North Beach is the true heart of San Francisco. If you don’t live here, chances are you wish you did. And if you’re like most San Franciscans we know, whether you live in the neighborhood or not you feel a special kinship with ‘The Beach.’ Everyone in SF comes to play in our little enclave, and it isn’t hard to see why. More than any neighborhood in San Francisco, North Beach has it all: local character, lovely architecture, music….and of course, food.

If you haven’t done any grazing in these parts recently, there is a bumper crop of good things to return for. Here at Joe Content, we keep track of all North Beach’s estimable edibles with a regular feature here on the blog. So whether you’re a hungry local or a visitor wondering what to do in San Francisco, today we bring you our fourth edition of 10 Things to Eat in North Beach Right Now.

Africano and a Blueberry Danish at Caffe Trieste

We’re going to start where an awful lot of things start in this neighborhood: at the vaunted and venerated Caffe Trieste. A North Beach landmark that has been serving espresso since Californians didn’t know how to pronounce it, Trieste was reportedly the West Coast’s first espresso bar (the caffe opened in 1956).

The west wall at Caffe Trieste - Joe Content: What to do in San Francisco

A History in Photos: the West Wall at Caffe Trieste

Judging from the near-permanent line, all of that practice has paid off. So long as you avoid the murderous house drip, the coffee here is strong and superb. We can’t resist the Africano: a tumbler full of espresso and perfectly steamed milk, it’s like a triple-strength latté, and has no equal anywhere. Enjoy yours with a luscious cheese and blueberry danish from Dionda’s (formerly of North Beach, now in the Mission), and you’re a sure bet for a productive, if highly caffeinated morning.
Caffe Trieste, 601 Vallejo Street

North Beach has something like one bar for every 14 residents (don’t quote me on that). Click to Tweet

Veggie Piadina at Italian Homemade Company

This is a boozy neighborhood. Even in a city as liquor-steeped as San Francisco, North Beach manages to distinguish itself in the adult beverage category. We’ve got something like one bar for every 14 residents (don’t quote me on that), and it can be challenging to behave when living in the midst of all this revelry. Hangovers? They’re just part of the territory.

Knowing this, we’ve got a roster of remedies to employ when we’ve exceeded our personal altitude limits. But none are as restorative as devouring a Veggie Piadina in the sun at Italian Homemade Company. These guys make everything fresh every day, and if you haven’t visited, it’s time to correct your error.

Joe Content - Italian Homemade Company - Joe Content: What to do in San Francisco

The Piadina Classica at Italian Homemade Company, a Great Option For Carnivores

It’s all here: fresh pasta, either to order or for preparation at home, authentic sauces, and plenty of other Italian specialties. This is the best Italian food shop in the city (they were the first retail location in SF with a full kitchen), and you cannot go wrong. The piadini, unique flatbread sandwiches stuffed with your choice of scrumptious fillings, have a perfect, toothsome dough that is the stuff of carbo daydreams. The Veggie is a standout: just pick the vegetables you want inside, and be sure to ask for some arugula. Buona!
Italian Homemade Company, 716 Columbus Avenue

Bone-In Ribeye at Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill

There have been a lot of changes in the neighborhood recently, and few of them have been more welcome than the recent arrival of Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill. Conceived by three industry veterans (alumni of the beloved Sotto Mare on Green Street), Betty Lou’s also focuses on Italian seafood, and they get everything right. Oysters, salmon, cioppino, sand dabs, you name it, and they’ve got it–and it’s all the best you can find anywhere.

That being said, we’re not here to talk about the seafood this time. Head chef Hector Chaparro has got something else in store for you here: Bone-In Ribeye. Hector is a true grill master, and there are few pleasures in North Beach that can match a half-dozen oysters followed by one of these babies. Go score a window seat, and eat like a deposed emperor.
Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill, 318 Columbus Avenue

Falafel Wrap at North Beach Gyros

We love a well-executed falafel, and they aren’t always easy to find. North Beach endured a long fallow stretch after Truly Mediterranean closed on Columbus over a decade ago. Thankfully, two new spots have popped up in recent years to fill the gap: La Mediterranée and North Beach Gyros. They are both terrific, but today’s honors are reserved for NBG’s Falafel Wrap. Served on a perfect lavash, it can only be improved upon with a few measured dollops of the incendiary (but crucial) hot sauce that sits atop every table. Enjoy, and proceed with caution.
North Beach Gyros, 701 Union Street

Empanadas at Panuchos

As anyone who has set foot in the place can tell you, Panuchos is the best Mexican restaurant to surface in North Beach in years. I’ve spent plenty of time singing their praises here, and with every visit they just seem to be getting better. The sprawling Yucatan-inspired menu is exemplary, and nothing coming out of this pint-sized kitchen disappoints.

The Cochinita Empanadas at Panuchos - Joe Content: What to do in San Francisco

The Cochinita Empanadas at Broadway’s Panuchos

Extra points are to be rewarded here for the otherworldly Empanadas. Unless you were lucky enough to have a grandma who used to make them fresh for you, you’ve likely never had anything like Panuchos’ empanadas: made to order with whatever filling you choose (and there are plenty of choices), these come to the table steaming and perfect. Truly, there may be nothing better.
Panuchos, 620 Broadway

Tuna Focaccia Sandwich at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café

Ask any local and they’ll tell you: Mario’s Bohemian is a bonafide institution, probably as important to North Beach as any single restaurant. Much like Caffe Trieste, Mario’s functions as a community center for a certain contingent of North Beach residents, its atmosphere constantly balanced by the steady flow of tourists guaranteed by their busy corner location.

