Welcome to the Neighborhood, A Series About San Francisco Neighborhoods
One of San Francisco’s oldest and most visited neighborhoods, North Beach has much to offer a traveler who wants to spend a few hours exploring one of America’s best neighborhoods, a distinction from the American Planning Association.
APA Executive Director Paul Farmer said “We are pleased to celebrate not only North Beach’s commitment to tolerance and tradition in its built and social environment, but its commitment to preserve its essential character.” Spend some time at a few of our recommendations in this neighborhood, and you will experience for yourself some of that essential character.
Set the North beach cliches aside, slow your pace, and engage all of your senses to truly appreciate this compact neighborhood.
First off, let’s engage your sense of taste. Since North Beach is generally considered the destination for basic (read: bland) red sauce Italian food, we suggest you bypass the checkered tablecloth restos and instead graze through the neighborhood at three of our favorite culinary destinations. Each of these spots has been turning out their specialities for around 100 years, so not only will you have some delicious food, you’ll also have an authentic experience from the original food artisans in the city.
Molinari Delicatessan on Columbus at Vallejo. We can’t say this enough: best salame in town. And that’s saying a lot since charcuterie and cured meats are having their moment in the Bay Area. Molinari’s is having more than a moment – for over 110 years, they’ve been making salami in SF. It’s world famous (one was even presented to the Pope!), and with good reason. To try it for yourself – take a number and order about “this much” of the sliced salame from the deli case. Eat it on the spot. If you love it, take home your own three-pounder hanging from the ceiling.
Victoria Pastry. Opened in 1914, this Italian bakery houses an original massive brick oven which accommodates up to 25 full sheet pans side by side. It takes a lot of muscle to work the oven that turns out delicate pastries and cakes; two of our faves are the Cassata Siciliana Cake and the cannoli.
Liguria Bakery. This tiny shop made focaccia long before it became trendy & still stands on the corner where it opened in 1911 (happy 100th birthday!). We suggest arriving early at the bakery, because when they sell out of the focaccia – which they do almost every day – they close up shop. Our two favorite flavors are the pizza and the rosemary, but you just can’t go wrong here.
And if you want to check out the new kid on the block, go to Tony’s. There are now a plethora of awesome pizza destinations in the city; one of our favorites is Tony’s – either the Pizzeria Napoletana or the Slice House next door. World Pizza Cup winner Tony Gemignani offers multiple options – Sicilian style, Napoletana thin crust, by the meter…and it is all very, very, very good. If you eat in the resto, check out the wood fired oven from Naples – it’s the World Cup oven Tony brought back from Naples.
The food gets most of the glory in this neighborhood, but the shopping is pretty great too. Like most San Francisco ‘hoods, you’ll find unique shops offering merchandise you can’t find anywhere else.
Al’s Attire. This is more than a shop, think of it as your personal designer. Al’s Attire specializes in custom suits, coats, hats, shoes, dresses…basically anything that can be sewn. The fabric selection is dazzling. The space is so cool. The people are super friendly. There are beautiful ready-made items available as well. How beautiful? We’ve seen grown men cry.
Indie Industries. This small but well-stocked shop is owned by the designers who produce most of the items in the store. The designer collective includes the founding members – FIT grads from NY – and Bay Area designers, who design and make both men’s and women’s clothing. This is a great place to pick up something unique and reasonably-priced for yourself and for those back home.
Aria. You will find eccentric, eclectic, odd and beautiful vintage items from around the world at Aria. Very Tim Burton-ish meets your high school science classroom meets the best flea market booth you’ve ever seen.
Well it’s five o’clock somewhere. Let’s cocktail!
Don Pistos. Mexican in North Beach, okaaaaay. It’s out of character for the ‘hood, but manages to fit right in. We like to take a break here with a Michelada – a bloody mary type beverage that’s made with beer instead of vodka. It’s a nice change of pace in North Beach, and one of the best Micheladas we’ve ever had.
Comstock Saloon. If Ivory-Merchant were to do a period piece on the San Francisco of yore, they would be inspired by Comstock Saloon. This spot has served as a watering hole for San Franciscans since 1907, and the beautiful restoration puts the patrons right back in that era. The cocktails are very 2011 however. The Southside is our fave Comstock cocktail at the moment, with the Manhattan coming in a close second.
Tosca. Everything you want your North Beach bar to be: opera and Frank on the juke box (vinyl naturally), red leatherette booths, a long curving bar. The whole place has a sepia-toned feel to it. The best thing to complement the atmo is the “house coffee”. You may never take your coffee black again.
What is your favorite neighborhood in San Francisco? What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco?