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Tasting walk in Little Italy

I know there must be some links already posted, but you folks are so awsome its difficult to sift through all the rich material on your board. I am trying do a tasting trip around Little Italy. I'm on my own and hope to spend a few hours discovering the neighborhood. Where do I start? BTW I'm a fairly versed L.A. foodie. Would be happy to exchange like info for like- minded who are L.A.-bound.

...life is a banquet and some poor fools are starving to death
Auntie Mame

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  1. North Beach (SF's Little Italy) should be called Very Little, Shrinking Italy. The neighborhood, save for a few places, is mostly Chinatown now. The best bets on and around Columbus Avenue are:

    Molinari Delicatessen
    373 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Victoria Pastry Co
    1362 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Caffe Trieste
    609 Vallejo St, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Liguria Bakery
    1700 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Caffe Greco
    423 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

    1. Be sure to get a slice of porcini pizza at L'Osteria.

      Some more North Beach recommendations in this topic:


      XOX Truffles
      754 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      L'Osteria del Forno
      519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      Columbus Cutlery
      358 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      Biordi Ceramic Art Imports
      412 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      Gelato Classico Italian
      576 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94133

      La Boulange
      543 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      Italian French Baking Co
      1501 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      O'Reilly's Irish Bar & Restaurant
      622 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

      1. Another Italian delicatessen is Palermo (smaller than Molinari but no line, usually).

        My favorite restaurant is Ideale, if you end up eating dinner in North Beach.

        Cavalli might be a fun stop for you too.

        Palermo Delicatessen
        1556 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        1315 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

        Cavalli Books & Cafe
        1441 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        1. This is a great place for breakfast. There's a line on the weekends, but it's worth the wait if not too long.

          Mama's On Washington Square
          1701 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

          2 Replies
          1. re: sgwood415

            I can't recommend Mama's - it's gone way downhill since I used to go there with my parents in the '70s. I revisited recently and it is very ordinary.

            1. re: lmarie

              What did you have there? I went there recently as well and thought it was as good as ever. Same guys are there cooking the same things. I didn't detect a drop off at all. I had the North Beach Omelete and coffee cake, so I didn't sample a wide selection. Just curious to know what you ordered.

              Their strength was always the bakes goods in my mind.

          2. Another classic, nothing like it in LA is
            Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store- Perfect spot for a glass of wine or beer, coffee. They offer some good pressed focaccia sandwiches -eggplant or meatball are both good. Great spot to sit outside and people watch facing Washington Park and you might hear the wild Parrots (conures).

            Tosca- a classic bar that is known for coffee liqueur drinks.

            Tommaso's- a pizza spot that has been around for a long time

            Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store and Cafe
            566 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

            Tommaso Ristorante Italiano
            1042 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94133

            Tosca Cafe
            242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

            8 Replies
            1. re: Lori SF

              You can also just get a basket of foccacia at Mario's, along with a house Campari. Fine way to spend the afternoon.

              Since no one else has said it, North Beach is an Italian area of a different era--the 50s and 60s. The best Italian restaurants in the city (and the past five years has seen a whole wave of regional Italian food) aren't there, although the list above contains many worthwhile stops.

              1. re: Windy

                Thanks windy, I am just looking for a neighborhood-feel for a wandering chow-tour-hound. So far, I think it looks like enough to keep my tastebuds happy.

                1. re: sassille

                  Try Stella Pastry, which is right on Columbus. It's super nice to sit and have a cup of espresso and a pastry. Nicer than Marra's or Victoria's, which is not an argument about which pastry is better--everyone has their own opinion and different pastries are arguably better at each.

                  My Italian wine-importer friend, from the Marche, says Ideale is most authentic in SF, Riva Cochina in East Bay.

                  1. re: lintygmom

                    Ideale's owner is from Rome, his family has a restaurant in Trastevere. The place sticks pretty closely to that regional tradition and has a very Roman vibe.

