I have lived in San Francisco for almost 12 years and I have eaten my way through most neighborhoods. I particularly love North Beach because it has hidden gems that only the locals know. Plus you can get of course, Italian food, but there’s also Thai, Japanese, French, Indian and Pakistani food. The reason people don’t like to come to North Beach is because of the lack of parking, but there at least 9 parking lots that I can think of where you can park. So don’t let that stop you.
For breakfast, the tourist books all recommend Mama’s and it’s good, but you have to wait in line for 45 minutes to an hour or get there bright and early (they open at 7am). They have gobs of fresh baked pastries and various types of eggs, plus French toast, fresh fruit, and pancakes. Always good. But that’s not my favorite place to go. My favorite place to go is Mo’s Grill on Grant Avenue. About a 2 block walk from Mama’s. It’s upscale diner food and a place where the locals go. Cafe Divine is another place that’s been recommended, but when I tried it, I thought it stunk, yet it’s packed every weekend — maybe they got a new chef.
If you just want coffee and a bite, there are several places you can go. Cafe Sapporo and 901 Columbus Cafe are two places where you can get food and coffee. The coffee is better at 901 Columbus Cafe, but the service is slow and not a huge variety. Cafe Sapporo has a better variety of food and the service is a tad faster, but the coffee isn’t as good. Both are great. There’s also XOX Truffles, where you get a free truffle with your coffee purchase. If you like chocolate, this is a must. Their reputation speaks for itself. There’s also Cafe Roma which also has very good coffee and if you got up at the crack of dawn to wait in line at Mama’s you’re in luck because it’s a block and a half away to grab a coffee. But my favorite coffee place is Victoria’s Bakery and their sister store, Stella’s. Victoria’s sits in between the border of North Beach and Chinatown. Stella’s sits right in the heart of North Beach on Columbus. Both have the best coffee – hands down. Plus they are bakeries, so if you are a pastry and coffee kind of person, either place makes a great stop.
Now for lunch it depends on what kind of mood you are in. There’s Sushi on North Beach which has very good sushi and traditional Japanese fare. Then there’s Masa’s, a new Indian/Pakistan restaurant that is really delicious and a bargain for the price. Tapas? No problem, Campanula has what you need. Thai? Tuk Tuk Thai has great Thai food. French? A French steak house recently opened called Le Bordeaux. They also serve brunch on the weekends. For Mexican food, Don Pisto’s seems to be doing well. Their menu is sparse but it’s all delicious because they make a few things and they make them well. For a twist on American cuisine, Bottle Cap. If you want Asian fusion, get a reservation at The House – fantastic! Want a sandwich? So many choices, but I have a few favorites: Giordano Brother’s rip off of Primani Brothers in Pittsburgh where the slaw and the fries are on the sandwich is down right delicious and filling. Molinari always has a line and they make a mean sub, but even though I always wish the bread were a tad softer, it’s worth the wait. Calzone has great sandwiches, salads and great things for sharing, plus great people watching. Naked Lunch which has one of the best foie gras sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.
All of the above places also serve dinner so you can’t go wrong. If you want a place where you can get a decent glass of wine, Park Tavern SF, Cafe de Lucchi, Chiaroscuro, Campanula, and Mona Lisa. If you like beer, you gotta try the Belgian beer La Trappe. Or, grab a wedge of cheese, a sleeve of saltines and a pint at a local favorite – Spec’s. And recently, Little Vine just opened, a wine and cheese bar on Grant Avenue between Union and Filbert. Lastly, there’s Delluva at Columbus and Green and it has bottomless mimosas on Sundays for $5 a pitcher! When you’re done you can walk on over to Tony’s and have a slice of the best pizza you’ll ever eat.
Of course, I have my favorites in North Beach for dinner: Steps of Rome, Park Tavern, Cafe de Lucchi, Macaroni Sciue Scuie, Chiaroscuro & Trattoria Contadina, Bottle Cap and now I’ll have to add Mona Lisa.
I do not like: The Stinking Rose, Pinocchio, or the classic North Beach Restaurant. Panta Rei is okay, DaFlorio has the weirdest hours and takes cash only, but I remember it being decent. I have yet to try Pucinella or Franchino, but they are on the list. I’ve eaten at Ideale several times and the food is good but it’s always too bloody hot in there.
There you have it. I hope you have a great time in San Francisco and eat your way through North Beach as I have! Buon appetito!