The Perfect Italian Afternoon in San Francisco’s North Beach

Author: , October 28th, 2019

Acquolina - North Beach

We’ve been to North beach in San Francisco a number of times, but I always complain about how it’s only restaurants and coffee shops – no other real parts of Italian culture seem to be represented.

Well, that’s changed, and for the better. If you’re an Italianofile like Mark and I, there’s now an Italian bookstore in the heart of North beach, chock-full of Italian language books.

So we thought we’d share some tips for a perfect Italian afternoon in North Beach.

Start at Libreria Pino

In Italian, libreria means bookstore, while biblioteca means library. I know, confusing, right? This little bookstore on Greenwich Street, just a block east of Washington Square Park, is worth seeing. It’s only Italian language titles, making it perfect for both native speakers and those of us who are studying the Italian language.

Stop in about noon and browse the titles – there are so many to choose form, including a comprehensive children’s section at the back, and the owner, Joseph Carboni, is friendly and can help you zero in on the perfect book.

Libreria Pino - North Beach

Lunch at Acquolina

This cute little Italian restaurant faces Washington Square Park at Greenwich and Stockton, which most times is a big plus, but which was sadly more of a negative since there’s currently a big fence all around the park while it undergoes a renovation/rehabilitation. Still, it’s a cute little place.

The food here is fantastic – we had a salad with green apples and balsamic and a simple pepperoni pizza, and they were amazing, which makes sense, since acquolina means “mouth-watering.”

But the best part was our waiter, Marco, a recent transplant from Italy – I called him a twenty-five-year-old with a forty-five-year-old’s mustache (see the first photo above). He’s a cute, friendly guy who was more than willing to speak Italian with us, and he made the meal.

Pizza - Acquolina - North Beach

Pizza - Acquolina - North Beach

Dessert at Lush Gelato

Top off your perfect Italian Afternoon just a block down Stockton at Lush Gelato – I had a cinnamon chocolate scoop of gelato there that was devine. Eat there, or take your gelato trean – an afternoon snack in Italy is called a merenda – and stroll through North Beach on a passeggiata (casual stroll) like a real Italian.

Lush Gelato - North Beach

Find lodging in and around North beach here.

Caffe Baonecci: Our Favorite Gay Friendly Italian Restaurant in San Francisco

Author: , December 3rd, 2011

Caffe BaoNecci - San FranciscoWe wanted to bring up one of our favorite SF eats again – Caffe Baonecci in the heart of North Beach.

We’ve been here several times before, but it was the first time we had a regular meal here.  More on that later.

Caffe Baonecci is a cute little Italian ristorante on Green Street, just one block east of Columbus, on the bottom floor of a converted Victorian. Run by the Gambaccini family who bought the old Danilo Bakery about five years ago, this is a place where you can come to talk with real Italians and hear real Italian spoken – a rarity these days in North Beach.

We’ve been learning Italian for almost four years, something we initially flirted with back in 2005 when we took an Italian for Travelers course before our three week trip to Italy. But even if you don’t speak the language, Caffe BaoNecci is a charming, friendly place with great food, and the family – Walter and his radiant wife Stefania and their two sons, Elia and Filippo – are fluent in Italian and English, and will welcome you warmly.

Caffe Baonecci

Photo from SFGate.com

Every second Thursday, the restaurant hosts a dinner and move night, and yesterday was no exception. The movies are Italian with english subtitles, and represent both classics and modern Italian romantic comedies.

But this time, we came to Baonecci for a regular meal – we were in SF for three nights, and we planned to have dinner here on the first one.

When we arrived, the place was really quiet, but it began to fill up while we dined – it seems San Franciscans like eating late, like the Italians.

We started off with two salads – Mark had a green salad, which he said was excellent, and I ordered the Caprese salad.  My Caprese filled up the whole plate – probably ten slices of tomato topped with the most wonderful mozzarella cheese and a bit of olive oil and basil – perfetto!

Caffe BaoNecciFor the main course, Mark had a pizza with salame that was simply divine – I ate a slice and a half – and Stefania whipped up a wonderful vegetarian pasta dish stuffed with zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and tomato sauce.

The whole Gambaccini family made us feel welcome, answering our questions and talking with us during dinner.

