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Best Italian Resturants in SF

My parents are coming to SF this weekend and want Italian. Please recommend your favorites (and somewhere you think we can still get a reservation!). My husband and I just moved to the area.


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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Second that- it's not your typical veal parm type of place so check the menu out, but the quality and creativity are hard to beat.

    2. Ristorante Ideale is great (on grant) and you can still get a reservation.

      1. Don't know about reservations.

        Best are:
        Acquarello (by reputation)

        Probably in that order.

        You can still probably get a reservation at Capannina or Luella. Never been to Incanto.

        6 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          To me, the best Italian places are (in alphabetical order) A16, Antica Trattoria, Incanto, and La Ciccia. Incanto's my favorite and probably the easiest to get into on short notice.

          Luella has some Italian-influenced dishes but it's definitely not an Italian restaurant. They describe themselves as "Mediterranean inspired."

          Acquerello's sort of French-Italian, or at least very heavily French-influenced Italian. It's not so much better as different from first-rate Italian places.

          Delfina's great but while its pastas are very Italian, its entrees are more California.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            You forgot to mention that La Ciccia is Sardinian. If you go there expecting "Italian" you might be a little disappointed (the chef told us that he's frequently has complaints that his food "isn't Italian").

            Again, it cannot be stressed enough that none of these places are "red sauce" Italian/Italian American food, like you'd see on the East Coast and Midwest. Depending on where you and your parents are from, the best Italian in the city may not be what you're looking for.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              A16 and La Ciccia all focus on Italian cuisines of specific regions, but they also have dishes you might find anywhere in Italy. People who complain that the food at La Ciccia isn't Italian have a lot to learn about Italian food.


            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              While I think "pastas Italian, entrees Californian" is a fair summary of those parts of Delfina's menu, I'd add that the appetizers, salads, and sides are predominantly Italian, often to a pretty obscure/authentic degree, at least to my non-expert eye & palate. (Tonight's apps, for example, are grilled sardines w/warm white bean salad; speck w/shaved artichokes & parmigiano; chicken liver spiedini [skewers] w/guanciale & balsalmico; and salt cod montecato w/walnut oil & fennel seed flatbread.) The desserts are of mixed provenance; the wines an even split Cal/Ital; the excellent espresso drinks, very Italian.

              1. re: readingstand

                Very true. I think they go California on the entrees because Italian entrees tend to be plain and simple to a degree that people here don't appreciate. Oliveto has also gone somewhat in that direction since Bertolli left.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  That seems sound, except that the two entrees that are on the menu every single night, out of a total of five, are roast chicken w/mashed potatoes & mushrooms, and steak w/frites--both pretty plain & simple (and the latter more French bistro than Californian). Stoll told the Chron some years ago how he didn't mean those two to be permanent, but had them on when they opened and would face an uproar if he ever removed them. I think that it's each night's two fish entrees that tend to the Californian. The final entree, usually pork or duck or rabbit or the like, is usually pretty Italian in style.

          2. One of my favorites is still Venticello up in Nob Hill. It's on the corner of Washington and Taylor. Great friendly staff and cozy interior. They have great gnocchi!

            2 Replies
            1. re: shnigglebob

              I have to agree. My husband and I are in SF once a year for only a few days and Venticello is a definite stop. We regularly entertain a group there, and no one has been disappointed yet.

              1. re: wandasue

                I've been to Venticello several times because my friends like it. I like it too, but I can't say I'm crazy about it. Good, but I think what they are doing at several other Italian restaurants in town blows itaway. (The same could be said about Milano.)

            2. Three other worth considering are:

              Perbacco (230 California St.) - featuring the foods of the Piemonte and Ligurian regions of Italian. A little on the expensive side.

              Milano (1448 Pacific) - A more casual, trattoria-style place. The food is more Tuscan-Roman.

              Antica Trattoria (2400 Polk St.) - Similar to Milano.

              Be aware that San Francisco does not have much of the red-sauce/garlic Italian food traditionally found in much of the northeast U.S.

              1. Acquerello in Pacific Heights

                1. Some people think Quince is the best Italian place in the city, and it certainly should be mentioned in this topic. Others will diss it as being Cal-Ital. My opinion is that Quince is Cal-influenced Italian.

                  1. I like Sodinio's in Northbeach. They don't do reservations, so a wait for a table on Friday or Saturday could take up to 45 minutes, But is run by friendly locals nad the food is great. It is more "American" Italian. Great gnocci and I LOOOOOVE thier Seafood Linguini. They are on Green at Grant Street.

                    The other place I think is delicious is Trattoria Contadina on Union at Mason Street. They have great Italian food and make reservations.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mlucier

                      Sodini's = Green Valley, one of the last remaining old-school family-style North Beach Italian-American restaurants. Peter Sodini also owns Golden Boy, and last year took over Bertolucci's in South SF.

                      1. re: mrsricho

                        It totally depends what type of Italian food you're looking for ... these recs cover regional menus from Milan to Sicily.

                        For southern Italian fare head to A16, for northern it's Ristorante Milano, and for an eclectic mix head to Delfina. I like Ideale too but it's not in the same category of cooking as the others.

                        1. re: mrsricho

                          LOVE Capannina as well...
                          Please skip out on A16. It's completely overrated. Our pizza was burned, and so spicy I could barely eat it.
                          Perbacco is also fantastic. Try their homemade salumis!

                          1. re: christineb

                            How many times have you tried A16? Are you judging on one visit? I've been at least half a dozen times and have never had a bad pizza. They're the closest thing to traditional Napolitana pizza without getting on Alitalia!

