North Beach

North Beach


San Francisco,

North Beach

North Beach is that rare thing -- a neighborhood that manages to be a perennial hit with tourists, and also to remain beloved by San Franciscans. It's best known as San Francisco's Little Italy, with its high density of check-clothed ristorantes, caff├ęs and Old World delicatessens. It's also a popular pilgrimage for fans of the Beat movement seeking the old haunts of Kerouac and Ginsberg. However, North Beach is no relic, and it has much to offer beyond pasta and poetry.

This vital neighborhood is home to some of the liveliest nightclubs and bars in town. Small boutiques carrying handmade clothing and imported goods dot the streets, particularly on upper Grant Avenue. Though Italian restaurants appear to dominate the dining scene, there are plenty of other good spots to try once you've had your fill of lasagna, with menus featuring Japanese, French and contemporary fusion cuisine. City Lights, original publisher of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," is still one of the best bookstores in San Francisco, and founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti can sometimes be seen strolling the neighborhood. Then there's Broadway, buzzing with neon and strip clubs and adding an incongruous dash of sleaze to all the culture and history.

Part of the old Barbary Coast, North Beach is steeped in the past -- Grant Avenue itself is the oldest street in San Francisco. In the early days, North Point docks served as a gateway for immigrants from South America, Europe and the Australian penal colonies. It wasn't until the late 1800s that thousands of Italians made the area their stronghold and turned it into the local Latin Quarter. The Italian-American community can also be credited in part with protecting the neighborhood against the fire that swept the city after the 1906 earthquake. According to legend, some enterprising residents cracked open the barrels of red wine in their cellars and saved their houses by draping them with wine-soaked blankets. In more recent history, North Beach has produced some notable people, including baseball great Joe DiMaggio, who moved there at the age of one and grew up in a flat at Valparaiso and Taylor. Former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto was born in North Beach.

Whether prowling for historic landmarks, sampling house-roasted espressos, shopping, clubbing, or chowing down, you'll find North Beach has plenty to offer for both a leisurely afternoon visit and a night on the town. Take a detour off the main drag of Columbus and you're likely to run across some unexpected treasure of a shop, restaurant or spectacular view. A word to the wise: avoid driving if possible, or plan to use a parking garage, as street parking in the area is notoriously scarce. Instead, try taking one of the three major bus lines (#15, #30 and #45) or two Cable Car lines that pass through the neighborhood.

For a podcast tour of some of Chronicle restaurant columnist GraceAnn Walden's favorite family-owned businesses in North Beach, check out these links: Part One | Part Two | Part Three.

Sights and Culture

Washington Square Park: It's a relief to reach this tranquil expanse of green after navigating the crowded, narrow streets of the surrounding neighborhood. Stretch out on the grass or lounge on a bench to observe locals walking their dogs, groups practicing Tai Chi and tourists resting their tired feet. There's also a small playground at the Columbus end of the square. The park was set aside as a public square in 1850 and was home to a multitude of displaced people after the 1906 earthquake. Between Powell, Stockton, Union and Filbert Streets.

Sts. Peter and Paul Church: This towered neo-Gothic cathedral, consecrated in 1924, anchors Washington Square Park and with it forms the center of the neighborhood. The church originally served a parish of Italian fisherman, and a procession still departs for Fisherman's Wharf each October for the annual blessing of the fishing fleet. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were famously photographed here after their City Hall wedding. 666 Filbert Street.

Coit Tower & Pioneer Park: With its magnificent views of the City (especially at sunset), this curious structure has become a favorite San Francisco landmark. It was donated in 1929 by Lillie Hitchcock Coit (an eccentric volunteer firefighter who ran around North Beach in men's clothing) to beautify the skyline. Inside, a mural created as part of Roosevelt's Federal Art Project wraps around the ground floor's circular walls, depicting the effects of the Depression on the Bay Area. Muni bus #39 takes you up the formidable hill, or you can hike east up the steps on Greenwich.

Telegraph Hill neighborhood group shows pioneering spirit to rehabilitate park

Filbert Steps: Although Telegraph Hill was long ago a rough-and-tumble place that hosted weekly jousting contests, it is now primarily an enclave of privilege. However, a stroll down the Filbert steps gives you direct access to the views and lush gardens that make the location so desirable. Head down the stairs at Filbert and Montgomery Streets, not far from a dainty mural of a poodle, and wind your way through the leafy tunnel of cascading gardens. Keep an eye out for an incongruous flock of green parrots -- they're cherry-headed conures (native to South America), and they make their home on the eastern slope of the hill. Mark Bittner, who has been studying and feeding the feral birds for years, has made a book and a documentary about them.

St. Francis of Assisi Church: This historic church, established in 1849, no longer has an active parish, but now stands as a shrine to St. Francis of Assisi. The church is known for its Schoenstein pipe organ and the eleven large murals that grace its interior walls. Free Sunday concerts are offered each week, featuring chamber music, choral music and recitals. 610 Vallejo St. (415) 983-0405.

Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building: Home to Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope Studios since 1972, this copper-green flatiron building represents a literal slice of San Francisco history. Infamous political boss Abe Ruef has his headquarters here, and the building later housed a radiostation and recording studio where the Kingston Trio and the Grateful Dead each recorded. Today you'll find Cafe Niebaum-Coppola at street level, where you can get a bite to eat and pick up some wine from the Niebaum-Coppola winery in Napa. A small, deluxe Zoetrope screening room is also available for private parties. (Martin Sheen recorded the voice-overs for "Apocalypse Now" there.) 916 Columbus Ave.

