I'm calling this one a lazy review because it's almost a no-brainer. Before pizza mayhem swept the Bay Area (tracking right along with wine bar and now frozen yogurt mania, yet again), ~PAULINE'S PIZZA~ has been holding it down in a gourmet-stylee for 20 years. When I first moved to the city 14 years ago, I totally remember having a pesto pizza epiphany here. And this place just seems to get better and better--there's an entire Cali culture here.
It's a true neighborhood place, a sunny butter yellow building located on a quieter stretch of Valencia. Pauline's draws one of the more interesting cross sections of both servers and guests, from new parents with their kids drawing with the provided crayons on the paper tablecloths (actually, I think the adults do most of the drawing) to posses o' tattooed pals on a pizza quest. And since the look is a step up from your usual pizza place (to wit, cloth napkins), you'll see tons of dates, and double dates. Then again, it's not a place where you can hang out because there are usually lines of hangry patrons waiting at the door for a table, so don't expect to have a two-hour lingering meal.
It's total California pizza, with toppings that come from the restaurant's two organic gardens: one is located in Berkeley, and the other is Star Canyon Ranch near Angel's Camp in the Sierra Foothills. The pizza here is like the love child of Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters. With all the stunning ingredients, the nightly pizza and salad specials are positively scrumptious. The eggplant we had one night on the vegetarian special was so delicate, and savory--especially when paired with fresh (and fragrant) oregano and tangy ricotta salata.
And you absolutely shouldn't miss ordering a salad, or two. We're not talking some standard mesclun, baby, we're talking sylvetta, mache, all kinds of gorg greens--the farms will grow up to 40 kinds of greens in a year. And you'll dig their killer breadsticks that come with the salads. Since this is tomato season, you really should get over there now for some primo end-of-summer indulgence.
This place probably has some of the quirkiest and tasty pizza toppings to choose from, including tasso, pancetta, all kinds of cheeses, fennel, even salted Meyer lemon puree. Perky sauce, too. While the garlicky pesto here is legendary, I find the other toppings hard to resist. I mean, really, who else in town gets Italian olive salad sent from the Central Grocery in New Orleans (famous for their muffaletta)? Exactly. Pauline's grinds it up and offers it as the muffaletta topping.
The crust is handmade daily and is basically what I'd call American thin but definitely not Neapolitan thin--it has some great texture and crispiness and chewiness, with no shyness around cornmeal usage. One night one of our pizzas was a touch underdone, but the other was just right. Most larges are around $21--our table of four hungry folks went through two mediums, and no, there were no slices left over for breakfast the next day. Pity.
Desserts are also homemade and gourmet-minded, like the winning peanut butter ice cream sundae we had with salty pretzel sticks, or ice cream in flavors like olive oil--but rather ridiculous for one paltry scoop for $6.75, so stick with a sundae instead. There are also some house wines that Pauline's makes, but truth be told, I really really love beer with my pizza, so I can't vouch for their "Pizza Reds." Maybe some other time.
A few deets: vegans, you can order a vegan crust and vegan pizza ahead of time, but you gotta pre-order 24 hours in advance. People also take advantage of the half and half policy here, which is only $1 extra (except the pesto). Oh, and yo, the private room upstairs is one of the city's better secrets for a group birthdays and dinners. They outline the all the details on the website--it's a super option to consider for group dinners and parties.
So, is Pauline's my favorite pizza? Truthfully, no, my heart belongs to Italian-style pizzas, but I do appreciate what they are doing here--the fresh and seasonal ingredients are really hard to beat. It's a true San Francisco pizza. Oh wait, I almost forgot: one of the best local bathrooms ever is here. It's like a drag queen toilette fantasy of pink and black tiles, plus there's a chandelier. Faaaaaaabulous!
260 Valencia St.
Cross: 14th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103