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Posts Tagged 'Mission'

Things I’ve Learned About San Francisco: The Mission

The Mission DistrictThe Mission was a place I called home about 25 years ago and back then it was nothing like it is today. Back then there was hardly anything to do except get a burrito or go to the El Rio bar because it wasn’t really a spot for nightlife for the non-Hispanic community.

Today, the Mission has changed and the people who have moved there have ended up turning the place into something that almost doesn’t belong as a part of San Francisco anymore and let me explain. The people of the Mission today, stay in the Mission. They really don’t know about anything outside the Mission other than if they have to make a trip downtown to go to a work related meeting. Nothing else exists for them.

For New Mission residents today they don’t seem to understand that you don’t have to wait in line for over an hour to get an ice cream cone or that you can get a slice of pizza for under $10. Most of the time when I’m driving through the Mission to give people a ride you can tell the people who live there. It’s never more than an $8 ride because that’s pretty much how much it costs to go from one end of the Mission to the other even though most of them stay within the area of 16th Street and 24th Street and usually between Dolores and maybe Bryant.

These aren’t the residents from 10-15 years ago or even the residents for 20-30 years ago, but the new techies that everyone complains about because it’s their fault that the rents are going up. I might be wrong here, but last time I checked I never heard a renter who said, no that’s really far to little for me to pay every month to live here, let me give you more. I sincerely believe that it is the landlords who are raising the prices on the real estate here more than the techies. Most who I meet are living with 3-5 other roommates when renting a house or at least more people than there are naturally occurring bedrooms. They have to cram themselves in to be able to afford the rents out there that they didn’t set in the first place.

Because of this it gets pretty crowded. Weekends can be extremely ridiculous because you have not only the Mission street residents, but also people from all over San Francisco that now have a reason to go there on a weekend evening other than to buy drugs. [Remember I lived there 25 years ago. It was way easy to buy drugs without having to walk more than a block.]

Buying a burrito will take you a long time now even though there are many taquerias there because there’s even more people drawn there. On a weekend night the crowds from the restaurants and bars are spilling over into the streets on Valencia and it is not a street to try and drive down. My old roommate and I used to split a two bedroom house with a full living room, dining room [which would be two other bedrooms now] and kitchen for $800 a month. We had the chance to buy the house for $209,000 and thought it was too much in 1995. Guess what…it sold for less and would now sell for around a million dollars. That’s a pretty good increase in value and yes, I’m still kicking myself about that today.

Something I learned about the area that I hadn’t noticed at first is that there are a lot of homes and apartments that have been gutted and rebuilt. Because they have done this and it is after 1979 these places aren’t linked to rent control so anyone renting them doesn’t have any protection. In my book this is wrong. Even the places that aren’t being rebuilt have been pulled off the market so that they could come back at a vastly increased price.

The techies moving into the Mission aren’t millionaires. The largest bracket for income is in the $35k-75k range pretty much like every other area in San Francisco [except for SoMA in the 94105 zip code which is the richest]. There really isn’t much reason to raise the prices so high that someone has to spend $30k/year just on their portion of the rent, but seriously, these new residents don’t know any better. The insiders say things like, well I don’t stand in line for ice cream at the Bi-Rite. I go across the street and buy a pint. OK, buy you’re spending $6-$8 for a pint of ice cream. Wife and I happened to be in the area during the week when everyone was gone and there was no line. We stopped in at the Bi-Rite and I have to say we loved the ice cream.  It was worth the $3 cone…no everyday, but once in awhile and it certainly wouldn’t have been worth it if he had to wait an hour and half for it. To be fair, Mitchell’s ice cream is just as good, but the same rules apply. Just go when no one is in line or buy some at a grocery store that carries it. We also stopped in at a taqueria and there was no line during the week. The prices were pretty fair, but if we had to wait in line we would have fixed something to eat at home that would have been close enough for about a fifth of the cost.

Seriously though, if anyone from the Mission who’s a new resident reads this can I suggest you check out the ice cream from a couple of friends of mine called Ben & Jerry. It’s a little cheaper and you can get it at pretty much any grocery store in the City. Hell, liquor stores even have it. There’s also some things called tortillas and Mexican cheese you can get at those same stores and toss in a pan for an instant quesadilla. I won’t tell everyone that you like to put Sriracha sauce on your quesadillas though. No really I won’t.

