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The North Beach district in San Francisco is home to some of the oldest Italian restaurants in the country and the best pizza places in the States. Check out this list of the top 7 restaurants you need to try!

After running 100% local San Francisco tours and bike rentals in North Beach for over a decade, we’ve taste-tested quite a few of these neighborhood restaurants. And we found some favorite North Beach Italian Restaurants along the way!

We love Italian restaurants in North Beach so much that we have created the top list of restaurants!

But before you do, be sure to burn some calories or work up an appetite on one of our top-rated electric bike tours.

Our tours are not only fun but also allow you to get a great sense of the city so you are ready to find a restaurant that piques your interest.

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North Beach History

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, North Beach was a part of the notoriously seedy Barbary Coast. Abandoned ships from the Gold Rush were turned into saloons, brothels and pubs. It was a floating city of sin and debauchery.

Also known as Little Italy, these days the neighborhood is now home to some of the best cuisine in San Francisco. Here you’ll find fresh oysters, famous seafood restaurants, and a seemingly endless variety of Italian restaurants on Columbus Avenue.

The choices can be overwhelming. So, as long-time locals of Little Italy, we’ve put together a list of what we consider to be the best North Beach Italian Restaurants in San Francisco!

san francisco guide


#1 – 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

Dylan of Dylan’s Tours, is good friends with North Beach native Richie of Sotto Mare. It’s the best North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco for cioppino!

Details:

  • Since 2003
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: “The Best Damn Crab Cioppino!” Sotto Mare is famous for it!

If you like seafood, you’re in luck! You’ll find plenty of seafood restaurants in San Francisco since the city is practically an island after all.

However, finding true San Francisco cioppino restaurants can be tricky. If this is what you’re looking for, we recommend Sotto Mare Oysteria and Seafood in the heart of North Beach Italian restaurant scene. You won’t find better cioppino anywhere in San Francisco! Sotto Mare also has arguably the best oysters in the city.

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

What is cioppino?

 

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cioppino, a san francisco treat. ? currently on that seafood diet. x x #sfeats #alwayssf #sanfrancisco

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Never heard of cioppino? Cioppino is the true San Francisco treat (sorry Rice-a-Roni). It 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, fishermen, and oystercatchers all moored together in the evening and “chipped in” some of their daily catch. The result was a unique type of seafood soup.

What makes the cioppino at Sotto Mare San Francisco so unique? This family-owned North Beach Italian restaurant is run by a husband and wife duo. And the recipe for this savory soup comes straight from Richie, the owner’s, own grandmother.

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

 

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truly the “best damn crab cioppino”

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

We consider this to be the absolute best cioppino in San Francisco. You’ll find a mix of Dungeness Crab, calamari, shrimp, oysters, and muscles. It’s all mixed together 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 Bakery, attempted to partner with Sotto Mare to be their bread provider. Richie would only agree if Boudin could make an exact replica of his Nona’s Italian bread.

So, if you’ve ever had Italian bread from Boudin’s Bakery, you’ve already had a little taste from this North Beach Italian restaurant. 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. You’ll all enjoy some of the best oysters in San Francisco and “The Best Damn Crab Cioppino!”.

Sotto Mare has become a popular way to end our private E-tuk tour of San Francisco. There’s really no better way to end a San Francisco adventure than with one of the best Italian seafood restaurants in the city!


#2 – 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.

Details:

  • Since 1935
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: Pizza, with pepperonis imported from Italy and 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 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.

Beautifully painted murals from 1935 decorate the walls of this stalwart North Beach Italian restaurant. The paintings depict stunning 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.


Why did the restaurant change its name?

In the early 70s, the restaurant was handed over to the longtime cook who had been with Lupo’s since the beginning. The Cantalupo family gave their cook the restaurant. But, they didn’t want him to use the name.

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

Shortly after this name change, the business switched hands one last time. This time, it was bought by the Crotti family.

The Crotti’s, a brother and sister duo, were recent transplants from Italy. They kept the name and the menu while making little changes throughout 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 guest appearances at this iconic North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco well.


#3 – 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.

