San Francisco Profiles – San Francisco’s Portola with Lesly
I know very little about Portola, pronounced Port-o-la if you are a 4th generation San Franciscan like my friend Kathleen or Por-tow-la if you are everyone else! But that's why I really love this series, I meet locals like Lesly who is literally strolling her way – baby strolling that is, through the neighborhood on a daily basis and is here to share today her favorite spots in this old-school neighborhood!
Lesly is the founder of Mamas Guide: Discover Stroller Friendly San Francisco so she knows her the family-friendly way around the city!
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 Favorite thing about Portola.
To start, it’s sunny and warm here most of the time—our micro-climate is fantastic! We’re also home to Alemany Farmer’s Market, the oldest (and best) market in the city. I can be downtown or across the city for a meeting or drinks in a flash via MUNI or by car. We’re right off 280 and 101 so getting around is a breeze.
 Least favorite thing about Portola.
No one really knows where it is so people automatically assume it will be a hassle to get here or they confuse it with Portola Valley down south. I usually tell people I live south of Bernal Heights to name a more recognizable neighborhood.
 What differentiates your neighborhood, Portola from all the other parts of the city?
It’s a truly residential neighborhood in San Francisco that is so close to everything. The diversity that other neighborhoods are missing exists here, and there are so many families with
 Favorite coffee spot in Portola.
Other than my kitchen, we have a Four Barrel (1 Burrows St) a few blocks away that’s nice when we want to change it up. They have outdoor seating and a tiny parklet on a little dead-end street. It’s a nice place to chill out with a latte and soak up some sun.
 Favorite spot for drinks in Portola.
I don’t have one—there are a few bars on the street but I haven’t tried them yet. There is a craft brew place set to open soon so I’m definitely going to check that out, and I have discovered a few great bars in surrounding neighborhoods, like Broken Record (1166 Geneva Ave, b/t Edinburgh St & Naples St ) in Crocker-Amazon.
 Favorite local hangout in Portola.
Since I have a toddler I’d have to say the Palega Recreation Center and Playground. It’s one of the newest rec. centers in the city and the playground is fantastic. In the mornings there are groups of older women exercising on the playground toys until the kids start to filter in. In the time we’ve been living here my daughter gone from playing on the “kiddie” toys to the big kid section! I also take Zumba there and they have tons of free classes, pickup basketball inside and outside, and ping-pong.
 Favorite breakfast spot in Portola.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was here for years, closed for a while, and reopened late last year. They serve a delicious classic American breakfast with huge portions and seasonal specials on a big board in the back. You’ll see the same people there all the time, the staff is really kind and it's very stroller-friendly.
 Favorite lunch spot in Portola.
Ling Ling Chinese (2517 San Bruno Ave, b/t Burrows St & Felton St) on San Bruno Avenue, specifically the roast chicken lunch special.
 Favorite dinner spot in Portola.
Queen’s Louisiana Po Boy Restaurant, also on San Bruno Avenue. They serve southern-style fried goodness—my favorite is the catfish.
 One thing you always do/spot you always take friends from out of town to do/see.
My favorite day in Portola starts with friends meeting at my house for coffee, then heading to the farmer’s market at Alemany to stock up on produce for a week and a samosa from the Sukhi's stand, before brunch at Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Check out Lesly's blog for more San Francisco family-friendly adventures as well as following her on Twitter, catching her pics on Instagram and Pinterest, and keeping up with her on Facebook.
As I mentioned in my opening, my friend Kathleen is a 4th generation San Franciscan and her family has lived in the Portola area for decades. As such, she knows all the secret spots, and liked a bulldog guarding their domicile, she likes to keep her favorite haunts unknown. I swear I have been trying for a year for her to share some of her regular spots, and finally, I got her to give up a few! So in addition to Lesley's picks, I wanted to add in a few of Kathleen's (and her hubby’s) as well.
For us, the best tacos are from La Placita Mexicatessen. It is a spot where the owners/workers make everyone feel like they are eating at someone’s home. The tacos are small but they are tasty! It is a place we love to walk to on the weekends for a couple of Modelo’s and tacos for lunch. You can see people in here who have been coming here for ages. One thing you will find is that the places in this area truly serve the people of the Portola as it is not really a destination unless you happen to be visiting someone who lives here.
