North Beach is home to San Francisco’s Little Italy - but there’s much more to the neighborhood than just Italian restaurants. Whether you’re looking for Neapolitan pizza or perfect patatas bravas, you have lots of great options on and around Columbus Ave. - here are 13 of our favorites.
Molinari Delicatessen is a North Beach institution. But unlike a lot of the other spots on Columbus Ave., it’s not a tourist trap - the sandwiches are absolutely delicious. Walk in, pick your choice of bread (we like the soft roll or the Dutch crunch), and order a sandwich stuffed with layers of their house-cured meats (the Renzo and North Beach Special are particularly good). They also have tons of wine to take home, along with pantry staples like pasta sauces and snacks.
Sitting in Red Window’s bright, colorful parklet and sipping on one of their low-proof cocktails, you’ll immediately see why this Spanish place is perfect for fun group dinners or birthdays - it just feels like a party. Some drinks are mixed for you via a traveling bar cart, and you’ll want at least two orders of the crispy patatas bravas on the table. Throw in some golden-brown croquetas and top-tier jamón and you have yourself a night.
For incredibly good focaccia - and lots of it - head to Liguria, a small bakery across from Washington Square. They only sell the one type of bread, but there are lots of variations, from plain and rosemary to less conventional options like raisin and jalapeño cheese, or a “pizza” focaccia with red sauce and green onions. The counter-serve spot closes at noon and tends to sell out quickly, so plan on making this a morning stop.
Family Cafe is one of our favorite spots to take a long lunch - the relaxed energy, attention to detail, and excellent food make it a great place to hunker down with a book for the afternoon. We like to settle in with a matcha latte and their hearty chicken katsu curry, which is rich, thick, and incredibly delicious. The Japanese cafe also does great pastries, which change almost daily but include things like persimmon cheesecakes or blackberry matcha cupcakes.
For a more casual pasta situation, hit up The Italian Homemade Company. The original North Beach location is our favorite - it’s got a parklet with bar stools, lively music playing in the background, and a “pasta lab” behind the register where you can watch the employees make fresh pasta. To order, just walk up to the register and mix and match your choice of sauce with one of their housemade pastas. Our go-tos are the pappardelle with bolognese or the tortellini with butter and sage, but overall, it’s pretty hard to be disappointed here.
Next time you’re strolling through North Beach and smell juicy, perfectly-fried chicken wafting through the air, follow the scent to SF Chickenbox. The small takeout-only spot serves some of our favorite fried chicken in the city, and you should definitely stop by for the original fried chicken sandwich with house sauce and shredded lettuce, or grab a big box of chicken thighs and drumsticks for the road. Whatever you do, be sure to grab a side of mac salad.
Next time you find a $10 bill in an old pair of jeans and want to spend it on something worthwhile, order a couple of slices from Golden Boy Pizza. The North Beach institution has excellent, Sicilian-style square slices with a focaccia crust and tons of gooey cheese, plus toppings like pepperoni, sausage, or clam and garlic sauce. At $4-ish a slice, it’s one of the best deals in the area.
Next time you’re overdue for a night out with friends (preferably involving sake), hit up Chubby Noodle. The menu covers everything from Korean pork tacos and spicy garlic noodles to salt and pepper shrimp, all of which are available for lunch and dinner - but if you’re in the market to start off a weekend full of day drinking, they also have bottomless brunch served family style.
There’s no shortage of options when it comes to dining at Tony’s - you’ll find 12 different pizza styles on the menu, ranging from Sicilian and Neapolitan to Roman and Detroit. They take their pies seriously here, so you’ll have your pick of doughs, shapes, and toppings. If you’re overwhelmed by the choices, we like the margherita Neapolitan and the coal-fired New Yorker, which is loaded with sausage, pepperoni, and cheese.
Don Pisto’s is a Mexican restaurant located in an unmarked brick building on Union Street, so it’s easy to miss. But once you step inside, you’ll be greeted by a lively space filled with groups of friends catching up or celebrating a birthday over tables full of tacos and seafood small plates. If your idea of a good time also involves margaritas by the pitcher, they’re served here all day, every day.
For really good small plates that are great for sharing, grab a table at Bodega, a wine bar and restaurant on Columbus. We usually end up ordering the mushroom toast and a big platter of charcuterie for the table, but they also have things like loaded tater tots and short rib tacos. Come here for a nice date with drinks and light bites - everything on the wine list is available by the glass and bottle, and they have a heated patio if you want to sit outside and people-watch.
Sometimes, all we want is a big bowl of pasta with extra creamy or tomato-y sauces, and for that, Trattoria Contadina always fits the bill. The old-school Italian spot is located on a quiet corner on the border of North Beach and Russian Hill, and serves up heavy pasta dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, housemade gnocchi with tomato cream, and penne with ’nduja sausage. And no matter what you order, know the portions are gigantic.
Comstock Saloon will reopen October 26th.
This Columbus Ave. establishment has delicious food, great craft cocktails, and live jazz, which always adds up to a good time. They shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, but are finally reopening later this month, so you’ll be able to get your hands on a gin-based Martinez or whiskey Scofflaw soon. The brussels sprouts are excellent, as is the housemade pasta with portobello mushrooms - and best of all, buying two drinks gets you a free lunch on Fridays.