BARS AND RESTAURANTS

The Ultimate SF Neighborhood Guide: Divisadero Street

What follows is a handy little guide to help you get acquainted with one of San Francisco’s coolest streets: Divisadero. Ready for an adventure? Here we go.

Both culturally and geographically, Divisadero Street divides the northern end of San Francisco. To the East, the world of buildings becomes increasingly taller and more urban. To the West, the landscape gets greener through Golden Gate Park, as well as lower to the ground throughout the suburban sprawl of The Sunset and The Richmond. In many ways, the stretch of Divisadero Street below Geary Boulevard and above Haight Street can be seen as the center of the city, and its diverse collection of restaurants, bars, shops, and surrounding parks easily pay tribute to this claim.

Although the street does do a good job of dividing the city, the word “division” actually has nothing to do with its name. The word “Divisadero” is rooted in the Spanish word “divisar,” which means “to see from a distance,” referring to the eastward view of the city from Lone Mountain, which is now home to The University of San Francisco.

The neighborhood surrounding Divisadero Street has undergone many changes throughout its history. At one point, it stood as one of the final outposts of a younger San Francisco, becoming increasingly less inhabited and filled with sand dunes as you travel out to Ocean Beach. In the 1960s, the area was predominantly an African American neighborhood and became a thriving Jazz epicenter. Then, in the 80s and 90s, a crime problem developed in this area, and it was relatively off-the-radar for many people who visited the city.

Today, the area has seen an explosion of restaurants, bars, and hip retail stores, to the chagrin of some of its longer-standing residents, although it’s widely agreed that the evolution has brought about many positive changes in terms of safety. The neighborhood to the west of the street is deemed “NoPa” (North of The Panhandle), and has turned into one of San Francisco’s real estate hot spots. Some argue that all of the rapid change is causing the area to lose part of its “soul,” but hey—that’s for you to determine for yourself.

Read on for some of the best places to eat, drink, shop, and play at along Divisadero Street.

Let’s begin with the beginning of the day: breakfast. There is no shortage of places to grab a cup of joe and a quick bite around these parts, no matter what your food preferences may be. If you’re feeling fancy, swing by The Mill (736 Divisadero) and enjoy Four Barrel coffee paired with the (in)famous $4 toast baked on site by Josey Baker and his team. Although out-of-towners and locals alike may be exasperated by the price tag, a single slice of toast is quite filling and available with high-grade spreads, such as organic almond butter and house-made “nutella.” The Dark Mountain Rye with cream cheese, salt, and fresh ground pepper is my personal favorite. You can also buy whole loaves on the spot, along with other pastries available beneath the counter.

On the other end of the drag, you can grab a cup of Ritual Coffee brewed at newly-opened Repose Coffee, along with Dynamo Donuts. Head over to Vinyl, and you’ll find Blue Barrel Coffee, along with a selection of pastries and panini. If you’re into great coffee and cycling, check out Mojo, which has bites and Ritual coffee in the front, and one of the city’s best bike shops in the back.

Looking for a coffee shop with no frills? Swing by Bean Bag Café, a neighborhood institution since the 90s, and enjoy pastries, bagels, croissants, and crepes—or a plate of bacon, eggs, and potatoes. Finally, if you’re in the mood for a “classic” diner experience, hit Eddie’s Café on the corner of Fulton and Divisadero. Each cup of coffee is poured in a unique cup, and the menu is truly a testament to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra.

Once you’ve been sufficiently fed and caffeinated, you might feel the urge to walk off those AM carbs and shake out those coffee jitters. Luckily, there are more than enough parks in the immediate area to keep you busy taking in the sites or just relaxing in the sun (depending on the month).

The most iconic vista in the area is Alamo Square Park, home to the world-renowned Painted Ladies. Known to most folks as “The Full House Houses,” this collection of Victorians is juxtaposed beautifully with the highly developed downtown area of the city. Jutting out in the distance, you’ll find the Transamerica Building and Bank of America Building dominating the landscape, along with the newer modern high rises to the south.