Beat Museum: Kerouac and the life and times of his friends and associates are the centerpiece at this work-in-progress museum, which features a collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera from the days when poets, artists, writers and all the rest made the scene on upper Grant. Besides the exhibits, which are arranged kind of randomly, as if in a Beat pad, there are things for sale: books, some T-shirts, buttons proclaiming the wearer to be a Dharma bum. (-SF Chronicle) 1345 Grant Ave., (800) KER-OUAC. (Web site)

Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Museum: Small storefront space displays the body art memorabilia collected by legendary tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, who rose to fame in the '60s both for tattooing Janis Joplin and for sporting his own full-body tattoo. The museum features flash art (tattoo designs), tools of the trade, photographs, and historical tools such as a wood-block stencil from Borneo and a Mayan tattoo-maker. A studio is conveniently located adjacent to the museum for anyone who gets inspired by the images displayed on the walls. 841 Columbus Ave., (415) 775-4991.

North Beach Museum: Free-of-charge museum consists of several rooms of pictures and artifacts that tell the story of this neighborhood's culture and history. Learn about native sons such as Joe DiMaggio, writers including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the arrival of immigrant Italians around the time of the Civil War. There's a reason this museum isn't more widely known: it's easy to overlook, tucked away on the second floor of the Eureka Bank building. It also has bank hours -- 9-4 Mon-Thu; 9-6 Fri; closed weekends. 1435 Stockton, (415) 391-6210.

Hotel Boheme: Established in the 1880s and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, this hotel has been recently renovated in the style of the late-fifties Beat era. 444 Columbus Ave., (415) 433-9111. (Web site)

Events and Festivals

Art in the Alley: A biannual outdoor art event in Kerouac Alley between City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio. More than two dozen emerging and established artists showcase their work, including painting, photo collage and photography, printmaking, mixed media, art books and jewelry. A live Brazilian ensemble will keep attendees and artists entertained throughout the afternoon. Art in the Alley takes place in the fall and spring, usually the first Sunday of May and October. Current dates, as well as photos from some past events, can be found on the Vesuvio Web site: www.vesuvio.com.

Beach Blanket Babylon: This musical revue has been running so long they named a street after it. Take a cocktail to your seat and surrender yourself to the pop culture references, jokes about current events and the preposterous hats sported by the actors. (The grandest of all depicts the San Francisco skyline itself, and brings the house down every time.) This is all presented in the improbable context of a modern-day Snow White story. Club Fugazi, 678 Green St., (415) 421-4222.

North Beach Festival: Celebrates the Italian heritage and Beat history of North Beach, with live music, poetry readings, dancing and arte di gesso, or street chalk art. The festival also offers arts and crafts booths and food al fresco. Free. Information: (415) 989-2220.

Oyster and Beer Festival: "The cuisine in Ireland has taken more than its share of knocks over the years," remarks The Chronicle's James Sullivan, "but you can't beat one of the country's culinary specialties: a pint of Guinness and a fresh batch of oysters." Past musicians at the festival have included Ireland's acclaimed Sligo's Dervish and Waterford's Danu, as well as the Irish-American group the Young Dubliners. Usually in March, in Washington Square Park, North Beach, San Francisco. Admission is free. (415) 989-6222.
Shopping

Shopping

A. Cavalli & Co.: An Italian goods store that has been in business since 1880. Shop for Italian newspapers, magazines and books, as well as such essential supplies as pasta makers and espresso machines. Proprietor John Valentini is happy to chat with those who wish to practice their ciaos and va benes. 1441 Stockton St., (415) 421-4219.

AB Fits: Eclectic clothing store specializes in European and Asian designer jeans. Once the owner knows you're in the market, he won't rest until he's found the perfect transfiguring pair, seemingly made to fit you alone. Also good for knit tops in funky prints and stylish designs. 1519 Grant Ave., (415) 982-5726.

Alla Prima Fine Lingerie: Specializes in European lingerie. The hand-painted shop sign depicts a voluptuous hourglass corset, which tells you all you need to know about the dainties indoors. The helpful staff assists with fittings and can recommend the perfect unmentionable to flatter your shape. 1420 Grant Ave., (415) 397-4077.

Biordi Arts: The owners have been importing handmade and painted Majolica pottery from central Italy for more than 50 years. Shipping is available if you buy too much to carry. 412 Columbus Ave., (415) 392-8096.

Broadway Cigars and Liquors: Located among the strip clubs and sports bars, this market is distinguished by its selection of imported cigarettes, from pastel pink Nat Shermans to Bali Hai Naturales. 550 Broadway, (415) 397-1310.

City Lights Bookstore: Lawrence Ferlinghetti's shop opened in 1953 and still has one of the best collections of poetry, fine art tomes and political rags in the city. It prides itself on being "a sort of library that sells books," so feel free to linger and ask questions. Head upstairs to visit the poetry room, which features special sections on the Beats, naturally. 261 Columbus Ave., (415) 362-8193.

Custom Originals: Tailor Al Ribaya sells only his own designs, which include men's and women's suiting, bold print trenches, blazers and jackets. He reinterprets classic shapes then adds personal touches, like hand-sewn buttonholes, French-rolled seams, special pocket treatments and hand-painted and embroidered details. Expect five to six weeks for delivery for most items. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 1314 Grant Ave., S.F. (415) 693-9900. (Web site)

Film Yard: This eclectic movie rental shop has built its reputation, not to mention its collection, by fulfilling customer requests. While it does carry the box office hits, most of the inventory is not found in the average chain store. Shelves labeled "Serious Testosterone" and "Women's Issues" point browsers in the right direction. The staff is friendly and poised to answer your most challenging -- or pedestrian -- movie question. 1610 Stockton, (415) 392-4255.

