When it comes to Italian food, you have a lot of fantastic options in SF - from fast-casual pasta places and neighborhood pizza spots to very fancy restaurants that require waking up at midnight 30 days in advance and/or giving up your firstborn child to get a Saturday night reservation. Don’t waste your time on tourist traps or Amici’s - follow our guide to the city’s highlights instead.
This place serves seriously good pizza and pasta in a nice and non-serious environment, which means that everyone in the Richmond who wants delicious Italian food is coming here (either to eat or for takeout). While it would certainly be a good strategy to come and focus on the pizza, you’d miss the amazing octopus and lunch burger. So the best plan is to eat here a lot and try something different every time.
Locanda is a hell of a lot easier to get into than it used to be, which is a very good thing. Plus, more than six years in, the food holds up. While newer, trendier places have come along since this place opened, the slightly older crowd is still very excited about their dinners and drinks and the whole “being out of the house without the kids” thing. Get the cacio e pepe and/or whatever seasonal pastas are on the menu.
Come to SPQR to eat very pretty, very good pasta, in a venue that says, “I have money to spend and I choose to allocate it to carbohydrates and alcohol.” SPQR is a fancier place, and you’re coming here to throw down on an Italian menu that’s stellar from start to finish. We’d recommend going a la carte rather than doing the pasta tasting menu, since the non-pasta dishes (especially the chicken liver mousse and the tiramisu) are phenomenal as well.
You don’t have to be on a date or preparing to run a 5K to eat pasta. Sometimes you want pasta in a place that feels a little more like a party. Beretta is that place: it’s energetic and usually full of people too young to have ever owned a Blackberry. You can’t reserve here, so you might have to do some waiting, but the walnut bread with burrata, the risotto, and the crab arancini will erase those waiting memories pretty quickly.
If you’ve never had Sardinian food, you should come here and change that. La Ciccia, in Noe, has lots of seafood and some pretty damn good pasta, too. Any carnivores in your group should know that the lamb here is also great - and comes in a pretty massive portion. After more than 10 years in the neighborhood, this place is still hard to get into, so plan ahead.
Cotogna, between FiDi and North Beach, has simple, fresh, consistently delicious food. This place is perfect for date night, special occasions, or treat-yourself lunches when you call in “sick”/decide to abuse the unlimited time off policy at work. Maybe it’s the dim lights, or the brick walls, or 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 is one of our favorite spots to go when we want an old-school Italian meal that still has a nice-night-out feel. It’s not impossible to get a reservation at this family-run spot, and it feels welcoming and homey, unlike a lot of the more upscale options around. Go for the gnocchi or the meatballs.
Incredible pasta does not always need to be served to you by waiters who know the difference between a 1988 and a 1989 Barolo. Barzotto is Exhibit A when it comes to fast-casual places that make f*cking amazing food without the frills or formality of some of SF’s fancier pasta options. Order your pasta (and little gem salad - don’t skip that) at the counter, choose from a short, affordable wine list, and then settle in to await your food. You can even buy some fresh pasta to take home. Just try to stay a little bit hungry for dessert, because the soft-serve gelato you can grab on your way out is excellent.
There’s a reason it’s incredibly difficult to get a reservation at this Mission spot. The food is exceptional, the service and set-up (most crucially, the little bar area where you can actually get seats) are ideal, and the pasta tasting menu is something you’ll never forget. (That’s not hyperbole. We mean it.) Seasonal ingredients and fresh handmade pasta are hard to beat, and the F + W people have been at it for over 10 years and aren’t slowing down.
If we were people of leisure and had nothing to do all day except eat, attend personal trainer sessions, and refresh the Coinbase app to check how Bitcoin is doing, we’d spend a good chunk of our afternoons at Piccino. The light and space at this Dogpatch spot are beautiful, and the food, particularly the octopus and the mushroom pizza, is fantastic. At night, the menu is a bit longer and the atmosphere is still great, but know that Piccino is really at its best during the day.
Roma Antica in the Marina is a newer go-to for pizza and pasta, with friendly owners who are actually Italian. The sachetti pasta, eggplant parmesan, and carbonara in particular are all very much worth your time. Come with friends when you want to drink wine and eat carbs and not get intense anxiety when the bill comes. This place is low-key and easy to hit for lunch, brunch, or dinner.
Ragazza is the kind of place you want for a going-away dinner, a 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. Bonus points if you’re enough of a planner to reserve the back gazebo area (don’t worry, it’s heated). 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.
Sometimes you just need to eat pasta in your sweatpants, but you also need to exit your home because your Craigslist roommate is hosting her monthly Settlers of Catan night and you are explicitly not invited. Italian Homemade Co. is the place to go. From the outside, it looks like it might be a deli or mini grocery store, but inside, it’s the best place for a very casual meal of handmade pasta and meatballs in the city. Order at the counter, find a seat, silently curse your roommate until your food arrives, and then forget all about her.
There are very few restaurants in the no man’s land of Union Square that we’d send you to in good conscience. Tratto is the exception. Even though it’s tied to a hotel (not usually a sign of greatness), this place is worth your time. It has an awesome happy hour and a menu of Italian classics that do the job (our go-tos are the mushroom pizza, the meatballs, and the spinach tagliatelle). It’s an ideal spot for a big group dinner - with work people, clients, or friends you’re trying to gather from every corner of the Bay Area, since the location is pretty central.
Keep Seven Hills in mind for when you want to go out to a nice dinner but not pay SPQR prices and/or feel like you are the poorest person in the restaurant. The low-key Russian Hill spot has high-end Italian food and upscale service without feeling stuffy, and is ideal for a dinner with parents or date night when you want to actually talk to your date.
Delarosa’s Marina location does a brisk business, in part because it’s so versatile. It’s the kind of place where you could take toddlers in footy pajamas for a 5pm dinner, get hammered with your friends until 1am, or go for brunch with your mom. The burrata bruschetta and pappardelle are our favorite things on the reasonably priced menu. But skip the pizza - it’s just OK.
The scene here is a lot more Manhattan than Marina. The servers aren’t particularly nice, the volume is high, and it’s crowded and dark inside. If this is something that appeals to you, get to A 16 immediately (we’ll race you). If it’s your nightmare, at least we warned you. The margherita pizza is the best thing on the generally excellent menu, and the wine list is very long and expensive but great for special occasions.
While Delfina might not be the most exciting place in the city for spaghetti and roast chicken - the ambience is mellow and the food isn’t wildly unique - it’s one of the most consistent. This is an SF classic for well-executed upscale Italian - they do a solid take on everything from grilled calamari to truffle gnocchi. 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.