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Best Italian in San Francisco

We will be in San Francisco for a few days in March and would love some recommendations for great Italian food. Also, would appreciate tips on hole in the wall burger joints. Thank you!

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  1. I have heard great things about Perbaco. I am looking foward to my dinner there. The menu is available on their website.

    1. SF Italian restaurants getting the most positive mention here lately include Perbacco, Incanto and A16. Others worth considering are Acquerello, Quince and Milano.

      The restaurants vary a good bit in style and tend to focus on the foods of different regions in Italy. Some are Cal-Ital rather than straight Italian. It would be worth your while to do a search on this board for each. You will be able to pull up many, many prior comments.

      Please note that if you are looking for red-sauced, garlic-based Italian food common in much of the northeast U.S., you will not find much of that in SF.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        Also for more moderately priced ILCantuccio is very good and have some hearty red sauced based dishes, delicious homemade pastas.

        1. re: Lori SF

          Zeitgeist is a dive bar that has good burgers.

          1. re: Lori SF

            just wanted to second both suggestions... (Il Cantuccio, Zeitgeist)

      2. We just chatted about this last night! My dining companion and I both think the best new-school Italian is Via Veneto on Fillmore. For big-portions-gooey-cheese-tasty-sauce old-school is Original Joes on Taylor.

        1. My current top five:

          Oliveto (Oakland)
          Pizzaiolo (Oakland)
          La Ciccia

          Incanto, Oliveto, and Pizzaiolo are California-influenced in various ways. A16 is straight-up Neapolitan, La Ciccia is Sardinian.


          Perbacco is new since these previous topics on the same subject:


          1. Delfina is an amazing Italian experience in SF. I had the best dessert of my life there; olive oil gelato sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled in olive oil, served with a buttery cookie. Sound odd? It was. But it was amazing. This place is not traditional, and the can be annoyingly slow, but everyone knows what they're doing, and the food is worth the wait.

            1. Where are you coming from, Hawks? I'm asking, because if you're coming from a place like NY, you probably won't like Italian food in SF -- it's a very different style -- and you'd be better off with other cuisines for your limited dining "slots."

              2 Replies
              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                We took friends from New York to Incanto (actually they ended up taking us) and they loved it. They were impressed by the relatively low prices, especially on the wine.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Hawks is coming from South Carolina according to a separate post.

                  Along that line, a good point is what type of Italian? When I moved from the East Coast I went to the then-hot Cafe Macaroni. I was looking for red sauce Italian and what was offered at Macaroni was not even close to what I was lookin for.


                  Just curious in spite of all the hot spots ... has anyone been to Palio D'asti recently?

                  The owners sold a few months back to the long-time chef. To tell you the truth, I worked in the same building for a few months and was never blown away. However, looking at the menu recently, I'm interested ...

                  Affettati Misti - House-Made Wild Boar Prosciutto, Berkshire Pork Culatello and Soppressata, Lentil Salad

                  House-made Square Spaghetti with Little Meatballs of Milk Fed Veal, Smoked Veal Bacon, Tomato Sauce, Marjoram and Parmigiano Reggiano

                  House-Made Potato and Parmigiano Dumplings, Sangiovese Braised Duck, Wild Mushrooms with Rosemary and Garlic

                  Also during happy hour you can get a whole pizza with drinks ... I'm wondering if they have a wood-fired oven because they mention another dish that is wood-fired. Some pizzas ...

                  Tomato Sauce, Smoked Jowl Bacon and Caramelized Onions, Topped with Chopped Chicory

                  Berkshire Pork Fennel Sausage, Fire Roasted Peppers, Smoked Mozzarella, and Tomato Sauce


                2. L'Osteria del Forno (on Columbus Street in North Beach) is also very popular. It is a small, casual place with a limited menu.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DavidT

                    Don't go to L'Osteria if you're craving pasta, they typically have only one baked pasta (lasagne or cannelloni).

                  2. have you been to Vivande on FIllmore Street? It's owned by cookbook author Carlo Middione.

                    1. I went to Da Flora on Columbus at Filbert on Friday. It was a delicious meal. I was with 4 others, and we ordered family style so that we could try many things. Literally everything was delicious, but the ravioli with chard and ricotta, the gnocchi, and the aspargus with truffle oil and quail egg salad really stood out for me. The menu changes often, but the friend who led us there says it is always good.

                      Incanto, L'Osteria and Quince are also good choices, though relatively different from each other.

                      1. We are coming from South Carolina and aren't really looking for the tomato based, garlic bread Italian dining experience. We went to an anazing place several years ago in North Beach but can't remember the name. Just something authentic with fresh ingredients and good atmosphere. We will be traveling with 2 teenaged boys who love to eat great food! Thank you all for the help!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Hawks1462

                          I had a great meal at La Ciccia recently. The gnochetti were fantastic. The room/service/decor isn't fussy, the portions are large, the food is simple and comforting.

                          Incanto is more refined and more expensive but I had a great meal there as well; the beef stew was perhaps one of the best I've ever had.

                          1. re: tedm

                            Incanto and La Ciccia both make rustic food that's often not as simple as it might look. The prices are fairly similar except Incanto's pastas are a few bucks more.

                            "Refined" is a term I'd use for places like Acquerello or Quince.

                        2. L'Osteria used to be my absolute fave. But the past few times I've been, the service was downright rude - though the food still shined. I actually stopped going because of my last experience. Has anyone else experienced this, or did I happen to catch a few servers on bad days?

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: sfoperalover

                            Sometimes the service is good, but it also can be slow and, yes, quite rude.