For shopping, we like La Loma Produce No 7. Since parking is non-existent most days, you are best off walking. (Plus you need to walk off all those tacos you might have just eaten.) Not only can you get just about anything you would ever need to make a meal, they have an awesome bakery, meat counter, and taqueria inside. Oh, and they make fresh frescas right up front which the line can get long on the rare hot day. (Even if it is hot, it is almost always windy here, especially after 2 pm) Oh, and if you are there on the right day, they make a killer split chicken that tastes great cold as it does hot. The tacos are not as good as La Placita Mexicatessen, but they are great to eat inside before you shop.
If you love papusas, belly-up to the bar/counter at Restaurant Pupuseria Ilobasco. Never had anything else here and I don’t think I could. Like most places on San Bruno Ave., this place has not been updated since at least the 1980s but who cares when the papusas are so delish! The old school TV plays fuzzy soccer games narrated in Spanish but the real entertainment is the customers young and old, of all ethnicities, enjoying something so homey!
Now, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the spot for breakfast, but on the weekends, it can be a bear to get a spot to sit without a long wait. Just across the street is a gem called Jim Georgie’s Donuts. Not only do they have some sugary confections throughout the day (the earlier you get there the more choices of donuts you have) but they also make a good solid breakfast like you’d make at home if you made breakfast! But what we like to go there for besides the donuts and the friendly family service are the burgers! The only place to get a burger on San Bruno Ave. and one you want to go back for. Reminds us of the kinds of good old burgers you’d get at diners of yesteryear. It tastes good and it brings you back.
Extra things to be aware of:
> Parking is nearly impossible.
> If someone says Portola different than you think it should be said, you just met a true local! Only locals who have been here a long while knowing the “proper” way to say it. 😉
> Did I mention parking is impossible?
[Kathleen works in social media but is more of a listener/lurker, so no blog, but you can find her on Twitter!]
Here are other great spots in San Francisco's Portola area:
EAT – Breakfast/Brunch:
> Jim Georgie's Donuts (2462 San Bruno Ave b/t Thornton Ave & Silliman St) classic old-school donut shop (go back for a burger at lunch).
> Breakfast At Tiffany's (2499 San Bruno Ave, b/t Thornton Ave & Felton St) a beloved neighborhood favorite.
EAT – LUNCH/DINNER:
> Golden Sai Gon (2428 San Bruno Ave b/t Silliman St & Silver Ave) new owners, good Phở.
> Fat Beli Deli (2598 San Bruno Ave b/t Burrows St & Felton St) get the Archie Bunker: roast beef and melted cheddar cheese on a Dutch Crunch roll with grilled red onions, garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
> Ling Ling Chinese (2517 San Bruno Ave, b/t Burrows St & Felton St) 3 items for $20!
> ChouChou Bistro (400 Dewey Blvd) traditional French cuisine and great homemade pies.
> Queen’s Louisiana Po Boy Restaurant (3030 San Bruno Ave, b/t Paul Ave & Olmstead St) cajun classics and Louisiana-brewed beer.
> La Placita Mexicatessen (2531 San Bruno Ave, b/t Burrows St & Felton St) great tacos and classic Mexican.
> Restaurant Pupuseria Ilobasco (2680 San Bruno Ave, b/t Bacon St & Burrows St) pupusas…it's in the name!
> Fancy Wheat Field Bakery (2668 San Bruno Ave b/t Burrows St & Bacon St) Chinese bakery, excellent egg tarts and buns.
> Salvadorean Bakery (2684 San Bruno Ave b/t Bacon St & Burrows St) Salvadorean fruit pies and cookies.
DRINK – Bars:
> Broken Record (1166 Geneva Ave, b/t Edinburgh St & Naples St ) bar with soul food and outdoor patio.
> El Toro Night Club & Bar (2470 San Bruno Ave, b/t Thornton Ave & Silliman St) friendly staff, great live music.
> New Judnich’s (2888 San Bruno Ave, b/t Wayland St & Woolsey St) neighborhood spot with pool tables.
THINGS TO DO:
> Visit the Alemany Farmer's Market at 100 Alemany Blvd on Saturdays.
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
Here are other posts and guides from a few other local sources.
> Made in the Portola Org – Portola Booklet (pdf) (this is AWESOME!)
> Francisco da Costa – Portola District – A Unique Neighborhood (great history!)
