"This is a real neighborhood," my friend Mark said as we made our way from the coffee shop to the movie theater one evening in West Portal, on San Francisco's southwest side. "It's so Dick and Jane."
While there are a few reminders along West Portal Avenue that we have entered the 21st century, much of the tiny business strip is reminiscent of the days of soda fountains, '57 Chevys, and "I Like Ike" buttons.
The classic "dinner and a movie" date night is the best way to enjoy the area, particularly with recent changes to the beloved Empire Cinema (85 West Portal Ave.; 415/661-2539), which has adopted an independent/art-house format.
While West Portal's mom-and-pops are mostly poodle skirts and James Dean, the restaurant scene reflects a more contemporary San Francisco. Well worth the wait is Fresca ($$; 24 West Portal Ave.; 415/759-8087), a Peruvian restaurant with an excellent seafood stew and three kinds of ceviche.
West Portal is anchored on the west end by Old Krakow ($$; 385 West Portal Ave.; 415/564-4848), one of the Bay Area's only Polish restaurants. Its hearty portions could see you through some very cold Eastern European winters or foggy San Francisco evenings. The pierogies are delectable, as is the bigos, a hunter's stew filled with cabbage, homemade sausage, and pork.
For a visit to the New World, try El Toreador ($; closed Mon; 50 West Portal Ave.; 415/566-2673), the neighborhood's perennial favorite. This is an over-the-top Mexican joint with flamboyant decorations covering every inch of space. Locals flock here for the margaritas and stay for the enchiladas and endless baskets of chips.
Relative newcomer Bursa Kebab ($; 60 West Portal Ave.; 415/564-4006) serves Mediterranean food with a Turkish accent. At just $3.99, the lentil soup with fresh mint is the cheapest and best thing on a menu packed with traditional Middle Eastern dishes like baba ghanoush and shawarma.
But if Dick and Jane is what you're after, bop into Manor Coffee Shop ($; closed Sun; 321A West Portal Ave.; 415/661-2468), where just about everything is made from scratch. The Formica counters and huge homemade pies remind diners of the simple pleasures of a real neighborhood.
Find West Portal
West Portal is south of the Inner Sunset neighborhood and west of Twin Peaks. From I-280, take 19th Ave. north to Sloat Blvd., turn right on Sloat, then left on West Portal Ave. Or, from downtown San Francisco, take the Muni metro K, L, or M line ($1.25) to West Portal Station.