Best North Beach Italian Restaurants in San Francisco

Posted on October 31, 2018 |

North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco are home to some of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country and the best pizza places in the States. These are the 7 you need to try.

After running 100% local San Francisco bike rentals in North Beach for over a decade, we’ve taste tested quite a few of these restaurants in the neighborhood. And we developed a few favorites along the way.


Few neighborhoods in San Francisco have changed since the Gold Rush as much as North Beach has.

For one, there isn’t even a beach anymore!

The original waterfront of San Francisco would have surrounded a large part of North Beach in 1849. In fact, this is where the most northern beach in San Francisco was. Creative name, right?

During the Gold Rush, Little Italy was a part of the notoriously seedy Barbary Coast. Abandoned ships from the Gold Rush were turned into saloons, brothels and pubs. A floating city of sin and debauchery.

These days, San Francisco’s Little Italy is now home to some of the best oysters in San Francisco, famous seafood restaurants and a seemingly endless choice of North Beach Italian restaurants on Columbus Ave San Francisco.

The choices can be overwhelming. So, as long time locals of Little Italy, we are featuring who we consider to be the best North Beach Italian Restaurants in San Francisco.


Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood

From one San Francisco native to another, we know Sotto Mare is the best North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco

San Francisco native, Dylan of Dylan’s Tours, knows North Beach native Richie’s Sotto Mare is the best North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco for cioppino!

Since 2003
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants: You have to try “The Best Damn Crab Cioppino!”

You’ll find plenty of seafood restaurants in San Francisco. The city is practically an island after all.

Finding true San Francisco cioppino restaurants can be trickier to find. You won’t find better cioppino in San Francisco (and arguably the best oysters in San Francisco) than Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood in the heart of North Beach Italian restaurant scene.

Sotto Mare is Italian for “under the sea” and they only serve seafood, so you know it must be good!

What is cioppino?

Never heard of cioppino? Cioppino is the true San Francisco treat (sorry Rice-a-Roni) that was created during the Gold Rush Era.

Cioppino originated on the boats of Italian fishermen who would stay out in open water until they had a full catch to bring home. For safety and comradery, these Italian crabbers, fisherman and oyster catchers all moored together in the evening and “chipped in” some of their daily catch to make a type of seafood soup.

Sotto Mare San Francisco serves up a cioppino unlike any other because the recipe comes straight from Richie’s own grandmother. Richie makes up one half of the husband and wife duo who runs this iconic North Beach Italian restaurant.

When Rich asked his Nona for the recipe, he was surprised to learn she didn’t actually have one because Nona had always made her cioppino from memory. After experimenting in the kitchen with his Nona, the cioppino at Sotto Mare was perfected.

So, what earns Sotto Mare the reputation of having the best damn crab cioppino in San Francisco?

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truly the “best damn crab cioppino”

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We consider this to be the best cioppino in San Francisco because you’ll find a mix of Dungeness Crab, calamari, shrimp, oysters, muscles in a red sauce served on a bed of penne pasta.

Even the bread at Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood is connected to Richie’s Nona! Famed sourdough bread creator, Boudin’s Bakery, attempted to partner with Sotto Mare to be their bread provider. Richie only agreed if they could make an exact replica of his Nona’s Italian bread.

So, if you’ve ever had Italian bread from Boudin’s Bakery — then you’ve already had a little taste from the North Beach Italian restaurant Sotto Mare. Now it’s time to try this cioppino restaurant in San Francisco!

You’ll only be able to make a Sotto Mare reservation if you have a group of 4 or more. So, if you want to skip the line at Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood bring a few friends with you for some of the best oysters in San Francisco and “The Best Damn Crab Cioppino!”.

Sotto Mare has become a popular way to end our electric tuk tuk private tour of San Francisco, because there’s really no better way to end a private San Francisco tour than with one of the best Italian seafood restaurants in SF!


Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano

Pizza baked in the West Coast's oldest brick oven at this North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco.

Tommaso’s introduced the wood fired pizza oven to the West Coast in 1935.

Since 1935
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco: Pizza with pepperonis imported from Italy cooked in the first brick oven on the West Coast.

Tommaso’s first earned a faithful following as one of the best Italian restaurants in Little Italy San Francisco after they introduced the brick oven to the West Coast in 1935.