> Portola Neighborhood Association site
> Portola Planet Blog
> Airbnb has a great guide for Portola that includes some of their locations to rent. [New to Airbnb? Use this link to sign up and get $25 for your first stay. (affiliate)]
How about you? Do you have any Portola additions? Have you been to this area of San Francisco? Did you find this post helpful for a future trip?
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Nice article, but unfortunately the photo you showed from McLaren Park is of Visitacion Valley, not Portola. I can provide a better photo if you give me an email address.
@Tom, thank you so much! would LOVE that! The email address is misadventureswithandiATgmailDOTcom
This is great info because I want to know about some of the smaller cities especially if moving or visiting someone. It also helps to know how far some of these cities are from the main city because you can travel back and forth in a day to see other parts and experience new things.
I’m also a native San Franciscan (5th gen hailing from Russian Hill), and love seeing your neighborhood features. I never tire of learning about other parts of my favorite city. Even as a local, there are some new places I was not aware of. Keep sharing!
@Chanelle, I haven’t covered Russian Hill yet in this series and would LOVE to do so, would you be interested in doing so? If yes, let me know and I will send you the questions. I do the address book part at the bottom, I just need to know your favorite spots.
Well I have never been to Portola but this has definitely made me think that I need to come and visit! My Brother In Law loves San Francisco though and would love to relocate there. I will have to share this with him. Thanks so much for the list of things to do, places to eat and more!
Potola sounds like a very quiet place with so much to offer. I have a few relatives in San Francisco that i have not seen in years. I hope I get the chance to visit them and will definitely keep Potola in mind.
Thanks for sharing Portola with us! I have never heard of it (I’m in Canada) but I love learning about new places, especially from those who live there! It sounds like it is an awesome place to get some delicious food as well! Thanks for sharing!
@Chantal, glad you liked it, what is one of your favorite little spots in your region?
I’ve never been to San Francisco. It’s on my to do list. I hope to get out there in the next 5 years and visit it. I’ll add Portola to my list of must do things in the city.
@Dina, you’ll love it!
Thanks for this great write up! We recently moved to the Portola and we absolutely love this secret little neighborhood that many SF residents have never even heard about. It’s truly the best of both worlds, we are spitting distance to the ultra hip hoods of Bernal and Mission while at the same time it’s a peaceful little escape from the rest of the city and a little closer to nature due to giant McLaren Park and nearby San Bruno State Park. The diversity that seems to be leaving the rest of SF is still found here and the community pride, as your post suggests, is incredibly strong. We are a gay couple and have been welcomed to the block by all of our neighbors who will knock on our door if we leave our garage open and hold our UPS packages if we are not home, it’s great that community still exists within such a rapidly growing city.
@Alex, maybe you will run into Kathleen and John at one of their many haunts or catch Lesly at the park. Kathleen tells stories every day about this awesome “old school” neighborhood. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
What an incredible series! I feel the loyalty that Lesly feels about my own hometown of Long Beach. There are always great little breakfast places and cool local bars with craft cocktails that have great drinks and no obnoxious doormen. Small cities in bigger cities are the BEST!
@Winter, so true! Each of the SF neighborhoods are like small cities within a large one. Their is pride that comes along with that!
Good to know on the pronunciation! I’ve never been to Portola, but what great eating recommendations! Thanks to Lesley and Kathleen for their input!
My sister lives near San Francisco and I will have to check out Portola, which I’d never even heard of, next time I go visit. I am drooling over those donuts.
I have been to San Francisco many times and always found the people were very friendly! I also found there were a lot of food options! Thank you for highlighting the places the go and the things to do in Portola! I will have to share your article/ blog post with a friend who is currently heading your way!
My sister has been complaining to me that she has yet to go to San Francisco. I invite her every time but she has yet to be able to make the journey. I keep telling her of the amazing little neighbourhoods and so much good food. This is being added to my Pin board in an effort to coax her further!
I’ve never been to any of these places in Portola. I have been to Bernal Heights though. Those donuts look really good.
Just this week my husband and I were talking about visiting San Francisco. I will really like to travel there. So many beautiful scenery. I haven’t heard of this neighborhood before but sounds like a dreamy and happy place to visit. It’s on my must visit list now. I love that it’s on a hill too.
I love all of these pictures 🙂 I haven’t been to San Fran yet but I definitely like variety of places to check out!
@Renee, lots of great hills to run on!