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San Francisco And The Hot Dog

Schwarz Sausage CompanyI felt that I couldn’t talk about a burger joint yesterday without giving some time to that venerable processed tubular meat product known as the Hot Dog. I wrote an article some time ago about Treasure Island Hot Dogs that I couldn’t find very much info on, but Uncle Frank from the Hot Dog Hall of Fame [yes there is one] who mentioned Schwarz Sausage Company of San Francisco so I did a little more digging.

While the Hamburger originated in Hamburg, Germany by Russian traders who brought their habit of eating raw minced meat [ala steak tartare] the Hot Dog started it’s life in Frankfurt, Germany as well as Vienna, Austria [where the name weiner comes from]. It wasn’t until Germans brought them to America that some schmuck here got the idea of wrapping them in bread so you didn’t burn your hands while walking around eating them.

The Hot Dog predates the origin of the Hamburger in the U.S. by a number of years and it has spread all over the U.S. in various forms creating localized renditions through out the country. It was here that I had to start my search. If they are everywhere what would make them so special to San Francisco? We have dungeoness crab that while you can find it all up and down the coast, it tastes different here. Then of course there’s sourdough bread that only can exist here because of our local bacteria that even if you got some starter and were using it in another part of the country it would last you a couple of weeks and then it would be gone.

So what is so San Francisco about the Hot Dog? Well as it turns out if you’ve ever gone to a local sporting event and purchased a hot dog [not sushi and chardonnay] you probably had a Schwarz Sausage Company hot dog. They began life in a part of the Mission District sometime around 1911 in a part that was known as Germantown. That was the first I had heard of a Germantown being in San Francisco, but we are a city of change after all. There was also Casper’s Hot Dogs, but they actually started in San Leandro in 1934 so their close, but no hot dog, er, cigar.

Schwarz also was a big supplier of the public schools so those hot dogs you ate growing up here were probably from Schwarz. They make several types and not just the all beef type, but they also have some with pork and veal inside and while I tend to gloss over the hot dog at times as being more about what you put on it than in it, you can taste a difference between them. While Schwarz has been bought by Engelhart Gourmet Foods and moved to Fairfield, CA they still have a consumer outlet in the part of Mission that’s referred to now as La Lengua.

Say, did I just say sometime in Spanish? Well the San Francisco experience for hot dogs is usually found by street vendors in the Mission who sell grilled hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Apparently the Mexican immigrants brought that from Mexico and it has caught on here at least in the Mission. We don’t have too many hot dog joints and when you do find them they’re more fast food than localized. The best place [in my opinion] to get a hot dog is from a hot dog stand. While I have grown over the years learning to put different things on a hot dog [note I used to put only mayo on a hot dog that would creep out anyone who watched me do it and eat it] I’ve found that grilled hot dogs never did it for me. Now if you wrap it in bacon that changes things because the bacon fat would keep the hot dog from blistering and well, as we all know, everything is better with bacon.

Note that if the danger dogs from a Mission Street cart scare you there’s always the palace of tubular meat products, the Rosamunde Sausage Grill that makes it smothered in onions called the Mission Street that I notice is available at every location except the Haight Street location. Well, at least they have it at their Mission Street location.

The Mission Is The Hot New District? Seriously?

Mission DistrictI don’t like to put down areas of the city and in this case it’s kind of a half hearted commentary, but I just read that the Mission District is the new hot place to buy in San Francisco. I’m not so sure it’s hot to buy or hot to sell. The reality is whether or not you’ll drop a million dollars on a fixer upper.

Yes, you read that right, there is a home that the owners are asking $1,000,000 and it’s a fixer upper expected to sell for more money. This house was one of the original houses and my guess from looking at the outside is that not too much has been done on the inside. I can see asking a price like that on some of the more updated homes, but a lot of the original homes were built in the 20’s and 30’s and there are possible problems that will cost you even more in the long run.

Granted, it was 20 years ago, but I lived in a 2 bedroom house in the Mission. It was my first time I had moved out of my parents house and had sort of a house of my own. This house was built in 1924. It had a living room, dining room and kitchen on one floor and a large bedroom, small bedroom and sunroom on the top floor along with the bathrooms. It was a good sturdy house, but there were also parts downstairs that no one ever walked into. There was a door next to the garage door that you couldn’t see for all the spider webs. The door out to our backyard that was overgrown with weeds and blackberry brambles was sealed shut with spiderwebs. To get into the garage you had to have a tiny car because the street was so narrow you couldn’t really get enough angle to get into the garage with a regular sized car.

