NFT San Francisco North Beach (East) / Telegraph Hill

North Beach (East) / Telegraph Hill

With its lively cafés, dark watering holes, and bookish bona fides, locals and tourists alike always have a favorite spot they keep coming back to in North Beach. With strong Italian roots and City Lights Bookstore -- whose owner put the Beat writers on the literary map -- the area's narrow alleys and hectic thoroughfares teem with people night and day. Parking is a nightmare and weekend nights attract the drunken masses on Broadway and friendly locals at places off the main strip like Grant & Green Saloon.
Old-school favorites Caffe Trieste, Gino & Carlo, See more.

>Mara's Bakery, and North Beach Restaurant peacefully coexist with hordes of tourists and porn palaces. Boutiques dot Grant Street up the hill. At dusk, try a leisurely stroll through dog-friendly Washington Square Park.


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On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Peter Malfatti
Photo:  Peter Malfatti

Caffe Delucchi
On a Sunday morning in San Francisco, when people are crowding into Curly's or waiting patiently in the long line around the corner for Mamma's, Cafe Delucchi is sitting right under their nose. A place most people would walk right past without giving it a second glance. Here, the food is just right and the atmosphere cozy. Not a huge space, but plenty of room to sip your bloody mary comfortably, and get in some people-watching along Columbus & Stockton while you enjoy the amazing Biscuits & Gravy with poached eggs that was just brought to your table. Who said you needed to wait on line for hours to get good brunch in SF?

Posted By:  Peter Malfatti
Photo:  Peter Malfatti

A "must-eat" location I was told when I planned my visit to San Francisco in August 2009. "There's always a wait," they told me, "and the line is at least around the corner." That part was true every day I walked past, until my last day. Wednesday around 1 pm, when there was no line to speak of. You order your food and drink at the counter and pay the cashier. You then wait until a table opens up to be seated. They don't even start making your food until you have a table (thank goodness). I ordered the Swedish Cinnamon French Toast and a Bloody Mary. Simple, yes, but totally lived up to the hype. French Toast not too soggy, not too firm. Bloody Mary just spicy enough. I still have dreams about this meal.

Posted By:  Cheri Lucas
Photo:  Cheri Lucas

The House
The House is a tiny, intimate San Francisco hotspot tucked away on a side street of North Beach's main drag, Columbus Avenue. Given its unassuming exterior and sparsely decorated interior, The House apparently saves all its energy on its food. Choose from creative appetizers--such as the blue lake bean tempura, a dish with battered long beans stacked like Jenga blocks--and an eclectic array of main dishes, including a crunchy unagi sandwich, wasabi and curry noodle dishes, and specials like the coconut curry halibut and a ribeye steak with slender mushrooms and mustard greens. Their pork loin sandwich and calamari are faves, and the creamy hot mustard sauce for the deep-fried salmon roll flares the nostrils. While some people aren't enthused about the phrase "Asian fusion," this place certainly does a crafty job packing its menu with an assortment of punchy yet refined flavors.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

If you love cheese, the very name of this restaurant (Melt!) will have you drooling every so slightly. I like Melt's style. Unlike the flashy restaurants in the heart of North Beach, it sits modestly on the outskirts of Columbus Avenue, secure in the knowledge that it has much to offer without the fanfare of neon lights. Melt! specializes in fondues, soups, salads, and panini, and along with its unique menu, offers live music and open mic nights on Mondays and Fridays, tabletop games, and free Wi-Fi. I was there last early on a Tuesday afternoon and chose the Tricolore, a mozzarella, tomato, and basil pesto sandwich accompanied by organic greens drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. I'm not sure whether it was the delicious sandwich that was cut into three rectangular wedges, or the glass of Chardonnay poured by a very generous hand, but when I tucked into my lunch, my heart melted along with the cheese.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

