Bound on three sides by the tourist traps of Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the Embarcadero, North Beach is a little slice of normalcy in a part of San Francisco where Segway tours stop for no man.
Oh, and the other side is bordered by third-rate strip clubs.
But in a city that’s built on The Next Big Thing, North Beach carries its Italian heritage in a way that’s omnipresent but not overwhelming. And the neighborhood’s proximity to the Financial District has made it popular among the influx of people constantly moving to the city. That mix of old and new gives North Beach a pleasant variety you can’t find in every SF neighborhood.
There’s one easy rule of thumb for eating in North Beach: Do not eat anywhere with sidewalk seating on Columbus Ave. You can do better.
Skip the line at Mama’s and head across Stockton to Liguria. Don’t be dissuaded if there’s a line here, too; they make just one thing – focaccia – and they're famous for it. While most of their offerings are savory, the sweet, breakfast-y raisin focaccia is wholly underrated. Ask for it sliced, grab some coffee (see below) and find a bench in Washington Square Park to enjoy. Don’t take it personally if they don’t have your flavor of choice – they frequently close before noon when they are completely sold out for the day. This sh*t is transcendent.
The chalkboard on the open window at Hole in the Wall on Union reads #CoffeeAndConversation, and that’s about all you’ll get from this spot that takes up about 15 square feet of real estate (wonder what their rent’s like…). There are three options for pour overs: Blonde, Brunette, and the bolder North Beach roast, and while your drip drips, the friendly barista – there’s only room for one – will chat you up. They’ve also got almond milk if you’re into that kind thing.
If you need a spot to sit and chat or get some work done, Beacon has an inviting, open space with solid drinks, food options, and a sweet living wall art piece made of succulents. The baristas measure everything out with digital scales – even the amount of blueberries in a parfait – because, science.
If I went to middle school across the street at Francisco, I probably would have blown my entire allowance on Freddie’s sandwiches. Still here since 1926, they’re doing something right. A small (~6”) is more than enough for a hungry lunch. Whatever you order, get it on Dutch crunch and add pepperoncini spread.
For a sit down lunch spot, especially if you’ve got friends or family visiting, Mario’s is the go-to. Right on Washington Square Park, you can sit outside on a nice day. The grilled eggplant is one of the best veggie sandwiches in the city (note: not the breaded eggplant! Grilled!). And guess what: it comes on Liguria focaccia.
If for some reason, you find yourself on Broadway looking for refuge from aggressive strip club promoters, try Naked Lunch. Three words: Fried Chicken Sando. The bar side of this classy establishment has pop-a-shot, so bring the singles you didn’t spend next door.
$2 Speakeasy beers. $2 Speakeasy beers!
A beer lovers dream, Church Key has a very locals-only feel. They close at midnight, and they’ll let you know it by blasting hardcore punk and screamo around 11:30 to get you moving toward the exit.
Head down the stairs once you enter La Trappe to a cozy little European oasis of moules frites and a beer list that goes on for days. Flavored mayo is an aphrodisiac, right?
Il Pollaio has a full menu, but nobody orders anything except the chicken here. You basically just have to choose how much. It’s charbroiled, and it’s spectacular. This place is a bit dive-y looking, but cherish it because it keeps the Columbus tourist riff-raff out.
Not North Beach’s most famous Italian spot, Tommaso’s carries the classic Italian unassuming North Beach feel that most of the neighborhood’s more touristy Italian spots can’t claim. The calzones are hearty and come out piping hot. Tommaso’s is quintessential North Beach.