The Hot List

The Buzziest Italian Restaurants in San Francisco

Red sauce and beyond

14 min read
10/27/2022
italian homemade

If San Francisco doesn’t immediately come to mind when you’re thinking of noteworthy Italian restaurants, maybe it’s time to take a second look. Now is the time to eat all things Italian in this diverse culinary landscape, where the pies are hot and chewy, the pastas are homemade, and the cioppinos are fresh from the sea. We’ve rounded up our favorite Italian spots, both classics and newcomers, that are creating a buzz in San Francisco. These gems are all on Caviar, so you can get the goods delivered directly to your house, whenever you’re craving it.

A16

The Marina District’s nearly 20-year-old A16 is a pizzeria-cum–Italian restaurant with serious chops that now has several outposts. Maybe it’s the Vesuvio — a charred pizza adorned with tomato, spicy soppressata, smoked mozzarella, pecorino, chile, and garlic — that keeps this spot at the top of the list. Maybe it’s the chewy, tender Bianca, topped with fior di latte, ramps, Castelvestrano olives, Grana Padano, and chile. Whatever it is, A16 remains beloved after all these years. 

A16


The Italian Homemade Company

In 2014, husband-and-wife team Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, European expatriates, opened this North Beach spot, which quickly became known as one of San Francisco’s most of-the-moment Italian restaurants. The heat remains, with a host of homemade pastas helping to cement this spot as extremely notable. Order the fettuccine with a variety of sauce options, from Bolognese to pesto. Or dive into a plate of incredible housemade gnocchi, served with your choice of sauce. (Pro tip: Order the butter and sage.)

italian homemade


Barzotto

Marko Sotto’s casual ode to pasta, Barzotto, opened in the Mission in 2016, and locals quickly caught on to this cool, vibey spot. It’s impossible not to fall — and fall hard — for the restaurant’s ever-changing menu of fresh pastas and more. Recent delights have included campanelle with corn, Taleggio crema, and habanero; lumache (a shell-shaped pasta) with spiced winter squash and Grana Padano; and, naturally, spaghetti and meatballs, made with crushed tomatoes, Red Cow Parmigiano, and meatballs containing short rib, pork shoulder, and guanciale.

Roma Antica

Roma Antica, a restaurant dedicated to traditional Roman fare, opened in the Marina in 2017. The reception was gracious from the start, and, years later, no one can stop talking about Roma’s near-perfect Italian eats. The carbonara, in a yolk-based sauce that is enriched with smoked guanciale, uses mezze maniche rather than the traditional spaghetti for an extra-toothsome pasta dish that is simply unforgettable. A host of Roman-style pinsas, or pizzas, are long, thin, and expertly charred. (Order the Salsiccia, with mushrooms, Italian sausage, onion, and tomato.) For something sweet at the end, the restaurant’s cheesecake del giorno changes — this is obvious if you know Italian — daily.

roma


Che Fico Alimentari 

A spinoff of Che Fico, one of the city’s most beloved Italian restaurants, Che Fico Alimentari arrived in the city’s North Panhandle neighborhood in 2019. This chic, approachable spot immediately drew crowds, and people continue to line up for the delicious food. Pizzas are a must-order, from the basic Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, basil) to the more flavorful Salsiccia (San Marzano tomatoes, sausage, caciocavallo, fennel, chili). Meat lovers should also consider the two-pound Mary’s organic chicken, which comes roasted alongside squash, ​​calçot onions, and a candy-sweet Sungold tomato relish. 

Flour + Water Pasta Shop

The Mission welcomed this outpost of the Flour + Water brand in 2020 (Flour + Water, which opened in 2009, has long been one of the city’s most popular Italian restaurants). This spot serves casual fare, from sandwiches to chopped salads to homemade pasta kits. Do not pass up the eggplant Parm sandwich, with its golden-fried planks of eggplant, marinara sauce, gooey burrata, kale, and a pesto made from pepitas and basil. Complement it with any one of the restaurant’s pasta kits, like the lemon-yellow pappardelle, which can be cooked at home in boiling water for a few minutes and — voilà! — dinner for you and a guest is served.

flour + water


Little Star Pizza

Little Star opened in 2004 and has since expanded throughout the Bay Area, but this pizzeria, which serves up both Chicago- and Detroit-style pies, remains a top choice for those in the know. The titular pizza comes with spinach that has been blended with ricotta and feta, along with mushrooms, onions, and either fresh or roasted garlic. You can also build your own deep-dish pie or, if you’re feeling subversive, your own thin-crust version. 