Firenze by Night
I love the hustle and bustle of Columbus Street more than most, but sometimes everyone needs to venture into North Beach's cement tributaries. Firenze by Night is the sort of modest establishment that somehow assures you within moments of stepping inside that your stomach is going to leave happy. First stop, the bar with a bartender who was heavy with knowledge and light on pressure when my friends and I were perhaps not inclined to drink the most expensive wine. Next stop, the table, for bruschetta, Ravioli della Mamma (pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a meat sauce), Pollo con funghi (roasted chicken with mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and white wine), and a bit more wine. I don't remember the decor (although people make mention of a mural of the restaurant's namesake), but was captivated by our waiter's shiny bling. And before you blame that on the wine, I do indeed remember the reasonable prices, the tasty food, the conversation, and the experience. Which of course is the mark of a true Italian restaurant.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

San Remo Hotel
I'm not sure why the word "staycation" irks me, but then I suppose everyone has words that annoy them (the word "moist" also ranks high on my list). There are those whose idea of a holiday means getting the hell out of dodge, and those who don't mind spending a few days of vacation exploring what the local area has to offer. For the latter set, consider The San Remo, a pension-style hotel with heaps of character in North Beach. Guests can choose a room with or without a sink, and baths and showers are a short jaunt down the hall from the bedrooms. Room rates start at $75 a night, plus $4 on weekends. Guests should plan on bringing a book and their cell phones since televisions and in-room telephones are not a feature. For a perfect little getaway, spend the evening at Cobb's Comedy Club (just around the corner), relax those laughing muscles on one of the hotel's massage chairs, and collapse into bed. Perhaps not quite as good as a full-fledged holiday in another country, but pretty damn fun.

Posted By:  Elissa Pociask
Photo:  Elissa Pociask

La Trappe
Come get cozy as a Trappist monk wrapped in his contemplativeness at La Trappe. It's far enough off the beaten path from the North Beach club scene, and hidden in the basement of what initially appears to be an empty restaurant. The downstairs is charmingly lit, and cavernous, and can get pretty crowded after 10. Take a risk on their 200+ beer selection, and pair it with some comforting hunter's food. And don't order the cheapest beer with the highest alcohol content, unless you like drinking sparkling apple juice out of a wussy little glass. This is the time to splurge on a thick $8 sipping beer to start off the winter night right.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

Gold Mountain Restaurant
I slipped into Gold Mountain at lunchtime on a weekday to grab a quick bite. I knew I'd chosen well when I saw it was packed wall-to-wall with people from the neighborhood. My very own teapot was delivered within nanoseconds. The decor is spare, to say the least. But no one seemed to notice or care. Like chameleons, everyone--including me--had one eye on their plate and the other on the various carts rolling by, each loaded with dishes. For ten dollars, I had noodles, shrimp dumplings, sesame balls, and that seemingly bottomless pot of tea. As I was chomping through the sesame balls, I felt a little tap on my shoulder. It was a woman from a nearby table, who was visiting SF with her mother. She sheepishly explained that they had no idea what was going on and had been waiting for someone to take their order but no one had come. I explained the process and found them happily munching as I left. So while the place is clearly a neighborhood joint, it can also provide a little sustenance and adventure for the dim sum novice.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

Goorin Bros. Hat Shop
For years, I've been waiting patiently for men's hats to make a grand comeback. And I don't mean baseball hats. I mean hats from the 20s to 40s. Dress hats. Fedoras. Derby hats. And wool caps. There is nothing sexier or more delicious than a man topped off and polished with a classic hat. Thank god for Goorin, which is helping in this regard, one hat at a time. I purchased my own cadet hat a year ago for a summer trip and immediately fell in love with it and the fancy little bag it came in. I've had numerous compliments and comments on the little guy. At the Mexico City airport, one of the attendants referred to me as "Commandante" and another man offered to buy it off my head. On Goorin's website, a note reads, "Like you, perhaps, a Goorin hat is full of contradictions: it is timeless and timely, grounded and groundbreaking. Rooted in tradition, yet calling for change. The Hat is back." Pleasepleaseplease, Goorin, make it happen.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