In Lieu: Feminine but not girly, In Lieu stocks contemporary hard-to-find labels such as unusual denim from Robin's Saddlelites and Salt Works; cotton silk-screen dresses by Taylor Made, a San Francisco company that trains and employs high-risk youth from the Mission District; dresses by L.A. designer Geren Ford; tops by Veena, and knitwear by Speed, both East Coast labels, and shoes by S&J and C Label; plus a small selection of delicate jewelry. 528 Green St., (415) 362-0202..

Knitz and Leather: Shop for unique leather jackets and bags and handmade sweaters and scarves for men and women while the proprietor knits up new designs before your eyes. 1429 Grant Ave., (415) 391-3480.

MAC: The proprietors of MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing) fit a wide range of designs into their teacup of a shop. Specializing in local San Francisco designers -- the racks might carry pieces by Dema, Manifesto or Lemon Twist -- styles include retro fashions as well as modern, urban looks. 1543 Grant Ave., (415) 837-1604.

Macchiarini Creative Design & Jewlery: The handmade pieces here are modern, with tribal and African influences, and the family has played a significant role in San Francisco art history. In the 1930s, the elder Macchiarini was one of only a few artists world-wide creating avant-garde pieces. He also co-founded one of the first outdoor art festivals in North Beach in 1939. A block-long stretch of steps bearing his name rises above Columbus Ave., just next to Enrico's. 1453 Grant Ave, (415) 982-2229. (Web site)

Martini Mercantile: Boutique carries men's and women's retro-inspired clothing, fashioned out of vintage fabrics. Also find vintage suits, Hawaiian shirts, flapper dresses, hats and ties. 1453 Grant Ave., (415) 552-1940.

Mixed Use: Part vintage clothing store, part modern furniture store, with an art gallery in the back, Mixed Use also offers live-action altering by co-owner Darshan Amrit. He'll alter pieces by sewing on new panels, silk screening, precision-cutting and adding stitches -- whatever the customer requests. Amrit sells his own designs in the store as well as a carefully selected vintage clothing and furniture collection. Prices for his custom-made designs vary; you can walk out with a one-of-a-kind T-shirt for $25-$35; a reconfigured jacket will run up past $100. (-SF Chronicle) 463 Union St. (at Grant), (415) 956-1909. (Chronicle article / Web site)

Ristarose: This small, high-end boutique carries a line of elegant gowns, a collection of simple sheath dresses in silk crepe and chiffon. A popular source for wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, Ristarose will cater to special orders in colors and design details. 1422 Grant Ave. (415) 781-8559.

Rosalie's New Looks: Despite the name, Rosalie's salon and wig shop hasn't seen a new look in decades. Since opening in 1957, Rosalie's hairdressers have stuck with what they do best: up-dos, beehives and other fire-hazardous styles from the '50s and '60s. Towering wigs -- a favorite among drag queens and retro-fanatics alike -- are available for rental. 782 Columbus Ave., (415) 397-6246.

Toko Imports: Toko sells oversized mixing bowls, hand-carved frames and other imported housewares, many from South Africa and the Philippines. Most are made of recycled materials, but don't expect to find unfinished-looking objects: even ordinary bamboo is transformed into a gleaming, iridescent work of art. 1314 Grant Ave., (415) 397-2323.

Restaurants

Albona Ristorante Istriano: Come here for personal service and Istrian specialties, as well as a mean fettuccine arrabbiata. Also excellent pan-fried gnocchi, browned ravioli, sauerkraut and sausages, strudel with pine nuts. (-SF Chronicle) 545 Francisco St. (at Mason), (415) 441-1040. (Chronicle Review)

SF Chronicle finds the best pasta in North Beach

Cafe Jacqueline: This spare, candlelit restaurant has the distinction of serving only souffl's as a main course, with a selection of non-souffle soups and salads to start. Dinner souffles serve two, and choices include asparagus, spinach or lobster, each with a cheese base. Dessert souffles must be ordered at the same time as dinner, and do order one, as you will wish you had once you see the heavenly sugar-dusted high-hat concoctions floating by. Peek into the tiny kitchen to see chef Jacqueline herself, puffed cap askew, melting chocolate in copper pans and reaching for an egg from an enormous wooden bowl full of them. 1454 Grant St., (415) 981-5565. (Chronicle Review)

Cafe Prague: Escape to the Czech Republic for the afternoon at this gypsyish cafe, located on a quiet tree-lined block of Pacific Ave. Printed cloths drape the tables, patrons play cards and linger over a bottle of Pilsner, and fragments of Czech conversation waft through the air. Weekends feature live music and poetry nights. 584 Pacific Ave., (415) 433-3811.

Caffe Greco: Known in particular for its mastery of espresso and cappuccino. The espresso is made with Italian Illycafe beans, and the barista steams milk with practiced precision. 423 Columbus Ave., (415) 397-6261.

Caffe Puccini: The Tuscan-born owner of this popular espresso bar added a pasta menu a few years ago and makes all the hearty sauces himself, including a delicious marinara. 411 Columbus Ave. (near Vallejo), (415) 989-7033.

