Eating pizza in San Francisco

Loyal readers know that I like my pizza. As I get older and as my experience with pizza broadens, I find myself drawn into the elusive search for so-called “authentic” Neapolitan style pizza. (No, that doesn’t mean a pizza made with three flavors of ice cream; it means a pizza like they make in Naples.)

The quest for the authentic Neapolitan style pizza is one of those things that annoying foodies pick up on quickly because it’s so easy. Everybody likes pizza and nobody seems to be able to make an authentic Neapolitan one. Therefore it is the perfect foodie inquisition, and for this I hate myself.

For the record, I don’t really consider myself a “foodie” and my quest for authentic Neapolitan style pizza has as much to do with the pleasure of the research as it is an honest belief that I really like that kind of pizza and therefore should try to find some.

Also for the record, many non-foodies – which is to say, people who haven’t done the background reading – might be disappointed by an authentic Neapolitan pizza. After all, such a thing – were it to exist – would tend to be light on the ingredients (particularly the cheese), and unlikely to be delivered in a cardboard box. It would be thin-crusted, a bit burnt in spots, use simple but very fresh ingredients, and would likely not be cut into slices. (I found that out in Rome; Italian pizzas generally come in one size and are not cut.)

I, unfortunately, have done the reading (although because I am not a “foodie” it hasn’t really tainted me). That said, the pizzas Martine and I ate in Italy last year raised the bar. Also, some local research has revealed some interesting twists and turns on the rocky road to finding an authentic Neapolitan style pizza. In short, I have learned to use the search as nothing more than a loose framework; it gives me a reason to look a little harder and to save myself for pizzas that are deserving of my time, palate, and calorie count.

So naturally, when I caught wind of a highly regarded pizza joint in San Francisco that makes references to Naples in its folklore, we had to check it out. It’s Pizzeria Delfina on 18th Street (near Guerrero), which is an adjunct to a much larger and swishier restaurant called simply Delfina (which does not serve pizza). We arrived at around 8:30 on Monday night and the small room was already packed, as were the four or five tables that spilled out onto the sidewalk. As is the custom in San Francisco, I added my name and number of parties (Ed – 2) to the chalkboard and we settled in to wait. Which is to say, we leaned on a utility pole outside to wait.

Outside Pizzeria Delfina

Some 40 minutes later we sat down to order. I’ll cut to the chase; it was worth the wait. I got a classic Margherita with mozzerella di buffala cheese, and she had the salsiccia, with peppers and house-made fennel sausage. (We shared.) As you can see by the photos, they looked excellent. Some day this blog will come with scratch & sniff, but until then you’ll have to imagine the aroma.

Delfina's Pizza San Francisco

You can see that the pies were thin crusted (not paper thin, but thin), nicely blistered, and a bit puffy around the perimeter. The crust was crispy and the interior soft and heavenly. For that alone, these rank among the best pizzas I’ve had. Although the pies were sliced American style, they were otherwise quite Neapolitan-like. To me, this represents the best of both worlds; inspired by the kitchens of Naples, but assembled and presented with, shall we say, “California improvements.”

Additional kudos to Delfina for placing a small plate of fresh oregano, dried chili flakes, and grated Gran Padano cheese on each table, allowing for a small degree of personal customization.

My one suggestion, had I been asked in earnest, would be to put more basil on the Margherita, and to add it after the pie comes out of the oven but is still scalding hot. That is one of the magical tricks that my local favorite, Prato on Boul. St. Laurent, does to keep me coming back.

It was a lot of pie, so we took some home. The crust was so well structured that it still held up the next day when I warmed up a couple of slices in the oven.

On my next trip to San Francisco, whenever that may be, I will definitely return to Pizzeria Delfina. We only went the one time on this last trip because we had something to do or somewhere to go pretty much every night. But on our last night in the city we found ourselves, post-wine bar, in the general vicinity of Delfina and with a convenient petit creu (hunger). As we trod down Valencia with Delfina’s in mind, we happened upon Pauline’s Pizza. It’s a bigger space, and there was a table for two available, so we decided to skip the waiting and try something new.

But that, dear readers is another story.

12 thoughts on “Eating pizza in San Francisco

  1. Local reviewer Barry Lazar writes of Prato at While he’s all hepped up on the moderate prices and the ambiance, he comments. ” My problem (and it’s my problem, okay?) is that pizza for me is comfort food. I don’t like it thin and crispy. I like it chewy with a lot of mouth feel and plenty of stuff on top. I don’t want to say to myself when I’m finished “Boy, was that a healthy meal.” I’d rather say “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

    What? Thin & crispy can’t be mouth feels? Sounds like he should stay home & stick to McCain “Deep’n Delicious” – Kitchen Sink Flavor.

  2. Arggh! We must have walked 3-4 times in front of that place last spring and never stopped! Next time.

    With your new testing, how does the pizza from that small place in East Bar Harbour rate nowadays?

  3. Harry, oddly enough, when I first went to Prato (1999) I felt more or less the same way. At that time my favorite pizza was from Amelio’s on Milton (at Ste. Famille), which I still really like, but it’s a whole other kind of pizza. Thick and cheesy and swimming in sauce, etc. Very delicious, but more than two slices and you’re really stuffing yourself.

    At Prato one rarely shares a pie; you eat the whole thing yourself because it’s so thin. But it’s as tasty as can be, and yeah, there’s plenty of mouth feel to “crispy.”

    Patrick, that pizza from Bar Harbor still rates high. Way high. For one thing, it came as a complete suprise (coming from a bakery), and I remember that the crust was crispy and the sauce really delicious. Maybe some of it was context, but my fond memories of it have not diminished. Not really a Neapolitan type of pie, but that’s not what I was looking for at the time, so hey.

  4. Gawd that pizza looks amazing. Even though you don’t have scratch & sniff yet, I can practically smell it. I think we need to have you guys over for Michel’s thin crust pizza sometime. Mmmm yummy. The only thing we haven’t quite conquered yet is ensuring the middle of the crust stays crisp. Though I can’t say it bothers me that much. And maybe we’ll serve the pizza with some good jammy wine!

    p.s. Welcome back!

  5. Pauline’s pizza is worth its own blog post. I think I liked it better than Delfina’s, and the ambiance was much better. No loud music, no long wait, and no open door and windows when it’s freezing out! I like my pizza warm!

  6. That pizza looks to die for, and I should know. Anxiously awaiting the other review and pics!

  7. The Pauline’s review will be much briefer and unfortunately there’s no photos. At least not of the pizza.

  8. Although these are outside of your quest, did you happen to try Zante’s Indian pizza, also in the Mission, or Zachary’s deep dish in Berkeley?

  9. Foodnovice, no, I did not try those ones you mention, but I’ll certainly look into it next time I’m in the Bay area.

    Indian pizza. I’m intrigued…

  10. (truly unique) (I liked these better than the authentic deep-dish I’ve had in Chicago)

    When I read the endless debates about whether you can find decent pizza in Montreal, I always think back to some of the really unique pizzas I’ve had in other cities. MTL just doesn’t have anything to compare.

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