Sometimes you like someone or something so much that you’re willing to overlook a minor flaw. Like your little brother’s conviction that Crystal Pepsi was the best soda ever made, or your dog’s failure to totally understand the concept of fetch. At Che Fico, an Italian restaurant on the edge of NoPa, not every single thing on the menu is spectacular, but the small plates, pizzas, and pastas are so good—and the space is so impressively designed—that the first thing you’ll want to do after leaving is turn around and go right back inside.
To get to the dining room, on the second floor of a building on Divisadero, you’ll first take a staircase with bright tiles and fig-patterned wallpaper. It feels less like you’re on your way to dinner, and more like a sprightly fellow in a purple hat is going to pop out from behind a corner and offer you a tour of his chocolate factory. Then the staircase opens up to the dining room, and you’ll feel even more like you’ve left San Francisco very far behind. The space is huge, with high ceilings, a big open kitchen, an L-shaped bar, and a lot of people who can’t stop gawking at how pretty it all is.
When you can pull your attention away from the surroundings and look at a menu, you’ll see that it’s split into a few sections: antipasti, Jewish-Italian specialties, pasta, pizzas, mains, and some sides. You could mix and match the sections a thousand ways, but for two people, splitting a starter, a pasta or two, and a pizza will be more than enough.
The pastas are truly outstanding. We could eat the tagliatelle al ragu, triangoli, and green garlic agnolotti all day long. They’re all on the lighter side, but still satisfying, and the stuffed pastas have a perfect filling-to-dough ratio. The small plates also work very well, but we especially like the octopus with pork belly—so much so that we’re still trying to figure out what’s in the sauce that goes with it.
Then there are the pizzas. They don’t look like most pizzas you’ve seen before: the puffy outer edges are charred, then dusted with cheese. The crust under the toppings is thin and stiff, but won’t shatter when you bite into it, and the extra char around the edges is a good thing, since it adds more flavor (although if you’re the kind of person who uses a knife and fork to eat a slice, you may have a bit of trouble getting through it). On the flip side, the cheesy edges do make these pies a little messy to eat with your hands, but the good news is that in this day and age, no one will be offended if you leave your pizza-eating gloves at home.
The pizzas, pastas, and small plates are the main reasons you should eat at Che Fico, and that’s not a half-endorsement. They’re so good, and the space is so attractive, that you’ll have very little trouble ignoring the misses and focusing on what this place does best. It’s like that one time your parents forgot to pick you up at the airport back in college. Of course, you forgot about it almost immediately—but now that we’re on the subject, it’s a decent anecdote to bring up over dinner at a restaurant they’re bound to like. You’ll be looking for any excuse to come back here anyway.
Fried rice balls with red sauce and cheese. We wish these were tiny and bite-sized so we could sneak them into the movies.
Polpo E Pancetta Di Maiale
Really great dish. In fact, we’re casting our vote for this to be what people talk about when they say “surf and turf.” The pork skin can err on the side of being leathery rather than crispy, but the overall flavor of the dish and the tenderness of the octopus more than make up for this.
Tasty crust and really flavorful sauce. The only problem with this pizza, aside from the fact that it’s a little messy to eat, is that the mozzarella can slide off in big pieces if you’re not careful. Still, the sauce is amazing, there are perfect bites of basil on top, and do you really need us to explain why mozzarella on a pizza is a good thing?
Tagliatelle Al Ragu
Much lighter than you might expect from its name, and that’s not a bad thing. You won’t be bursting at the seams and drowsy after eating this—you’ll want more.
Really lemony flavor on this one, and each piece stays together well. A perfect filled pasta dish.
Served with a big scoop of vanilla bean gelato on top. The crust is flaky and delicious, and the apple filling has a good amount of tartness to it that’s balanced out well by the gelato. Don’t skip this.