Details:

  • Since 2009
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: Margherita pizza. It 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 made notable winnings at the World Pizza Cup and at the World Championship of Pizza Makers (yes, those are both real things). He was the first American to win these pizza awards in Italy. Since then, he has helped Tony’s Pizza earn a reputation as the best pizzeria in San Francisco.

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

Despite the misleading name, Tony’s has a diverse Italian menu complete with a full-service bar. Often times, you can find Tony Gemignani himself baking pizzas in the kitchen. And yes, he’ll be baking your pizza with the same Cirigliano Wood Burning Oven that helped him win all those pizza competitions.


#4 – Slice House

pizza in San Francisco

Slice House is great for a casual dining experience!

Details:

  • Since 2009
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: Purple Potato Pizza with pesto, feta, bacon, mozzarella, and rosemary

Looking for something a little more casual than these premium 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.


#5 – Italian Homemade Company

Details:

  • Since 2014
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: Fresh tortellini with prosciutto, mortadella, pork and parmigiana

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 this restaurant. Now, it is a beloved local chain of Italian restaurants in San Francisco.

As you might have guessed from the name, the specialty here is homemade pasta and sauces.

Italian Homemade Co. offers a new casual take on traditional dining in Little Italy. You can mix and match your choice of homemade pasta and homemade sauces for a personalized dining experience.

Take advantage of their dry goods section to pick up a truly unique, and tasty, San Francisco souvenir. Then when you get back home, attempt to recreate some recipes from this local favorite restaurant!


#6 – Fior d’Italia

North Beach Italian restaurant in San Francisco

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

Details:

  • Since 1886
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: Petto di Pollo alla Valdostana (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. It 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. One of the times Fior d’Italia burnt down was during the Great Fires & Earthquake of 1906 that destroyed much of San Francisco.

After the earthquake, the restaurant reopened the very next day from a tent to feed the hungry refugees of San Francisco. Fior d’Italia continued dishing out Italian food from their makeshift tent-restaurant for a year before finding a new location in North Beach.

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

Fortunately, Fior d’Italia reemerged in 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. Nothing compares to enjoying fine cuisine at the oldest Italian restaurant in San Francisco.


#7 – 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.

Details:

  • Since 1937
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: House-made 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. But that didn’t stop it from becoming a much-loved local’s choice for Italian food in San Francisco.

The restaurant had an innovative interior layout and style. Known as “Joe’s Concept”, it was characterized by leather booths, big portions, and friendly waiters in tuxedos. The name of “Joe’s Concept” was never copyrighted. So, as a result, many similar restaurants have opened across America over the years.

San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood began to change as public rehabilitation centers and health facilities closed throughout California in the 70s. Due to this, the homeless population increased 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.

After the fire, the children and grandchildren of the Original Joe’s owner sifted through the rubble for any trace of surviving remnants of the now-destroyed restaurant.

New Location

It took five years, but in 2012 Original Joe’s re-emerged. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, they rebuilt 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 the rubble of the original location make for a unique dining experience.

san francisco guide


#8 – Tosca Cafe

Details:

  • Since 1919
  • TripAdvisor Restaurants in San Francisco: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • What to try: 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. At the same time, they debuted their famous San Francisco cocktail. It was called the “House Cappuccino”, and it did not have any espresso in it.

Even after the prohibition was lifted, Tosca remained a prominent player in the thriving scene of restaurants on Columbus Avenue.

Fans of Tosca included a wide array of celebrities. Here you could find 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 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 portrayed Harvey Milk in the award-winning biopic about San Francisco’s first openly gay politician. When he heard about Tosca’s trouble, he “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!


Before you hit one of these restaurants for dinner, be sure to explore the city with our electric bike tours! A great way to build up an appetite!

Explore San Francisco like a VIP!


Still not sure where to eat in San Francisco? Check out these articles!

10 best places to eat around Washington Square Park!

10 Surprisingly Kid Friendly Restaurants in San Francisco

5 drinks created in San Francisco (and where to drink them).

5 of the best breweries in San Francisco | First Edition


[Cover photo by Richard Burger via Flickr]