The Absolute Best Italian Restaurants in San Francisco
From handmade pastas to top-notch desserts.
If there’s one cuisine you can find at every turn in this tiny town of ours, it’s Italian. But in San Francisco, that description simply isn’t enough because we don’t just have classic red sauce joints (though we do have those as well, of course), we also have restaurants that serve Northern Italian and Sardinian staples, inventive Cal-Italian creations, and pastry shops, as well as high-end, contemporary Italian destinations. And while our longtime fave Delfina is temporarily closed for interior remodels (though you can still order takeout and delivery from their next-door pizzeria), there are still dozens and dozens of Italian options to choose from, so naturally, we did what we do—found the best across the city and listed them all here.
Acquerello recently welcomed a little sister to the family, Sorella, a more approachable and affordable (still with some fancy vibes, though) restaurant and cocktail bar with a talented team of chefs in the open kitchen putting out some truly fantastic food. There are so many stars on the menu that it’s hard to name the one that shines brightest, but if we had to choose, it’s the pasta dishes. Of those, the Dry-Aged Beef Timballo, an indulgent nine-layer lasagna-esque (but with thinner layers of pasta) dish, would probably take home the Oscar, but would certainly thank the others in its acceptance speech. While a full decadent dinner in Sorella’s dining room is a must, another excellent option is to sit at the bar and order snacks from the bar-only Cicchetti menu, paired with Italian-inspired craft cocktails, amaro (there are dozens to choose from), and Italian wine. Our favorites: the Potato Leek Focaccia, fancy “cacio e pepe” potato chips, sausage-filled and breaded olives, veal meatballs, and the best chicken wings we’ve ever had (yes, seriously)—which are stuffed with calabrese sausage and tossed in a honey chili glaze.
How to book: online.
We could probably just tell you that the folks behind Flour + Water have a new restaurant that’s all about classic pastas and rustic Italian fare and leave it at that since “folks behind Flour + Water” speaks volumes on its own, but just in case you need an extra push: a dinner at Penny Roma is everything you want out of a meal. A warm and inviting space in an enclosed courtyard with dim lighting and a lively atmosphere, friendly service, and a menu of nonstop hits, including some fantastic crudo (the Albacore Tartare with tomato, caper, calabrian oil, and pistachio is getting most of the accolades, but they’re all worth ordering), pastas—all made daily—like Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese and Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe—and mains, like a Grilled Trout and a Half Chicken Al Mattone—that deserve an order, as well as some of the best focaccia we’ve ever had in the city thanks to the perfect crunch to chew ratio. It’s the perfect spot for a date or a night out with friends. Just be sure to plan ahead because reservations are hard to snag. (And if you’re wondering why Flour + Water isn’t also on this list, it’s only temporarily while the restaurant is remodeled.)
How to book: online.
A16 now has some competition just down the street thanks to the arrival of Norcina, an Italian restaurant from chef-owner Kaitlynn Bauman (Cotogna, Presidio Social Club) serving Neapolitan-style pizzas, fresh pasta, and flights of spritzes. Norcino means “pig butcher,” but don’t take the name too literally as while there are a few excellent pork-centric dishes on the menu, there are also plenty of vegetarian options. Norcina’s interior is small (26 seats total) and welcoming, with lots of blonde wood, woven seating, and green tiles for a touch of color, but there’s also a parklet and some sidewalk seating, so your odds of snagging a spot, including one where you feel comfortable dining, are increased.
How to book: online.
Che Fico opened a couple of years ago to a lot of much-deserved buzz, but it’s finally been around long enough that it’s not completely impossible to snag a reservation. Which you’ll want to do because part of the Che Fico experience is enjoying the meal in the stylish and colorful second-story dining room (grab a spot by the window if you can). Highlights on the menu include handmade rustic pasta dishes, an SF take on Neapolitan pizza, housemade salumi, and several dishes reflective of the Jewish-Roman heritage known as “Cucina Ebraica” (noted by a Star of David on the menu). Che Fico also has an excellent cocktail program and seats at the bar reserved for walk-ins, so if you can’t land a reservation, you can always pop in for a drink and snack. Also of note: Che Fico’s downstairs sibling, Che Fico Alimentari, a wine bar and Italian market with dim lighting, cozy tables, rustic Italian dishes, and a ton of Italian wines at a price point for every bank account. Most important? Che Fico Alimnetari is now the only place you can get the pineapple pizza that instantly won our hearts and stomachs when it first arrived at Che Fico.
How to book: online or walk-in and sit at the bar.
