Dear Rain,

Best Italian restaurant in North Beach?



Dear Hungry,

Until you asked me that question I hadn't really realized that when I'm looking to get some Italian food, North Beach is never the first place I think of to go. And in fact, I'm having a hard time thinking if it ever was, because when I want Italian food, I actually go to the Mission! (If you bear with me a second, though, I do have some North Beach recs below.)

If I'm craving a big plate of good old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, I'm gonna head to Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, at 3230 Mission, where the balls are huge and tasty. (THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID). A little over a year ago, Emmy's moved a block away from their original tiny spot, about doubling their seating capacity, though you can still expect a wait during peak weekend hours. Alas, with the move came the loss of their full bar, but the beer and wine still flows.

Along with their famed balls and spaghetti, (and if it's just the balls you want, you can get that too), they've got other pasta offerings that usually include a seasonal special, and a cream-based pasta, all vegetarian optional. Also: fabulous garlic bread and ceviche!

But, if I want to get a little more fancy with my Italian fare, I'm going to La Traviata, at 2854 Mission between 24th and 25th, a little gem of a restaurant my family and I have been going to for over three decades. My parents first became aware of the place in the 1970's, when we lived in the Mission, and they were walking around the neighborhood. At that time, La Traviata was also a pizza place, but that menu item didn't last long, and instead it became slightly more upscale, and eventually attracted the opera crowd in the 1970s and 80s, becoming a favorite of such opera legends as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Beverly Sills. (Order the chicken dish named after her!)

You wouldn't think such an old school Italian place could be found in the heart of the Mission, but there it lies, walls decorated with hundreds of pictures of its famous patrons. (See how many celebs you actually recognize! There are some surprises up there.) Like Emmy's, they don't have a full bar, but they do have a reasonably priced wine menu. You can't go wrong with their pasta dishes, but the chicken dishes are also fab, (be sure to order a side of tortellini with white sauce with any non-pasta entree), and they make an amazing baby octopus salad. (Yes. Baby octopus.) La Traviata remains the family choice for birthdays (expect a serenade!) and dinners with visitors from out of town.

In the past, while I would never go out of my way to go to North Beach for Italian food, if I was there, I know I had some go-to places that, alas, are no longer around. If I wanted Italian waiters to hit on me, I'd go to the Steps of Rome. If I wanted to eat family style, I'd go to Capp's Corner. And if I wanted to dine in a restaurant surrounded by strip clubs, I'd go to Little Joe's on Broadway.

Nowadays, if I want to eat really delicious Italian food but resent the high prices and small portions, I'll go to Tosca. If I want a drunken late night slice of thick-crust pizza, I'll go to Golden Boy. And if I want an amazing green fettuccine with duck in a pink brandy sauce, I'll go to the awkwardly modern restaurant, Pantarei.

But if I want really satisfying Italian food, I'm still going to the Mission.

Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.

In these Troubled San Francisco Times, there is a lot of talk about who was here when, and what that does (or doesn't) mean. In an effort to both assist newcomers and take long-time residents down memory lane, we present to you Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!