SFGuide

The Best Italian Restaurants In San Francisco

Our 24 favorite places for Italian in San Francisco.

The Best Italian Restaurants In San Francisco guide image

photo credit: Mary Lagier

From fast-casual pasta bars and neighborhood pizza spots to very fancy restaurants that require you to make reservations weeks in advance, there are lots of fantastic Italian spots in San Francisco. The next time a craving for tagliatelle bolognese or eggplant parmesan hits, avoid the tourist traps on Columbus Ave. and just use this guide.

THE SPOTS

Penny Roma imageoverride image
8.5

Penny Roma

Penny Roma is the new sister restaurant of Flour + Water, but it’s more casual and serves traditional Italian dishes like tagliatelle bolognese and chicken al mattone. The pastas are what you should focus on, from decadent cacio e pepe to a squash-filled tortelloni that will give you butterflies—everything is simply done and cooked to perfection. This spot also has great crudos and smaller plates that you should definitely get for the table to share.

This city loves great Cal-Ital, so we welcome Norcina. The Marina restaurant turns out creative handmade pastas and pillowy Neapolitan pies that are perfectly charred. But the salads, snacks, and large plates aren’t afterthoughts, which is exactly why this spot rises to another level. The toasted little gem with poached egg, boccarrones, and bread crispies is warm and creamy. Impressive-looking pork shanks, chicken milanese, and sausage-stuffed pork snouts come over well-seasoned grains. For dessert, roast your own marshmallows at the table for s’mores. The experience might seem hokey, but it perfectly matches Norcina’s “just hanging out on the beach” aesthetic we’ve also fallen for. 

La Ciccia imageoverride image
8.7

La Ciccia

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If we could be on a first name basis with any restaurant in this guide, it would be La Ciccia. It’s a small neighborhood spot in Noe Valley with Sardinian food that surpasses almost anything that some of the bigger, fancier places around the city charge way more for. We’d cross six neighborhoods on a skateboard just for the fusilli with uni or the spicy baby octopus stew. But what sets La Ciccia so far apart from other places is that every single time you go here, the staff is nice enough to make you feel like you’re family coming home from a long vacation. And after you get your first reservation, you’ll want it to be a standing one.

From big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs to eggplant parmesan, the menu at Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack is full of Italian American dishes. The portions are huge, so you’ll want to come here as a group and order as many things as you can to share. In addition to the great food, this Bernal Heights restaurant is one of the funkiest places in the city. Inside you’ll find a fantasy horse mural, a Dolly Parton pinball machine, and hand-drawn menus with sketches that look like the pages of a middle schooler’s notebook.

For excellent wood-fired pizzas with bubbly, charred crusts, book a table at Del Popolo. The big wood-fired oven is right in the middle of the Nob Hill restaurant, so you can watch as pies topped with hot salami or winter squash emerge from the flames and land right on your table. We also love sitting on their back patio, which feels like a hidden, subterranean garden. Be sure to save some room for their rotating desserts—if it’s soft serve, you should absolutely finish your meal with a cup of it.

When you want to impress someone from out of town, taking them to this massive restaurant with colorful tiles and incredible food would be a good idea. The dishes at Che Fico range from Jewish-Italian small plates like chopped liver and suppli to fancy pastas to some of the more interesting pizza in the city—and all of it is pretty great. If you can’t get a reservation, it’s still fun to sit at the bar and split a few things over wine.

Che Fico Alimentari makes simple dishes like rigatoni amatriciana and cacio e pepe that are good—if not better—than the ones they make at their older sibling restaurant upstairs. This place also serves pizza and is much more casual, so it’s perfect when you want great food but don’t need to pull out all the stops, like when you’re going on a third date or catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in forever.

This Italian place in Nob Hill is a great low-key, special occasion spot. It’s part wine bar and part full restaurant with a menu of fantastic food, from prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks to split over a few glasses of nebbiolo, to larger plates like their 10-hour bolognese. It’s never hard to get a reservation, so even if you’re in need of a place last second, Altovino has you covered.

If you started to tell someone about all the different doughs, ovens, and temperatures that Tony’s uses to make their absurdly long menu of pizzas, their eyes would probably glaze over faster than you can say “900 degree wood-fired oven.” But if you just bring them here instead, they’ll be begging you for more when you leave. We like their classic Neapolitan pie and the coal-fired New Yorker, but if you want something else, you’ll definitely find it in their phonebook-sized menu.

photo credit: Angelina Hong

Itria review image
8.0

Itria

The menu at this Mission restaurant is devoted to crudos and homemade pastas—plus plenty of wine to go with it. Slide into a seat at the long wooden bar or come with a group of friends to share as many bowls of pastas as will fit on the table. What they serve changes occasionally, but highlights of the menu include the squiggly gramigna with rich ragu, and the amatricana-inspired spaghetti with smoked octopus instead of bacon.

Years after it opened, it’s still hard to get a reservation at Flour + Water—and that’s because they still make the best pasta in the city. The menu changes constantly and the pastas use combinations that might make you do a double take, but after you taste them, they’ll be burned into your mental list of things you wish you could eat again. If you come on a random night early in the week, the line won’t be too bad. And it’s one of the rare places that’s absolutely worth waiting outside for before they open.