While we were too full for dessert, the one we had the first time, a thin crust pizza with Nutella, was delicious (though you will get sticky hands!).

If you’re looking for a little authentic Italy in North Beach, get over to Caffe Baonecci – they’re open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and lunch Tuesday through Sunday starting at noon. For more information about the restaurant and their Thursday movie nights, check their website here.  As of this writing, the movie nights are $30 per person.

Caffe BaoNecci: Great Gay Friendly Family-Owned North Beach Restaurant

Author: , April 15th, 2011

Caffe BaoNecci - San FranciscoWe just got back from a quick one-day trip down to San Francisco – we drove down from Sacramento in the morning, took an architectural tour (more on that later), and then headed up to North Beach for something we’d read about a few months ago on the San Francisco Chronicle website – Dinner and a Movie at Caffe Baonecci.

Caffe Baonecci is a cute little Italian ristorante on Green Street, just one block east of Columbus, on the bottom floor of a converted Victorian. Run by the Gambaccini family who bought the old Danilo Bakery about five years ago, this is a place where you can come to talk with real Italians and hear real Italian spoken – a rarity these days in North Beach.

We’ve been learning Italian for three years, something we initially flirted with back in 2005 when we took an Italian for Travelers course before our three week trip to Italy. But even if you don’t speak the language, Caffe BaoNecci is a charming, friendly place with great food, and the family – Walter and his radiant wife Stefania and their two sons, Elia and Filippo – are fluent in Italian and English, and will welcome you warmly.

Caffe Baonecci

Photo from SFGate.com

Every second Thursday, the restaurant hosts a dinner and move night, and yesterday was no exception. The movies are Italian with english subtitles, and represent both classics and modern Italian romantic comedies.

Last night, the film was Mine Vaganti (Loose Cannons), a film directed by Ferzan Ozpetek (Saturn in Opposition, Facing Windows) – with a great gay theme. Tomasso, one of two heirs to their father’s pasta factory fortune, comes home from Rome to come out to his family. But his brother unexpectedly one-ups him, and the film veers in an unexpected direction.

We arrived for the night at 6 PM, and Stefania and Elia were setting up for the evening. The film is shown on a big flat screen above the bar, so we selected good seats, and settled in to watch the other guests arrive. These included an older Italian couple, a group of women friends, and a new student of Italian who has been studying the language for just 9 weeks, but is picking it up surprisingly quickly.

Caffe BaoNecciAt a little after 6:30, the lights went down, the film began, and the culinary delights started coming. First was a delicious bruschetta, followed by a tasty frittata (Italian quiche), both served family-style on a tray in the middle of each table. These both disappeared quickly, to be followed by subtle but flavorful black-eyed pea soup with lentils.

Next came a tasty Chicken Saltimbocca – Mark’s favorite dish of the night – served with a delicious side of vegetables.

Finally, as the movie wound down, we were given a special (if sticky) treat – a chocolate pizza… decadent chocolate sauce spread over a crispy, thin pizza crust.

If I had any regrets about the menu, it’s that we didn’t have a chance to try the regular pizza, which we hear is really good. Something to look forward to next time.

The whole Gambaccini family made us feel welcome, answering our questions and lingering after the film to speak with us. I had a chance to speak with Walter about attitudes in Italy toward the gay community – even 10 or 20 years ago, gays and lesbians were all but invisible in the country, but now more and more are coming out and finding acceptance.

If you’re looking for a little authentic Italy in North Beach, get over to Caffe Baonecci – they’re open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and lunch Tuesday through Sunday starting at noon. For more information about the restaurant and their Thursday movie nights, check their website here.  As of this writing, the movie nights are $30 per person.

From Nob Hill to North Beach in Three Easy Hours

Author: , July 2nd, 2010

Gay Friendly San Francisco Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals

<p style=”text-align: center;”><em>Gay Friendly San Francisco Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, and Vacation Rentals</em></p>

Chinatown, San Francisco

Whole Shebang TourAs we mentioned before, two days before SF Pride, we took a great walking tour of the city from Foot Comedy Walking tours called The Whole Shebang – a three hour jaunt starting on the top of Nob Hill at Huntington Park, winding down the hill to Union Square, winding through the back alleys of Chinatown, and ending up in the Italian-flavored North Beach.