This casual, counter-service Cal-Italian spot is the perfect choice when you need an affordable pasta and Italian wine fix. The six handmade pasta dishes rotate, but rest assured there’s at least one that will appeal to you (if not all of them). The compact menu also offers a couple of non-pasta dishes that are equally satisfying, like a crispy Brussels Sprout Salad with prosciutto and anchovy and Marinated Baby Octopus with capers and mango. The wine selection is also carefully curated but very accessible, and you never have to worry about price because every glass is $10, and every bottle is $40.
How to book: Make reservations online or order pasta and wine to-go from their online wine and good shop.
This stalwart that highlights cuisine from the Campania region of Italy caused this city to transfer its Euro allegiances from France to Italy just over a decade ago. You can thank A16 for being one of the first SF restaurants to serve Neapolitan pies—and making pizza a thing that you can order in a “fancy” restaurant. You can also thank A16 for getting SF hooked on burrata with olive oil and sea salt on a crostini, Chocolate Budino with sea salt, and blissful, uncomplicated pastas like the house-favorite Maccaronara with Ragù Napoletana (no sea salt, but still delicious). Lastly, you can also thank A16 for consistently offering excellent Italian wine outside the Chianti bubble.
How to book: online.
It’s been over 30 years since Acquerello hit the SF restaurant scene, but there's no denying the two Michelin-starred fine dining experience is still unparalleled decadence. You’ll have a few choices when you dine, including an over-the-top seasonal tasting menu that is quite pricey but worth every penny if you have it, as well as a prix fixe menu with highlights like Kampachi Crudo with Sicilian pistachio and cocoa and oxtail ravioli, that's much less costly and also an excellent option (though it can also get a little pricey if you start adding the oh-so-tempting supplements). Whatever you order, rest assured, you’re in for a memorable dinner that embodies true luxury, from the service to the wine to the cuisine.
How to book: Make reservations online.
Seven Hills is the perfect date spot, thanks to an intimate space with romantic lighting, a fantastic wine list, and some of the best pasta in the entire city. The menu focuses on regional Italian food, handmade pasta, and locally-sourced ingredients, and though there are non-pasta offerings, the spaghetti, pappardelle, tagliolini, and tortelli are most worthy of your attention. This spot is such a favorite for date night that they’ve already released their Valentine’s Day menu, which features options like Maine Scallop Crudo as an antipasti course, Agnolotti with Braised Beef Short Rib and Charred Broccoli as a first course, Striped Sea Bass with Salt Spring Mussels as a second, and Passionfruit Mascarpone Cheesecake for dessert.
How to book: online.
San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of elegant restaurants where people dress for the occasion, but the powerful people need somewhere to go, and this stylish three Michelin-starred restaurant fits the (very expensive) bill. The eight- to ten-course $360 seasonal tasting room (and another $320 for wine pairings) is based on market and farm (the restaurant has a local farm in Bolinas) availability and seasonality, but you can expect unusual dishes like Garganelli with lobster, lack trumpet mushrooms, and spring onion; and a Milk-fed Lamb with turnip, niçoise olive, and kumquat. If that feels a little spendy, there is a five-course menu that’s an abbreviated variation of the typical experience and only costs $240.
How to book: via SevenRooms.
Quince's Michael Tusk lets his hair down 20 feet away at Cotogna, and chances are you’ll go there more often, not only because of its affordability, but because it’s still an amazing meal with a little less pressure (Quince doesn’t have a dress code, but let’s be real—at the very least, your shirt should probably be ironed if not also paired with a tie). Cotogna is no second fiddle little sibling, though—sit at the counter in front of the pizza oven, the hottest seat in the city (not in terms of trendiness, but rather temperature). While the pizza is certainly worth a gander, the pastas (looking at you, Agnolotti Dal Plin), starters (constantly changing vegetable or herb sformato), and any grilled meat dish will blow you away.
How to book: Make reservations via SevenRooms or walk in and sit at the chef’s counter and bar.
The outdoor patio and hidden entrance are enough to be entranced by Sociale, but luckily, the food and wine are just as majestic. The restaurant lies right at that tricky intersection of sophistication and relaxation while also featuring Northern Italian dishes with a California twist. Basically, it’s the best of all worlds, especially if you finish with the Chocolate Oblivion Cake (topped with olive oil, sea salt, and amaretti cookie crumbles). Pay attention to the special dishes of the day, as they’re often the highlights of the menu. Oh, and unlike other SF restaurants where people really do not dress up, expect to see gentlemen wearing jackets at this spot.
How to book: Make reservations online and order takeout online.
Fiorella is primarily known for its pizza, but all three locations of this neighborhood Italian restaurant also have some excellent pastas, which is what lands it a spot on this list. It’s worth eating your way around all three locations since they all have a few unique dishes not found at the other spots, but our favorite pasta that you can get at any of them is the Rigatoni Al Bolognese Classico, and our favorite place to enjoy is on the heated rooftop of the 9th Avenue restaurant which is also the only one that serves lunch, brunch, and most importantly, cocktails.