If we could clone one restaurant and put it in every neighborhood in SF, it would probably be Flour + Water Pizzeria. This offshoot of Flour + Water (that’s also in the Mission) makes incredible pizzas, salads, and small plates in a space you’d feel as comfortable coming to with your boss as you would with your whole dodgeball team. And because nothing costs more than $22, it’s the perfect option for almost everything—first dates, dinner with visiting family, and a quick bite before a night out in the Mission.

This laidback SoMa spot makes some of the best spaghetti amatriciana ever. The thick pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente, then coated in spicy tomato sauce that might make your nose run. There’s also a generous helping of salty, fatty guanciale mixed in. Getting this on your table when you come here is non-negotiable. Zero Zero also has other house-made pastas you should turn to, like radiatore with braised short rib sugo, or gnocchi with mushrooms and truffle butter. Don’t forget to order a couple of their wood-fired pizzas with chewy crusts and super light tomato sauce for the table. The two-story restaurant is also an ideal spot to catch a game (there are big TVs by the bar), or unwind after work in a booth with a few pizzas, wine, and your new favorite amatriciana. 

There are a lot of delis in San Francisco, but Molinari is the one we come to regularly for cured meats to make charcuterie boards. But the best thing about Molinari is their sandwich selection, which includes things like the Renzo with prosciutto, coppa, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes. We usually go custom and walk out with something piled high with imported mortadella.

The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In SF guide image

SF Guide

The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In SF

Cotogna, located between FiDi and North Beach, has simple, fresh, and consistently delicious food. This place is perfect for date night, special occasions, or lunches when you call in “sick”/decide to abuse the unlimited time-off policy at work. Maybe it’s the dim lights, the brick walls, the wood oven firing away in the back, or the close to perfect pasta—or maybe it’s the whole package—but Cotogna has the kind of romantic feeling a lot of places try to fake, but can’t.

This old-school Italian restaurant has been open for a few decades and is stuck in 1987, in the best possible way. It feels like somewhere you’d go with your whole extended family to celebrate an anniversary or a soccer championship. And having that many people would be a good idea so you can get every massive bowl of pasta on the menu, along with the veal saltimbocca. You’re definitely going to need to-go boxes when you come to this Russian Hill spot, so make sure you’ve got room in your fridge before you leave.

We wish we could set up our desks in the dining room at Barzotto so we could have their spaghetti and meatballs on standby as our daily mid-day snack. The counter-service Italian place is a great casual option if you’re in the Mission—all of the pastas are made in house, are delicious, and, at under $20 each, are actually affordable enough for a random weeknight catch-up with a few friends. They also have $10 glasses of wine and tiramisu that we’d come in for on its own.

Roma Antica is our go-to for pizza and pasta in the Marina. The eggplant parmesan and carbonara in particular are very much worth your time. Come with friends when you want to drink wine and eat Italian food and not get intense anxiety when the bill comes. This place is low-key and easy to hit for lunch, brunch, or dinner.

This casual Richmond spot serves great pizza and pasta in a nice and non-serious environment. And while it would certainly be a good strategy to come and focus on the pizza, you’d miss the amazing arancini and other small plates. So the best plan is to eat here often and try something different every time.

If we ever successfully hypnotized our boss into having a much more relaxed work attendance policy, we’d spend a good chunk of our afternoons at Piccino. The light and open space at this Dogpatch spot is beautiful, and the food, particularly the meatballs and the mushroom pizza, is fantastic. At night, the menu of Italian-inspired Californian dishes is a bit longer and the atmosphere is still laidback, but know that Piccino is really at its best during the day.

Ragazza is the kind of place you want for a going-away dinner, a double date, a birthday, or pretty much any other meal that involves getting a group together, sharing lots of things, and trying not to drop an absurd amount of money. (If you’re a planner, reserve the private, heated gazebo.) The thin-crust pizza is excellent, as is the baked rigatoni, and they even do a good job with the salads—especially the baby kale. It’s a place that will please everyone you know, and even works if you’re gluten-free.

All of the pasta at this counter-service place is homemade (go figure), and if $17 sounds expensive for a plate of pasta from a fast-casual spot, know that one serving is really enough for two people. We love all the Italian Homemade locations, but the North Beach one—with a “pasta lab” in the back and Italian disco blasting at all times—is our favorite.

When we’re around Union Square returning oven mitts and jean shorts that never caught on with the rest of our friends, Tratto is one of our favorite places to stop by. It has an awesome Happy Hour and a menu of Italian dishes that do the job (our go-tos are the mushroom pizza, the meatballs, and the spinach tagliatelle). Thanks to its location near the Financial District and being surrounded by hotels, it’s also an ideal spot for a big group dinner with work people or visiting clients.

We love Delfina because it’s one of the most consistent spots in the city. This is an SF classic for well-executed upscale Italian—they do a solid take on everything from grilled calamari to agnolotti. You’ll never be disappointed with a dinner here, and if you need to play it safe with parents, clients, or a second date, this a great choice.

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