Founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti died at the age of 101 in 2021, but his City Lights Books remains one of North Beach's most iconic landmarks. (via Wikipedia)

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.


The Best Restaurants in San Francisco's North Beach

(Courtesy of Il Casaro)

Pizza + Italian

Tony Gemignani is the pizza king of San Francisco. 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 or try your best cheese pull at Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar (348 Columbus Ave). Sister restaurant Barbara Pinseria and Cocktail Bar (431 Columbus Ave.) is a primo perch for a rustic Roman-style pizza and a Campari spritz. // For the best late-night slices in town head to Golden Boy (542 Green 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. // Tosca Cafe (242 Columbus Ave.), the neighborhood's most iconic eatery and bar, has gotten a sprucing up from an equally iconic trio: chef Nancy Oakes (Boulevard), Anna Weinberg (Marlowe, Park Tavern), and designer Ken Fulk. Expectedly fancy additions to the menu include caviar and oysters alongside housemade foccacia, modern antipasti, and hearty pastas. And yes, you can still order the famous house cappuccino. // Da Flora (701 Columbus Ave.) is consistently named one of the best Italian spots in the 'hood thanks to its simple osteria-style fare—think sweet potato gnocchi and risotto with Mary's duck leg ragu—Italian wine list, and romantic atmo. // Native Italians run the show at The Italian Homemade Company (716 Columbus Ave.), where the noodles are fresh, the sauces are homemade, and the options for building your own dish will keep you coming back. Hot tip: Lasagna is their specialty.

Everything Else

With its colorful mural and festive tapas, the opening of Red Window (500 Columbus Ave.) was a bright spot in the pandemic. Take some friends to share lots of small plates—our favorites include the fried salt cod fritters, aged jamon Iberico, and their take on the Basque-style cheesecake—and pluck creative cocktails from bar cart as it makes the rounds among the restaurant's two parklets. // From the team behind Il Casaro, California Fish Market (550 Green St.) opened during Covid-19 to solve a serious problem: how to eat well, and healthy, in quarantine. The restaurant slash retail market offers fairly priced and sustainably sourced seafood, both for onsite dining and takeout to be cooked at home. // 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. // 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! // It's pure romance at souffle-centric Cafe Jacqueline (1454 Grant Ave), where octogenarian chef Jacqueline Margulis makes her homemade souffles for you everyday. // 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. // Have a craving for Persian? Maykadeh (470 Green St.) is your go-to for traditional mazeh, kebabs, and homemade baklava. // Park Tavern (1642 Stockton St) has been holding court on Washington Square for a decade now—the neighborhood's place to see and be seen over a great cocktail and the famous Marlowe burger is temporarily closed for a facelift. Check their website for updates.

Bakeries + Markets

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). // Newest to Tony's North Beach empire is Toscano Brothers (728 Vallejo St.), an old-school bakery slinging New York–style bagels and Italian breads—the sour cherry chocolate loaf is the house favorite. // Molinari Delicatessen (373 Columbus Ave) slings simple, incredible Italian-style sandwiches to go. // 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. // Pick up some housemade sausages and cuts of meat at Little City Market (1400 Stockton St).

Where to Get Drinks in North Beach, SF

(Courtesy of @15romolo)

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: Pump some coins into the jukebox, order the Pimms Cup (it may be the best you've ever had), 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 Pl.), 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

(Caffe Trieste)

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. // 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 jovial service, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a parklet for taking in the bustle of the neighborhood. // 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 excellent cannolis.

Things to Do in North Beach

Rehearsals for 'Dear San Francisco,' at Club Fugazi.

(Guru Khalsa)

Landmarks

The world lost a great literary light in February 2021 with the passing of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but his City Lights Booksellers (261 Columbus Ave) shines on. The North Beach address remains a mecca 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. // 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 her death, designated funding for beautifying SF. While you're here, stop in the gift ship to peruse a small selection of antique maps, rare prints, and books from the North Beach–based online seller Schein and Schein.

Entertainment

Hand's down one of the best music venues in the city, Bimbo's 365 Club's (1025 Columbus Ave) classic nightclub 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). // When the final curtain fell on 45-year-old review Beach Blanket Babylon on New Year's Eve 2019, a shudder of collective grief rippled across the city. But the curtain has risen again at Club Fugazi (678 Green St.) with the Fall 2021 opening of Dear San Francisco: A High-Flying Love Story, an acrobatic contemporary circus from Montreal's The 7 Fingers Collective.

Shopping

Get in the spirit of North Beach's old school charm with a new hat (or three) at the flagship store for family-run Goorin Bros. (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. // AB Fits (1519 Grant Ave.) is an OG in the neighborhood, popular among locals who loves its eponymous denim label plus comfy streetwear from brands such as Blluemade, Cotton Citizen, and Engineered Garments. // Brushing up on your Italian? Peruse the shelves at bookshop Libreria Pino (548 Union St.). // 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.

Additional reporting by Coral Sisk.

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