SF Chronicle finds the best pasta in North Beach

Caffe Roma Roasting Co.: Family business offers freshly roasted coffee (check out the roaster at the front of the store) and a selection of pastries as a happy accompaniment. 526 Columbus Ave., (415) 296-7662.

Caffe Sapore: Grab a foreign magazine or newspaper from the stack near the door and enjoy the lazy Sunday morning vibe of this cafe, which roasts its own coffee one door down. The bagel sandwiches have a variety of toppings, many vegetarian, and come dressed up with capers, fresh basil or crisp cucumbers. Fresh quiches, granola and yogurt, and pastries are also available. 790 Lombard, (415) 474-1222.

Caffe Trieste: Best known as the beatnik hangout of the '50s that drew the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, Caffe Trieste's Old World charm remains unspoiled by notoriety. A bank of windows lightens the dark-wood interior and the walls are crowded with old photographs. Try a cup of house-roasted coffee or sample the menu of snacks, light meals, and beer and wine. On Saturday afternoons a crowd gathers to listen to the owner and his friends sing passages of opera. 601 Vallejo St. (at Grant), (415) 392-6739.

Capp's Corner: Seems so Italian, you feel like you should show your passport at the door. All meals start with minestrone soup and tossed salad (served family-style) and are followed by spumoni ice cream for dessert. Service is famously sassy. 1600 Powell St., (415) 989-2589. (Chronicle Review)

Citizen Thai & Monkey Noodle Bar: The decor in these two adjoining restaurants, from the owners of SoMa's Koh Samui and the Monkey, is reminiscent of a Buddhist temple, with high ceilings and fat and skinny Buddhas everywhere. In the upscale Citizen Thai, which spans two floors, the cooks mix classic preparations with updated ingredients. Small plate entrees offer plenty of variety. In the upstairs Monkey Noodle Bar, communal tables are set up canteen style for a quick and cheap bite of Thai street food. Choose from noodles pan-fried or in soup, rice plates and nibbles like green papaya salad. 1268 Grant Avenue (at Vallejo), (415) 364-0008. (Chronicle Review)

Curly's Coffee Shop: In a city where toddlers know who Alice Waters is, no-frills dining sometimes seems hard to find. Curly's fills this niche with its straight-forward American classics, including Denver omelets, pancakes and cheeseburgers. However, even at Curly's things aren't as simple as they appear: the menu also offers Japanese lunches such as donburi and udon with tempura. 1624 Powell St., (415) 392-0144.

Da Flora: Done up in burgundy red, this is one of the neighborhood's most romantic restaurants, and it features delicious handmade pastas. Sweet potato gnocchi is a house specialty. (-SF Chronicle) 701 Columbus (at Filbert), (415) 981-4664. (Chronicle Review)

SF Chronicle finds the best pasta in North Beach

Cafe Divine: The lunch and dinner menu, offered via counter service from the mahogany bar, has starters, salads, panini and oven-fired pizzettas like the Paradiso, with Fontina, mushrooms and truffle oil. Desserts include a warm, gooey chocolate cake. Owner David Wright, also a partner in La Mediterranee, brought the cafe's Elektra espresso machine over from Italy. (SF Chronicle) 1600 Stockton St. (at Union), (415) 986-3414.

El Gran Taco: They claim to have the "Best Burrito on Broadway" and they're right -- in fact, they have the only burrito on Broadway. Late hours and cheap Mexican beer draw big crowds despite the simple menu. 448 Broadway, (415) 956-6125.

El Raigon: The menu at this Argentine grill is all about meat grilled estancia style, or over a wood and charcoal grill. The meats, all of which are served with chimichurri sauce, include sweetbreads and blood sausage on the starter menu, and range-raised rib-eye and lamb loin among the entrees. Non-meat dishes include halibut with fennel, and starches like mashed and roasted potatoes can be ordered on the side. A long bar wrapped in cowhide and vintage photos of ranch scenes recall a setting on the Argentine range. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 510 Union St. (near Grant), (415) 291-0927. Dinner Monday-Saturday.

Enrico's Sidewalk Cafe: Around since 1959 -- it garnered a cameo as a boho rendezvous spot in the San Francisco flick "Bullitt" -- Enrico's is still relevant as a restaurant today. Live jazz and a bustling, romantic outdoor area lend a European touch, and the classic American food (with French and Italian touches) is consistently delicious. Sample starters like steamed mussels and deep-fried olives, or move straight to entrees like the rare ahi tuna, steak sandwich or smoky, wood-fired pizza. Desserts such as panna cotta and chocolate souffle cake get raves from the critics. Reservations strongly recommended. 504 Broadway (at Kearny), (415) 982-6223. (Chronicle Review)

Estia: Brothers Spiros and Taki Kaloterias, who own the 20-plus-year-old Viva Pizza restaurant, moved Viva Pizza next door (318 Columbus, near Grant) and put Estia in Viva's old space in November 2003. They've brought a chef-friend from Greece to execute a menu that includes grilled octopus, fried smelts, grilled and fried calamari and fresh fish flown in from Greece. His Cypriot lamb and beef burger is encased in caul fat and fried until crisp. Old standbys like moussaka, baked lamb shank with orzo, and pastitsio fill out the menu. 1224 Grant (near Columbus).