Fun Fact: Although the Tanners didn’t actually live in one the Painted Ladies, acclaimed author Alice Walker did inhabit one of the iconic buildings in the mid-90s.

The park itself is great, complete with a tennis court, an off-leash dog area, and a children’s playground. Head over on a warm day, and the entire area will be dotted with fun-seekers picnicking and catching a buzz. Don’t miss the drinking fountain at the top. In my opinion, it’s the best in the city, and also has a lower dish for your furry friend.

Also within walking distance is Duboce Park—which has an off-leash area, too—and The Panhandle. Each of these options are good for days when the wind at Alamo Square is too much to bear.

Now that you’ve taken in some of the natural beauty of the neighborhood, head on back to Divisadero Street and spend some time meandering in and out of the unique shops lining the block. The street is really a gift givers dream, starting with Rare Device on the corner of Hayes and Divisadero. Think of it as a hipster Hallmark store that also triples as an art gallery and a baby shop.

Further up the street is The Perish Trust, full of antique knick-knacks, handmade goods, and pricey clothing that could easily outfit a fashion-minded adult heading to camp for the summer. You can also find cool goods for the kitchen, as well as some pretty neat books.

For the OG gamer, Gamescape has every board game you could ever imagine, along with scores of different fantasy role playing games for sale. They also host meet ups nearly every night of the week for people to connect with other like-minded enthusiasts. For the imaginative type who prefers comics and graphic novels, look no further than a few doors down and you’ll come across Comix Experience, which is often considered to be SF’s best shop for comic books and graphic novels.

Other Divisadero retail highlights include Cookin’, an antique cookware shop, Your Scents, a tiny yet very authentic incense store, and Black Nose Trading Co., a shop dedicated to outfitting your pooch with all he or she needs. They also provide dog walking and training services.

By now, you’ve probably worked up an appetite again, but don’t fret—lunch options abound around this tiny slice of the city. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food made with fresh, organic ingredients, The Little Chihuahua will deliver. I especially like that they offer refried black beans as an option (they’re really good in a burrito or with some enchiladas), and many people rave about their plantain burritos.

4505 Burgers and BBQ, located on the corner of Divisadero and Grove (right by the weed shop, for all of you card carriers), is often considered the best barbecue in the city. You can smell the place from afar, and if you’re in the right kind of mood, that aroma can be magnetic. Try the brisket, either in a sandwich or as part of platter, and don’t miss the frankaroni as a side. It’s a deep-fried square of macaroni and cheese stuffed with hot dog bits, and it’s exactly as good as it sounds.

Other great daytime spots for food include: Herbivore, a classic Californian vegetarian restaurant, Nopalito (more fancy Mexican) over on Broderick and Fell, and Kung Food, a newly opened Chinese food restaurant on McAllister and Divisadero.

And if you’re lucky, you might run into King Kobbler, who sells delicious deserts out of the back of his converted meter maid “chariot.”

There are also some awesome markets in the neighborhood, in case you feel like picking something up to cook, ordering from a hot bar, or grabbing a quick snack. Faletti Foods on Broderick (Nopalito is attached) is a classic family-run supermarket with a great butcher shop and a large selection of goods. Connected, you’ll also find Dellessio, which makes some pretty great deserts and provides diverse options at their hot bar.

Bi-Rite, along with their ice cream shop, Bi-Rite Creamery, has recently stolen the show in the neighborhood with their extensive (yet pricey) selection of high-end provisions. They also make some great sandwiches, perfect for packing a picnic to the park.

Next up is happy hour, and I think a few spots stand out because they also allow you to graze on some tasty bites as you put a few back. Bar Crudo has one of the best early evening deals in the city, with rotating beer and wine specials, along with $1 oysters, $1 mussels, and a smoky, rich chowder that will blow your mind.

