San Francisco loves to eat. We’ve been a renowned food city since the start of the 20th century, and over the last few decades we have grown into an international dining destination. Sitting as it does in the historic heart of the city, North Beach has always been an important part of this proud gustatory tradition. And though we have seen a few fallow years, our restaurant scene is stronger now than it’s ever been.

A walk around North Beach at dinnertime is a tempting whirl of appetizing sights and savory smells, and there is never a lack of new delicacies to sample. To make sure you don’t miss a single morsel, I regularly round up ten of the neighborhood’s most toothsome treats and present them for your reading pleasure. In the interest of leaving more time for lunch, I’ll now dispense with the lengthy preamble and welcome you to  10 Things to Eat in North Beach Right Now, Part 3.


The Panucho – Panuchos

A breath of fresh air on what has historically been a dreary stretch of Broadway, Panuchos rocked the neighborhood when it opened in late July of this year, taking over the spot once held down by late-night stalwart Vietnam. They serve an ever-expanding menu of Yucatecan specialties, are also open late, and the food is authentic, fresh–and astonishingly good.

Panuchos - North Beach Restaurants

Two Perfect Panuchos

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It’s mighty hard to choose, but today’s plaudits go to the restaurant’s namesake item: the  Panucho. The original Yucatecan taco, a panucho is hand-formed fresh corn masa deftly stuffed with black beans and fried to a crisp. It can be served with any of the house fillings, meat or veggie, and is meant to be folded and eaten like a taco. But this, my friend, is no taco: the panucho’s perfect crunch and intense corn flavor put it in another category altogether. Try it with the cochinita pibil, you’ll see.  620 Broadway


Bodega Bowl – Bodega

The latest entrant on the newly resurgent block of Columbus just north of Filbert, Bodega has settled into the neighborhood nicely, filling the gap created by Melt Wine Bar’s departure this Summer. A stylish, light-filled space, Bodega is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, serving a short and simple menu alongside a selection of beers and South American and Iberian wines.

Bodega Bowl - North Beach Restaurants

The Bodega Bowl

Their Bodega Bowl is one of the smartest menu items I’ve seen recently, addressing the general lack of fortifying salads among North Beach cafes. This is a complaint I hear a lot, and the Bodega Bowl is just what the doctor ordered: a savory bowl of kale, jicama, creamy avocado, queso fresco and grains, it satisfies at every level. And it’s so healthy, you don’t even have to feel guilty about ordering that second glass of wine.  700 Columbus Avenue


Lemon Soufflé – Cafe Jacqueline

A hidden gem tucked into a small space on the sleepier end of Grant Avenue, Cafe Jacqueline has a highly unusual menu that focuses on one item: the soufflé. You’d be forgiven for calling the place anachronistic, but Cafe Jacqueline has one of the longest and most distinguished reputations in San Francisco dining. The reason for that is clear: Owner Jacqueline Margulis is an expert chef and avowed perfectionist, and has chosen to devote her life to creating one of the most artistic (and painstaking) expressions of French cuisine. She has been crafting soufflés here since 1979, and still makes them herself, one at a time–and the results are extraordinary.

Lemon Soufflé at Cafe Jacqueline - North Beach Restaurants

The Luscious Lemon Soufflé at Cafe Jacqueline

They offer 18 versions, with everything from spinach to leeks, asparagus or lobster, and all of them come highly recommended. I reserve highest praise for the Lemon Soufflé: a delicate and intensely flavored dessert that is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, this is an item best shared with someone you love. Factor in the romantic room, and you’ll understand why this place has been going strong for 37 years.  1454 Grant Avenue


Raspberry Truffle – XOX Truffles

North Beach is particularly accommodating for those of us who possess a sweet tooth. We’ve long been home to two of the oldest Italian bakeries in the city, Stella and Victoria; croissant and cannoli grace the counters of nearly every coffee shop in the ‘hood. But chocolate is another matter. San Franciscans are into chocolate in a big way, and we’ve got a number of serious local artisanal producers: think Recchiuti, Tcho and Dandelion, to name just a few.

When it comes to truffles though, you needn’t go any further than Columbus Avenue’s own  XOX Truffles. These tiny, misshapen gems are made by hand by former chef Jean-Marc Gorce, who opened the shop with his wife Casimira in 1998. Gorce, who was once chef de cuisine at Fringale, was named by Chocolatier magazine as one of the top ten chocolate makers in America, and when you taste his product you’ll see why.

Some flavors are familiar, and there are some you wouldn’t expect: the tequila cayenne is a favorite, as are the red wine and lemon versions. If I had to choose one, though (and the format sort of demands it), I’d have to go with the Raspberry Truffle. How Gorce manages to get so much raspberry flavor into these babies is an enduring mystery, and the source of one of the best chocolate experiences to be had anywhere in San Francisco. Buy an assorted basket of 20, and change someone’s life.  754 Columbus Avenue


Cioppino – Sotto Mare

My love affair with Gigi Fiorucci’s Sotto Mare has been well-documented in these pages, and a recent visit this past week did nothing to suppress that ardor. This is the restaurant’s third appearance in 10 Things, and this time I’m here to sing the praises of their signature dish: the Cioppino.

