North Beach; SF’s Culinary History: Part 5 of 12


In the heart of the city is San Francisco's North Beach. Sandwiched between Telegraph and Russian Hill — with Fisherman's Wharf to the north, the Financial District to the south, and Chinatown to the southwest — this community is steeped in rich Italian heritage. In the late 1800s, thousands of Italian immigrants moved to this central part of town in search of new lives and business opportunities. Italian family-owned cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops still largely make up the North Beach business community today; but the neighborhood has become increasingly international due to the variety of ethnic restaurants and Asian markets sprinkled throughout the area.

One of North Beach's most prominent Italian family-owned businesses is the famous Molinari & Sons Italian delicatessen, on busy Columbus Avenue. P.G. Molinari started the company in 1896, and created a family brand of dry-cured salami and sausages that people around the world enjoy. Entering Molinari is like visiting an alimentari (grocery store) in Italy, with the musical sound of locals speaking in Italian and the robust smell of imported cheeses, dried fish, prepared foods, and of course cured meats.

Just a few blocks from Molinari is the family-owned Liguria Bakery. Established in 1911, this tiny shop on the quaint corner of Grant and Stockton is one of the original Focaccia bread makers in the city. Still in the same location as they opened in nearly a century ago, Liguria Bakery remains the best producer of Focaccia bread according to many locals. 

The Italian restaurant New Joe's first opened on Broadway, in North Beach, in 1932. Memorable images of the restaurant feature waiters dressed in tuxedos and diners seated at the counter taking in all the excitement from the open kitchen. New Joe's eventually closed; but in 1937, the restaurant re-opened under the name Original Joe’ on Taylor Street, in the Tenderloin. Famous for creating the Joe’s Special, a dish composed of scrambled eggs, spinach, onions, and ground chuck, the signature dish now appears on different restaurant menus all over the Bay Area. The story of how the dish was created has several versions. Many favor the one about the musician who requested a hearty late night dinner, resulting in the chef throwing together what was left in the kitchen. Though Original Joe's had a surprisingly long life in the Tenderloin District(a particularly less savory part of town), a severe fire took the restaurant in 2007. Original Joe's has yet to re-open, but in recent months there have been talks of it returning to North Beach. 

In 1936, Silvio Zorzi opened the happening Italian restaurant Vanessi's on Broadway. Counter-side seating around the open kitchen was one of Vanessi's trademarks, as were specialty dishes such as the Chicken Cacciatore and Spaghetti Cabonara. Though Vanessi's was a major hotspot on Broadway for  years, in the 1980s new owners moved the restaurant to California Street in Nob Hill. Sadly, slow business in that location led to the restaurant’s abrupt closure in 1997. 

When it comes to historical coffee houses in San Francisco, the first that comes to mind is Caffé Trieste. Giovanni Giotta, the founder of Caffé Trieste, is called "the Espresso Pioneer of the West Coast." This is a title he earned in the coffee industry for bringing espresso to the West Coast and for helping to inspire the American espresso movement that exists today. The other party credited for starting the espresso movement in America is Caffè Reggio in Manhattan; it was the first coffee house in the country to serve cappuccino. The charming Bohemian café, tucked away on Vallejo and Grant Avenue, is where the first cappuccino in the city was served and where many say filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola wrote part of his Godfather screenplay. Since it opened in 1956, writers, poets, composers, and serious coffee drinkers have spent countless afternoons at Caffé Trieste. Visitors have also become increasingly aware of its fascinating history and reputation for some of the best coffee in the city. 


San Francisco's Culinary History: Part 1 of 12

The Iconic Foods of San Francisco; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 2 of 12

Culinary Institutions; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 3 of 12

Fisherman's Wharf; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 4 of 12

North Beach; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 5 of 12

The Mission; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 6 of 12

Nostalgia; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 7 of 12

The Creme de la Crème; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 8 of 12

Asian Influence; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 9 of 12

The Veggie Scene; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 10 of 12

Ice Cream Goodness; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 11 of 12

Food Forward; San Francisco’s Culinary History: Part 12 of 12



Popular Articles

Las Vegas Buffet GuideThe Gluten-Free GiantWine and Plastic Cups: Not a Perfect PairingUnusual Delicacies Around the World: Can You Stomach It? Italian Food: now mafia free! More Articles ...