                            1. re: sfoperalover

                              I've always thought the service there was ridiculous and never thought the food was worth the hype...

                              1. re: Husky

                                L'Osteria's food is great for the very low price. I've never had any service problems.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I was expecting a reply from you -- I know you're a fan of L'Osteria...maybe I need to give it another shot (since I trust your opinion with regard to Italian food).

                                  1. re: Husky

                                    I wouldn't go to L'Osteria del Forno in search of the best Italian food in town, but it's the best I know in its price range. The crespelle and the roast pork cooked in milk have always been excellent.

                                    1. re: Husky

                                      By all means, go! The occasionally rude (sometimes very rude) service has not stopped me from eating here at least once a month for the past ten years!

                              2. We went to Perbacco after reading raves here at chowhound, and we were not impressed the way many who posted about it here have been. The service was peculiar -- kind of cold and disagreeable, a bit haughty, I'd say. And very VERY odd when one of the staff made an ironic joke at my husband's expense when he simply asked to be directed to the restrooms. The food was simply okay in execution. Better in concept and on the page than on the plate and the palate.
                                For a genuinely lovely Italian meal, we always head to Antica Trattoria on Polk Street. They are incredibly friendly, fairly priced, and the feel of the place. the look of it is quite authentic for a northern Italian regional restaurant. A better bet and better value all around.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: dmsb

                                  Antica Trattoria's a great place. Very Italian-feeling, very traditional food.

                                  Pesce down the street's owned by the same guy, Ruggero Gadaldi. Venetian-style small plates, mostly seafood.


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    A group of us went to Antica Trattoria last night for the first time. My wife and I both found the food to be mediocre at best. We had the garganelli puttanesca which was bland and watery for what should be a flavor-packed dish. Even my appetizer of sliced heirloom tomatoes with anchovies and capers was tasteless. Antica Trattoria has been scratched off the list of places to go back to...too many other places yet to try.

                                  2. re: dmsb

                                    Curious what you mean by northern Italian regional? Milano, Bologna, Venezia, or farther north toward Austria? Very interested as this seems to have received favourable reviews by several CHrs.

                                    1. re: SanseiDesigns

                                      The Web site claims, "Perbacco introduces urban San Francisco to the full range of flavors found in the Italian regions of Piemonte and Liguria, with a touch of France by way of Provence."

                                      "Introduces" is marketing hype, nothing new about Piemontese or Ligurian food in SF.

                                      They definitely have Piemontese and Ligurian dishes, and I've seen a number of Venetian dishes on the menu as well. I didn't notice any Proven├žal influence.

                                  3. Burger joint? Try Burger Joint on Valencia St. or Haight St.

                                    1. I'd like to second Antica Trattoria. I think it's the best Italian here for the quality of food, service and price.

                                      1. I'm surprised that Dopo in Oakland hasn't been mentioned.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jillyju

                                          Dopo's great. I rank it third in the East Bay after Oliveto and Pizzaiolo. Cheapest of the three, too. Kind of eccentric as there are no entrees.

                                        2. For the BEST homemade pastas and tiramisu for dessert, go to Ristorante Milano on Pacific and Hyde in Russian Hill. Looks like nothing on the outside, but is very cute inside and has reasonable prices for amazing pasta dishes like tonnarelli or gnocchi.

                                          1. My Italian vote goes to Capannina on Union - fantastic food and service.
                                            For burgers a fun spot is Frankie's Bohemian Cafe on Divisadero.

                                            1. Thanks so much for all of your replies. We have some great ideas but keep them coming!

                                              1. Zingari Ristorante use to be very good. Some Italians acquaintances from Milan pointed the place out. They said it was as close to Italian food at home that they've had in the U.S. It was outstanding. I think they imported just about everything because even the pasta had a creamy texture I've never experienced before or since.

                                                1. I've been a long time fan of L'osteria Del Forno. I love northen italian cuisine. If you feel like pasta, it's true, they only have 1 pasta dish. BUT that 1 fresh pasta dish is always great. I love their pumpkin ravioli. I am never disappointed when I order the lamb. So much food, great food, great price. The service is mediocre but I don't mind not being bothered. The place is extremely small, so drinks are refilled quickly and quietly.

                                                  After, I cross the street and hit up Naia for some yummy gelato :)

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: HulaShakeJaz

                                                    They have ravioli? Are they served gratineed? The only pasta dishes I've seen there are things they can bake in the oven, like lasagne and canneloni.

                                                    Their pork roasted in milk is wonderful.

                                                    1. re: HulaShakeJaz

                                                      I've seen several posts and been told by friends about the mediocre service. I have never encountered this and during the last couple of visits, they've even poured our wine for us throughout the meal. I wish I knew what we are doing right. Maybe those young girls just think I'm old, had too much wine and would probably spill it.

                                                      1. re: BN1

                                                        I think every time I go there's a different server. Sometimes when the place is full they seem understaffed.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Robert, my wife has had those pumpkin raviolis in butter and sage every time on our last several visits, as she thinks they are excellent. She gives me one and I give her a bite of my pork roast. We especially like the rustica salad and they have that tasty Roero Nebbiolo, which they call Langhe Nebbiolo. A few years past, they had a great Lunelli Terre Di Pietra Vigneti delle Dolomiti Rosso for almost nothing. I was going to try to find the winery in Trento last month, but the town was bigger than I thought. We consoled ourselves with a great lunch at Osteria Scrigno del Duomo. The face of the osteria is 15th century frescos; I sure wish the paint would last that long on anything I own..