XOX Truffles
Almost everything about XOX Truffles is small. The building itself, tucked away in a corner of North Beach, is tiny. The irregularly-shaped, bite-sized truffles are teeny. The to-go boxes are bitty. But there is nothing diminutive when it comes to flavor. There are 27 flavors in all, both liqueur-full and liqueur-free, and ranging from such standard fare as dark chocolate to hazelnut to the more exotic Early Grey and Rum Raisin. Even the vegans can have their day with the three different soy/vegan options. When I go, I always ask for a random sample of flavors, and although the verdict is not out for me on the Earl Grey, I will happily snuffle the other 26 options. And if you show up to a party or get-together packing a box of these decadent delights, you can guarantee you'll be invited back.

Posted By:  Elise Burger
Photo:  Elise Burger

Schein & Schein
Having succumbed to manifold colonial efforts, earthquakes, fires, and urban planning initiatives throughout its 450-odd year history, San Francisco’s topography provides cause for both wonderment and dismay. Artists and cartographers have captured the city’s quirky geographic footprint in a strangely fascinating series of lithographic illustrations and maps, many of which may be found at Schein & Schein Antique Maps and Prints, a gem of a shop tucked along Grant Avenue, in North Beach. Owners Jimmie and Marti Schein (along with ubiquitous dogs-in-residence Spot and Bella) have amassed a vast collection of printed ephemera curious enough to pique the interest of any armchair enthusiast. Can’t read maps? Root around instead for an extinct species, exotic orchid, or ethnographic study; you’ll find such oddities tucked away among the bins upon bins of smaller, less expensive prints. Schein & Schein is a den of curiosities, not an uptight, hands-off ivory tower. Drop in for a snoop and a chat with the owners, and come away with a few new factoids about San Francisco—or anywhere else, for that matter.

Posted By:  Cynthia Popper
Photo:  Cynthia Popper

Mara's Italian Pastry
Tonight, if all that is waiting for you is the freezer burned ice cream you’ve avoided since the Clinton Administration, stroll by Mara’s Italian Pastry in North Beach for your post-dinner coffee and sugar fix. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you’re panting over the front glass case, brimming with golden sugary goodness. Mara’s has been in business over 20 years and serves up every delectable carb-rich concoction your Health Nazi Pilates instructor warned you against: Madelines, Palmiers, and Italian style Danish so glossy and rich, one bite might make your head explode. They also serve basic goodies like chocolate chip cookies and at last count, nine billion different types if biscotti. Or maybe seven. And the coffee is good too. Mangia!

Posted By:  Andrew Vennari
Photo:  Andrew Vennari

Chinatown ends at Columbus and Grant Street starts crawling uphill until it can’t take it anymore. At Fresno Alley the live band blares out into the street. When you hear that and see the sign that reads: “End Fresno” you know you have reached the Saloon. Allegedly, the bar dates back to the late nineteenth century and is the oldest in the city. Stepping inside isn’t quite like going back in time to the Barbary Coast, but sometimes I expect someone will slip me a knock-out concoction or take me down with a slung shot to the head. The original interior has been mostly redone but still recalls the days of bowie knives, derringers, and games of faro. I’ve heard that the stained glass window has had so many people thrown through it that it’s now made from lexan and that the antique cash register was retired because all the people who could custom make the parts died. Just pull up a stool and sit down. More likely than not some talented folk are cranking out the blues. And the drinks are strong enough to make your eyes water.

Posted By:  Jess Horrible
Photo:  Jess Horrible

Goorin Bros. Hat Shop
Hats! It wasn't so long ago, you know, that you could read a man by the fit of his fedora. In fact, it still holds true. The truly fashionable are fully aware that the right hat can make or break an outfit—not to mention diverting attention from bad hairdos and hung-over eyes. But these days, who can afford flashy accessories? Answer: you. Goorin Hat Shop may be located on Washington Square; it may have an artsy window display and sell the sort of patterned and pseudo-DIY caps that would set you back $80 at Urban Outfitters. But guess what? It's an outlet. Which means you can get your Goorin for as little as $20. And they've got a full selection, not just what some corporate buyer thinks you'll want to wear. The walls are stacked from floor to ceiling with hats, hats, hats, and the staff is laid-back enough to let you try 'em all on; they know it's only a matter of time before you find one you won't want to take off. And just watch, next time you go out, how many people suddenly want to be your friend. Thanks, Goorin.