little star pizza


Beretta

When it opened in the Mission in 2008, Beretta was the go-to restaurant for industry insiders. Over a decade later, this Italian spot still has the same caché. The cool kids know that this spot is where you’ll find some of San Fran’s best pizzas, salads (like the Chopped Little Gems, with cannellini beans, fresh mozzarella, mortadella, croutons, hard-boiled egg, fennel, and olives, doused in a red wine vinaigrette), and tiramisu.

beretta


Gold Mirror

Just because Gold Mirror opened in 1929 (the restaurant officially became an Italian outpost in the 1960s) doesn’t mean it isn’t buzzy. In fact, dining at this glorious, old-school Italian restaurant is still one of the most talked-about experiences in the Bay Area. Expect robust classics here, like the cannelloni stuffed with veal, hand-dipped ricotta, and Parmigiano and baked in a red-and-white sauce. If you’re having trouble choosing between the Marsala-inflected veal scaloppine and the lemony chicken piccata, there’s no harm in ordering both.

Pizzeria Delfina

In 1998, craft pizza arrived on the scene in San Francisco à la Annie and Craig Stoll’s Pizzeria Delfina. More than two decades (and several additional outposts) later, you’re likely to encounter a line on any given day, and that’s because the pies, cooked in a 650°F oven, remain legendary. Start with the Margherita, which comes topped with fior di latte, tomato, and basil. The 4 Formaggi pie marries tomato, mozzarella, Fontal, provolone, and pecorino. For dessert, head straight for the buttermilk panna cotta, which comes garnished with cracked black pepper and a seven-year-aged balsamic vinegar.

Square Pie Guys

The original Square Pie Guys opened in 2019 in SoMa, and the restaurant has been busy enough to encourage its owners, Danny Stoller and Marc Schechter, to open two additional locations in the years since. The restaurant is known for its Detroit-style pizza: square pies cooked in a metal pan with toppings that extend all the way to the edge of the crust. The Ellen Supreme, with its vodka sauce, pepperoni, Italian sausage, caramelized onions, pickled peppers, and mushrooms, is always a good idea. Try the sweet monkey bread too: pizza dough bathed in brown sugar and butter and then in such seasonal toppings as diced apples and pumpkin spice caramel. 

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Thirteen-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach in 2009, and the restaurant remains one of the city’s hottest pizza joints, even all these years later. Twelve- and 20-inch hand-tossed pies are baked in a wood-fired oven. For a pie that’s an unexpected standout, try the Cal Italia, which comes topped with Asiago, mozzarella, Italian Gorgonzola, sweet fig preserves, prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano, and a balsamic reduction. But the menu offers myriad pizza permutations, in both Italian- and American-style pies.

Pink Onion

Matthew Coric and Nallely Quintero Udave opened Pink Onion in the Mission in 2017, and it remains a playful, zeitgeisty restaurant that amuses and surprises. There are 24 pizzas on the menu, for those who need variety. Boredom is hardly an option here, but one of the more exciting pies is the Patataccia, with an olive oil base, mozzarella, potatoes, scallions, garlic, Calabrian chiles, and ricotta. Pastas are also top-notch (and largely homemade), so go for the truffle tagliatelle, with fresh summer black truffle, black pepper, Parmesan, and cream.

Fiorella 

This Richmond District gem opened in 2016 and remains one of San Francisco’s top Italian restaurants; its popularity has been such that two additional locations have followed. Pastas, pizzas, and snacky sides are all de rigueur here. For pizza, try the Spicy Salami Pie, with punchy Calabrese salami, provolone piccante, dry chiles, and pecorino. Add to that a plate of the superlative chitarra alla cacio e pepe — a good creamy counterpoint to that spicy pizza — and dinner is served.

A Mano 

Hayes Valley’s A Mano, a destination for pasta lovers, opened in 2017, the brainchild of restaurateur Adriano Paganini and chef Freedom Rains. The restaurant gained immediate footing and, even five years later, has a reputation for its new interpretations of fresh, handmade pastas. Campanelle comes in a glossy pesto made with Genovese basil, green beans, potatoes, and pine nuts, while the rigatoni’s seasonal pomodoro sauce boasts Early Girl and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. Charred and chewy pizzas are also exemplary. Try the Funghi, which comes with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, mustard greens, and scamorza cheese.

