Noshing around North Beach

Is it really better to give than to receive? What if you could both give AND receive? Wouldn’t that be the best of all possible worlds? I think so. Last Christmas, I gave Mr. B a gift certificate for a San Francisco North Beach food tour (operated by Sidewalk Tours) and made it for two–so I got to come along!

On a recent sunny/cloudy/windy/sunny Saturday, we began our tour in front of Caffe Trieste on Vallejo Street. Casey, our tour guide for the day, began by giving us a brief history of the area, including North Beach and the nearby Barbary Coast. We learned about the influx of gold-seekers from around the world, and how the beach actually used to be there before so much of the Bay got filled in. Fishermen came from Italy and settled near where they could dock their boats, right there in North Beach. But enough with the talking! We headed off to our first stop: Molinari Delicatessen–they’ve been in business for over 100 years!


One of their salamis was presented to Pope John Paul II. We saw the picture of the transaction

Lots of cheese, but none for the pope.

Lots of cheese, but none for the pope.

I won’t give away what we got to sample here, but there are some clues in the pictures. After our first taste of North Beach Italian deli, we headed up the street to a San Francisco landmark that doesn’t have anything to do with food.

We paused to pay our respects to City Lights Bookstore, and passed up the chance to buy a “Howl” onesie for our younger grandson. Maybe next time. But Casey gave an excellent overview of the history of City Lights, the beat generation, and how Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s decision to publish Allen Ginsburg’s poem changed the future of publishing. There’s an alleyway between City Lights and Vesuvio Cafe, with the words of poets embedded in large concrete squares. I caught my shadow in this picture of Maya Angelou’s: “Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.”


maya quoteThe alleyway leads into Chinatown, so halfway across, the language of the poetry changes from English to Chinese.

There’s no point in being coy about our next stop at Golden Boy Pizza, where the place was packed and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.


Well, hello to you too!

Casey told us the story of how this pizza came to be, and why it’s “hip to be square.” This is one man’s vision of what pizza ought to be. See for yourself. We loved it! Golden boy2

And I loved their sign, which manages to combine boxing, San Francisco landmarks, a golden crown, and a drippy piece of  pepperoni pizza,

golden boy sign

I may have some of this out of order, but at one point we stopped at the corner of Columbus and Broadway and considered the Transamerica Pyramid, the wrecks of old sailing ships below, and the birdlike books–part of an art installation–hanging above us, with their “fallen words” scattered at our feet, engraved in the sidewalk. Off in the distance I saw part of something painted on a wall across the street that I later learned was Banksy’s handiwork! My first sighting.


Courtesy of

After a brief stroll through Chinatown, and a quick stop at a bakery for a bag of almond cookies, cookieswe headed back to North Beach to the Original U.S. Restaurant.photo8







We had some excellent meatballs, delicious gnocchi, and (some of us, anyway), had a nice glass of red wine. It felt good to sit a while and get to know our touring companions.


No matter what he’s cooking, you should eat it!

We didn’t stop in at Mara’s Italian Pastry. We just pressed our faces against the window to get a closer look. Pastries as big as your head!



On our way to learn more about the oldest church in town, we had to stop at another dining opportunity. These girls were impossible to resist, so we didn’t.


Lemonade and cookies!

Our next stop was XOX Truffles, and guess what we ate there?

We  got to see chef Jean-Marc Gorce dip into a vat of chocolate and roll some truffles for us to try. We also got to select some to sample. A real high point of the tour!

 Chef Jean-Marc explains the healthy aspects of dark chocolate. Preaching to the choir.

Chef Jean-Marc explains the healthy aspects of dark chocolate. Preaching to the choir.


 Voila! And ready to roll

Voila! And ready to roll



A few of our options

How good were they?

B gets one



Oh yes, that good.

(There was some big deal athletic event happening that day. Lots of people staring at TVs in almost every place we went. But we were on a mission–no time to watch whatever it was those guys were doing.)

Last, but by no means least, we stopped at A. Cavalli & Co. for one of their made-fresh-just-for-us treats.


Not only delicious, but a work of art. The artist allowed a photograph.


One final sit-down and a chance to chat with other members of our group, and then it was time to thank Casey for a wonderful day and waddle wander off in different directions.

me and casey

Taking the cannoli

This was such a fun event–and so is the Sidewalk Food Tour Casey does in the Mission. She’s enthusiastic, well-organized, knowledgeable, and knows where to find the “best” of everything from antipasti to truffles in North Beach.

We loved playing foodie tourists in the City. Way too many years had passed since my last visit to North Beach, and I felt as though I got reacquainted with this corner of the city.

Golden Boy and XOX Truffles, and the others: you haven’t seen the last of me!




8 Responses to Noshing around North Beach

  1. mindy trotta says:

    Love, love, love San Fran. So many great memories, and 90% of them had to do with food!

  2. Love North Beach, but good Italian food can be hard to find…we’ve had some terrible meals. Then again…we are Sicilian so we’re picky. Still, we do hang out there a lot. 😉

  3. Lindy says:

    Nice write-up Risa…I certainly enjoyed getting to know you on the tour. Cheers

  4. Oh, how I miss San Francisco! Thank you for the virtual visit. I can smell the yummy deliciousness and taste the salt air. Sigh.

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