Tsunami Sushi also has some great deals for happy hour, along with beer and sake specials. This neighborhood classic has been a mainstay for years, and their fish selection is top notch.

El Mercado, the garage patio connected to La Urbana, has really good deals on tacos, along with free popcorn and a selection of choice cocktails and Mexican beer. Pull up to one of their plastic tables and play some dominos (provided) with a friend as you watch the game from their big screen TV.

If you’re feeling up something a bit less fancy, pop over to Bean Bag Café. Their cheap beers on tap (under $3) have fueled early nights for Divisadero residents for years. Don’t miss their fried calamari baskets and fries. We’ll talk more about the rest of the watering holes on the block in a bit, but hey, it’s getting late, and it’s time for dinner.

It’s probably best to begin with the restaurant that started the trend of higher end eats on the block back in 2006: Nopa. This nationally acclaimed establishment is known for their beautifully crafted cocktails and well thought-out California cuisine. They are dedicated their craft in every way, and serve as a destination for locals and out-of-towners alike. They open at 5pm and have a limited small bites menu available until dinner service, which begins at 6pm and runs all the way until 1:30am. Reservations need to be made pretty far in advance, but there is always walk-in seating available if you are up for a wait.

Across the street, you’ll find a very different dining experience, but no less authentic in its own way: Club Waziema. This is a fantastic Ethiopian restaurant that serves classic fair in a marvelous old bar that was once called Club Morrocco, a Jazz club from Divisadero’s past that used to host acts like Marvin Gaye and Tina Turner. Don’t miss the crushed velvet wallpaper—it hasn’t changed since the middle of the last century.

If you’re in the mood for pizza, head to Ragazza for some great Neapolitan-style pie. They also have good salads and pastas, and a great selection of wine. If you are in more of a Chicago-style mood, check out Little Star—It’s a neighborhood institution with a great vibe.

Another one of my personal favorites is Saffron Grill, serving excellent North Indian cuisine in an intimate setting. Their specialty is the chicken achar, which is similar to a tikka masala. Just be careful when they ask you how spicy you’d like it—they don’t mess around when it comes to heat.

Other great dinner spots include: Brenda’s Meat and Three, serving well-executed soul food, and Wine Kitchen, which has both small plates and entrees, along with a great selection of wines—some of which are served on tap.

Also, don’t miss out on great pop ups at Vinyl and Mojo, consisting of pizza, barbecue, gourmet cheese burgers, and Vietnamese street food. Check their websites for schedules.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for partying, Divisadero has you covered. Madrone Art Bar has something going on every night of the week, from the famous Motown on Mondays party, to booty-shaking electronic music get-downs. The Page and Waziema are your classic SF dives, with large spaces housing a pool table in the back of each.

Bar 821 recently redid their cocktail program to include the largest selection of amari in the city, and Mini Bar is a local favorite with a devoted patronage.

Fly Bar also has a pool table, and personal pizzas and salads if you’re still feeling hungry. Also, make sure to check the calendar for The Independent. It’s a great venue that attracts an awesomely diverse collection of live acts, and the bartenders are some of the cheeriest you’ll meet.

You’ll catch a crowd in their twenties, thirties, and forties at all of these places, and there’s a laid back energy everywhere you go. Places like The Page, Waziema, and Madrone are mellow in the early evenings, but can get super packed once it’s party o’ clock, so plan accordingly. Also, the entire neighborhood is generally pretty safe these days—but, as always, be aware of your surroundings if you’ve been drinking and happen to stray from the beaten path.

If you or an ou-of-town friend need a place to crash after painting the town, check out The Metro Hotel. Rooms are pretty reasonable, the location with regard to everything else in the city can’t be beat, and they allow dogs.

So there you have it—all you need to know about hanging out on Divisadero Street.  There’s truly something for everyone, so take your time and really get to know what is without question one of the coolest streets in San Francisco.