People in San Francisco like waiting in line for food (a lot). Sometimes, that wait is worth it. While You Wait, SFist's guide for how to pass the time while trying to get into San Francisco's most ridiculously popular restaurants, is here to help.
Minimum wait time at Sotto Mare for party of four, Wednesday, 7:30 PM: too busy to answer the phone. However, on a recent Saturday, the wait was an hour and a half, minimum.
Sometimes, it feels like there are two North Beaches. One is touristy, clogged with slow-walkers in San Francisco-embroidered fleeces, filled with crappy Italian restaurants, and overrun by the frat crowd on Saturday nights. This is a North Beach I quickly learned to avoid. But the other North Beach is filled with longtime local residents, neighborhood shops, Beatnik poets, and the kind of classic, Italian spirit that makes you want to be In The Family, stat.
Sotto Mare is a restaurant that evokes the best of this other, often hidden North Beach. The old school, seafood-centric restaurant serves freshly caught, simply prepared fish; piles of shellfish-laden linguini; and some of the best cioppino on offer in this fair city. Equally awesome is Sotto’s proprietor — Gigi Fiorucci is the kind of guy who remembers regulars, and treats them like VIPs.
Unless you have a reservation, you can count on a wait at Sotto (which might be lessened should you be a regular, or in the company of one). If you can hold out, you are definitely getting the aforementioned cioppino for two — it’s served in a silver tureen, and comes with bibs. You would do well to start with some west coast oysters and smoky, tomato-rich baccala. From there? Whatever’s fresh. I’ve had great plates of sand dabs, rex sole, petrale sole, and monkfish. The seafood pasta is delicious, as is the perfectly executed Crab Louie.
Portions are big, so it’s a great strategy to work up an appetite. Where to do it right?
Hour One: Church Key
Grant Avenue can be something of a disaster on Saturday nights, what with the sloppy crowds spilling out of the open window at Savoy Tivoli, and the even sloppier ones dancing to cover bands at Maggie McGarry’s. Slip into the Church Key for respite; this almost-hidden beer bar happens to be one of the best in the city. They have a rotating selection of draft beers that are consistently interesting, and a bottle list that will have the biggest beer geeks drooling. Should you happen to be there on a Wednesday night, you can enjoy your brews along with some deep cuts of ‘60s soul, played on vinyl.
Church Key: 1402 Grant (at Green), 415-986-3511
Hour Two: The Square
photo credit: lauren sloss
Now that you’ve laid down a good beer base, head to The Square for a cocktail and a snack, if you must. Housed in the former Washington Square Bar and Gril, The Square pays homage to the glory days of the Washbag in the ‘70s and ‘80s with an epic stone-walled bar, and a cleverly executed cocktail menu. We’re pretty obsessed with Claire Sprouse’s versions of an Apple-tini, wine spritzer, and even a White Russian — the references may be vintage, but the flavors are not. Pair your drinks with an order of beef tartare to share, and try to not order the (very good) burger.
The Square: 1707 Powell (between Columbus & Union), 415-525-3579
When it becomes too challenging to avoid the main course section of The Square’s menu, hightail it to Tony Nik’s across Columbus. This bar is as classic as Sotto, with a preserved air of late ‘40s-early ‘50s sophistication (right down to the glass-bricked wall). Snag a few barstools or, if you’re lucky, the table and booth in the back, and make like Sinatra with a dirty martini, extra dirty. Gin-soaked olives totally count as a snack, right?
Tony Nik's: 1534 Stockton St. (between Green & Union), 415-693-0990
Oh yeah, that’s why you stopped ordering martinis five years ago. Sotto has long passed your name on the list, and you’re far too slammed to try to sweet talk your way into Gigi’s good graces. But, you have a hankering for classic North Beach that has to be filled. Head next door to Golden Boy Pizza, the standard bearer of the ‘hood’s by-the-slice trade. Yeah, you’ll be jostled by the Grant Avenue Saturday night crowd, but oh, will it be worth it when you get your thick, toppings-heavy slice of Sicilian-style pizza. Yes, you should order two. Or three. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that next time, you’ll call ahead for a reservation.
Golden Boy: 542 Green (between Grant & Columbus), 415-982-9738