By: Tom Kubik, Design by Isla Bell Murray
This story is brought to you by the great people over at the Bold Italic. The Bold Italic is an online magazine, shop, and events hub in San Francisco. We celebrate the free-wheeling spirit of the city.
Deep in the heart of the Outer Richmond, buried amongst the exceptionally wide streets lined with two-story houses lives a quaint, tight-knit community on Balboa Street that prefers the sounds of the ocean during the still night. The hills are bicycle friendly and the crashing waves of the Pacific can be seen from the crosswalks. Those who favor low rent and a high quality of living have sparked a renaissance that may bring life to this Balboa Street strip like it hasn't seen since its development in the late-nineteenth century. San Francisco business owners are discovering the potential in this microhood, making it a fresh destination in the city.
As a photographer and outdoor enthusiast, I am naturally drawn to this neighborhood that is surrounded on three sides by some of San Francisco's favorite destinations: Lands End, Golden Gate Park, and Ocean Beach. The people are affable, but skeptical of outsiders. One of the residents I talked to described the hood as a village, adding, "People are real out here, and you gotta prove yourself." But I also found that the denizens here are a lively, spirited, and diverse group appreciative of their neighborhood and quick to point you in the direction of their favorite places.
Cassava Bakery + Cafe
Newlywed couple and Cassava co-owners Kristoffer Toliao and Yuka Ioroi have transcended the typical San Francisco bakery. While renewing classics such as croissant sandwiches and macarons, Kris and Yuka take great care in crafting a refined Asian-American menu that includes curry puffs, meatballs, and a Japanese breakfast. Every detail of the café, from the food to the décor has been meticulously tweaked to create an adorable, welcoming, truly unique dining experience in the Outer Richmond. Dinner is served Friday and Saturday by reservation only and is fully booked two months out on average.
Mixed Nuts Balboa
Jon Rolston and Brandon Clark are modern-day treasure hunters, scavenging abandoned lands and yard sales to stock their one-of-a-kind store, Mixed Nuts. The inventory is never the same twice. When I visited, they had just replaced the old window display with several dismembered mannequins. If that isn't intriguing enough, wander inside and you might find vinyl records, old family photo albums, ventriloquist dummies, an entire front end of a truck, and vintage furniture. Don't be afraid to be nosy – Jon and Brandon often hide things in the drawers of furniture. On his days off from the shop, Brandon explores the Bay Area on leads from customers and friends, searching for more treasures to add to the Mixed Nuts collection. If you’re an adventurer, ask him for tips about finding those forgotten places.
Victoria's New York Pizzeria
Antoine Nacouzi keeps it simple in his pizza shop, Victoria's New York Pizzeria. He starts with baking a classic cheese pizza and then adds your choice of a huge selection of toppings to single slices that can be ready within minutes. Bonus tip: Ask him to leave your pizza in the oven for a couple extra minutes to give it that additional melt-y goodness. When he’s not baking up fresh pies in the kitchen, in the back he occasionally creates the oil paintings that cover the walls of the shop. His grandmother was part of the legendary Sami people of Sweden (his native country) who live above the Arctic Circle and are primarily known for herding reindeer. He has studied Buddhism in China and Islam in the Middle East, among many other religions and cultures in his travels to more than 125 countries. Originally an acupuncturist by trade, Antoine has found peace in his pizza shop, topping his cheese slices one at a time to cure your hunger pains.
For 87 years, the marquee of the Balboa Theatre has illuminated this block. The owners, Adam Bergeron and Jaimi Holker, recently took on the responsibility of keeping that marquee shining. The theater preserves an old-school charm while also providing comfy seats along with your typical theater concessions prepared with care by a personable, amiable staff. Manager Joel Goulet and the rest of his team offer a neighborhood movie experience without the mega multiplex woes. And for the purists, almost all the movies are shown on 35mm film projectors. Future plans entail updating the front lobby to include booths and a bar serving alcohol.
Gus' Discount Tackle
Steph Scott took over her father Gus’ fishing tackle shop 28 years ago. Even though she has never fished a day in her life, Steph is considered a guru among local commercial fishermen, who often seek her advice and rarely leave Gus' Discount Tackle disappointed. Her energy and enthusiasm for fishing and for the neighborhood are unmatched. I’ve never heard someone speak with so much pride about the Outer Richmond, nor have I ever met a person more knowledgeable about fishing.
Hockey Haven, affectionately dubbed Ho-Ha, originally opened in 1949, and I can say with confidence that the only things that have changed since then are the TVs, the felt on the pool table, and a Golden Tee 2013 video game machine. The beer selection is tops, sporting several California microbrews on tap, in addition to a handsome bottle selection. Erin Massey, the manager and 11-year veteran of the bar, expertly poured beers and kept the rowdy bunch in check during my visit. Come here for a refreshing dive bar experience with awesome bartenders and local characters.
Simple Pleasures Coffee Roasting and Cafe
Need a pick-me-up from your night at Ho-Ha? Grab some house-roasted coffee at Simple Pleasures. Owner and coffee-roaster Ahmed Riad met his wife Diana, who runs the café, 11 years ago while she was a patron of Simple Pleasures, studying for her physics exam. Ahmed won her over with the classic line “smart and pretty!” Take note, gentlemen. Simple Pleasures lives up to its name with the fantastic coffee, pastries, beer, and, from time to time, live music.
One day 22 years ago, Joe Castillo, his two brothers José and Armando, and his two cousins Juan and Alfredo decided they didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore – and so Chino's Taqueria was born. Joe and his family scoured San Francisco for the perfect spot for their taqueria. When they found Balboa Street, they knew it was right – and as a bonus, theirs was the only taqueria around. The neighborhood quickly latched on to them, and more than two decades later the family continues to serve one of the best burritos in the city. I recommend the burrito in a spinach tortilla with spicy chicken and everything else.
Other honorable mentions on the Balboa strip are worth peeping: If you’re in a sporty mood, be sure to check out SF Archery Pro Shop for all of your Katniss urges, go en garde at the Coastside Academy of Fencing, or get your downward dog on at Purusha Yoga. Nibs Bakery and Shanghai Dumpling King rate high among locals if you’re still hungry for more Balboa.
I smile as I think about watching the sunset over the waves from Balboa Street. The pride and ownership of the locals caresses my heart and makes me eager for my next trip to their quaint little village.
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