Back then, this North Beach Italian restaurant was known as Lupo’s. The original owners, the Cantalupo family, immigrated from Naples and brought their wood fired brick oven with them.

Beautiful painted murals from 1935 decorate the walls of this stalwart North Beach Italian restaurant depicting views from the Amalfi Coast. Rumor has it, the Cantalupo’s paid the artist in spaghetti and meatballs!

The best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco are family run like Tommaso's.

Rumor has it, the original artist who painted the oil murals of Tommaso’s was paid in spaghetti in meatballs.

In the early 70s, Lupo’s was handed over to their longtime cook who had been with Lupo’s since the beginning. The Cantalupo family gave their cook the restaurant — but not the name.

Running an authentic Italian restaurant with a very non-Italian name concerned new owner and longtime chef, Tommy Chin. So Tommy Italian-ized his name and dubbed this beloved North Beach Italian restaurant to Tommaso’s.

Shortly after this stalwart of the North Beach Italian restaurant scene changed their name, the business changed hands one last time. This time, into the hands of recent transplants from Italy — the Crotti family.

The Crotti’s, helmed by brother (Agostino) and sister (Carmen), kept the name and the menu. Making little changes through the years.

Along with some of the best pizza in San Francisco, Tommaso’s offers up some tasty North Beach Italian seafood options.

Regulars include Agostino’s good friend Francis Ford Coppola, along with Coppola’s daughter Sophia and his nephew Nicolas Cage. Former San Francisco mayors and California governors make regular guest appearances at this iconic North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco well.


Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

One of America's best pizza places is a North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco.

Taste the same pizza that won the 2007 Winner Pizza Cup in Naples at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

Since 2009
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco: Try the Margherita pizza that took home the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples!

San Francisco pizza might not be as internationally recognized as New York pizza, but if there’s anyone trying to change that it would be Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.

Tony Gemignani has won big at the World Pizza Cup (yes, that’s a real thing). And at the World Championship of Pizza Makers (yes, also a real thing), Tony took home a big W, becoming the first American to win these pizza awards in Italy. He has helped Tony’s Pizza earn a reputation as the best pizza in San Francisco.

Tony’s isn’t just known as one of the best pizza places in SF, it’s also TripAdvisor’s #5 pizza place in the United States!

Despite the misleading name, Tony’s is actually a full service North Beach Italian restaurant, complete with a full service bar. Often times, you can find Tony Gemignani baking pizzas himself at the same Cirigliano Wood Burning Pizza Oven that helped him win all those pizza competitions.

If you’re looking for something a little more casual than one of the best Italian restaurants in Little Italy San Francisco — just head next door to Slice House (also by Tony Gemignani)! Ed Hardy fans might enjoy seeing his son’s work (Doug Hard) behind the logo and signage at Slice House.


Italian Homemade Company

Since 2014
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco: Try their fresh tortelinni with prosciutto, mortadella, pork and parmigiano!

The Italian Homemade Company is a recent addition to North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco, but that’s no reason to overlook this new kid on the block!

The husband (Mattia) and wife (Alice) duo behind Italian Homemade moved to San Francisco just a year before opening what is now a beloved local chain of Italian restaurants in San Francisco.

As you might have guessed from the name, the speciality here is homemade pastas and sauces.

Italian Homemade Co. offers a new casual take on traditional Italian restaurants in Little Italy San Francisco. Mix and matching your choice of homemade pasta and homemade sauces offers a personalized dining experience.

Take advantage of the their dry goods section to pick up a truly unique San Francisco souvenir. Or, if you’re culinarily adventurous, attempt to recreate some recipes from this local’s favorite North Beach Italian restaurant!


Fior d’Italia

This North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco is the America's oldest Italian spot

America’s oldest Italian restaurant sits in the heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy in the equally historic San Reemo Hotel.

Since 1886
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco: Try the Petto di Pollo alla Valdostana for chicken breast sauteed with prosciutto and fontina cheese!

Fior d’Italia has been considered the preeminent North Beach Italian restaurant since they first started dishing out food in May of 1886.

Fior d’Italia is more than the oldest Italian restaurant in San Francisco — Fior d’Italia is the oldest Italian restaurant in America!

Over the past 132 years, this iconic North Beach Italian restaurant has had seven different locations and burnt down three times in 120 years. One of the times Fior d’Italia burnt down was during the Great Fires & Earthquake of 1906 that destroyed ¾ of the San Francisco.