Spiazzo Ristorante 

Spiazzo Ristorante, in the West Portal neighborhood, is hardly a new addition to the Bay Area restaurant scene; it opened in the late 1980s. And yet this rustic-style spot, which produces some of the most compelling dishes in the city, feels like it just opened yesterday. Twelve- and 16-inch pizzas are thin-crusted and perfect, and a seemingly endless roster of pastas and entrées — like the superlative Rigatoni Cinghiale, pasta in a wild boar ragù flavored with rosemary, sage, and thyme — rounds out this quality restaurant’s menu.

spiazzo


Molinari Delicatessen 

Opened in 1896 in Russian Hill, Molinari is the oldest deli west of the Rockies. Nicholas Mastrelli, the fourth-generation owner of this San Francisco institution, has brought the deli — and the attendant buzz — into the 21st century. The deli serves hot sandwiches, like the ever-impressive meatball sandwich and grilled eggplant sandwich. (Both come smothered in marinara and fresh mozzarella.) Or dive into cured meats, with delights like the Renzo Special: prosciutto, coppa, fresh mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Zero Zero

Open since 2010 in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, Zero Zero is chef-owner Bruce Hill’s ode to pizza. This iconic restaurant is still just as hot as it was a decade ago, and for good reason. The Stoner Garlic Bread is heady with fresh garlic, Calabrian chiles, basil, and three types of cheese. The Castro pie comes topped with tomato sauce, housemade sausage, Hobbs’ pepperoni, basil, mozzarella, and Grana Padano, but don’t even think about ending the meal without a serving of the Double 8 fior di latte soft serve, made from extraordinarily luscious Double 8 Dairy water buffalo milk.

zerozero


Rose’s Café

Reed Hearon opened this partial self-service café in Cow Hollow in 1997, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular spot in the neighborhood. Enjoy pizza any time of day at Rose’s — the breakfast pie, topped with ham, eggs, and fontina, is a particularly good bet. Linguine with Manila clams, fennel, onions, chiles, white wine, and a touch of cream is a favorite. And the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream is the sweetest way to end a meal at this ever-popular establishment.

rose's cafe


Trattoria Contadina

Russian Hill’s Trattoria Contadina opened in 1984, but the restaurant, which remains a family enterprise, has seen new blood over the course of the past decade. Third-generation owner Kevin Correnti took over the restaurant in 2012, inviting in a torrent of new guests — and a whole new buzz — that continues today. This is classic Italian-American food, with few culinary pyrotechnics. Thick-crusted calzones come stuffed with meats of all kinds: pepperoni, sausage, meatball, ham, and Canadian bacon. And an affordable create-your-own-pasta offering is one of the city’s great deals. For less than $10, you can select your pasta shape, sauce, and additional protein or veg. It all comes with a side of fresh focaccia.

Little Original Joe’s

Although Little Original Joe’s is hardly new (the first space opened in 1937), this Italian restaurant specializing in Italian classics is current enough that, in 2020, 83 years after they opened their doors, the restaurant opened a fourth outpost, in West Portal. Start with an order of garlic Parmesan knots, which come with a choice of marinara or ranch dipping sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs is a homemade classic, bathed in a rich meat sauce. But don’t neglect the restaurant’s Parm section: chicken, eggplant, and even polenta Parm, which sandwiches layers of fried polenta between mozzarella and tomato sauce.

Yellow Moto Pizzeria

The Mission welcomed this exciting new pizzeria from Oleg Sheyner this year, and diners have been enthusiastic about the pies. The stellar burrata pizza comes topped with tomato sauce, fresh burrata, basil, Calabrian chiles, and lemon oil — it is a definite standout. So is the clam pie, a surf clam–topped pizza amplified by fennel, capers, oregano, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Sophisticated wine selections — another reason this place is abuzz — are a reflection of Enrique Sanchez and Donny Henderson’s work. Pair your meal with a bottle of the 2019 Villa Di Corlo ‘Rolfshark’ Organic Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna if you know what’s good.

yellow moto


Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack

Although this perennially popular restaurant opened in 2001, the larger Bernal Heights space is much newer; the restaurant relocated back in 2014. Regardless of Emmy’s pedigree, though, owner Emily Kaplan’s petite Italian restaurant offers handwritten menus and a dedication to authentic food  that draws an in-the-know crowd. For those unafraid of spice, the Prawn Habanero Risotto, served in a creamy, lemony sauce, is a showstopper. Regulars also love the Rasta Pasta, a veggie-rich pasta dish of zucchini, bell peppers, and chicken, served in a tomato-cream sauce.

Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood

San Franciscans know that North Beach’s Sotto Mare serves some of the best seafood-centric Italian in the city. Open since 2007, the restaurant has a reputation for preparing the best cioppino in the Bay Area — and you should definitely order this seafood stew, which, at Sotto Mare, comes rich with crab, mussels, clams, and shrimp, all aloft in a spicy tomato broth. It’s the true San Francisco treat. There are other crab delights too, like the crab diavolo over linguine, the cold-cracked Dungeness crab, and the Crab Louis salad. Or leave your fate to the kitchen with the impeccable seafood risotto, a chef’s choice.


Author

Hannah Selinger

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