(Photo by Kimson Doan)

Modern Guide to North Beach: The Beat (and all the pizza) goes on

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Beyond the throngs of tourists and kitschy Italian restaurants hides the real North Beach, a bastion of hidden alleyways and Beat-laced history.

Whether you're sipping a stiff cocktail or searching for a just-right book of poetry, keep your eyes—and your mind—wide open when exploring this richly cultured neighborhood. North Beach has been hit especially hard by the Bay Area's real estate crisis in recent years, but if you look well enough, you'll still find some of the city's coolest spots.


The Best Restaurants in San Francisco's North Beach

Pizza + Italian

North Beach is also known as Little Italy, so you'll want to get a slice when you're in the 'hood. Legendary neighborhood institution Tosca (242 Columbus Ave) has managed to maintain its iconic vibe through Prohibition, changes of ownership, and a more recent accusation of sexual harassment against a now-ousted partner. Go for the history, stay for the killer cocktails and thoughtful Italian cuisine by chef April Bloomfield of New York's Spotted Pig fame. Whatever you do, don't miss the House Cappuccino, an armagnac-infused riff on the Prohibition-era classic. // Tony Gemignani is the pizza king of SF. Tony's Pizza Napoletana (1570 Stockton St) slings award-winning pies in signature styles from Detroit to Napoli. // Gemignani's other joint, Capo's (641 Vallejo St), is a study in old school Chicago eating. Pick your pleasure—deep dish or other—and show up with an appetite. // Owned by Francis Ford Coppola, Cafe Zoetrope (916 Kearny St.) is more than just an obvious spot to snap a North Beach selfie (thanks to its corner location in the flatiron-style historic Columbus Tower with its copper-green facade); it's a classic SF spot for hearty plates of Caprese salad and carbonara. // Have gorgeous Neapolitan pies at Baonecci (516 Green St), or try a side of the delicious mozzarella at Il Casaro (348 Columbus Ave). // For the best late-night slices in town head to Golden Boy (542 Green St). // Focaccia, focaccia and more focaccia. Line up in the early morning if you hope to score the stuff fresh from the Soracco family's 107-year-old oven at Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St). // Have some delicious straightforward seafood, Northern Italian style, at Sotto Mare (552 Green St). // Originally opened in the Tenderloin by a Croatian immigrant in 1937, Original Joe's (601 Union St) is still with us today thanks to the city that rallied to resurrect it from the ashes after devastation from fire in 2007. In its North Beach home, Original Joe's serves classic Italian-American fare in a family-friendly space with leather banquettes. // Molinari (373 Columbus Ave) slings simple, incredible Italian-style sandwiches.

Everything Else

It's hard to believe Park Tavern (1642 Stockton St) hasn't been holding court on Washington Square forever—it's the neighborhood's place to see and be seen, preferably over a great cocktail and the famous Marlowe burger. We especially love a window seat for deviled eggs and spritzes at brunch. // On the corner of Washington Square Park, Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store (566 Columbus Ave) is exactly where you want to be for a pint of local beer, a carafe of the house red, and the best melty sandwich you've had lately, toasted on fresh Liguria focaccia (made just across the park). We love the grilled eggplant, studded with feta and arugula, but Mario's meatball sandwich is famous for a reason. Plan on staking out a table and staying here a while. // Consider Little Vine (1541 Grant Ave) to be the perfect gourmet grocery store. From fresh pastas to gorgeous cuts of locally raised meats and wines, this small store is one-stop-shop for your park picnic needs. // Try gonzo Asian fusion at perma pop-up Chubby Noodle (1310 Grant Ave). // Have tacos, ceviche and beyond at Don Pisto's (510 Union St)—because in the midst of all this Italian food, maybe you're actually craving Mexican! // Pick up some housemade sausages and cuts of meat at Little City Market (1400 Stockton St). // It's pure romance at souffle-centric Cafe Jacqueline (1454 Grant Ave), where octogenarian chef Jacqueline Margulis makes her homemade souffles for you everyday. // The popular date spot The House (1230 Grant Ave) serves interesting Asian fusion food—think an ahi BLT, unagi avocado sandwich, and the signature warm wasabi house noodles. Make a reservation or order take out. // Some consider Mama's (1701 Stockton St) to be one of the best breakfast spots in town. But check the weather before you go—you may wait outside for a while.

Where to Get Drinks in North Beach, SF

One of our favorite cocktail bars in the city, 15 Romolo (15 Romolo Place) has dark alley vibes, a well-stocked jukebox, and a photo booth. The drinks are tops: Try the well-named Socialites & Cigarettes, and don't shy away from the food, which is a solid choice for late-night noshing. // Sip in Barbary Coast style at Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Ave), a gorgeously appointed saloon with stiff drinks, tasty food, and nods to SF's colorful history (see: the original urinal trough underneath the bar). Order the Barkeep's Whimsy, an off-menu concoction that changes depending on the bartender's mood, ideally paired with oysters. // Time-travel back to an era of guys and dolls, cats and dames at Tony Nik's (1534 Stockton), a classic cocktail bar where both formal attire and double dealing feel apropos. Sidle up to the bar or snag the cozy booth at the back, sip on a gin martini or a Manhattan, and make like a film noir. // Brave the smell (this place has been around since the 1800s) and groove to the blues at The Saloon (1232 Grant Ave). // Get an education in dive bar excellence at your choice of cool North Beach dive bars: Our favorites are Mr. Bing's (201 Columbus Ave) and Hawaii West (729 Vallejo St) // Grab an upstairs seat at Vesuvio (255 Columbus Ave) where you can enjoy your drinks in a dark looking, intimate feeling space. // Specs' Twelve Adler Museum Cafe (12 Williams Place), is eccentric North Beach history in one crazy nutshell of a bar. Just ask one of the guys at the bar—he's probably been sitting on that same bar stool for the past 50 years—and share a pitcher of beer with a wedge of gouda and a basket of Saltine crackers. // The Church Key (1402 Grant Ave) is a remarkable little beer bar that manages to feel hidden despite its location on the often-thronged Grant Avenue. Marked by a glowing key, it features a frequently rotating draft selection, an epic list of bottled beers, and deep soul cuts spun on vinyl on Wednesday nights.

North Beach Coffee Culture

The OG of North Beach coffee shops, Caffe Trieste (609 Vallejo St) is the spot for great espresso, jukebox tunes, and people-watching the locals who've been hanging out here for decades. You may even find yourself sitting next to Francis Ford Coppola—Trieste is where he wrote The Godfather. // We love everything about Reveille Coffee Co (200 Columbus Ave), from their wonderfully roasted beans to their avocado toast (uh huh). // Blink and you'll miss Hole in the Wall (524 Union St), which serves delicious pour-overs in "blonde" or "brunette" form (light and dark roast) at the counter. Decaf is never an option. // Get your Blue Bottle fix at The Station (596 Pacific Ave.) // Trust us when we say you'll want to try house-roasted beans at Graffeo (735 Columbus Ave), a neighborhood staple since 1935. // Caffe Greco (423 Columbus Ave) has floor-to-ceiling windows and a parklet for your street-viewing pleasure. // Want a sweet little truffle with your caffeine fix? Look to XOX Truffles (754 Columbus Ave). // Head over to Stella Pastry and Cafe (446 Columbus Ave) for baked goods on a sidewalk table.

The Sights + Shops of North Beach

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Booksellers (261 Columbus Ave) is a landmark on any bibliophile's tour of San Francisco, and the Beat Generation holdout surpasses all expectations. Expect an absolutely incredible selection of books by local authors across three paper-stuffed three stories. Also an acclaimed publishing house, City Lights' staff picks are always on point. // Get in the spirit of North Beach's old school charm with a new hat (or three) at the family-run Goorin Bros. Hat Shop (1612 Stockton St). Goorin has been making hats since the late 19th century. // Since 1979, dapper gents have looked to Al's Attire (1300 Grant Ave) for bespoke clothing and kicks. See who's suiting up (think Steve Kerr and Carlos Santana) on Al's blog. // Stock up on all manner of cutesy things at the Bay Area chain Therapy (1445 Grant Ave), which donates 1 percent of all sales to community causes. // Vinyl-lovers, unite: 101 Music (1414 Grant Ave) is a classic destination for rare recordings, old favorites, and LPs you didn't know you needed. Devote some time to thumb through the stacks of used records, and don't forget to check out the jazz section for a great selection of mid-century North Beach favorites. // Want a great price on a pre-loved Chloé hobo bag or a vintage Levi's jean jacket? Rendezvous (1817 Powell St) is the next stop for thrifters. // Are you a true collector? Schein and Schein (1435 Grant Ave) is the real deal for antique maps, rare prints, and books.

North Beach Music + Entertainment

Landmarks

Washington Square Park is a charming urban green space set before the remarkable backdrop that is Peter and Paul Church. This is where Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio were famously photographed after their nuptials; today it's popular for rosé-fueled picnics, sunbathing, and the occasional movie night. // Buy a ticket and head up to the observation desk for panoramic views of the city from Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.), built in 1933 and named for a local firefighter who, upon his death, designated funding for beautifying SF.

Music + Culture

Hand's down one of the best music venues in the city, Bimbo's 365 Club's (1025 Columbus Ave) classic night club houses acts from up-and-coming indie bands to beloved local '80s cover bands. Whatever the show, prepare to dance the night away. // Head over to The Beat Museum (540 Broadway St) to learn all about Kerouac and company. // ROFL with first-rate standup acts at Cobb's Comedy Club (915 Columbus Ave). // Through the end of 2019, you can still catch a breath of fresh satire at Beach Blanket Babylon (678 Green St), the world's longest running live musical revue known for its skewering take on politics and pop culture, over-the-top costumes, and mighty wigs.

// Looking for your first home or your next home in North Beach? Start your search and find your home at zephyrre.com. Thank you to our sponsors at Zephyr.

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