Destination: Mission

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After several years of grousing about San Francisco's cool weather, minimal taxicab service and dearth of late-night dining options, the curmudgeon has moved back to his native New York, where ranting about that exotic frontier west of the Hudson is raised to the level of high art and fog is supplanted with muggy summers and the frozen slush of winter. But old habits die hard, and lately our hero has been grousing about Manhattan's pallid martinis, bilge-pump coffee and, most of all, soulless Mexican food. So when he returned to SF last week for a two-day, one-night appearance, we made time for a foray to the Mission.

Our primary destination was El Farolito (2779 Mission at 24th), an indifferently decorated, perpetually packed hole in the wall that happens to sell the city's best tortas and burritos. The slow-cooked pork carnitas is as rich and silky as a fine duck confit, the tomato and avocado are fresh and sweet, and combined in a tortilla or a soft roll with sour cream, cheese and refried beans, it's a mood-altering, habit-forming meal in miniature. Good aguas frescas too. This was followed by a visit to La Loma Produce, just up the street at 2840 Mission, which in addition to selling chili peppers and plantains and canned hominy serves up exceptional tamales out of a warmer at the front counter. Besides the standard Mexican variety, there are custard-like Salvadoran tamales packed with potatoes, green olives and shards of juicy chicken, and a marvelous dessert version that's like a moist, dense butter cake ribboned with corn kernels.

The curmudgeon also found time during his brief visit for several icy martinis at Harris' Saturday night and an equal number of restorative cups of coffee at Boulange de Polk the following morning. Pastrami and cheesecake can only go so far, after all. —Matthew Stafford

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