How to book: Select your preferred location and order takeout or make reservations online.
Bottarga! Glorious bottarga. This delicious fish roe, salted and cured, is served at La Ciccia with spaghetti. The roe is basically a cross of uni and bacon in powder form. In other words: heaven. It’s the signature fishy seasoning of Sardinia that packs the flavor power of anchovy without the salty-brininess. La Ciccia is Sardinia’s culinary ambassador to our city, representing the oft-neglected island over 200 miles west of the mainland. Other dishes of note include the Artisanal Fusilli pasta with sea urchin, tomato, and grated tuna heart, and Oven-Roasted Whole Prawns with basil oil and parsley.
How to book: Make reservations online or order takeout by calling 415-550-8114.
Perbacco’s Pork and Porcini Mushroom Sugo is cooked for five hours, coating thin, hand-cut tagliatelle noodles in a rich red wine sauce. But the showstopper is Perbacco’s Agnolotti Dal Plin, snugly filled with roasted meats and Savoy cabbage—the best use of cabbage outside of corned beef on St. Paddy's Day. A popular power lunch spot before power lunches stopped being a thing (temporarily), it’s also an excellent choice for dinner as it turns into a perfect date spot when the sun goes down. It’s also the rare Italian restaurant where the secondi should be a mandatory order.
How to book: Make reservations online or order takeout and delivery online.
Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
Not every Italian restaurant offers pastas you’ve never heard of or the exquisite pedigreed heirloom vegetables and happily slaughtered pigs. What Emmy’s does, it does really, really well: decent spaghetti and meatballs in a casual, if not rowdy, atmosphere. Here, you talk loudly because the table next to yours is doing the same. Don’t think too hard—order garlic bread then spaghetti with three fist-size meatballs. Emmy’s gets bonus points for serving zoodles (zucchini noodles), that famous dish that makes amateur home cooks feel like they made their own pasta but didn’t (that’s not just us, right?).
How to book: Make reservations or join the waitlist on Yelp. Order pickup via Clover and delivery online.
Oh, the bright yellow house. Whether you're taking off from SFO or driving by at 90 mph on I-280, you can't miss it. On the foggiest of days, it’s the most sunshine-filled spot in the most sunshine-filled neighborhood in town. And inside, it’s downright utopian. There are very fine pizzas and pastas here, along with a flat-out esoteric but delightful wine list that includes at least five countries most of us probably couldn’t find on a map. The move though, is any salad (YES, SALAD!) and the Pork and Beef Polpette with crushed tomato and parmesan.
How to book: Make reservations online or order takeout via Toast.
In the early days, SPQR was A16’s forgotten sibling dedicated to the Senatus Populusque Romanus, also known as Ancient Rome. Neat. Then executive chef Matthew Accarrino arrived and conquered the creative Italian narrative with Caesar-like gusto. Now you get a tour de force of pasta artistry that has ignited a storm of followers nationwide. During the pandemic, SPQR pivoted to a five-course prix fixe menu, but you can still order a la carte if you are willing to enjoy it at home. If you can, grab a seat at the tiny counter where you can watch the magic happen.
How to book: Make reservations online or order pickup and delivery via Toast.
Just a few blocks off the main Columbus thoroughfare in SF’s buzzy Italian neighborhood, in-the-know locals frequent this definitive trattoria that looks like a clubby steakhouse. You’re not getting a porterhouse here, though. Rather, you're going to dig into gnocchi bathing in tomato cream sauce and the Pavarotti, a cavalry of fusilli with chicken and prosciutto. Your other priority: this place is nirvana for Negroni nerds with their countless variations of the seemingly simple three-ingredient cocktail.
How to book: online.
The only choices you’ll have to make at Liguria, a family-owned bakery, are focaccia or more focaccia. You can get it plain, onion, pizza, raisin, garlic, rosemary, mushroom, black olive, rosemary garlic, or with jalapeño cheese. The good news is you can’t go wrong with any of them (though the plain and pizza are definitely favorites). Of course, if you don’t get there early (there will be a line), you might not have a choice because when the focaccia is gone, it’s gone. Oh, and bring cash, ‘cause credit cards are not accepted.
How to book: Walk up.
Once you have your Liguria Bakery focaccia in hand, count the 159 steps to Victoria’s door for cannoli. And biscotti. And tiramisu. And about 20 other cookies from the 100-year-old Sicilian bakery. Procure your treats and then turn around. Washington Square is right behind you for your DIY Italian al fresco carb picnic. Fate? Good planning? No need to overthink it. Just enjoy.
How to order: Walk up.
Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who would happily eat pasta seven days a week if she could. Follow her on Twitter @daisy and Instagram @daisysf.