Fior d'Italia: This is the latest venue for the restaurant that opened in 1886 in the heart of North Beach. The restaurant has moved six times -- most recently to the San Remo Hotel after a fire at its previous Washington Square location earlier this year shut the doors. Billed as the oldest Italian restaurant in the United States, Fior d'Italia has a traditional menu with entrees that range from homemade pappardelle with oxtail ragu to cioppino. (-SF Chronicle) 2237 Mason St. (at Francisco), (415) 986-1886. (Web site)

Firenze by Night: A charming staff serves consistently good Northern Italian dinners, such as the gnocchi in creamy tomato sauce for which the restaurant is known. Inside, white twinkle lights illuminate a photo mural of Florence, and a small statue of The David (loin modestly draped) presides over the dining room. This is a good option when you're looking for a good North Beach meal and want to avoid the main drag of Columbus. 1429 Stockton Ave., (415) 392-8585.

Gold Spike: Closed in February 2006.

Golden Boy Pizza: It looks like any other pizza counter from the outside, but there's more to Golden Boy than meets the eye. The narrow space, walls lined with corrugated metal, feels like a cross between a bunker and a 1950s diner, and that '50s spirit is immortalized in the mystical James Dean dishcloth, a Shroud-of-Turin-like remnant of cloth mounted in shrine fashion for all to admire. The grease smudges of smoldering eyes, pouting lip, and dangling cigarette are indeed unmistakable. The selection of toppings for the Sicilian-style slices include pesto, clam, garlic, and pepperoni, and beer and wine are available in addition to fountain drinks. 542 Green St. (at Columbus), (415) 982-9738.

Ideale: Rustic Roman preparations like zucchini with truffles, flawless ravioli with ricotta and spinach, and other good pastas served in stylish surroundings. Service is warm but can be scattered. (-SF Chronicle) 1309 Grant (near Vallejo); (415) 391-4129. (Chronicle Review)

SF Chronicle finds the best pasta in North Beach

Il Pollaio: The chicken that comes off Il Pollaio's grill is some of the best in the Bay Area. And it's the big draw here, where you can get a half or whole chicken to go, or sit down to a friendly but no-frills meal. The chickens are cut down the back and flattened for quick cooking that crisps the skin and doesn't dry out the meat. House-made sausage, burgers and rabbit, along with a trio of basic salads, fries and flan, make up the rest of the menu. (-SF Chronicle) 555 Columbus Ave. (between Union and Green streets), (415) 362-7727. (Chronicle Review/Bargain Bites 2005)

Iluna Basque and Eguna Basque: Iluna, which means night in the Basque language, serves Basque wine and tapas in a sleek red, wood, and steel space. Eguna, which means day, is a cafe that features a menu of salads, quiches and croque monsieurs; sidewalk seating; and free wireless. It's open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 701 Union St. (at Powell), (415) 402-0011. (Chronicle Review)

Impala: In the space of the former Black Cat, the owners of Mas Sake and Suite 181 are hoping a Mexican-themed menu of appetizers, salads and small entrees just might be what club-goers and other North Beach denizens are looking for. Rough-hewn wooden tables mix with bar tables and gauzy curtains, and the black and red decor is illuminated by several large chandeliers lit with votive candles. Downstairs, a lounge features bottle service, a DJ and dancing. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 501 Broadway (at Kearny), (415) 982-5299.

Joanie's Happy Days Diner: Considerably charming at times, Joanie's serves good-tasting breakfast and lunch fare with an old-fashioned feel. Breakfasts center around pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, and lunch dishes also tend toward classics: burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and thick milkshakes. The decor is spare -- an American flag and a collection of photographs and watercolors are the main design elements -- but the people-watching along Columbus Avenue keeps diners entertained. (--SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 1329 Columbus Ave. (between Beach Street and North Point), (415) 928-4343. (Chronicle Review)

Liguria Bakery: This tiny shop made focaccia long before it became a trend. The shop still stands on the corner where it was originally opened by three brothers in 1911. George and Michael Soracco, son and grandson of one of the founders, say the only change they've made to the traditional flatbread since then is the addition of garlic focaccia. 1700 Stockton St., San Francisco; (415) 421-3786. 1700 Stockton St., (415) 421-3786. -- SF Chronicle

L'Osteria del Forno: There may be many choices for Italian food along Columbus Avenue in North Beach, but few do it as well as this sliver of a restaurant. The fresh-baked focaccia thin-crusted pizzas and milk-braised pork are divine. (-SF Chronicle) 519 Columbus Ave. (between Union and Green streets), (415) 982-1124. (Chronicle Review)

Mama's on Washington Square: Mama's methods may be quirky (you have to stand in line until they're ready to cook your order), but the long weekend waits are worth the brunch that awaits you. Popular menu items include the Monte Cristo, eggs benedict and 10 types of French toasts, made with sourdough baguettes, banana bread or wheat bread. Regulars also rave about the house raspberry jam. 1701 Stockton, (415) 362-6421.

Mangarosa: "Italian/Brazilian" fare translates to dishes like Brazilian steak Rechaud, Frango Assado crispy chicken with aged balsamic, house-made gnocchi, and pao de queijo -- cheese bread, Brazilian style. (-SF Chronicle) 1548 Stockton St. (near Union Street), (415) 956-3211. Dinner nightly. Full bar. Starters, $5-$10; main courses, $14-$33; desserts, $7.

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store: This corner restaurant and cafe doesn't sell cigars, but aren't you glad its wonderful name says that it does? Other good reasons to come here include the grilled focaccia sandwiches (try meatball, chicken, or eggplant), and the excellent people-watching vantage from the windows overlooking Washington Square Park. 566 Columbus Ave., (415) 362-0536.