I got used to parking 2-4 blocks away from the house because the house was on a private street that dead ended and you had to back up to get down the street because there wasn’t enough room to turn around. You couldn’t park on the street on my side and on the other side people would park halfway on the curb. Because I was parking 2-4 blocks away my tires were always in good shape usually because I had to replace them every 6 months because someone would slash them. I got to fall asleep to the lulling sounds of gun fire that was going on between the local gangs. I never really walked the streets unless I was going to work because there wasn’t anything to walk to really other than my car. I would have to drive to get to most places because walking wasn’t really that safe.

Let’s fast forward to today and see how it is. When you look at the paper you still see stories of people getting shot or car chases ending in crashes. There are a lot of new restaurants catering to hipsters that have had cars crash into them or people shot during dinner service. Fires caused by substandard old wiring. This is not a positive reason to live in a place. The Mission attracted hipsters because it was a cheap place to live at first. Hell, our rent on the house I was in was $800/month split between 2 [sometimes 3] of us. When we moved out the house had sold for $209k. Now the prices can be 5x that.

It’s not cheap to live there anymore, but there is still a mix of the old Mission and the new Mission which is having problems. You’ve got six figure income people living next door to welfare recipients. The crime level is still much higher than in other parts of the city. A lot of the hipsters living there are at the lower end of the income spectrum because they’re new to San Francisco and don’t understand that it takes a lot of money or luck to live here comfortably. They are the ones that will come and go that will make the Mission’s old beat up properties slide by the way side quickly.

I’m not too sure because I don’t have many homeowners to talk to, but the idea of buying a house and flipping it for a profit in a couple of years seems to yield a lesser return than it did 10-15 years ago. Owning a home is a long term thing and takes commitment. You’re tied to it for 30 years if you’re serious and a lot changes in 30 years. Oddly enough there are better places [and by better I mean less expensive, lower crime rate, better schools, etc] outside the Mission that change more slowly that are better for a long term commitment. These are parts of the city a lot of the new comers call boring. Excitement for me in owning a house isn’t asking myself when I step out the door, am I going to get shot at or just have my car broken into. In the long term, these areas have more value as they keep moving up in value just slowly. Note that the house I used to live in in the Mission could be sold today for $735k and rent for $3300 a month.  While that’s quite an increase since I was there my old next door neighbor has seen the house value rise and fall radically over the years.

Overall, I don’t mind my couple of times a year visit to the Mission, but the idea of living there now would be a step down for me.

Birria de Chivo

Since I’ve been talking about burritos it seems only fitting to continue on with Mexican food for another day and I thought what better to talk about than a sorely missed restaurant in Mission La Rondalla and their specialty dish, Birria de Chivo.

For those who don’t speak Spanish, Birria de Chivo is goat stew [sometimes complete with goat head]. Me being allergic to lamb I decided it would be fitting for me to give it a go one day. I had never eaten goat before so this would be a new experience. I didn’t realize how popular a dish this was until the day after when I was talking with some of my Mexican friends at work who laughed at me for just ordering it and not adding in, lean and clean.

When my bowl arrived it had an over powering smell of well, goat. The other Hispanics at the restaurant looked at me with a bit of surprise. I guess they didn’t expect a white person to ever order it. On my first bite I tasted a bit of the peppers and well, goat. Everything about this dish was goat. I felt like I was in a barnyard, but it had a very hearty rustic feel down to the bones in the stew. The part that caught me off guard was the fat and gristle in the stew. After eating about half the dish and having the rest boxed up to take home and after talking to my friend José the next day I learned what lean and clean meant. No bones, no fat, no gristle. I never thought while eating this where do they buy goat meat in San Francisco? I’ve been to many of the Mexican carnecerias in the city and I’ve never seen Chivo in the meat cases. Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions.

Sadly, La Rondalla went out of business sometime ago and for that I’m sad because it was the first place after a long night out partying that I had my first vegetarian burrito thanks to the girl I was dating at the time. I don’t know of any other places in the city that sell Birria de Chivo, but at least I know that if I find one an order it again I’ll remember to add lean and clean to the order. I was glad I stepped a little outside my comfort zone for a day.

Tony Does Frisco

I know I hate using the word Frisco for San Francisco, but I was trying to do a riff on the old Debbie Does Dallas, so I thought I’d give it a go. Anthony Bourdain’s the Layover aired last night and was about San Francisco. He used to hate us and thought we were obnoxiously smug twits. Well, he came by and saw us once and changed his mind. This time I have to say he did San Francisco proud.