Posted By:  Andrew Vennari
Photo:  Andrew Vennari

Gino and Carlo
Another night on the North Beach bar track. Still sticking to the old man places and haven’t even made it to Broadway. Gino and Carlo is the classic San Francisco Bar. Checkered linoleum floor, wood paneling, cut glass mirrors, and old Boxing photos cover the back walls. The bartenders can be as sarcastic as they are surly, but they’re pros nonetheless and’ll mix what you want. But who wants anything more complicated that some straight whiskey or a good pint of Anchor Steam? If it wasn’t for the big TV’s, stepping in here would be like a trip back in time. I imagine this place a generation ago—before Wi-Fi, that fancy SOMA loft, and the frappucino you’re sipping— when Joe DiMaggio would slug a drink and roll his sleeves up to shoot pool. Step back and shake that feeling that says an Evite didn’t get you here; keep on your toes, especially at the sticks. You’re just as likely here to get hustled by a tough old lesbian, than a fast talking cue man. Since 1942, a good joint to grab a drink in the long, neon night.

Posted By:  Valerie Ng
Photo:  Valerie Ng

There are a lot of things I miss about Paris, most of all its unrivaled bakeries. Their delectable pastries, quiches, and other heavenly wonders are unmatched. I thought I’d never get over the inaccessibility Maison Eric Kayser. But fortunately for Francophiles like myself, there exists a little slice of Paris in San Francisco in the form of La Boulange. The moment you step in, you’re transported to a typical French bakery, including an array of macaroons, tarts, baguettes, mini sandwiches, tartines, and the most authentic croissants aux amandes you’ll find this side of the Atlantic. It’s so French that everything is labeled in flowery French script. And alongside the utensils, there are even gargantuan jars of Nutella, jam, and marmalade that accompany traditionally sweet French breakfasts. Save $800 on a flight to Paris and head straight for this wonderful boulangerie.

Posted By:  Jennifer Anthony
Photo:  Jennifer Anthony

Caffe Roma Coffee Roasting
Even on its busiest day, there is something magical about Roma. As you wait in line, you can peruse the various wines for sale or eyeball the decadent pastries. The place has an old school feel--the sort that makes you think twice before ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. My last visit was at 8 am, where everything is fair play. I had the usual coffee that might win out an arm wrestling match with Peet's and a biscotti wedge the size of a baseball bat. And then my eyes chanced upon the freshly-squeezed orange juice, a plastic cup of heavenly pulpy liquid vitamins. I sat down with my various items to watch--what else--the soccer game! No matter the hour, there is always a buzz of conversation, and a happy electricity in the air. Roma has another location in Soma, and a more recent addition in Millbrae, but they can't compare with the magic of the Columbus street location.

Posted By:  Kevin Cutler
Photo:  Kevin Cutler

Filbert Steps
On the east side of Telegraph Hill are two stairways offering quintessentially San Francisco experiences: bay views, bridges everywhere, homes perched precariously over hillsides—the works. Start at the top of Telegraph Hill near Coit Tower—check out the Art Deco apartment building used in the Bogart classic Dark Passage—and walk down either Greenwich or Filbert Streets (Greenwich is one block north of Filbert). As you descend, you’ll find yourself amidst beautiful gardens lushly draped over the dense city landscape. With luck, you might even spot the most unlikely residents of these truly unlikely gardens: a group of wild parrots that have been roosting in the treetops for years. The staircases’ communal neighborhood gardens were started decades ago by a few devoted residents and have been lovingly tended ever since. Once you make it down one set of stairs, simply walk a block to the next set and make your way back up.

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