Image of Fior d'ItaliaItalian restaurants in San Francisco are articles of export. The energies of many immigrants from Italy to the U.S. went into introducing their “old country” culinary expertise to create a viable industry in San Francisco. Such efforts were not officially recognized by the critics until Holiday Magazine made note in the 1950’s. Fior d’Italia is the city’s oldest surviving Italian restaurant established in 1886. Buon Gusto has created the best sausage since the seventies, featuring Genoese pasta with pesto as well as polenta with cioppino. Julius’ Castle is still known for its zucchini Florentine. Lucca Deli has served the Marina District at the same location since 1929. Salami hanging from the ceiling and wheels of cheese in open racks introduce you to employees who still roll their ravioli by hand to achieve a light and tender product. Tommaso’s opened in North Beach in 1935 with the first wood-fire brick pizza oven on the West Coast.

Family run businesses:

In the tradition of family run businesses, Agostino of Tommaso’s makes the pizza dough while sister Lydia serves as executive chef. Sister Carmen waits on the tables along with her mother Anna. Dante Benedetti (R.I.P.) would drag wayward kids off the streets to work in his New Pisa restaurant alongside his daughters Luna and Carmen. Dante (who later became the baseball coach at U.S.F.) is credited with discovering the DiMaggio brothers, replacing their fishing poles with baseball bats. Such examples of the Italian spirit still exist today through these establishments and so many others despite the winds of change. As Italians leave for the suburbs, Chinese occupy empty storefronts in North Beach. Hunan’s restaurant is a typical example of this shift. Also, the high rents of Telegraph Hill and the surrounding neighborhood are introducing a mixed bag of “outsiders”.

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