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Eating Your Way Through San Francisco's North Beach

Eating Your Way Through San Francisco's North Beach

Beatnik poetry, the soaring Church of Saints Peter and Paul, punk rockers, families enjoying the park, and the world’s only worker-cooperative strip club all mix together to make San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood into a destination popular with visitors and locals alike. The only attraction you can’t find in North Beach is an actual beach.

 

North Beach has cleaned up since the Gold Rush, when the area was infamous around the world as the Barbary Coast. Prospectors coming from the gold fields to mix with sailors and women would be lucky to leave broke. At worst, they’d wake up after a late night having been press-ganged onto a ship headed for South America.

 

Around the turn of the 20th century, Italian immigrants settled here in large numbers. Legend has it that they rode out the Great Fire of 1906 by soaking blankets in red wine to protect the buildings! Beatniks then descended in the 1950s, followed by punk rockers in the 1970s. Today, North Beach reflects its combined heritage with a mix of families, nightlife, writing, and music. To experience North Beach is to eat here. For some of our favorite places, read on:

 

Bocce Café. 478 Green St. (415) 981-2044. This family-friendly Italian place about one block off of Columbus Avenue has a spacious outdoor patio and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Their classic Italian menu is great for kids. Reservations accepted.

 

Caffé BaoNecci. 516 Green St. (415) 989-1806. Run by a family from Lucca, Italy, this place has, according to many cognoscenti, the best pizza in North Beach (they serve the extremely thin-crust version from Rome). Especially good choices are the truffle salame, which is drizzled with truffle oil and topped with salami, and the buffalina, which has fresh buffalo mozzarella. No reservations.

 

Caffe Trieste. 601 Vallejo St. (415) 550-1107. Ever since 1956, this landmark has been serving up arguably the best espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes in town. On Saturday afternoons, leave your laptop at home and come listen to their free concerts, where family members have sung opera, traditional Italian songs, and American ballads since 1971.

 

Comstock Saloon. 155 Columbus St. (415) 617-0073. A trip to the Barbary Coast without the hassle of paying in gold dust. Recommended drinks include the Pisco Punch, a reconstructed version of the 19th-century favorite. The original recipe has been lost for years, but they do a mean imitation. The pub fare includes rabbit three ways and a fried oyster and ham po’boy. Reservations accepted.

 

The House. 1230 Grant St. (415) 986-8612. The trend toward Asian fusion has cooled since its heyday, but at this cozy restaurant it’s impossible to see why. The menu varies by freshness, but be alert for the scallops, the black cod, or the pork chop with pomegranate currant sauce. Superb date spot. Reservations recommended.

 

Mama’s on Washington Square. 1701 Stockton St. (415) 362-6421. Lines out the door for weekend brunch testify to the enduring popularity of this institution. Fantastic omelets and baked goods. When Dungeness crab is in season, drop everything for the crab Benedict. You won’t mind the lines, because Washington Square Park is right outside. No reservations.

 

Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café. 566 Columbus Ave. (415) 362-0536. No cigars available, but the sandwiches at this lunch and dinner joint more than make up for it. Get a meatball on focaccia bread and sit on bench in Washington Square. No reservations. No website.

 

Molinari Delicatessen. 373 Columbus Ave. (415) 421-2337. Sopressata. Calabrese. Rosette. Hot coppa. Pistachio mortadella. Since 1896 they’ve all been made in town and sold here. Order a sandwich, or better yet, just buy a hunk of meat and eat it while walking around and taking in the sights. No reservations.

 

Naked Lunch. 504 Broadway. (415) 577-4951. Named after William S. Burroughs’ pioneering beatnik novel, this hipster lunch place applies his cut-up technique to its ever- changing menu. Get the fried chicken sandwich. No reservations, just the way Burroughs would have wanted it.

 

North Beach Restaurant. 1512 Stockton St. (415) 392-1700. Tuscan specialties, an endless wine cellar, and a beautiful interior make this old-school spot the perfect location for special events. Try the veal or the lobster tails. Reservations recommended.

 

Original Joe’s. 601 Union St. (415) 775-4877. Not even a fire that forced a five-year closure could make Original Joe’s change their hamburger sandwich or Joe’s Special—a spinach omelet with ground chuck. Raise a little Vitamin V to the ghost of famed columnist Herb Caen in thanks to that. Reservations accepted.

 

Victoria Pastry Co. 700 Filbert St. (415) 781-2015. Opened by two Sicilian brothers, this bakery had used the same enormous brick oven since it opened in 1914. Though they have recently moved—which meant a change in the equipment— most of the recipes haven’t changed. See if the cannoli, ciambelli, and miniature tiramisu cups at the new location match up to the old ones. Good odds on that bet. No reservations.


—By Scott Lucas
Scott Lucas is a writer based in the Bay Area. He covers travel, dining, and politics for a variety of print and online publications.

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