Insider’s Guide to Dining in North Beach

November 14, 2011 7:50 AM

Lots of jaded locals tend to avoid North Beach. We wouldn’t be caught dead there unless we were toting some cousin from Wisconsin around. But what if this cousin gets hungry? Turns out, North Beach is an awesome dining destination! While North Beach can be filled with expensive tourist trap places, Lisa’s assembled her Top 5 casual go-to’s where you can mingle with North Beach natives and get a great meal at a reasonable price. Afterwards, hit up any number of fantastic bars or coffee places that one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods has to offer.


Caffe Puccini
411 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

Caffe PucciniNormally I would advocate staying off of Columbus, as it is one of the more tourist infused blocks of North Beach. I make an exception for Puccini. It is quite possibly one of the most hidden secrets of the neighborhood. Sure, it looks like an unassuming coffee shop, not unlike its neighbor Cafe Grecco. But don’t be fooled! While there are no white table cloths or fancy service, some of the best pasta in the city is coming out of the kitchen at Puccini. I live for their spaghetti carbonara, heart attack inducing deliciousness studded with pancetta. The pesto is the right amount of creamy and basil/garlic. The risotto, mushroom or seafood, are also ridiculously good. And where else can you get boars’ meat bolognese on pappardelle? While the service is admittedly casual at Puccini, if you want to dive in to a comforting gigantic bowl (and the portions are generous) of pasta to soothe your soul, this is the place. With reasonable prices for amazing food I always feel like I’m in on some secret eating here. “Isn’t this SO good?! Who would have expected!?” Now you know.

Sodini’s Green Valley Restaurant
510 Green St
San Francisco, CA 94133

Sodini’s is populated by a never-ending parade of colorful characters. There is constant friendly banter at the bar and, after the Giants World Series run last year, a TV to watch games on. The cocktails, and the accompanying conversation of the bartenders, is always a nice respite from the bustle of the city. I never fail to meet someone new to talk with at the bar. It’s just that kind of place. Don’t forget the food though, which is all delicious, no nonsense Italian. The calamari fritto with the lemon ailio sauce and the house salad with creamy garlic dressing are among my favorite starters. The penne with shrimp in cream sauce or tortellini with pesto are go-to entree orders. But don’t sleep on the pepper steak, for the days you are in more of a meat mood. Just don’t go here expecting dessert. There are rules at Sodini’s, and, along with no decaf, there is a strict no dessert policy. It’s a good thing North Beach also abounds with coffee and pastry shops for that fix later. Come here for great conversation and Italian comfort food.

Mo’s Grill
1322 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

Sometimes, you just want a burger. Or a Bailey’s spiked shake. Stop in to Mo’s where you can see the burger on the circular grill in the front window and get some hearty all American food. The burgers are always juicy and are enhanced exponentially by the toppings. Choose from creamy and not overpowering blue cheese or delicious garlic and onion sauteed mushrooms. Crispy, light fries and filling chili are sides. If you’re feeling particularly like blowing your caloric intake for the day, the chili cheese fries are amazing. And guilt inducing. Pair that with a milkshake and after a meal at Mo’s, you’ll have to fast for the rest of the week. It’ll be worth it.

Don Pisto’s
510 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94133
Don Pisto’s

I’m not exactly ahead of the curve here. People discovered this place before me and then I cursed them for not bringing me here sooner. I now dream obsessively about it and if left to my own devices, I’d likely eat here every night. There is no going wrong with anything on the menu. But while you ponder it, order the sangria. Heck, just get a pitcher. The small plates are meant to be shared. Or eat them all yourself. I’m not judging. But order a couple different things at the very least. Start with the guacamole, it has the perfect amount of creamy cool avocado-to-biting pepper ratio. Even the chips you get are perfectly salted and crisp.  The menu changes slightly with each visit but the tacos stay consistent and fantastic. Each meat is paired with just the right condiment in overflowing freshly made tortillas. Shrimp, pork, beef…there is no going wrong. The mini chicken tostadas in spicy pepper sauce are great. On one visit, a fantastic stew with an oozing fried egg was available. Don Pisto’s also stays open ‘til 12:30 every night, so if you found your happy hour turned into late night and you need some quality Mexican food, this is your place. Added bonus: if you’re a bottomless sangria on a weekend morning kind of person (who isn’t?) Don Pisto’s is doing brunch. Go. Now.

Il Pollaio
555 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
Il Pollaio 

Violating my own “stay off Columbus” rule, (we’re 2 for 5, here) I must admit the street does have it’s charms. One of them is Il Pollaio. If I could replicate this perfectly crispy, roasted chicken with lemon squeezed over it at home and fries that I eat by the handful, I could stay in. But since I’m not exceptional, I come here. Again, don’t expect white table cloths and fancy service, just incredible hearty food. Along with the above mentioned chicken and french fries, start with the combination salad and/or the eggplant. You can also sample the rabbit that sometimes appears on the menu or any of the other delicious grilled meats that make guest appearances. But really? It’s about the chicken. You won’t be disappointed.

Lisa Tennenbaum is a third generation native with a love hate relationship with San Francisco, as she detests wearing a hoodie in the summer. You can follow her comments about that conflict, as well as much shouting about most sports, on Twitter @LSUcaligrl. She is also a newly minted lawyer looking to make her way in the world today with everything she’s got.

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