                    His old SOMA place, Pazzia, still has the vibe though the new Tuscan (?) owner has given the food a bit of a different spin.

                2. re: Windy

                  "North Beach is an Italian area of a different era--the 50s and 60s"

                  Not so true any more. Most of the old-school places have closed--the grocery store, all but one deli (Molinari; Palermo is new) and one butcher, all but two of the family-style restaurants. Most of the Italian restaurants there these days were started within the past 15 years by new arrivals from Italy.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Let me put it differently then--North Beach's primary appeal is nostalgia, and location. Ideale (which is nearly 20 years old, as is Osteria del Forno) may be authentic, but there's better Italian food in the city.

                    There's nothing wrong with liking an old-fashioned vibe. The best thing about Mario's is that it's hardly changed since the first time I went there. Lucca reminds me of the delis I went to as a kid, and I appreciate Il Borgo for the same reason.

                    1. re: Windy

                      Authentic Italian may be different from upscale California Italian, just as homemade in Italy may be different from the high class restaurants there. Each has its distinct flavor and place and I want each at different times. My friend is, I find, the best Italian cook in the area (linked with video conferencing with his 80+ year old mom in Italy). When he goes out, he wants a taste of home not cooked by him. Unless he goes out for Vietnamese, then creativity holds sway

                      I do wish N. Beach had remained the ethnic Italian neighborhood it was years ago, so full of character, but people move on and new immigrants move in.

                      1. re: Windy

                        Ideale opened in 1993, L'Osteria in 1990. Quite true that none of the best Italian restaurants are in North Beach, though you can't beat L'Osteria in its price range.

                        For the benefit of out-of-towners, I'll note that Lucca's in the Mission and Il Borgo's in Hayes Valley.

                3. Okay, I think I'm understanding a little better. I guess I'm devising a North Beach food-walk. It sounds like you folks no longer regard it as Little Italy. I lived in San Francisco for a brief time in the ahem-mid-sixties. so my mind has referred to it as Little Italy.
                  So If I'm doing a North Beach walk, are there any other stops to add that are not Italian?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: sassille

                    I lived in North Beach in the mid to late 60's and it was not called Little Italy, it was called North Beach.

                    1. re: wally

                      You're absolutely right--not even on Wikipedia is North Beach called Little Italy. Far as I'm concerned, Little Italy is in New York, three thousand miles closer to real Italy.

                      1. re: lintygmom

                        I for one still regard it as the Italian neighborhood in SF (though as others have pointed out, it's much smaller than it used to be), but it has never been called Little Italy as far as I am aware. Little City, perhaps (there is still at least one business with that name), but not Little Italy.

                        For non-Italian stops, you could try The Lobster Shack (haven't been there myself yet but have heard good things). XOX Truffles, mentioned above, is not Italian. I'll just mention, since it's not the focus of Chowhound, that there are lots of shops on Grant Avenue selling unique clothing, greeting cards, antiques, etc., if you're interested in non-food stops as well.

                      2. re: wally

                        Ditto. I lived there in the early to mid-sixties, and never heard the term "Little Italy".

                      3. re: sassille

                        Non-Italian points of interest include:

                        O'Reilly's Irish Bar & Restaurant
                        622 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        Rogue Ales Public House
                        673 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        North Beach Lobster Shack
                        532 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        Kennedy's Irish Pub Curry House
                        1040 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                      4. Let us not forget Caffe Sport, which carries Sicilian-ness to surreal extremes. Haven't been there since Tony left us, but I understand they are still carrying on like usual. Anyone who likes garlic, olive oil, and manic eccentricity will enjoy this place.


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Sharuf

                          Antonio Latona died five years ago. I can't find any more recent reports in the archive.

                          I ate there once maybe 30 years ago, and was served uncleaned squid, cuttlebone and all. That kind of eccentricity I could do without.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I agree completely. I've never understood the allure of the place. The food is terrible...maybe it is the "Soup Nazi" factor where people want an over the top, different experience.