North Beach, One Slice at a Time

Brian Button
Photo by Albert Poon

Take a waltz through North Beach, and you may notice a few things: alleyways named after famed Beatniks. An entire avenue lit up by risqué neon signs. Street lamps displaying green, white, and red stripes. Young urban professionals and families (along with plenty of tourists) occupying sidewalk cafes and ristorantes.

Whether it’s browsing the windows of Italian bakeries that line Columbus Ave., sharing a blanket at Washington Square Park in the shadow of Saints Peter and Paul Church (where Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe), or browsing the Italian Voices collection at the Beat Generation hotspot City Lights Bookstore, one thing is for certain: Much of this is a faded homage to the Italian origins of San Francisco’s “Little Italy.” Starting with the Gold Rush and peaking in the 1920s, waves of Italian immigrants—in particular, fishermen from Liguria and residents of Lucca in nearby Tuscany—settled in North Beach, bringing their culinary traditions overseas. Along with the influx in Italian population came specialties like Italian pastries, espresso, and, of course, pizza.

Pizza lovers can learn a lot about North Beach just by eating their way through the neighborhood. Tommaso’s has been open for 85 years, since the Cantolupo family emigrated from Naples to found it in 1935. They brought the first wood-burning pizza oven to the West Coast—something that many newer pizzerias would later take inspiration from.

The restaurant highlighted in the story. Order delivery or grab pick-up from this amazing spot.
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