There is no shortage of sensational Italian restaurants in San Francisco. Virtually every neighborhood has multiple stellar options—from charming gems like Seven Hills in Russian Hill to authentic eateries dedicated to regional cuisine such as La Ciccia in Noe Valley. However, sometimes you get a specific craving for a certain type of pasta, say thick ribbons of pappardelle with meat sauce or toothsome rich carbonara. When the hunger strikes for a very special bowl of pasta, you know where to find us—at one of the following five Italian joints.
1 Locanda’s Carbonara
Sometimes the best pastas only involve a handful of quality ingredients and precise technique. Such is the case with Locanda’s superb pasta carbonara. It’s the stuff carbonara dreams are made of: tubes of chubby housemade rigatoni are suspended in a rich creamy sauce and dotted with fatty chunks of guanciale. Many cooks substitute bacon or pancetta, but the traditional Roman recipe, which Locanda’s chef Anthony Strong follows, calls for pork jowl, or guanciale. No cream is used; instead the pasta’s silky sauce is just-cooked eggs and melted cheese.
2 Flour + Water’s Agnolotti dal Plin
If you’ve never had agnolotti dal plin before, stop what you’re doing and make a reservation at Flour + Water immediately. When you arrive, order a bowl of these miniature ravioli. Agnolotti dal plin are bite-sized pillows of pasta filled with a savory mixture of slow-cooked pork, chicken, and rabbit. The dish is native to the Piedmont region of Italy and is a cult favorite to die-hard pasta lovers. We think Flour + Water’s chef, Thomas McNaughton, makes the best agnolotti dal plin around.
3 Barzotto’s Pappardelle
Pappardelle is one-inch wide ribbons of fresh pasta. It’s very thin, but it’s hearty and pairs wonderfully with a satisfying meat sauce. At the Mission pasta house, Barzotto, the excellent pappardelle is smothered in a slow-braised beef sauce with mushrooms and rosemary. It’s fantastic: months after eating it, we’re still thinking about it. All of the pasta at Barzotto is wonderful and if you’re into making Italian food at home, you can buy it dried to go.
4 Tosca Cafe’s Amatriciana
Although Tosca Cafe doesn’t use the word amatriciana, savvy foodies know the age-old Italian name for the combination of ingredients listed on the North Beach eatery’s menu. Bucatini, tomato, guanciale, and chili are the components to make this classic dish beloved to many nonnas. The pasta is cooked to perfection and plated in an elegant swirl with the perfect amount of porky red sauce. Order a glass of Chianti and toast to the little luxuries of life!
5 Maybeck’s Macaroni and Cheese
No list of preferred pasta dishes is complete without a mention of the childhood favorite, macaroni and cheese. While many diners and sport's pubs serve up their version of cheese and pasta, you can’t beat Maybeck’s fancy grown-up-friendly mac and cheese. The orecchiette pasta is handmade and the thick béchamel sauce consists of a copious amount of sharp white cheddar cheese.