                            1. re: Alba

                              To some people's taste, a properly charred Neapolitan-style crust is burnt.

                              1. re: Alba

                                I've been to A16 twice. Both times I was completely underwhelmed.

                                1. re: christineb

                                  What did you order? Why were you underwhelmed?

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    God, there are some serious A16 lovers on here! :)
                                    We has the burrata, which was great. The gnocci (which was a special that night) was soggy and salty, and the pizza was burned and extremely spicy. The wine list was impressive, but in my own opinion (NOT asking anyone to agree with me here) A16 isn't worth the hype.

                                    1. re: christineb

                                      Thanks. I haven't been to A16 yet. At this point I'm thinking of sticking to the burrata and a glass of wine.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Try the pizza. Neapolitan style is a bit softer than New York, but it's similarly thin and dark.

                                        The house-cured cold cuts are excellent. They do octopus and squid really well. They don't always have meatballs but they're great. I think everything I've had with pork has been great there. Lunch is quieter and more relaxed.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Oh yeah, thanks. I forgot about the meatballs. Thanks for the other tips.

                              2. re: christineb

                                I have never in my life had better food than at A16, especially the pizza. Awesome experience, great atmosphere, service, etc. But that pizza was something else.

                                1. re: christineb

                                  Your pizza was too "spicy"?

                                  Just to defend A16, the burratta and house sausage are as good as I've had.

                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                    To ensure freshness, A16 has burrata from Gioia in Southern California flown in daily.

                                    1. re: a_and_w

                                      Yes, it was too spicy. There was no note that it was spicy on the menu...I have a stomach ulcer, and I was in pain after I ate one piece.

                                      1. re: christineb

                                        Did the menu list chiles as one of the ingredients?

                                        I've never gotten a pizza there where the menu didn't say exactly what was on it.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          It didn't list chiles...I wouldn't have gone near it if it did. I'm really careful about what I order because of my stomach issues.

                                          1. re: christineb

                                            Oh, you have a medical problem that makes things "too spicy". Sorry to hear that. But you ate a whole piece anyway instead of stopping at the first bite?

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            The Romana and the Salsiccia both have chiles in them as listed on the menu. Don't know of any other pizzas there with spicy heat though there might be a daily special.

                                          3. re: christineb

                                            D'oh! Sorry about the ulcer, but it sounds like you're unusually sensitive to spice. Then again, I'm probably the opposite extreme, so I'm guessing most people fall somewhere in between, meaning the average person might find it spicy but not overwhelmingly so...

                                            Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of the true Neapolitan style of pizza, which A16 serves. But they do as authentic a representation as can be found in the US. I think it's important to respect the craft even if you don't personally prefer the food.

                                    2. has anyone been to Caffe Sport on Green Street a few doors east of Columbus in North Beach recently? haven't been in a while, but loved their pasta al pesto, scampi in white sauce and calamari ensalata. when I took friends and out-of-towners there and they always enjoyed themselves. I know, I know, the service way back when was rude and it's not true Sicilian cooking, nevertheless,.....

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: zippo

                                        Wonder how Caffe Sport is doing since the owner/chef died? It was one of my regular spots for taking visitors. Both the ambiance and the service were amusingly eccentric, to say the least. If you were female and the guy at the door liked you, you'd get a big smooch from him, got ushered in ahead of everyone else, and then service that was more than attentive - by that I mean that before you could give your order, he'd tell you what you were going to have, and that's what you would get.

                                        This is probably not what the OP had in mind. :-)

                                        1. re: Sharuf

                                          Once was enough for me, since they just chopped up our squid without cleaning them, didn't even take out the cuttlebone.

                                      2. My top 10 (in no particular order):
                                        + Delfina
                                        + Pazzia
                                        + Perbacco
                                        + Incanto
                                        + Capannina
                                        + A16
                                        + Pane e Vino
                                        + Acquerello
                                        + Antica Trattoria
                                        + La Ciccia

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Husky

                                          Haven't heard much about Capannina until now and they don't have much on their Web site. Could someone provide some information about the place and the menu/style of food? thanks.

                                          fyi, I think out-of-towners enjoy Antica Trattoria in particular because of its location on lower Russian Hill and that's the place I often recommend to people coming from afar for Italian.

                                          1. re: Laura2

                                            Capannina's pretty good. My report seems to have disappeared. Here's one:


                                            1. re: Laura2

                                              There menu is listed here - http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res...
                                              I have really enjoyed the Caesar, Mozzarella with Peppers and Prosciutto, the Veal Scaloppine, and the Breaded Pork Cutlet - so much so that I've gotten the Veal and the Caesar multiple times and haven't branched out much! They have some fantastic wines on their wine list and wonderful service.

                                              Insalata Cesare Con Granchio Caesar Salad with Fresh Dungeness Crab & Croutons

                                            1. re: duffyeater

                                              I have been to Quince three times, and since the menu changes all the time, I am sure this is only representative of the times I have been there. But I the the appetizers range from good to amazing, every pasta I have tried either on my own or through shared bites has been outstanding, but I have never wanted more than one bite of any of the main dishes and the dessert haven't been fantastic either.
                                              The last time I went I actually applied lessons learned and orderd a light, vegetable pasta for my pasta course and a heavy meaty pasta for my entree. My table of 10 universally agreed that I was the luckiest one there (I didn't want to tell them it was just actually applying my insight learning - something I wish I did more often). So while I always want to recommend Quince, since those first two courses can make me swoon, the rest of the menu leaves me flat.