Mario's Bohemian - Joe Content: What to do in San Francisco

The Timeless Setting of Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café

If their food was an afterthought, Mario’s would still do business on ambience alone. Thankfully, this is far from the case. True, you may never see a smaller kitchen in a full-service restaurant, but that’s in no way reflected in the quality of the food. The sandwiches, especially those made with the Liguria Bakery focaccia baked just across the park, are as North Beach as the day is long. My personal favorite: the Open-Faced Tuna. A gut-buster of a sandwich served alongside a handful of piquant pepperoncini, it’s the right move when you just don’t feel like cooking–and it’s big enough to take half home for a midnight snack.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café, 566 Columbus Avenue

Sicilian Slice at Tony’s Slice House

When he brought his pizzeria to North Beach in 2009, Tony Gemignani helped change the game for Italian destination dining in North Beach. Along with Gigi Fiorucci’s Sotto Mare, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana helped restore North Beach as a locus of Italian dining in San Francisco. When the lines at his place grew long, he capitalized and gave the neighborhood what it sorely needed: a place to get a good slice of pizza. Enter Tony’s Slice House, right next door on busy Stockton Street (no offense, Golden Boy fans–but unless you’re too inebriated to care, it’s just not that good).

Sicilian at Tony's Slice House - Joe Content: What to do in San Francisco

The Irresistible Sicilian at Tony’s Slice House

Though most of the Slice House’s menu is rock solid, the thinner slices can be inconsistent and spend a bit too much time in the reheating ovenso you might get a great slice, but you might not. The safe bet is the Sicilian Slice: one of the finest examples of the style I’ve had anywhere, these fat boys stand head and shoulder over any slice served within miles of here. So, the next time you need a slice….you’re Golden!
Tony’s Slice House, 1556 Stockton Street

Tortelloni alla Paesana, Maurizio’s Way at Ristorante Ideale

Maurizio Bruschi’s Ideale has long been one of the high points of Italian food in North Beach, and we’ve been sending people his way for years now. Though the Roman-inflected menu is a touch old school, it never falls into the red sauce rut that seems endemic to so many other Italian spots in the neighborhood. The perfectly thin Roman-style pizza is among the best in the city, and the house-made pastas are not to be missed.

Case in point: the Tortelloni alla Paesana. Perfect knots of pasta stuffed with veal, prosciutto and mushrooms, these are typically served with a cream reduction. On a recent visit, Maurizio recommended we try the dish with his tomato sauce instead. Listen to the man: the freshness of the tomato lightened the dish, and highlighted the flavors of the delicate pasta. Buona! Tell Maurizio we send our best.
Ristorante Ideale, 1309 Grant Avenue

Anything From The Cooler at Sotto Mare

What more can be said about this place? Sotto Mare has been ground zero for fresh seafood in San Francisco for almost a decade now, and was largely responsible for putting North Beach back on the city’s dining map when it opened in 2007. Their emphasis on simple preparation with an Italian touch made the place an immediate magnet for locals, and their popularity shows no signs of slowing.

The Cooler at Sotto Mare. What to do in San Francisco

The Cooler at Sotto Mare.  Poor Bastards.

Judging from the lines, it seems just about everyone knows about the place these days. What most people don’t know is that the restaurant acts as a miniature seafood market, selling its fresh fish out of the cooler during the day. That’s how they keep everything so fresh: whatever they buy in the morning, they sell by day’s end. If you cook at home, this is a major game-changer. At prices that beat anything at Whole Foods or the farmer’s market, you can get the best, freshest fish available anywhere. Got a craving for petrale sole, or maybe a couple of fat salmon filets? No need to leave the ‘hood–you can find it all under the blue awning. Enjoy!
Sotto Mare, 552 Green Street

Californian Omelette at Mama’s on Washington Square

As any North Beacher will tell you, Mama’s is a bit of an outlier in the neighborhood dining scene. That is, it’s not primarily a restaurant for people who live in North Beach. If this sounds confusing, maybe you’ve never seen the intimidating line snaking down Stockton Street. Yes, these guys are just a little too cool for their little corner–and most of us wouldn’t be caught dead standing in a queue full of tourists and hungover Marina brahs.

This is certainly no fault of Mama’s. Far from it: the breakfast here is no less than stellar. I was reminded of just how good on a recent weekday, when I somehow managed to slip in with a short wait (yes, it can be done).

It had been years since my last visit, and I’d forgotten how deft with the egg this kitchen could be. Sticking with what I knew, I chose the Californian Omelette, stuffed with bacon, avocado, and jack. Buttressed with a pile of crisp home fries, it was simply perfect, a vivid reminder of why this little café is beloved well beyond the confines of North Beach. Choose your moment, and get back in there.
Mama’s on Washington Square, 1701 Stockton Street


Wondering what to do in San Francisco? Make sure to come back to the Joe Content blog soon for all the hottest local tidbits.