The Cioppino at Sotto Mare - North Beach Restaurants

The Cioppino at Sotto Mare

I’ve been eating at Sotto Mare ever since they opened in 2007, and I very rarely order this dish, for one simple reason: it’s huge. And if I get the cioppino, I can’t have oysters and salmon, both of which are stupendous. But this time I had three companions, and cioppino (a term that originated with Italian fishermen on San Francisco’s waterfront who would “chip in” on the soup with a portion of their catch) was the order of the day. A big, steaming tureen of rich, savory seafood stew loaded with crab, mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, scallops and a handful of penne, it comes to the table with a flourish, exuding an aroma of stewed tomato, herbs and fresh seafood that will bring out the competitive side in the most timid diner. And I admit, it was a revelation: the brodo is one of the most flavorful I’ve ever had, and there was enough for all four of us to enjoy a generous bowl. Of course, this left room for plenty of the aforementioned oysters, and another bottle of sauvignon blanc….oh, the joy!

Sure, there’s almost always a wait, but just procure a vibrating lobster from the hostess and head across the street to Belle Cora for a glass of something nice. Some of the most interesting people hang out there. Buon appetito!  552 Green Street


Ricotta Cake – Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe

Mario’s is an institution, one that we’ve celebrated in these pages more than once (you can read our feature on Mario’s here). The place has got it all: a vintage flatiron space that looks like a movie set, focaccia sandwiches to die for, and an ideal location on the edge of Washington Square Park. They also have a standing cast of regulars that runs the gamut from smart to quirky to downright strange, and a friendly staff that has seen it all and is still smiling.

Though just about everything is good at Mario’s, the item we’re here to tout is actually not on the regular menu. The Ricotta Cake is a family recipe that the granddaughter of the original Mario (the charming Daniella Crismani) turned me on to a while back. It is marvelous, light and just slightly sweet, and reminds me of the ricotta pie my mother used to make for my Calabrian grandfather Luigi decades ago. They don’t serve it all the time, and I may get in trouble for this, but if it means the possibility of more Ricotta Cake, I’m willing to risk it.  566 Columbus Avenue


Pappardelle al Cinghiale – Firenze By Night

Firenze By Night is old-school. The place is still run by a father and son team, and their restaurant is part and parcel of North Beach. One of the first Italian places I visited when I arrived in the neighborhood, Firenze has kept their act together, and they are still distinguished by their signature dishes: the gnocchi, perfect little pillows in a fine tomato cream sauce, are as good as any in the neighborhood, and their rabbit sugo has earned high marks from reviewers for years. But without question, my favorite is another off-menu item: the Pappardelle al Cinghiale.

The Pappardelle al Cinghiale at Firenze By Night - North Beach Restaurants

The Pappardelle al Cinghiale at Firenze By Night

Perfectly cooked fresh pappardelle is dressed in a sugo stewed with wild boar, imparting a rich pork flavor to the sauce that elevates the dish to the unforgettable. This is a pasta that is so deeply satisfying that my mouth is literally watering as I write this sentence. Truly not be missed.
1429 Stockton Street


The Comstock Burger – Comstock Saloon

Burgers are everywhere. And truth be told, while there are a lot of good burgers in San Francisco, there are a whole lot of mediocre ones, too. It gets a bit gimmicky out there in burgerland, and once you go past the basics–a nice soft bun, lettuce/onion/tomato, maybe some cheese–the burger tends to get lost in the mix. It might taste good, but whan you cover a burger with bacon and blue cheese or slather it with foie gras, it’s not really about the burger anymore.

This less-is-more burger aesthetic informs our choice of Comstock Saloon’s first appearance in 10 Things: the Comstock Burger. A 50/50 blend of chuck and brisket, pattied and expertly grilled, this burg is intensely flavorful and unhindered by fancy toppings. Lettuce, onion, tomato and pimento cheese: that’s all, and all that’s required. It’s a standard bearer for burgers, and bolstered by a salty stack of handcut fries, eating one is a life-affirming experience–with or without supporting cocktail.
155 Columbus Avenue


Bratwurst & Soft Pretzel – Belle Cora

A neighborhood bar perfectly situated across from the historic dives of Green Street, Belle Cora took the place of Dell’Uva as North Beach’s favorite wine spot last Summer. With a rotating selection of local and craft beers, wines, and small plates, they inherited a lot of the locals when they moved in, and upgraded the space with a handsome redwood bar and matching tables. They’ve got plenty to offer on the menu, but my favorite has to be the Bratwurst & Soft Pretzel.

North Beach's Belle Cora - North Beach Restaurants

The Cozy Patio at North Beach’s Belle Cora

These are not pretzels the way you know them–unless you’re from Germany, that is. That’s right, these posh pretzels are shipped in from Munich every day. We’re talking real-deal pretzels here, as German as a pair of lederhosen. Paired with a juicy brat (that’s German bratwurst, you perv) and served up with two kinds of mustard, cheddar dip and sauerkraut, they’re soft, salty and satisfying, especially alongside a frosty craft beer. I’ll see you there!  565 Green Street