When I returned to San Francisco in 2006, fresh from eight frenetic years in New York City, I was looking for a place to settle down–a city that I could call home. Initially, I chose North Beach because the people were friendly, and it somehow seemed like a real community. It also felt a little bit like Manhattan: yellow cabs still swarmed the streets back then, and the sidewalks were always awash with pedestrians, tourists and locals alike.

I didn’t have more than a handful of friends here, and as much as I love this city, it took a while for me to get acclimated. During the short time I’d been in NYC, I had achieved regular status at a few terrific restaurants, and I was determined to find my local spots here in San Francisco. North Beach turned out to be a prescient choice, because shortly after I settled in, one of my favorite restaurants opened up just three short blocks away: Sotto Mare.

Their formula is straightforward: the freshest seafood, prepared simply in the style of Italian coastal towns. Click to Tweet
I’ve recommended the place a thousand times, and I don’t expect to be stopping anytime soon. Their formula is straightforward: the freshest seafood, prepared simply in the style of Italian coastal towns, where the fish goes directly from boat to kitchen. It’s one of a kind, and from my first visit to the restaurant, I was hooked.

five things to love about Sotto Mare

You sure can’t beat the setting: just keep an eye out for the Italian tricolore, and you’ll find Sotto Mare. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

So, exactly what do I like so much about Sotto Mare? Allow me to elaborate.

1. The Aroma

When I first dined at Sotto Mare, it was a gamechanger for me. I had never eaten at a restaurant like this one, and the only thing I could compare it to was my grandmother Angelina’s kitchen. And that’s still what comes to mind every time I walk in the door, and smell that ineffable magic in the air.

Big lunch? Don’t fret. By the time you sit down at your table, you’ll be more than ready for your meal.

five things to love about Sotto Mare

Fresh as can be, a thick slab of Sotto Mare’s salmon sizzles in my cast iron skillet. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

2. The Salmon

I’ve always enjoyed salmon, and one of the benefits of living in San Francisco is the local product. But whether in season or out, Sotto Mare always has the best. During the off season they serve farmed salmon, but they’re careful to deal with sustainable fisheries that only feed their fish krill and shrimp––the same diet that wild salmon live on. So no matter what time of year, you’re always getting the best salmon available.

I order mine medium-rare, with the house lemon/butter/caper sauce on the side. Like all of their seafood entrées, the salmon is served with market vegetables, cooked al dente in olive oil–and it’s never less than perfect.

3. The Sea Scallop Sauté

Sea scallops are delicious when prepared properly, and when they’re this fresh they can be transcendent. These are expertly browned and tender, served in a rich cream sauce that puts the whole dish over the top.

I also love to pick these up and cook them at home. A little butter and olive oil in the pan, brown them a few minutes on each side, salt and pepper, and that’s all you need–which leads me to #4.

five things to love about Sotto Mare

The delicate and toothsome sand dabs at San Francisco’s Sotto Mare. | Photo: Dr. J, Yelp

4. The Fish Market

It still amazes me how many people are unaware that Sotto Mare sells all of their fish to-go, straight out of the ice. It’s true: for nearly 14 years now, they’ve been the best source for local seafood in North Beach. So if you’re still picking your salmon up at Safeway, let this be your epiphany: the freshest fish in the city is right under your nose at 552 Green Street.

Whether it’s corvina, jumbo prawns or petrale sole, if it’s on the special board, it’s available at the Sotto Mare fish market, to go and as fresh as can be. Do yourself a favor, and get this into your regular rotation.

5. The Back Counter

In my opinion, nothing helps ensure a great dining experience like an open kitchen and a counter seat. To me, it goes far beyond the food on your plate. At the counter, you’re immersed in the sounds and smell and fire of the kitchen; you become part of the restaurant for a little while.

It’s an experience that always leaves me satisfied in so many ways. When all of our dining moved outside last year, I missed it terribly. And we’re so fortunate to have it back.

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Sotto Mare is now open 11:00 am–9:00 pm seven days a week, and until 10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Sotto Mare
552 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 398-3181

sottomaresf.com