The first part of this tour reprised much of what we learned when we took one of Foot Tour’s smaller tours last year – Hob Nobbing With Snobs on Nob Hill.

Whole Shebang Tour - Fairmont & the Transamerica PyramidWe won’t recount the Nob Hill portion of the tour, but instead will pick up with the Union Square portion. We visited the St. Francis Hotel on the square, admiring the clock in the lobby that was the meeting place for generations of San Franciscans – at one time, “I’ll meet you under the clock” was as well understood as “I’ll meet you by the Pyramid” would be today.

Another fun fact about this hotel – the original version was several blocks away, and consisted of several mail-order pre-fab homes stacked one upon the other, with rooms separated by burlap curtains. Not quite the upscale accommodations the hotel offers today.

Whole Shebang Tour - Union Square

And even the current structure has gone through some rough times – it was close to completion before the great fire, and took three years to open afterwards.

From the hotel, we strolled past Union Square (where Tony Bennett really did leave his heart) and along Post Street, just a half block from Maiden Lane, which was at one time notorious for prostitution, and now is better known for high-end boutique shops.

Whole Shebang Tour - Gorgeous Little ThingsWe also passed a number of street vendors selling gorgeous little things.

A sharp left took us onto Grant Street, the oldest street in the city and once the edge of the bay, which now sits eight or nine blocks east of here. In fact, during the Gold Rush, so many potential miners came to San Francisco and left their ships to rot that the Bay began to fill, and soon the city was selling lots of underwater “land” – for just $5, you could own a plot, and only had to fill it in to have your own piece of San Francisco Paradise.

From here, we detoured one block east to Kearny – and to the magical elevator. Nice bit of street theater here as our tour guide took us into the parking garage, and assured us that we’d emerge from this magical elevator into Chinatown.

Sure enough, we popped up in St. Mary’s Square on the edge of Chinatown. Although I’ve lived in the Bay Area on and off for almost twenty years, I’ve never really been to Chinatown, and I was pleasantly surprised. The whole thing burned to the ground in the 1906 quake and fire, and although there was a movement to push out the Chinese during the rebuilding effort, it was squashed by the city because they realized how much of the workforce the Chinese laborers provided.

Whole Shebang Tour - Twice Baked BricksAs the district was rebuilt, the American architects used established architectural styles and grafted on some asian influences to create buildings that looked like what they thought Chinese architecture should look like, but in reality were nothing like the real thing you would have found in mainland China at the time.

Many buildings here were built with re-used bricks (see the photo at left) that had come through the fire – twice baked, as it were, and actually now stronger than they were originally, for all that many of them look cracked and fused.

One church that we saw, in particular, blended yellow brick that was among the first of the rebuilding supplies to come by ship around South America with these re-used bricks to make an entirely new structure – see the photo at right.

The touristy Chinatown lies along the district’s main streets, but the real Chinatown lives in the allies.

This area is the most densely populated in the city, and you’ll find a surprising mix of apartments, shops, factories, and artwork along these back-ways.

Whole Shebang Tour - Fortune Cookie FactoryOne thing we found, thanks to our guide, was a small fortune cookie factory. A woman sat in the middle of the narrow, crowded shop, manually folding the round cookie dough into a specially-made tray, and then feeding the cookies into an oven on a little conveyor belt.

We bought some little round cookies made from the same dough – the strawberry ones, in particular, were very good, and the bag didn’t survive past the end of our trip. 🙂

Finally, we emerged into North Beach – the dividing line is a little fuzzy, and for a short stretch you see an Italian store, followed by a Chinese store, and then back into Italy again.

Whole Shebang Tour - Wooden Frame BuildingHere, we saw one of the last sights on the tour – the only wooden-frame building to have survived in the heart of the fire zone, because the owners soaked it in water and draped wet cloths over it, and stayed to put out any sparks that chanced to land on its roof.

We ended the tour in Washington Square. It’s an easy walk from start to finish with only one moderately steep hill, and it was a treat to see some aspects of The City we’d never seen before.  There’s also a lot more wonderful (and often funny) historical information than we had time for here.

Now if I can just remember where that Fortune Cookie factory is…