Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dining in North Beach

North Beach is the old Italian section of San Francisco. Although the community is diverse today, North Beach is still home to many Italian restaurants and cafes. Strolling along Grant and Columbus Avenues is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Lunching outside on a sunny day is a great San Francisco experience.

Many of my guests ask what are the best Italian restaurants in North Beach. I usually respond by saying that most of the restaurants in North Beach feature the traditional red sauce and pasta cuisine; that San Francisco's best Italian restaurants are not in North Beach. Of Zagat's top five rated Italian restaurants, none are in North Beach. None of the San Francisco Chronicle's top 20 rated Italian restaurants are in North Beach.

Nevertheless, visitors should spend some time in North Beach. For lunch, I usually take guests to Caffe Delucchi, at the corner of Columbus, Grant, and Green. Their paninis and salads are quite good. While I haven't had the pizzas and pastas, my guests have enjoyed them. Add some red wine and, if the sun is out, sit at one of the outside tables and watch the locals and tourists go by on Columbus Avenue.

Last weekend I dined at a relatively new restaurant in North Beach, Vicoletto. The staff was among the friendliest I've ever encountered. We were sold when we saw Burata on the appetizer menu. Both my wife and I are big fans of this very fresh, gooey cheese. We shared the cheese and a delicious eggplant and ground beef appetizer with friends. All of us enjoyed our main courses of pork rolled in parsley, braised short ribs, and pasta. Our tiramisu and pear tart were also quite yummy. The wine list includes many reasonably priced Italian wines. Our waiter, who previously sold wine, knew the list well. The only drawback, and this is a frequent complaint of mine, was the noise level. Vicoletto is at 550 Green Street. Reservations may be made by phoning 433-5800.

I also enjoy Trattoria Contadina, at the corner of Mason and Union Streets, for traditional red sauce and pasta fare. The restaurant is old school but what they do, they do well.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Albona, a restaurant on the border of North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf that features food from Istria. This peninsula was part of Italy prior to World War I and is now part of Croatia. While the food is heavily influenced by Italian cooking, it also has influences from Slovenia and Croatia. The cuisine is probably unlike any you have eaten, but is delicious. If you are an adventurous eater, I highly recommend Albona.

If you would like to take a private San Francisco tour that includes a visit to North Beach, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (415) 337-1874 (toll free) or by clicking here.

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