Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Apr 26, 2009 10:28 PM

Cheap & Casual (very casual) Italian in the City


My brother and I will be coming to SF to watch a Giants game and he's asked me to recommend a restaurant. He's too squeamish for Chinatown, and not as big a seafood fan as I am, so I thought we'd go Italian. My only experience in SF with Italian is North Beach Cafe, which I loved. We're going to be in shorts and ballcaps, so anything too fancy is out of the question. I'm a prosciutto and veal saltimbocca type of guy, where he's more spaghetti and meatballs.

Ideally, it would be close to the ballpark, but I'm open to other suggestions.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Closer by (walking distance from the park) and less casual is Zuppa.

    564 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

    1. Pazzia is very casual and just a few blocks away.

      Zuppa didn't seem all that informal to me, but they have a happy hour before Giants games and after day games, so they must be fan-friendly.

      Pazzia Restaurant
      337 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

      1. I haven't been all that enthused about Zuppa, though it's not bad. I do like Pazzia, though, on 3rd between Harrison and Folsom and it is definitely casual. There's also Umbria at the corner of Second and Howard. I don't think any of these three serve veal, though. You might have to venture over to North Beach for that.

        10 Replies
        1. re: bobpantzer

          Little Joe's does veal saltimbocca and is as informal as it gets.

          Little Joe's
          1106 Market St, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            You're right. I don't like their red meat sauce, though.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Thank you for reminding me about Little Joe's. Visiting The City several times a year we forgot about Little Joe's for quite a while. We loved Little Joe's on Columbus and then their next location on Broadway. We tried the Van Ness store but thought that it was not as good as the past locations.

              The 5th and Mission place lacks the atmosphere of North Beach restaurants but I think the food has not changed. I had the calamari saute and it was just the same as it was back on Columbus and Broadway. My wife had the veal parmagiana and it too was identical to the original.

              The meal was very satisfying we will certainly return.

              1. re: hungerpains

                Thanks for refreshing us on Little Joe's. Not Italian, but I loved the huge hamburger there.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Interesting. I used to love having lunch at little Little Joe's on Columbus when I worked in the area. Saddly, I moved work locations and so did LJ's. I came across LJ's on 5th one day at an odd hour and peeked inside. My impression from the sparse crowd and newer decor was that it may have gone more upscale, and never returned to try it for lunch because of that.

                Some of these reports suggest that LJ's hasn't changed much. Is that your impression as well?

                1. re: Civil Bear

                  Well, I tried Little Joe's today for lunch today. The food may very well be the same, but it's just not the same experience. Gone is the counter overlooking the kitchen, sitting there getting blasted by the heat of the occasional rouge flame. Gone are the sassy waitresses in tight t-shirts and Wonderbra's. Gone are the hardwood floors and robust chatter.

                  They do still provide the raw garlic with the bread though...

                  1. re: Civil Bear

                    That's a nostalgic description of Little Joe's that I remember from North Beach, especially sitting at the counter watching the cooks work. So what did you order? My favorites used to be the veal scaloppine and the caciuco.

                    1. re: curiousgeo

                      Ah, for me it was the chicken saute special over polenta. I asked about it and it appears they no longer use a half-chicken. Yesterday they had a half-roasted chicken special, so I ordered it with polenta. It came as a side and was disgusting (cold and clumpy).

                    2. re: Civil Bear

                      Having fond memories of going to the old location a number of times in decades gone by; we've eaten at the new spot there once.

                      It felt like a tourist restaurant in Venice, and that's not a good thing.

                      Food was ok, but it just felt like they get a lot of business from the nearby hotels and shopping center and couldn't be bothered. Bad service in (not) taking drinks orders, long waits while the waitress chatted with other employees and guys at other tables, etc.

                      For that type of cooking much prefer Stefano's in the Mission. I'll go back there when I'm in the mood for that style of Italian.

                      Cafe Stefano
                      59 30th St, San Francisco, CA

                      1. re: Calvinist

                        I did have breakfast there (Little Joe's) a while back while waiting for some work to be finished on my car at a shop nearby. Chose it mostly for convienence, plus a bit of nostalgia. It was fine, not memorable, but fine. Service was also fine.

              3. I like Pazzia, but given what you are looking for in terms of dishes and the fact you loved North Beach Cafe ... I'm guessing you meant restaurant ..Little Joe's might be more to your liking. Given all that, although it is a chain, Buca Di Beppo on 855 Howard might be more of what you are interested in.

                Anyone know anything about 54 Mint? It is supposed to be Italian. Address is obvious.