Michelangelo Cafe: Wedge-shaped restaurant has modest charms that have won it a large and loyal following. The most memorable thing about the place is the massive bowl of gummi bears that arrives at the table to punctuate the end of every meal. However, the entrees of fresh fish and baked pasta dishes, ceramic pitchers of wine and view of the park all contribute to a satisfying experience. 579 Columbus Ave., (415) 986-4058.

Mojito: The menu devised by Alistair Monroe, nightclub manager and founder of the North Beach Jazz Festival, features Cuban and Latin American both small plates and a small selection of full-sized entrees. Tapas include roasted Yukon gold potatoes with pimiento aioli, and grilled plantains with black beans and cilantro cream. For a more filling meal, try the bistec, grilled steak with salsa verde, fried egg and plantains. In addition to small plates, the lunch menu includes an assortment of tortas. (-SF Chronicle) 1337 Grant Ave. (between Green and Vallejo), (415) 398-1120.

Molinari Delicatessen: This popular, Old World deli has been in business for more than 100 years. To order a sandwich, begin by selecting a loaf of bread from the bins, and hand it over at the counter when your number is called. Options range from the classic pastrami to the more adventurous South Beach, which combines artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, turkey and provolone. The shop is crowded with gourmet Italian groceries, including dried porcinis, fresh gnocchi, olive oil, regional wines and the famous Molinari salami, which hangs from the ceiling in three-pound logs. 373 Columbus Ave. (at Vallejo Street), (415) 421-2337.

Moose's: A Washington Square institution, Moose's still draws San Francisco's see-and-be-seen crowd, but all are welcome to enjoy its spiffed-up comfort food (from foie gras to the gourmet Mooseburger) and a gracious view of the park. The menu also offers a selection of small plate options. 1652 Stockton St., (415) 989-7800. (Chronicle Review)

Mo's Gourmet Burgers: With 11 burger combinations on the menu -- try BBQ sauce and bacon or blue cheese and spinach -- there's something for almost any taste. Mo's also has Gardenburgers, salads and American breakfasts with all the sides. The decor hints at 1950s diner, but not in a "theme restaurant" sort of way. 1322 Grant Ave., (415) 788-3779.

North Beach Tavern: "The place for locals by locals" is the motto here, and it's fitting -- if locals want traditional Italian dishes, a quiet and rather muted decor and a restaurant just off touristy Columbus Avenue. Pizza is a strong suit -- a no-nonsense pie with a thin, crispy crust that delivers a good bite. The pastas are also decent. Service is pleasant. (-SF Chronicle) 641 Vallejo St. (between Columbus and Stockton), (415) 677-9140. (Chronicle Review)

Palermo: Probably the first new delicatessen in North Beach in 50 years, Palermo opened with lines often stretching down Stockton Street. Try the griddled crab Jack sandwich on Liguria Bakery's focaccia, or the house sandwich of prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and roasted red bell peppers. In a neighborly touch, the owners bought a scale used at the now-closed Florence Deli when it opened in 1937, and meat hooks from the kitchen of the now-closed New Pisa restaurant. Soon to come are a bigger cheese selection and rotisserie chickens. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 1556 Stockton St. (near Union Street), (415) 362-9892.

Rico's: Not a traditional taqueria. The "Popeye" burrito, for instance, is stuffed with fresh raw spinach, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, and the menu features smoothies, mango-pineapple salsa, and desserts like apple pan dowdy. Even the spicy breakfasts and char-grilled carne asada tacos have a healthy touch: a freshly-chopped pico de gallo salad on the side. The space is breezy and festively colorful. 943 Columbus, (415) 928-5404.

Ristorante Ideale: A good choice if you're looking for an Italian meal that's hearty but not heavy, in a contemporary setting. The sleek decor and art gallery lighting are more Soho than Sicily, and the menu features classic dishes updated with innovative flavors. Try the prosciutto-wrapped pear and mascarpone as a starter. 1309 Grant Ave., (415) 391-4129. (Chronicle Review)

Rose Pistola: Top chefs come and go at this upscale restaurant, but the pasta is consistently excellent, especially those with seafood. Also excellent wood-fired pizzas and buttery risotto. Desserts give high note to meal. (-SF Chronicle) 532 Columbus (near Green), (415) 399-0499. (Chronicle Review)

SF Chronicle finds the best pasta in North Beach

Sam's Hamburgers: This dark and greasy diner serves perfectly charbroiled hamburgers, fish and chips, pizza and other heart-clogging favorites. The orange seats and wood paneling look as though they've been there forever, as do many of the regular patrons. A great place to eavesdrop on North Beach characters. 618 Broadway, (415) 391-1539.

Sushi City: If you're looking for a restaurant where standing on your table and doing endless sake shots with the staff is the norm, then Sushi City is your place. Regular customers insist this is among the best sushi restaurants in the city, and entreat you to keep it a neighborhood secret. 1701 Powell St., (415) 296-8889.

Sushi on North Beach: Creative daily specials and sushi of exceptional quality have earned this restaurant a loyal following. Sit at the bar to get Chef Katsu Matsuda's recommendations and learn more about the 40 premium sakes the restaurant offers. 745 Columbus Ave. (between Mason and Filbert Streets), (415) 788-8050. (Chronicle Review)

Sweet World: Perched at the intersection of Grant and Broadway, where Chinatown turns into North Beach, is an orderly selection of imported candies, snacks and bulk foods. Visit the ice cream and tapioca bar, or choose from salted kumquats, Hello Kitty chewing gum, preserved white prunes, liquoriced olives or any of the other not-of-this-nation items. After-school hours can be hectic. 601 Broadway, (415) 989-1228.

