The same year it launched its airy Telegraph Avenue outpost, Pasta Bene jumped onto the Bargain Bites 2010 list in the San Francisco Chronicle, which also praised its "friendly" service. Its family of owners, however, arrived with 20 years of experience behind the scenes of area Italian restaurants, meaning that its menu of stone-fired pizzas and hearty entrees leavened with California freshness came together naturally. In 13 pasta dishes, noodles entwine with slow-photosynthesized seasonal vegetables and rich tomato and cream sauces, while the dessert menu may suggest an easier choice with its house-made tiramisu, a customer favorite. Wooden rafters and iron chandeliers vault over the casual, sunlit dining room overlooking a street-side patio.
North Beach Pizza has been curing cravings for gourmet pizza, pastas, submarine sandwiches, and other hearty eats for more than 20 years. Thin and thick pizza crusts are tossed by hand and topped with whole milk mozzarella before baking evenly in industrial ovens, creating perfect, edible canvases ready to be bedecked in ingredients that include everything from fresh spinach and feta cheese, to clams and Linguiça––a form of Portuguese pork sausage. Delivery is free to eligible areas around each location, saving time that may be better spent setting the table or taking inventory of its legs.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
The cooks at Lanesplitter bake up a menu of New York–style pizzas and pocket-like calzones, and bartenders at the three pub locations pour a large selection of microbrews. An army of nearly 30 meaty, veggie, and vegan toppings stands ready to occupy thin neapolitan or thick sicilian crusts in combinations such as the herbivore's spinach, mushrooms, onions, and olives ($23.50 for a 19-inch) or the garbage pie's heaping mélange of spiced meats and crisper-drawer items ($27.50 for a 19-inch). The bar's taps have recently flowed with Racer 5 by Bear Republic, E.J. Phair's doppelbock, and hand-pumped Bombay by Boat IPA from Moonlight Brewing Company. Some locations host art openings, where diners and drinkers may admire photography, paintings, or mosaics made entirely of anchovies.
Venezia is a locally owned and operated restaurant now in its 30th year, serving up delectable Italian fare for lunch and dinner. Kick off a memorable meal with house-made potato chips ($7) topped with reggiano and served with white truffle oil, or nosh on olive-oil flatbread ($9) flanked with an entourage of Licini sopressata salami, olives, and baked goat cheese with roasted garlic. Entrees include the spaghetti carbonara ($16), which tosses bacon with egg and chili flakes, and the malfatti hand-cut pasta ($17), which incites tongue tapping with a harmony of porcini and crimini mushrooms along with roasted tomatoes, vermouth, and cream. Satisfy an entire battalion of sweet teeth with desserts such as the Madagascar-vanilla-cream custard ($6.50) sprinkled with braised blackberries and strawberries and the bittersweet chocolate-mousse torte ($8) crowned with raspberry coulis and whipped cream.
Will and Karen Gioia passion for cooking has taken them everywhere from the coveted kitchens of Rick Bayless and Chez Panisse to rural France. But the breadth of their travels led them to a singular focus for their own restaurant: tradition. At Gioia Pizzeria, they prep thin-crust pies with locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients and strive to recapture the flavors of Will's childhood in Brooklyn, which was spent surrounded by Italian relatives and recipes. Today, Will and Karen evoke the same familial spirit at their two locations: a casual countertop spot in Berkeley, and a spacious San Francisco restaurant lit by vintage fixtures. The San Francisco Bay Guardian differentiates the couple's pizzas from greasier East-coast variants, deeming them "New York-spirited, with hearty crust and California-fresh toppings." Pecorino and house-made Sicilian sausage sprinkles the salsiccia pizza, whereas the vegetarian butternut squash pizza derives its complex flavors from organic squash, mozzarella, gorgonzola, and gremolata. The Julian—a pizza named after Karen and Will's son—changes its ingredients seasonally, having sported prosciutto, red onion, and garlic in the past. The team's emphasis on homemade fare doesn't end at pizzas, either. They fill their sweet, ricotta-stuffed cannolis onsite and tap their own lemon trees to fill glasses with fresh lemonade everyday.