Insider's Guide to San Francisco

Posted by Nicole Campoy on April 09, 2013 at 11:43:35 AM EDT | Post a Comment
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Tony Gemignani is an 11 time World Pizza Champion, was the first American in history to win the World Pizza Cup in Naples, and is the owner of five San Francisco establishments including Capo's, Tony's Pizza Napoletana, and Tony Gemignani's International School of Pizza. But he knows more than just award-winning pizza—Tony knows his city of San Francisco well. So we turned to him to get the inside track on everything from the best coffee shops and cocktail bars to the best shopping and museums. He may be a pizza guy, but he definitely knows where to find cool stuff.

Need more insider information? We've got guides to Nashville, Portland, and Chicago from some top-notch locals, with plenty more on the way.

Best Coffee Shop

My go-to neighborhood coffee spots in North Beach are Caffe Trieste and Caffe Roma for espresso and africanos, which I've been drinking a lot of lately. Trieste is famous for Francis Ford Coppola writing part of The Godfather there and it still attracts a slew of writers, poets, beatniks, and just really cool people.

Best Breakfast

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One of my favorite places in the city is Mama's. The Californian omelet with bacon, avocado, and Monterey jack cheese and the "M'Omelette" with grilled potatoes are my two favorites. I always get these with their great sourdough toast. There's always a line but it's totally worth the wait.

Best Afternoon Snack

The cucidati fig cookies at Stella Pastry & Cafe are some of the best cookies around. My wife and I had these at our wedding. There's also a famous cake they make called sacripantina, which is a dome-shaped vanilla sponge cake with zabaione cream and rum. We get this for our staffs' birthdays at Tony's.

Best Hidden Gem

Liguria Bakery, for the focaccia. Liguria is family-owned and has been around for more than 100 years. They are still cooking out of the same ovens and still using the same recipes. My favorite is the Pizza Focaccia—made with a simple tomato sauce with a little bit of onions and some oil. You've got to get there early though because they close up shop after they sell out, usually around 12 or 1 pm.

Noteworthy Restaurants

Some other favorites of mine are: Turtle Tower, The House, Rich Table, Tadich Grill, Original Joe's, and Sotto Mare in North Beach for any fish. The clam chowder, sand dabs, and halibut are my favorite dishes. Gi Gi is the owner, but the waitresses are my favorite.

Best Cocktail Bar

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I'll go to either Tony Niks or Gino & Carlo after work for a North Beach cocktail, which is a Campari soda with a Brandy float. It's actually an old Italian drink that's one of my favorites. Tony Niks is right down the street from my restaurant, Tony's Pizza Napoletana, in North Beach. It's been in the same family for over 70 years.

If you are looking for great classic cocktails, like a Tom Collins or Negroni, then The Burritt Room is the place to go.

Here's a hint. When mixologist Carlo Splendorini is working, which is usually on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, head to Michael Mina. He makes some amazing cocktails, like The Siegel which I recently had that has Japanese whiskey, house-made Rangpur Lime liqueur, and yuzu, served in a copper mug.

The Skylark, Latin America Club, Local Addition, The Phone Booth, The Page, and Madrone are some of my other go-to's for great classic cocktails.

Best Wine Bar

I like the relaxed ambiance, the neighborhood feel, and the great selection of wine at Delluva.

Best Late-Night Bite

For really great burgers in Castro, it's Sparky's 24 Hour Diner. And you can't go wrong with a double cheeseburger with fries and a coke at Sam's in North Beach. You can usually find me at either of these spots around 2 am.

Best Park

The Palace of Fine Arts has a beautiful park that I enjoy coming to with my dog and walking around the lagoon.

Best Shopping

For custom clothes, suits, and vintage shopping, go to Al's Attire. The tailor there custom makes vintage wear for me which I love.  But for vintage t-shirts there's no better place than Sanfranpsycho and Wasteland on Haight. Goorin Hat's is a great hat shop in North Beach. They have a nice selection of new and old styles, all made with incredible craftsmanship.

I collect vinyl records and Amoeba Records is one of my go-to places. I've found some of my most favorite ones there, from Martin Denny to Link Ray to The Doors to Johnny Cash. And for cool, hip home goods and other odds and ends, I like Therapy.

I go antique shopping all the time. It's kind of a passion of mine. I've been going into Stuff on Valencia a lot in the last couple of years. I can always find something I like for my home, restaurants, or anything really, like cool couches, clothing, and chairs. They've always got a little bit of everything.

Best Museums

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There are so many fun scientific games to play at the Exploratorium. I actually used throw pizzas here on Pi Day (3/14). Then, the de Young is great for modern contemporary art.

The Musee Mechanique is a fun, quirky museum to visit. They have a pretty cool collection of antique video games that I like to play, an interesting collection of antique viewfinders with photographs from the 1920's, and some old board games from the 1800's. Plus, there's free admission everyday which makes it all the better.

Although this isn't a museum, The Shooting Gallery a really great place to find artwork from some of the best artists around. I bought some Shag artwork for my home from here and several pieces of Tiki by Kirsten Easthope for my personal collection.

Before you go, what else should we know about the food scene in San Francisco?

San Francisco is all about the independents, especially in my neighborhood of North Beach. You typically never see big chain restaurants because the neighborhood doesn't let them in. There's been progression and change in the food scene here, most notably the street food trend and how we are seeing these food truck concepts move into brick and mortar establishments. Personally, I'm a bit of a traditionalist and a tried and true fan of the classic places like Tadich Grill and Original Joe's.

Photo credits: Mama's courtesy of Mama's; Tony Nik's courtesy of Tony Nik's/Facebook; De Young Museum via Shutterstock

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