In 1906 Fior d’Italia was considered by many the best Italian restaurant in Little Italy San Francisco because they were reopened the very next day from a tent to feed the hungry refugees of San Francisco. Fior d’Italia continued dishing out Italian food in their makeshift tent-restaurant for a year before finding a new restaurant location in North Beach.

Fior d’Italia’s longest stint at a location was on the corner of Washington Square Park for over 50 years until a fire destroyed most of the restaurant in 2005. San Franciscans thought their most cherished North Beach Italian restaurant had been lost to the flames.

Fortunately, Fior d’Italia reemerged in the first hotel built after the Great Earthquake of 1906 — the historic San Remo Hotel.

You can now enjoy some of the best oysters in San Francisco, and a large selection of Italian seafood appetizers and entrees, at the oldest Italian restaurant in San Francisco with Fior d’Italia.

And the best part of Fior d’Italia current location? The San Remo Hotel is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the other Italian restaurants on Columbus Ave San Francisco.


Original Joe’s

This North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco is a third generation family business.

Original Joe’s is decorated with relics pulled from the fire of their original location.

Since 1937
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco: Try their housemade Baked Lasagna!

Original Joe’s first opened in the once working class neighborhood of The Tenderloin in 1937. This first location only had room for 14 stools at the counter, and became a much loved local’s choice for Italian food in San Francisco.

This was the first restaurant with what is considered the “Joe’s Concept” of leather booths, big portions and friendly waiters in tuxedos. The original restaurateurs never copyrighted Joe’s Concept name. As a result, you’ll find many Original Joe’s have opened across America through the years.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood began to change as public state-funded drug rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities closed throughout California in the 70s. That’s when the homeless population increased throughout California — particularly in the Tenderloin.

Despite the changes in the Tenderloin, Original Joe’s maintained its reputation at one of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco.

That is, until this famed San Francisco Italian restaurant caught fire and burned to the ground in 2007.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Great Fires & Earthquake of 1906, the children and grandchildren of the Original Joe’s owner sifted through the rubble of the fire for any trace of surviving remnants from the now destroyed restaurant.

It took five years, but in 2012 Original Joe’s re-emerged, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, in the former Fior d’Italia location. Which, ironically, also had caught fire and closed in 2005.

Now, located on the corner of Washington Square Park in Little Italy, Original Joe’s is one of a handful of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in San Francisco.

Big windows facing the park are perfect for people watching in the heart of Little Italy. Walls decorated with signage pulled from rubble of the original location make for a unique Italian restaurant Little Italy San Francisco.


Tosca Cafe

Since 1919
TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cost: 💰💰💰💰
Dish that makes this one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants: Try the rigatoni with beef and pork ragu, topped with aged provolone cheese!

Tosca Cafe might not be the oldest North Beach Italian restaurant, but it is one of the most historic. Even if it technically started off as a speakeasy.

In 1918, the United States instituted a constitutional ban on making, transporting and ingesting alcoholic beverages.

A year later Tosca “Cafe” opened in San Francisco and introduced the espresso machine to the West Coast, debuting their famous cocktail created in San Francisco the “House Cappuccino”, which, spoiler alert, did not have any espresso in it.

Tosca remained a prominent player in the thriving scene of restaurants on Columbus Ave San Francisco.

Fans of Tosca included everyone from the Beatniks of the 50s, Hunter S. Thompson of “Fear and Loathing” fame, Bono from U2, world renowned ballet dancer Rudolph Nurevy, a slew of San Francisco mayors, Metallica, Kid Rock and, most notably, actor Sean Penn.

When rumors began to circulate that Tosca was over 100k in debt and ready to shut its doors for good, longtime regular Sean Penn stepped in.

Penn, who portrayed Harvey Milk in the award winning biopic about San Francisco’s first openly gay politician, “reached out to restaurateur Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield, the team behind New York’s The Spotted Pig, imploring them to save the place.”

As a result, what was once one of San Francisco’s best dive bars has become one of the best North Beach Italian restaurants in SF!


Still not sure where to eat in Little Italy San Francisco? Check out our post on the 10 best places to eat around Washington Square Park!

More interested in where to drink in San Francisco? We’ve got you covered with 5 drinks created in San Francisco (and where to drink them).


[Cover photo by Richard Burger via Flickr]

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