San Francisco's Great Meatballs: A Cultural Tour

San Francisco's Great Meatballs: A Cultural Tour


Ask any chef in town—a meatball is an easy sell. At Pizzeria Delfina, the Italian polpette are second only to the restaurant's namesake pizza. Further North at Chotto, a server says the juicy Japanese tsukune are a "must-try." On that note, almost every culture has a meatball, and San Francisco has representatives from more than several camps. Here, a bit of a cultural lesson by way of hand-rolled meat: from fiery Mexican albondigas to pomegranate-speckled Iranian kufteh tabrizi

Polpette - Most San Franciscans think of the Italian style meatball first, and every neighborhood has a favorite. We're suckers for the crispy crust on Pizzeria Delfina's take, made with an old-school combination of beef, pork and veal that's fired off in the pizza oven. 

Kufteh - Zare at Fly Trap's pistachio meatballs have not moved from the menu since the restaurant opened four years ago. Chef Hoss Zare mixes beef with ground pistachios and tops the balls with a sauce of reduced pomegranate juice, wine and harissa adapted from his hometown of Tabriz, Iran. 

Tsukune - Although the izakaya staple of chicken meatballs can come out dry at some restaurants,Izakaya Sozai's recipe is so failproof, it's not even served with the usual dipping sauce of soy and egg yolk. 

Xiu Mai - In Vietnam, meatballs can be found bobbing in pho, or stuffed into banh mi sandwiches with the usual accompaniments of pickled carrots, jalapenos, cilantro and a slab of pate. Here in the Tenderloin, Saigon Sandwich (560 Larkin St.) serves up a truly authentic rendition for just $3.25. 

Albondigas (Mexican) - Newly available at Nopalito in the Inner Sunset, are a gorgeous version of Mexican meatballs topped with pickled red onions and crumbled egg over rice. Traci des Jardins also offers a traditional rendition in tomato-based broth at both Mijita locations. 

Albondigas (Spanish) - Russian Hill's Zarzuela (2000 Hyde St.) has one of the few renditions of albondigas guisadas in the city, served in a rich broth. Nearby on Polk Street, Marbella (2323 Polk St.) is serving a rendition made from grass-fed lamb over cous cous. 

Luk Chin - The pork and beef meatballs from Lers Rosare served simply, grilled to toothsome on a skewer and served with a sweet chili sauce. 

Lion's Head - Chinese cuisine encompasses all kinds of balls: from fish balls, and little steamed pork balls, to the huge lion's head variety often served with a rich "gravy." We love the impossibly moist rendition from Shanghai House (3641 Balboa St.),  served steaming hot in a clay pot with bamboo and mushrooms. 

What's your favorite San Francisco meatball? Enlighten us in the comments. 


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