The Best Italian Restaurants In San Francisco

15 great spots for Italian in San Francisco.
The Best Italian Restaurants In San Francisco image

photo credit: Erin Ng

Sometimes, it feels like there are more Italian restaurants in San Francisco than people. The city is full of them, and great ones at that. From fast-casual pasta spots and neighborhood pizza joints to very fancy places that require you to make reservations weeks in advance, turn to this guide the next time the lasagna bolognese and eggplant parmesan cravings hit.


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It's still hard to get a reservation at Flour + Water—and that’s because they continue to make the best pasta in the city. The constantly changing menu of pastas are made with flavor combinations that'll make you do a double take. Corn-and-cheese-stuffed pasta topped with mint, anyone? But after you try them, they’ll be burned into your mental list of things you want to eat again.

photo credit: Stephanie Court



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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 just for the fusilli with uni or the spicy baby octopus stew. But what sets La Ciccia apart from other places is that the staff always make you feel like you’re family coming home from a long vacation every time you come here.

photo credit: Erin Ng

Dinner at this upscale-ish Northern Italian restaurant in Nob Hill moves at a slower clip, which is fine by us. We want as much time as possible to appreciate their perfectly light fritto misto, seafood skewers grilled over binchotan, and deceptively simple pastas, like the cream-filled ravioli carbonara topped with crispy guanciale. This spot looks like a cafe, filled with neutral tones, black-and-white photos, and bistro chairs. It’s also all about warm ambiance—so embrace the delightful five-minute chat you might have with the chef about the handmade copper fork rests, and order that third glass of wine, even if you think your night is over. You won’t want to leave. 

Itria is the rare place that excites us every time we come back—and not just because their Californian-Italian dishes change with the seasons. The fresh raw bar dishes get added texture from unexpected toppings like salty sea beans. And the excellent vegetable- and seafood-heavy pastas are as gorgeous as they are well-executed. Cabbage is paired with bacon and saucy pumpkin butter, and Itria’s take on spaghetti amatriciana uses smoky bits of octopus instead of guanciale. Fantastic seafood and bowls of carbohydrates aside, the minimalist, wood-filled space will draw you back for standing dates or catch-ups over a bottle or two of wine.

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 perfect pasta—or the whole package—but Cotogna has the kind of romantic feeling a lot of places try to fake, but can’t.

Penny Roma is the sister restaurant of Flour + Water, but it’s a bit more casual and serves more traditional Italian dishes like lasagna bolognese, agnolotti dal plin, and chicken al mattone. They still have Flour + Water’s DNA, though—so it should come as no surprise that the housemade pastas are always boiled to a textbook al dente, and well-coated in sauces you’ll want to sop up entirely with a hunk of focaccia. This plant-filled Mission spot also has great crudos and small plates that you should get for the table and enjoy with a glass of wine in hand.

You’ll experience the entire life cycle of pasta at this casual spot in the Richmond: there’s dinner service at night, but it’s also an all-day shop where you can buy housemade maltagliata that was just rolled out a few hours ago, ready for you to cook at home yourself. Simple yet memorable pasta dishes take up 95% of the tables’ real estate most nights, like the vodka fusilli with rich pork sausage or the seasonal corn raviolini that gushes with a sweet filling—no matter what you order, the pasta here is as fresh as it gets. The rest of your table should be occupied by their crackly ciabatta-like bread, and lots and lots of wine.

For excellent wood-fired pizzas with bubbly, charred crusts, book a table at Del Popolo. The wood-fired oven is right in the middle of the Lower Nob Hill restaurant, so you can watch as pies topped with hot salami or winter squash emerge from the flames and land 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, absolutely finish your meal with a cup of it.

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.

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

This Italian restaurant in NoPa has one of the most impressive dining rooms in the city. It looks like a fancy barn wedding, with wooden-beam ceilings, skylights, and bouquets of dried flowers and chandeliers hanging overhead. The dishes, though mostly pretty good, are secondary to the space, and that’s okay—you’re here to dress up, drink wine, and gawk at your surroundings. Go for the puffy-crusted pizzas and simple, unbelievably creamy spaghetti for a path to success. And if you want similar pies and pastas with a more relaxed energy, head downstairs to their sister restaurant, Che Fico Alimentari.

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 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.

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 face-sized truffle raviolo is decadent and creamy. Impressive-looking pork shanks are served over potatoes and celery root purée. 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.

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

The pasta at this counter-service spot is homemade (go figure). It's also just around $15 for a heap of noodles, which is one of the best bang-for-your-buck meals in town. You customize your order here, so just pick your pasta and sauce and let the food come to you. We love all the Italian Homemade locations, but this North Beach one—with a “pasta lab” in the back and Italian disco blasting at all times—is our favorite.

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