All cities have “hot” neighborhoods, and in San Francisco, North Beach isn’t exactly one of them. But other areas can keep their markets built from shipping containers and new small plates restaurants that open every week - this area has a mix of classic and newer spots that are absolutely worth your time. Here are some of our favorite places in the neighborhood for everything from focaccia to banh mis.
You could walk past this place a million times thinking, “I’m not going in there, it’s for tourists.” Yes, it is smack in the middle of a lot of touristy Italian spots, and no, it doesn’t look too different from most of them. But it is. Walk in, pick your bread, and order a sandwich made from the wide variety of imported and Molinari-made cured meats. (The Renzo and North Beach Special are particularly good.) Take your sandwich with you to the park, or eat it while you do a mini walking tour of the rest of the places on this list.
Liguria is a small bakery that only sells focaccia. But that’s all it needs to sell, because the focaccia is incredibly good. They have basic options like plain and rosemary, less conventional ones like raisin and jalapeno cheese, and a messy but delicious “pizza” option with red sauce and green onions. Liguria is only open Tuesday-Saturday, and closes at 2pm (but can sell out of some varieties before that), so plan to make this a morning stop.
This low-key Asian-American restaurant is perfect for a casual midweek meal. The warm shrimp salad and wasabi house noodles are the types of dishes you’ll find yourself dreaming about a week or two after eating here, and anything the kitchen does with a piece of fish has clean, well-balanced flavors that will have you either pushing your friends to take a taste or fending them off with a fork, depending on the type of person you are. This place is close to some great bars, but if you decide to make The House your final stop for the night, you’ll still be happy.
Bunn Mike is a tiny place with a short menu to match. You’re here for a banh mi, and you can choose from six variations, ranging from one with grilled pork to a vegan option. They also serve chicory coffee, chips, and sodas. Seating is limited and the space is already tight to start with, but Washington Square Park is only two blocks away. One sandwich will fuel your afternoon, but you could also get away with sharing between two people.
Don Pisto’s is where to go when you want to forget what day it is and just enjoy the good time that’s happening around you. It’s a Mexican restaurant in an unmarked brick building that’s discreet on the outside, but pretty lively within. The tacos here are on the expensive side, but you won’t be disappointed with your food. It can get loud, with birthday dinners and rowdy groups, so it’s not the best place for a date - but if you just got promoted to a higher sales role, or want to celebrate walking up your 1,000th hill since moving to San Francisco, by all means, do it here.
“Fresh pasta made in house daily” is a statement often reserved for higher-end Italian restaurants - but this place is the exception to that rule. The Italian Homemade Co. is a super casual counter-service spot serving the type of food you wish you had the energy to make for yourself on a weeknight. Walk in, choose a type of pasta and your favorite sauce, and be happy in the knowledge that it’s not really possible to order wrong. We particularly like the meat lasagna and the gnocchi with brown butter and sage, both of which are absolutely worth the inevitable wait.
This is more of a dark, crowded, noisy bar than a restaurant, but 15 Romolo does have a kitchen cranking out good food until 1am, which makes it ideal for snacks. Even if it didn’t serve any food, 15 Romolo would still be a great stop. They have good cocktails on the menu, but it’s also a perfect “and” bar (gin and tonic, vodka and soda, etc.) if you don’t want to blow your whole paycheck on fancier stuff. As far as food goes, they have a solid burger for your buddy who forgot to eat dinner and smaller things like a charcuterie board, too. Did we mention Happy Hour with Pimm’s Cup pitchers?
For a night out with friends - especially if you want a louder situation - Chubby Noodle is ideal. The menu isn’t too extensive, and most options have some sort of meat or fish (we recommend the Korean pork tacos or spicy garlic noodles with added fried chicken), but there are salads if you have vegetarians in your group. The menu’s sarcastic descriptions of sake (“drier than California’s reservoirs last year”) are amusing, and if you’re teeing up a Saturday full of day-drinking, make a reservation for the bottomless dim sum brunch.
If you like the comfort of having a reservation (and you have a little money to spend), brunch at Park Tavern is a good call. The interior is fancy in an understated way, and has an almost New York-y feel to it. While other people exhaust three days’ worth of conversation topics waiting for brunch elsewhere in the neighborhood, you can stroll right in, claim your table, and start munching on some great polenta cakes and avocado toast, bellini or Bloody Mary in hand.
Bodega serves really good (but pricey) small plates that are mostly made to share. The mushroom toast is solid, and the Bodega Dawg (with their housemade sausage) is actually large enough to split without secretly resenting whoever you happen to be splitting it with. This place is great for a nice date with drinks and light bites - everything on the wine list is available by the glass or bottle, and while seating is mostly either at the bar or at small communal tables, there are also a few two- and four-tops.
This cash-only spot always has a line out front, but unlike a lot of lines in North Beach, this one has more than just tourists. People who actually pay rent in and around San Francisco come to Golden Boy for slices - partly because a single slice is enough to fill you up, partly because the most it will run you is $3.75, and mainly because the pizza is really good. The crust is essentially focaccia that gets really crispy on the bottom, and there’s a lot of cheese - enough that you might want to use a fork and knife, but not so much that they’re clearly trying to frighten lactose intolerant people. Punk rock music blares, there are a bunch of beers on tap, and they stay open until 12:30. Make this a pit stop on your night out.
This place is on the blurred line between North Beach and Russian Hill. It’s one of our favorite spots for an old-school Italian meal that’s not super fancy, but still has a nice-night-out feel. Reservations are achievable, and the space feels welcoming and homey. Go for the gnocchi or the meatballs.
We love this Columbus Ave. establishment for its craft cocktails, delicious food, and live jazz in a throwback environment. Bartenders who really care about making a great drink pour classics from the late 1800s and early 1900s, like a gin-based Martinez and a whiskey-based Scofflaw, while the kitchen serves some of the best food to ever come out of a place called a saloon. They have some of our favorite brussels sprouts in SF, and the housemade pasta with portobello mushrooms would hold its own next to any meat-based ragout. Best of all, buying two drinks gets you a free lunch on Fridays.
Trestle isn’t in the heart of North Beach. OK, maybe it’s not technically in the neighborhood at all - but it’s walkable, the walk is downhill, and it’s really, really good, so we’re including it anyway. This small restaurant is expertly equipped to give you a seamless date night experience. The menu is a constantly changing prix fixe with two choices per course and the optional addition of two pastas (you should absolutely add at least one). The atmosphere is perfect for intimate conversation, the staff could not be nicer, and the wine list is helpfully organized top to bottom from light to full-bodied options. Plus, since the price (without an added pasta) is set at $38 per person, you and your wallet will leave pretty full.