Nestled within the heart of San Francisco, the vibrant enclave of North Beach, known as "Little Italy," beats with the rich history and passion of its over 20,000 Italian residents. Since the beginning of Italian immigration to the area in 1850, this neighborhood has stood as a resilient testament to the enduring spirit of its inhabitants. Taking a journey through time and taste, America Domani explores North Beach's oldest Italian establishments that you won’t want to miss on your next trip to California.
Saints Peter and Paul Church (1884)
Established in 1884 within the heart of San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul stands as a testament to time and tradition. Fondly referred to as "la cattedrale italiana dell'Ovest" – the Italian cathedral of the West – the church holds a place of reverence in the hearts of many. While the term "cathedral" is used colloquially, the structure boasts twin loft spires that soar 191 feet. Since its consecration, the church has not only graced the city's skyline but has also radiated as a cultural epicenter for San Francisco’s vibrant Italian-American community.
Fior D’Italia (1886)
Located within the historic San Remo Hotel on Mason Street, Fior D’Italia stands as a proud emblem of culinary heritage, proudly bearing the distinguished title of the "Oldest Italian restaurant in the United States." Founded by Angelo Del Monte, who came to America during the time of the California Gold Rush, Fior D’Italia emerged as a beacon of Italian flavors amidst the quest for gold. Partnering with fellow Italian immigrant Armido “Papa” Marianetti, the duo established the inaugural Fior D’Italia, forging a legacy that has spanned an impressive 133 years. Through its journey, the restaurant has flourished across six distinctive locations and seen four different owners.
For more than 127 years, Molinari has stood as the master of salami-making. Across five generations, this family-owned business has maintained its legacy within the heart of San Francisco. Molinari's carries over 30 varieties of salami and sausages, a testament to their unwavering commitment to quality and tradition. Embracing the modern age, Molinari has expanded its reach, shipping its offerings across the nation, solidifying its position as a revered culinary cornerstone.
Liguria Bakery (1911)
Founded in 1911, Liguria Bakery was opened by Ambrogio Soracco and his brothers. United by a shared vision, they established their bakery within San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, on the grounds of a former church. A journey that had its roots in the town of Chiavari in Italy, led the Soracco Family to San Francisco in 1907. Fuelled by a relentless drive, Ambrogio summoned his siblings to join him in the American dream. Today, the bakery remains steadfast under the watchful gaze of the Soracco family which is proof of their unwavering commitment to their craft and their heritage.
Tommaso’s Ristorante (1935)
Pioneers of culinary innovation, the Cantalupo family brought over the first wood-fired brick oven to the West Coast, creating a legacy that would transcend generations. Since 1935, their San Francisco restaurant has remained a cherished haven for Neapolitan family recipes. The reins of this restaurant were passed into the hands of the Crotti family, who seamlessly carried forward the same traditions. Rooted in authenticity, they continued to embrace the warmth of the wood-fired brick oven, while preserving the timeless recipes that have become synonymous with their revered establishment.
Assistant Editor for America Domani, AJ Forrisi is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer. His work focuses on food, travel, sports, landscapes, and urban scenes. You can find him on Instagram @aj.photo.works.