Moon Over the Mission

Luna Park

If I wanted to think about something totally mind-blowing -- because, you know, brains need exercise, too -- the utterly incredible chain of events that led to my decision to think about something mind-blowing would probably do the trick. I mean, is it possible that, once upon a time, the entire universe was an infinitely dense ball, and then -- bang! -- that ball exploded, and the energy went everywhere, forming the molecules that later became galaxies and stars and, still later, our own Mother Earth, and then, just as randomly, life evolved, and now, here I am, trying to think about something mind-blowing?

Or, if I wanted to think about something more relevant to this section of the newspaper, I'd contemplate how many freaking restaurants a person can eat at in the Mission. You have older places like El Zarape, El Valenciano, La Traviata, and Bruno's (sort of), and then newcomers like 3 Ring, Pintxos, Foreign Cinema, Bruno's (also sort of), Tokyo Go Go, Neo, the Liberties, Watergate, Blowfish, Cha Cha Cha at Original McCarthy's (which just isn't the same as the original Cha Cha Cha), not to mention Flying Saucer, Herbivore, the Rooster, Boogaloos, and Mangiafuoco, the Salvadoran places, the Chinese places, at least a billion taquerias, the pizza places, the tapas places, the Indian places, the Mexican places, the Middle Eastern places, the places that don't get much press, like Jim's Restaurant, Pete's BarB-Q, and the original Fina Estampa, and the places I frequent, such as Ti Couz, Ristorante Mereb, Timo's, Firecracker, Saigon Saigon, the Slanted Door, and Taqueria Can-Cun, and then, finally, the place that, under the right conditions (Sunday, 3 p.m., either a sunny day or a rainy one), offers the finest dining of all -- La Rondalla -- because the albondigas there are as big as planets and at least 10 times as juicy, and the strawberry margaritas are as sweet and deadly and get-the-job-done as anything anyone else who comes along could dream up.

Or, if I wanted to contemplate something truly amazing, I'd wonder how no one, until recently, thought to open a Luna Park. I mean, it's just so obvious: If you build a sort of mini-Dine in the shell of an old market on the restaurant-poor (apologies to Taqueria El Buen Sabor) stretch of Valencia between 17th and 18th, a warm little box of a place with concrete floors, exposed piping, lots of dark, rich wood, and a throbbing, glowing, welcoming kind of vibe, then throw in chandeliers that look they were found while thrift shopping in the Haight and a painting of a droopy-looking fellow with a marvelously kinked nose who points out the front window with practiced nonchalance, then name the place after an old Coney Island amusement park, hire a young, friendly, courteous waitstaff, keep the prices affordable, and offer plenty of liquor -- well, just like that the people will come, and keep coming, and bring their friends until the place is packed night after night.

Location Info


Luna Park

694 Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110

Category: Restaurant > California

Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights


Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner every night from 5:30 to 11 p.m. (midnight on Friday and Saturday). Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 26, 33. Noise level: loud.

Tuna poke: $7.50
Niçoise salad: $9.50
Spinach ravioli: $8
Grilled king salmon: $12.95
"Tasty" burger: $6.95
Make-your-own s'mores: $5
Manhattan: $6

694 Valencia (at 18th Street), 553-8584

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It's been done, and they're coming in droves, which, to me, means two things: 1) the Mission still has room for new restaurants, especially when the concept is right; and 2) when you arrive at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday, as my friend Rebecca and I did, you may end up trying all five specialty cocktails while you wait at the bar for a table. The Mai Tai proved decent at first sip, slightly better by the third, while the "favorite" margarita with fresh lime juice and Hornitos never lived up to its potential. Neither did Rebecca's somewhat puzzling Mojito, which contained nearly a bushel of mint, but tasted watery, the result, we surmised, of insufficient muddling. A sweet, burning cucumber-infused vodka hit the spot more precisely, as did a perfect Maker's Mark Manhattan served straight up with a small decanter of extra Manhattan on the side -- in other words, a whole lot of smooth, oaky, fully matured 90-proof straight bourbon whiskey for the money, a sure-fire recipe for success.

As for the food, a combination of French, Italian, and American dishes, none of which costs over $13.50: I think my hairstylist, who's quite fond of Luna Park, summed it up perfectly when she said this isn't the place you take someone to impress her, but the place you take her the night after you impressed her and you just want something good at a reasonable price. A number of dishes proved memorable, such as the tuna poke -- a cool, tangy blend of cubed tuna, sweet red onions, tomato, black sesame, and chives served over warm, crisp wonton chips -- and the rich, creamy goat cheese fondue with grilled bread and sliced apples, while the mussels and frites would gladly be forgotten. Though we received an abundance of mussels in a generously sized bowl, they were some of the smallest members of their species I've ever seen, and the frites (served on the side) seemed an awkward addition, since the only way to dip them into the watery parsley broth at the bottom of the bowl was to eat all the mussels first.

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