Tommaso's: Serves pizza with eclectic toppings like sea scallops, as well as classic pepperoni and pasta dishes like lasagna and ravioli. Affordable carafes of wine and baskets of crusty Italian bread round out the meal. 1042 Kearny St., (415) 398-9696.

Trattoria Contadina: It's up the hill from the bustle and crowds of North Beach, but that doesn't make getting a table any easier. This is some of the best Italian food in the area, with old favorites like veal scaloppine and fresh gnocchi and risotto. 1800 Mason St., at Union St., (415) 982-5728. (Chronicle Review)

Victoria Pastry Co.: In business since 1914, this charming neighborhood institution is one of the city's oldest bakeries. The shop is best known for its cakes -- extravagant layerings of liqueur-soaked sponge cake, whipped cream and custard -- and specializes in wedding cakes. If you're not in the market for a full-blown multi-tiered creation but still want a little taste of heaven, pick up a mini tiramisu, served snack-ready in its own to-go cup. 1362 Stockton St., (415) 781-2015.

Washington Square Bar & Grill: First opened in 1973, the Washington Square Bar & Grill was one of the most popular places in the city, where the smart, the famous and the infamous ate, drank and then drank some more. During the dot-com boom, new owers tossed the decor and menu and reinvented the space as Cobalt Tavern, which then closed again when the economy went south. Now, the Washbag, as it had affectionately been known, is back, filled with returning regulars, tourists who never knew it went away and a new generation of locals who seem to be discovering the place for the first time. The menu of updated Italian favorites isn't as great as Cobalt's was, but people don't seem to mind. The crowded bar and noisy dining room make them feel like they're truly in San Francisco. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate). 1707 Powell St., (415) 982-8123. (Chronicle Review)

For more North Beach restaurants, check out these Chronicle reviews.

Nightlife

15 Romolo: Slip around the corner to tiny Romolo Street to find this darkly glowing speakeasy, part of the Hotel Romolo. Blue velvet booths and abundant candlelight envelop the crowd in a posh urban ambiance. The jukebox is known for its frequently updated selection. 15 Romolo St. (in the alley between Broadway & Vallejo and Grant & Kearny), (415) 398-1359.

Bimbo's 365 Club: Rita Hayworth got her start at this supper club and speakeasy in 1931. Today, you can hear live music acts ranging from the Temptations to Jewel to up-and-coming indie rock bands. The club's retro aesthetic extends to the women's restroom, where plush velvet seats and individual makeup mirrors decorate the lounge area. Dolfina, a scantily clad mermaid who frolicked in a fishbowl at the original Bimbo's, continues to swim in her swanky pond as a reminder of the club's chorus-girl days. 1025 Columbus Ave., (415) 474-0365. (Web site)

Blind Tiger: Like many bars that came to life during the dot com boom days, Blind Tiger oozes with sophisticated hipness. The tawny decor, halogen lighting and well-heeled clientele all hint at a time when $8 cocktails were the norm. Local and visiting DJs perform almost every night. 787 Broadway, (415) 788-4020.

Broadway Showgirls Cabaret: Not another peep show for frat boys and drunk conventioneers. In an effort to outclass its neighbors, this Broadway strip club (previously called Boys Toys) offers a dinner menu laden with seafood, sushi and caviar, and services like valet parking. 412 Broadway, (415) 391-2800. (Chronicle Review/Web site)

Broadway Studios: Offers dance lessons ranging from swing to tango in its lofty ballroom, and frequently features rock acts and DJs. Check out the two bars and swanky lounge. Located upstairs from the Velvet Lounge. 435 Broadway St., (415) 291-0333.

Columbus Cafe: Divey sports bar popular with local workers has one of the best happy hours around: Two-for-one draught beer (there are at least 10 to choose from) from 5-8 p.m. every day, including weekends! The scene is lively, friendly and hard-drinking, and the atmosphere is dominated by TV screens and noise. For extra ambiance, they sometimes dump sand over the floor and hang fishing net from the ceiling. "The Inferno," a dingy downstairs rec room, opens for weekends. 562 Green St., (415) 291-0818.

Crow Bar: In a local scene of high-concept hot spots and vintage neighborhood pubs, the Crow Bar stands apart as a no-frills rock-and-roll bar where people come to drink whiskey, shoot pool and play punk songs on the jukebox. 401 Broadway St., (415) 788-2769.

Fuse: This hip, stylized bar can be pleasantly uncrowded during the week, despite being granted hot spot status by InStyle magazine. On weekends there's a line out the door and no room to breathe once you're inside. The house cocktails are large and creative (try a chocolate Manhattan or a cucumber cosmo), a DJ is usually in evidence and the interior is rich with indigo hues. 493 Broadway, (415) 908-3600.

Gino & Carlo: Trade in your normal happy hour for Gino & Carlo's cheap martinis and homemade Italian food. Expect big crowds -- this 1940s bar is located at one of the liveliest intersections in North Beach. Although unofficially "owned" by a cast of regulars, newcomers are treated like old friends. Opens at 6 a.m. to accommodate early birds and late-shift workers, has pool and pinball. 548 Green St. (between Grant and Stockton), (415) 421-0896.

Hustler Club: The Hustler Honeys cavort in floor shows and other displays of exotic dancing at an adult nightclub that's gotten noticed through its association with porn publisher Larry Flynt. The establishment aims to be a classier breed of adult venue, offerring a tapas (but not topless) menu, and adding a dash of pasties and panties to its strip tease. With occasional porn star "guest" appearances.

