The Newbie's Guide to Eating and Drinking in North Beach
North Beach is one of San Francisco’s most treasured and certainly colorful neighborhoods. With plenty of cafés, bars, parks, and restaurants to capture your attention, you’ll want to walk and wander all over to soak in the Italian and Bohemian/ex-Beat atmosphere. Here are some of the can’t-miss restaurants to seek out in North Beach if it's your first or next time in San Francisco, depending on what you’re looking for.
Best Sit-Down and Enjoy It Meals
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (1570 Stockton St.)
Tony Gemignani is a well-known name for his expertise with all kinds and styles of pizza, and has a variety of places any pizza lover will want to visit in North Beach. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is wildly popular (expect a wait for a table, but that’s when a visit to Tony Nik’s--no relation--for a cocktail comes in handy), and you can try his award-winning margherita pizza all the way to a Jersey-style pie. His neighboring Slice House serves one of the city’s best slices and lovers of Chicago deep dish will want to head to Capo’s. www.tonyspizzanapoletana.com
Rose Pistola (532 Columbus Ave.)
This North Beach classic spot has found its way again with a new chef who is breathing some fresh air into this Ligurian-inspired restaurant. The menu features some excellent housemade pastas (get the fettucelle with the veal bolognese), top-notch meatballs, and a range of fish and meat dishes, with plenty of seasonal sides. The outdoor seats are coveted, but the live music (four nights a week) happens inside. Inventive cocktails and a quality wine list, coupled with the (almost) all-day hours and room reserved for walk-ins add to its popularity. www.rosepistolasf.com
Da Flora (701 Columbus Ave)
For one of the cozier experiences in North Beach, and definitely one of the neighborhood’s richest dishes (sweet potato gnocchi in sherry cream with bacon), this atmospheric and romantic destination is a special place, whether you’re a couple or small group of friends. The focaccia is irresistible, which you’ll nibble on while looking over the Venetian-inspired menu (that will occasionally include a few Hungarian dishes). Reservations are recommended, and wine lovers will discover some great European selections.
Don Pisto’s (510 Union St.)
Most folks wouldn’t expect to find some of the city’s best Mexican food in North Beach, but that’s one of the neighborhood’s many surprises. Start with oysters or ceviche, and move to a few tacos (like the Baja fish taco). The tortilla soup and diabla prawns are tops, and the burger is truly one of the city’s very best, with the beef marinated in bacon and onions, served with guacamole on top. It can get rowdy here, fueled by their version of margaritas (which are made with wine--but they’re quite good, you’ll be surprised).
Sotto Mare (522 Green St.)
While it looks like it has been around forever, it hasn’t, but the classic dishes like the rather notable cioppino and linguine with clams sure have. The menu is all about seafood, with dishes spanning both coasts, like oysters, crab Louie, and chowder, too.
Il Casaro (348 Columbus Ave.)
You’ll find authentic and mighty delicious Neapolitan pizzas here that are baked in their wood-fired pizza oven, and since it’s run by some bona fide Southern Italians, you’ll hear some serious Italian accents, too (it’s a casual and fun place). Housemade and imported mozzarella round out the menu, plus other small plates.
Cafe Jacqueline (1454 Grant Ave.)
One of the city’s romantic gems (for many years), this restaurant is dedicated to making soufflés for two (both savory and sweet), all made by the master herself, Jacqueline Margulis. Just don’t be in a rush, these soufflés take time.
Park Tavern: (1652 Stockton St.)
If you’re seeking more of an American menu, you’ll find deviled eggs, a famed roast chicken, and steaks here, plus seasonal dishes, cocktails, brunch and a prime location right on Washington Square Park.
Best Cheap Eats
Molinari Delicatessen (373 Columbus Ave.)
This is one of the city’s most authentic Italian delis. People line up all day for their sandwiches, including the famous Renzo special (try it on focaccia). Grab your bread from the bin before you place your order and take your sandwich for a picnic in Washington Square Park.
Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St.)
Liguria has been making some of the city’s most beloved focaccia since 1911. You’ll definitely want to come by for a slab (the pizza focaccia with tomato is a favorite, ditto the raisin version). They’ll cut it up for you before they wrap it up, just be sure to ask when you order it. It’s brisk business here and they sell out early (sometimes as soon as 10 a.m. on the weekend), so don’t come after 11 a.m. expecting to find any.
Mama's on Washington Square (1701 Stockton St.)
It’s a North Beach tradition to join one of the city’s longest lines at Mama’s for breakfast, which is all about their pancakes, Monte Cristo, and French toast, plus excellent housemade jam.
Italian Homemade Company (716 Columbus Ave.)
This very casual spot makes excellent housemade pasta, from tortellini in bolognese to lasagna. They are also one of the only places in San Francisco to serve piadine, a type of sandwich from Emilia-Romagna made with warm flatbread (try a classic version with stracchino cheese, prosciutto and arugula).
Golden Boy Pizza (542 Green St.)
This is the spot to hit after a long night of drinking in North Beach--their Sicilian-style pizza is the cure. Open late, and draws a tipsy but grateful crowd.
Best Bars to Knock One Back
Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Ave.)
For an authentic San Francisco saloon experience (here since 1907), come by for a cocktail, but stay for the vittles, which include all kinds of fantastic bar snacks (the crispy chicken livers and Scotch eggs are great), plus larger dishes too (pot pie, a burger, roast chicken), served until midnight nightly (except Sunday, when the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.).
Tosca Cafe (242 Columbus Ave.)
This formerly sleepy bar was given a high-profile upgrade with some new New York–based owners and is now one of the hottest restaurants in the neighborhood. Reservations are tough, but if you manage to snag a table after some cocktails at the spacious bar (or wine off the engaging list), don’t miss chef April Bloomfield’s bucatini and roast chicken for two.
Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column, tablehopper, about the SF dining and drinking scene, get all the latest news at www.tablehopper.com. Follow @tablehopper on Twitter and Instagram for more San Francisco finds.
San Francisco Travel Editor's Picks
North Beach Restaurant (1512 Stockton St.)
Since 1970, North Beach Restaurant has been serving authentic Tuscan cuisine to families, romantics, tourists and many more, making everyone they serve a regular, Pair that with one of the top wine lists in America and you've got a match made in heavean. www.northbeachrestaurant.com
Original Joe's (601 Union St.)
Part of the fabric of San Francisco for more than 75 years, Original Joe's is quintessential San Francisco and it wouldn't be proper to leave them off of this list. The crowd is eclectic, the cocktails are traditional and the meatballs, eggplant parmesan and short rib gnocchi are must-haves on any occasion. www.originaljoessf.com
Trattoria Pinocchio (301 Columbus Ave.)
When you step into Trattoria Pinocchio, you are stepping into a portal that will take you into the heart of Venice. Savor some of the homemade pastas, pizza's, filet mignon, veal, seafood and cioppino, specialty Italian desserts, superb wines, signature cocktails and coffees. Enjoy dining in the chic Venetian interior while listening to the sounds of Italy. www.trattoriapinocchio.com