While he hit almost every neighborhood of San Francisco, he did leave out the Sunset District, but I’ll let him slide on that one because he did a good job by staying away from the trendy places and focusing on more middle class fare this time. Swan Oyster Depot was probably the most expensive place he ate at, but he also tried one of the Mission District’s bacon wrapped hot dogs that they sell on the streets.

The only touristy thing he did was ride a cable car, but at least in doing that he understood how cool the cable cars are. The funniest was him telling us how cool they are a phony cable car with wheels drove past him in the background.

Bars, Bars, Bars. I think Tony was drunk about four hours after landing. After the hitting the Swan Oyster Depot it was onto the bars and the Tonga Room was a spot where he seriously got his drink on. He hit a bar in the Haight and Li Po’s in Chinatown where I’m surprised he didn’t sample the Uhn Kapay [I have no idea how that’s really spelled, but I have received a bottle for my birthday a few years ago and it’s something only for serious drinkers].

I think the best part of the show was when they interviewed locals who gave very good descriptions of what life in SF is like. Wear layers, expect overlaps in cultural cuisine, etc. I do wish he had made a trip out to the Sunset because we have some excellent places to eat. If he did I only wish that Pacific Sunset was still in business on Judah Street because what would he love more than to meet Klaus Loos who was the Executive Chef at Maxim’s in Paris and one day said, f*ck it I’m out of here to open a small restaurant in SF. He made some awesome food by the way and if you never got to eat there before they closed in the 90’s you really missed out.

Tony, hats off to you. You did a great job in San Francisco even though you ignored the Sunset District. I hope you survived your hangover and I think you should have gone to Trader Sam’s in the Richmond over the Tonga Room [which technically, the Tonga Room is a tourist attraction].

Trying to Wrap My Head Around Mission Hipsters

So I’ve been spending the better part of the week in the Mission District as many of you can probably figure out by by talking about my trips on the 48 Quintara. I actually did live there for about six years 16 years ago and I have to say that not too much has changed except that you see more white people now, but it’s still the best place to find a good selection of Hispanic foods.

That being said, I can’t wrap my head around why the Mission Hipsters™ have wanted to call this place their home. The place isn’t the cleanest still, the building are old and while nice to look at when you get inside some of them can be a little disgusting. The crime has dropped significantly from when I was there [no I was not the cause of the high crime rate], but there are still gangs running around and a flying bullet doesn’t care if your a Norteño or Sureño.

I have noticed that the Mission has tried to gentrify itself a bit which is a nice way of saying people with money come in and buy up poor people’s places pushing them out to make room for more people with money. The look is kind of odd when you walk past Rosamunde that’s right in between two run down stores that look like they haven’t seen a fresh coat of paint in over 50 years.

With that being said, I know there’s still good in the Mission, because I wouldn’t have lived there for six years if there wasn’t. The people are friendly and by that I mean the pre-hipster people. It’s got great weather most of the time and even when it doesn’t it’s still not that bad. If you want to experience the real Mission you have to go to anywhere around 24th and Mission. That’s still the place where you hear the salsa music blasting all day and some of the best places to buy Mexican food. If you get a chance stop by the Mission Panaderia that’s there. They make the best Mexican pastries in my book.

I think, but I’m not sure that the Mission Hipsters™ are located more down around 18th and Mission because you’ll suddenly hear less Spanish and more English and the crowd turns decidedly more Caucasian and Asian. You still will find a few Mexican food places, but there aren’t the same. The Mission kind of loses it’s feel here due to it being more affected by the gentrification and is kind of, in my mind a Disney version of the Mission.

I can see the Mission Hipsters™ wanting to live and work cheap, but the gentrification takes time and most of the start ups come and go quickly that are around here. They’re kind of an unwashed version of the Marina crowd with less money. I know I’m sounding mean, but I can’t help it. While you do have BART serving the area, you still have to go downtown to get to BART or take a slow bus to get there. This is probably why people out in the avenues are kind of isolated from the Mission District and vice versa. There’s no way to get there from here and vice versa.

That’s part of the reason I don’t get the concept of the Mission Hipster™. They try to be alternative fashion conscious, but I don’t get when being hip and cool meant that you have to step over excrement and homeless people when you walked out the door of your antique apartment that probably needs some major maintenance work. Note: I lived in the outer Mission in a full five room house built in 1924 that was always well maintained, but that was back in the early 90’s which was pre-Mission Hipster™ period.

I guess I don’t get Mission Hipsters™ because I’m a Westside Hipster™. Now we can let the hipster gang wars begin. There’s probably an app for that.

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