White Christmas lights and a chandelier cast warm glows on the hardwood floors and white-linen cloths in Viva Vocé Café’s small dining room. Behind this elegant scene, chefs in the kitchen craft a lineup of traditional Italian dishes using simple, seasonal ingredients, including locally grown produce and quality olive oils. Chefs whip up caprese salads, margherita pizzas, pastas, and seafood entrees, which adults can pair with wine while their kids enjoy a beverage such as fruit juice, milk, or sippy cups of espresso.
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.
Known for their successful takeover of Hudson Bay Café, I Squared proprietors Sadri Madjlessi and Tanya Anderson partner with executive chef Nory Madjlessi to combine traditional Iranian and Italian fare into one bold menu. Chef Nory honed his Italian culinary skills under Giovanni LoCoco at LoCoco's and absorbed knowledge of traditional Iranian recipes and cooking techniques from his mother. Rather than attempting traditional fusion fare, Chef Nory aims to stay true to the flavors of both countries, filling I Squared's ever-changing menu with Iranian staples such as fesenjoon—a stew of chicken, walnuts, and saffron served over basmati rice—as well as Italian classics, such as eggplant parmigiana. Using local and sustainable ingredients when possible, Chef Nory preps his signature lamb-stuffed cabbage wraps as patrons peek in the open kitchen from their places at minimalist butcher-block-topped tables. A stainless-steel-topped bar holds a beginner's alchemy kit and the makings of specialty and dessert cocktails along with extensive wine and beer offerings.
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.
E-22's menu spans the toe and heel of boot-shaped fare with savory specimens of Southern Italian cooking. Launch your meal with a light opener such as the insalata Ustica, with Sicilian tuna, blood oranges, caper berries, and red onions in an aged balsamic dressing ($9), or break down the gates of appetite with a hot, pressed battering ram of powerful panini, such as the specialita di Guiseppe (slow-roasted pork shoulder braised with rosemary, garlic, grilled onion, and red-wine-roast jus, $8). Pair a hot Illy cappuccino ($3) with a classic individual pizza, such as the margherita (tomato, oregano, fresh basil, mozzarella di bufala, and extra-virgin olive oil, $7), or quaff an imported barley brew such as Italian Birra Moretti or La Rossa ($4.50 each) alongside a dinner entree of salsicce (Italian fennel sausage, roasted red pepper, grilled onions, and roasted tomatoes with a side salad, lemon-garlic spinach, and roasted eggplant caponata crostini, $11.99). Make sure to ask your server about the current drink specials and for the latest oenophiliac updates from the wine bar.
Four Star Pizza’s masterful pie artisans dole out steamy slices of pizza loaded with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella to complement hot sandwiches, wings, and baked italian pastas. Specialty pizza creations include an all-meat smorgasbord of pepperoni, beef, and canadian bacon and a greek pizza loaded with marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and ancient philosophical texts. Chefs make pies to-order daily in seven sizes, from the personal 8-inch pie to a massive 24-inch replica of a Roman chariot’s wheel.