indigenous peoples and the Hispanic community. Continuing along 24th Street, notice the lovely painting of the Virgin Mary by Ernesto Paul at the building on the corner of 24th and Alabama Street. Just a few blocks further is Balmy Street is a narrow pedestrian alley covered with beautiful brightly painted murals. Adding to the charm are potted plants lining the sidewalk and fences trimmed in lush bougainvillea and flowering vines. Admire each work of art and try to unravel the messages. Many of the murals illustrate powerful political and social justice themes.
El Metate Restaurant
From Balmy Street, head (east) back to Bryant Street and walk a few blocks north to El Metate Restaurant. This cute neighborhood restaurant is the real thing. The authentic Mexican dishes are made with love from the freshest local ingredients. Owner Francisco Hernandez follows his mom’s recipes and shops at the market early every morning. Many customers come here just for the Chicken Mole, which tastes like it was made by a Mexican grandmother. Hernandez learned from his mom and improved the recipe himself by toasting the spices. Hernandez makes both green (tomatillo-cilantro-jalapeño chile) and red (tomato-based) mole sauces from scratch in the traditional style. A key ingredients for both mole sauces is unsweetened cocoa powder, which adds a rich flavor. Since the preparation is time-consuming cooking process, the restaurant only offers mole a few times a week. (If the mole sauce is not available the day you visit, as an alternative try the Chicken Mole Tacos at Tacolicious after visiting Dandelion Chocolate. Tacolicious is conveniently located across the street from Dandelion Chocolate and Craftsman and Wolves.)
El Metate Restaurant, 2406 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA, USA; (415) 641-7209
Continue the tour by walking back one block to Florida Street and head north until you arrive at Charles Chocolates. This artisanal chocolate maker is acclaimed for its European-style truffles. Charles Chocolates focuses on classic flavors like caramels and pralines. Customer favorites are the Fleur de Sel Caramels, the Peanut Praline Butterflies (made from fresh roasted peanuts) and the Milk Chocolate Caramel, a grown-up version of the Rolo candy! Other highlights are the chocolate pastries, especially the Macadamia ‘Crack’ Tart featuring a buttery crust, chocolate ganache and gooey caramel, and the S’More made with a freshly baked graham cracker, dark chocolate and handmade vanilla marshmallow. You may enjoy the pastries and chocolates with coffee or tea while sitting on the outdoor patio, but keep in mind you should save room for the next three stops. Take home an assorted box of chocolate truffles which will keep for several weeks.
Head west on 18th Street until arriving at Valencia Street where two wonderful stops await you! Spend some time at Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch chocolate factory that’s part of the New American Chocolate Movement. This San Francisco-based company produces single-origin chocolate from bean to bar. Dandelion collaborates with farmers in various cocoa-producing regions all over the world. Then the beans are processed by hand at this local facility. You can take a tour and watch how the chocolate is produced from the roasting process and the grinding of the beans to the tempering of chocolate bars. Free tours of the chocolate factory are held at 6pm on weeknights and 3pm on Saturdays. This location also doubles as a cafe that serves outstanding house-made hot chocolate, Four Barrel coffee and pastries. Be sure to sample the spicy Mission Hot Chocolate or the European Hot Chocolate which is very dense in dark chocolate, in the Parisian style.
Dandelion Chocolate, 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA, USA; (415) 349-0942
Craftsman and Wolves
Next door to Dandelion Chocolate is Craftsman and Wolves, an upscale bakery that caters to the Mission’s hipster crowd with its daring selection of exquisite patisserie. The avant-garde pastries feature innovative flavor combinations such as Chocolate-Raspberry Eclairs and Black Sesame Mandarin Chocolate Mousse Cake. The assortment is based on fresh ingredients and is updated constantly with the season. Craftsman and Wolves uses high-quality Valrhona chocolate in all of its chocolate desserts as well as in the chocolate-chip cookies and the hot chocolate. Select a dessert that appeals to you and savor it in inside or at one of sidewalk tables.
Sixth Course Artisan Confections
To complete your chocolate-tasting tour in style, wander a few blocks over to Sixth Course. This sleek new artisan confection shop creates handmade truffles, gelato pops and pastries in surprising flavors. Appealing to a sophisticated clientele, many of the signature chocolate truffles are reminiscent of cocktails, like the Raspberry Cosmopolitan, the Champagne Fizz and the Baileys & Cream truffles. Other truffles feature fresh herbs, such as the Rosemary Caramel and Ceylon Cinnamon Caramel. The Cayenne Caramel and the Habanero Passion Fruit Caramel truffles were inspired by Mission district Mexican tastes. The patisserie selection is impressive, with European-style tarts and mousse cakes. On a warm day, the house-made gelato pops are particularly enticing. These mini ice-cream popsicles are made entirely from scratch using fresh ingredients and coated in the finest Valrhona chocolate.
Finally, celebrate a fabulous day of chocolate discovery with specialty cocktails at ABV. A favorite local hangout, this stylish bar makes some of the best craft cocktails in the Mission. The cocktails are mixed to perfection, served in chilled glasses and delicately garnished for added flair. To conclude your tour, try the Fogerty Cocktail that’s made with cocoa, rye, Campari and orange bitters.
ABV, 3174 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA; (415) 400 4748