Kennedy's Irish Pub Curry House: A few blocks from the

"Little Italy" heart of North Beach, Kennedy's is a bit of a local secret. When you've tired of cappuccino and opera music, sample the unlikely combination of pleasures of this Irish pub. Beyond the expected pints of excellent stout, it offers an Indian buffet (try the sag paneer and fresh naan), an outdoor patio, and a rec room full of games such as air hockey and pinball. 1040 Columbus, (415) 441-8855.

La Rocca's Corner: While tourist spots proudly advertise "Se habla Espanol" or "Il parles Francais," the sign at the entrance to this old Italian bar only promises that "English is Spoken." Established in 1922, it keeps the people coming with televised sports, a jukebox of North Beach favorites (Sinatra, Connie Francis, Louis Prima) and a talkative staff. 957 Columbus, (415) 674-1266.

The Purple Onion: Phyllis Diller, the Kingston Trio, the Smothers Brothers and even Maya Angelou got their start at this veteran of the SF comedy scene, which was restored and reopened in 2004 by Stephanie and Mario Ascione, owners of the upstairs restaurant, Macaroni Sciue Sciue. The plan is to have stand-up shows twice a month to start, perhaps more frequently as things get rolling. (For a schedule see www.caffemacaroni.com.) Expect "more jokes about politics and penises," a "no-drink minimum" and a cash-only policy for tickets, which will be just six bucks. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 140 Columbus Ave., (415) 956-1653.

Chronicle article: Laughter peals anew at Purple Onion

Rosewood: Any bar that pours Hoegaarden beer on tap is all right with me, and Rosewood is one of these bars. It also serves a nice selection of cocktails and some very expensive champagne to its patrons, typically thirtysomethings who like their hip-hop strong, with an international flavor. Each night of the week boasts a different style, such as French hip-hop on Wednesdays and urban electric music on the first and third Thursdays of the month, with some top-notch DJs spinning, and the place consistently draws a large crowd. On the first Wednesdays of the month, Rosewood hosts film screenings in one of the bar's three rooms. With its sleek wood-paneled interior and retro-mod black leather sofas, it's an upscale beat aficionado's hideaway. (- Lisa Zaffarese, SF Gate) 732 Broadway St., (415) 951-4886.

The Saloon: Nestled on the corner of Grant and Fresno sits the oldest bar in the City, a Barbary Coast relic that opened in 1861 as Wagner's Beer Hall. It's the size of your living room and beaten up like an old pug, but it's a friendly place to locals, suits, Euro-trash and the occasional toothless wench having a spirited conversation with herself. They have great live blues bands every night, free on weekdays and a nominal cover on weekends. Some of the greatest names in San Francisco's psychedelic music scene -- including Barry "The Fish" Melton (of Country Joe and The Fish) -- have played here; if you're lucky, you may spot Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner smoking something in the alley between sets. 1232 Grant Ave., (415) 986-7666.

Savoy-Tivoli: Though overrun by tourists and drunk twenty-somethings on the weekend, it's still good for a weekday pint or glass of wine. This neighborhood institution opened in 1906 as a sailors' boarding house, and was the home of Beach Blanket Babylon in the '70s. Today, the huge covered patio, old-fashioned wooden bar, four pool tables and the occasional Elvis impersonator still make the Savoy-Tivoli worth a visit. 1434 Grant Ave. (near Green), (415) 362-7023.

Specs Twelve Adler Museum Cafe: Since it opened in 1968, Specs has been home to a menagerie of misfits, from strippers and poets to longshoremen and merchant marines. You can order a foofoo drink here, but it will come with a brass plaque from a ship's boiler that reads "unfit to drink." If, however, you want a beer, dry wit and good stories, this is just the place. (-SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 12 Adler Place, (alley off Columbus, between Broadway and Pacific), (415) 421-4112.

Documentary on Specs is in the making

Steps of Rome: A curious mix of leather-jacketed Europeans, backpackers and soccer fans keep the festive atmosphere at this late-night restaurant and caffe going long after the bars have closed. The staff provides free entertainment by belting out the greatest in European Top 40 music. 348 Columbus Ave., (415) 397-0435, Open 7:30 a.m. - 3 a.m. weekdays.

Tosca: Jukebox-generated arias fill the air at this moody, spacious bar, where the decor includes a mural of Venice in the large back room and pictures of Robert Mitchum in the ladies room. As evening approaches the bartender lines the long wood bar with a queue of coffee liqueur drinks, the specialty of the house. A good place to take a group -- capacious red booths line the back walls -- though the weekend tends to draw a crowd. Known as a good spot for Bay Area star sightings. 242 Columbus Ave., (415) 391-1244.

Velvet Lounge: This popular club has a varied history as a boxing ring, dance hall and punk rock venue. These days it's a hot (and sweaty) spot to mingle with singles and hit the hopping dance floor. 443 Broadway St., (415) 788-0228.

Vesuvio Cafe: Around since the early '50s, this old Beat hangout still attracts an artsy crowd. The two-story space is cozily lit with hanging lamps and decorated with a flea-market jumble of photos paintings and curious objects. On the balcony upstairs, small tables overlook the bustle of Columbus and narrow Jack Kerouac Alley, where the face of the "On the Road" author himself looms up from the muraled wall. While Vesuvio has a reliably hopping nighttime scene, in the afternoon it can also be a relaxing place to read or chat over a mug of tea. 255 Columbus Ave. (at Jack Kerouac Alley, just south of Broadway), (415) 362-3370.


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