Quality never goes out of style. That’s why the Italian cafes of North Beach are oases of authenticity, tradition, and culture in a city that reinvents itself faster than the time it takes to download the latest app. Take a break from the rat race and slip into the old world charm and pace of the city’s original café culture.
Sonia Giotti, granddaughter of Giovanni Giotti, who opened the joint back in 1953, still runs the show at the oldest café on the West Coast. Grab a Café Africano, a double shot of espresso mixed with an equal measure of steamed extra rich milk, and thick slab of house made cheesecake for a decadent afternoon pick up. Despite the popularity of Trieste (guidebook-toting international visitors abound), the café has a strong and deep-rooted local following and is a great place to socialize. When the Poet’s Plaza opens next year, which will close Vallejo Street between Grant and Columbus, Trieste will open directly onto the greenspace. // 601 Vallejo Street, caffetrieste.com
The last Italian-owned café in the city to roast their beans on site, Caffe Roma serves strong robust coffee, gourmet pastries and lunch specials in a chic Euro-style setting. Go for a cup of fresh-brewed Roma Special Blend, it’s the best filtered coffee in the area. Opened in 1977 and sporting outside seating on both people-packed Columbus and more chill Stockton Street, you can enjoy the sun at Roma both morning and afternoon. Ask owner Tony Azzolini, who has been running the operation for more than 25 years, about his ever expanding wine selection and enjoy a bottle on the sidewalk in the evening. // 526 Columbus Ave., cafferoma.com
With a long saloon bar that ends at a vintage espresso machine on one end and an Anchor Steam beer tap at the other, Mario’s exudes an atmosphere that is equal part Naples and Barbary Coast. The views of verdant Washington Square Park just across the street and the fact that they specialize in authentic and moderately priced Italian fare (think hot meatball focaccia sandwiches) combine to make Mario's one of the most scenic places in the city to grab lunch. For coffee addicts, the outside seating across from the park is the ideal setting for slowly savoring a rich Italian style cappuccino. // 566 Columbus Ave. (415) 362-0536; mariosbohemiancigarstorecafe.net
This Roman style coffee bar was opened by Santo Esposito, who hails from Campania, Italy, in 2006 and is easy to miss as it lies just on the Chinatown side of Stockton Street after it crosses Columbus. Dip inside the two story minimalistic space, which has housed the A. Cavalli & Co. Italian bookstore and newstand for almost a century, to sample the excellent house made cannoli, tiramisu and pannini sandwiches. Santo’s specialty is the perfect espresso shot, and he hand pulls each one the way an artist applies paint to the canvas. Try a shot or two poured over a scoop of gelato, known as Café Afogato, for a sweet indulgence. // 1441 Stockton Street, cavallicafe.com
Occupying two adjacent storefronts on the busiest stretch of Columbus Ave, and sporting prime outdoor seating in its parklet, Greco has long been the best café in North Beach to see and be seen. Order one of their oversized cappuccinos and a slice of the house made panforte, a super dense dried fruit and nut cake, and sit for hours. For those that scout for cafes that also double as an office space, the annex room at Greco is lined with lush cushioned booths that offer nice views out onto Columbus but is insulated from all the noise happening out there—even on wild weekend nights. // 423 Columbus Ave., caffegreco.com
Slinging tasty, traditional Italian cookies by the pound since 1943, Stella’s Pastry is a must-stop for those that like to have an assortment of sweet things to dip in their coffee. Start with an amaretti to whet the appetite and then work through the snowballs and fruit thumbprints before ending with a decadent chocolate Baci de Dama to really get a spectrum sample of why this place is packed every day of the year. Consisting of layer on top of layer of cream custard and sponge cake, the Sacripantina here is world famous and is special ordered for various traditional Italian functions. Stella also does a pretty good cappuccino, but seating here is tight even on a slow shift. // 446 Columbus Ave., stellapastry.com