There’s no shortage of Italian restaurants in San Francisco. However, if you’re after an extraordinary pasta experience, one that rivals any eatery in Rome or Florence, we recommend making a reservation at one of the following places.
This Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant is an extraordinary choice for a celebratory meal. Everything about your Quince experience promises to be luxurious, from the plush fabric pillows that dot the bar’s lounge to the recently served button-shaped pumpkin pasta done with creamy burrata and rich honey. Chef Michael Tusk offers a couple of different tasting menus, and they all incorporate one or two housemade pastas. The extensive wine list and non-noodle courses (spiny lobster, venison) that are readily available only make your time at Quince that much more delectable.
Located on Fillmore Street in the charming Pacific Heights neighborhood, SPQR serves up modern Italian in a chic, inviting setting. Chef Matthew Accarrino is a maestro when it comes to making hand-rolled pastas, and his inventive takes are often enhanced with unusual ingredients — white truffle Parmesan broth over pyramid-shaped pasta, and abalone alfredo, American bottarga and garlic chips with Meyer lemon fettuccine certainly come to mind. An unforgettable plate of pasta requires an equally memorable glass of wine, and SPQR’s selection, carefully curated by owner and sommelier Shelley Lindgren, features little-known Italian labels such as the Alto Adige region’s Baron Andreas Widmann winery.
Craig and Annie Stoll, the celebrated couple behind Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina, launched this Valencia Street standby in 2011, and it’s just as spirited today as it was on opening night. The restaurant is a scene in the best kind of way — loud music, unisex bathrooms and tables that are a little too close together. The welcoming atmosphere makes diners feel like extended family partaking in a pasta dinner that’s to die for. Chef Anthony Strong makes upscale versions of beloved classics such as carbonara (with housemade rigatoni and cubes of fatty guanciale), cacio e pepe (a simple traditional pasta mixed with black pepper and pecorino cheese) and amatriciana (bucatini tossed with a spicy tomato-guanciale sauce). All of the noodles are hand-cranked in the morning, then boiled to al dente deliciousness right after you order it. After dinner, have a flight of amaro; Locanda has an impressive assortment of the Italian herbal digestif.
A Laurel Heights hot spot, Spruce doesn’t devote itself exclusively to pasta. However, chef Mark Sullivan’s decadent and seasonal creations are must-orders. If you dine at the Four-Star establishment regularly, you’ll notice that the pasta dishes change like the wind patterns. But more often than not, a pillowy gnocchi or a ricotta agnolotti and made-in-house tagliatelle — depending on the time of year, it can come with braised rabbit legs or butter-poached lobster — will be served. Like its evolving menu, Spruce also offers several different atmospheres under its roof: a bustling bar, the busy and intimate dining room, and the secluded back room.
This jewel box of a restaurant can’t seat much more than 40 people. The tidy confines sport a décor that’s minimal and unfussy. The waitstaff is friendly and attentive, and some even have thick Italian accents. Yet even with all of these glowing touches, the pasta still shines brightest at this beloved neighborhood trattoria. The raviolo uovo is a singular giant stuffed treat, with an egg yolk and housemade ricotta cheese in the middle. The dish is then covered in a light brown butter sauce and served with Tuscan kale. It’s pure heaven. Another favorite is the kale tagliatelle. Ribbons of the cooked green are tossed with a mushroom ragu and plenty of shaved Parmesan — the final combination magically melts in your mouth.