                Italian is not the strength of the area near the Ballpark. Town's End Restaurant and bakery offers a 3 course meal for $21. It is California cuisine, but not too. There is 21st Ammendment which is a brew pub. Further away is Thirsty Bear Brewing. Another bar with food near Thirsty Bear is Kate O'Brians Irish Pub. Haven't been to Pete's Tavern and there's been a change there, so maybe someone who has been there recently can comment. Parragon is a small chain that is ok but might be more than what you want.

                Primo Patio Cafe is nice Carribean food with a back outside patio. Another nearby place is Brickhouse Cafe which is mainly American burgers.

                A few questions? What day of the week? Afternoon or evening game? What tme are you looking to eat? Where are you and your brother coming from?

                4 Replies
                1. re: rworange

                  my guess from his screen name is that OP is from Sacramento (zip code for downtown Sacto).

                  I'd choose Little Joe's over Buca Di Beppo.

                  ps. For the OP: If the weather stays as it is now, and in SF that is a distinct possibility for the next few months, wearing shorts to the ballpark might be a big mistake. (whether day or night game). If you wear jeans instead of shorts, you'd probably be comfortable at almost any inexpensive to moderately priced Italian restaurant in San Francisco. (a quick search will give you lots of options, though as has been pointed out, not necessarily close to the ballpark).

                    1. re: rworange

                      tablehopper reported that 54 Mint opened last night.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Of the new places. I think the pasta is superior at 54 mint than flour + water. Portion size are way bigger.


                    2. Hi guys-

                      Thanks for the replies. Yes, I am from that bastion of culture and cuisine known as Sacramento.

                      We'll be in the city on Saturday, May 2nd. Game starts at 1ish. Ideally we'd eat before AND after the game. I'm thinking, stop somewhere off 80, maybe Korean BBQ in Berkeley before the game, and then somewhere in walking distance from the park afterward.

                      It doesn't have to be italian, but it should be good. I'm the go-to guy for food, music, movies, etc. so I've got a reputation to maintain. I would be up for whatever's good in the area. And it should definitely have beer. And cute waitresses wouldn't hurt either.

                      Thanks for the advice on the jeans. But my brother wears shorts EVERYWHERE, though he may be convinced to put on some pants for the sake of tasty food.

                      Primo Patio is looking pretty appealing. Any place that has Red Stripe can't be that bad. Would you recommend reservations? (though that seems silly without knowing how long the game will take)

                      So, I guess my question has changed to "where can I find good Korean BBQ in Berkeley or nearby, relatively close to 80?"

                      Thanks again!

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: ls95814

                        Sorabol is in SF Centre at 5th and Market.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          Sorabol seems ok, but I'd prefer somewhere less food court-y, and somewhere that serves Korean beer.

                        2. re: ls95814

                          actually, you'd be ok in shorts in a fair amount of places from a dressiness (or not) standpoint, but you won't see many other (local) patrons in them, because it will be too darn cold (even for a day game, at least this week).

                          For Korean bbq, most of the good spots are in Oakland, not Berkeley. They aren't much out of your way off of HIghway 80, but timing would be an issue. Sahn Maru in Oakland was very good the last time I went, but it doesn't open till 11 and service isn't lightning fast, so I don't see how you'd have time. The only way I think it would work would be if you have lunch and then park your car at the (very close by) McArthur BART station and take BART and Muni to the park. Even so, I doubt if you'd make first pitch unless you rushed lunch, possibly not even if you did.

                          Sahn Maru Korean BBQ
                          4315 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            Good advice from Susan (as expected). I'll just note, in retrospect, that it was cold and rainy May 2, 2009 (although they did manage to play the game).

                            ls95814, where did you end up?:

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I was at that game. VERY cold and rainly.

                          2. re: ls95814

                            Logistically trafficwise, I think you might be better off eating at Primo Patio before the game and going for Korean afterwards.

                            Also, most places are really relaxed on game day and no one is going to care about the shorts. For beer, 21st Amendment is pretty good. Tres Agaves is also fun, but kind of pricey. The party place is Momo's, but food is really beside the point there.

                            1. re: sfbing

                              I agree about Primo Patio being a good pre-game option. They do not take reservations, so you need to leave plenty of time since there may be a wait. -- but they are quite adept at accommodating the gamers. They also offer take-out if the wait for a table becomes problematic. My advice would be to get there with time to spare no matter where you end up going.

                              1. re: BernalKC

                                Yeah... trying to eat in the East Bay and make it to your seats by first pitch with a car is going to be an exercise in anger management and frustration.

                            2. re: ls95814

                              Korean BBQ, go to Oakland:


                              You might consider T-Rex in Berkeley instead. Some of the best BBQ in the area and a shorter detour from your route than any of the Korean places.