Can it really be that ~PIZZERIA DELFINA~ is already three years old? While I like to imagine every San Franciscan has tried the scrumptious pizza margherita here at least once, one of the city's better deals for $11.50, I know that's not the case.
Let's just say it: the lines can be frustratingly long--but that's what happens when you've got Delfina in your name, you don't take reservations, and you open a tiny 24-seat joint in a former used furnishings/junk store (with a name that will make me chuckle forever: Krims Krams Palace of Fine Junk--and there's still a location rocking it on Turk Street in case you feel like you missed out).
The eight counter spots overlooking the kitchen and array of antipasti are good ringside seats to watch the hipster kitchen staff crank it out--it's almost like sitting at a sushi bar, allowing you to look longingly upon all the ingredients. There's a bit of a New York vibe to this place, considering how tightly packed and functional it all is. The close tables in the front are best for those on a date, but the coveted outdoor seats under the heat lamps are like the holy grail; there are only five tables, so you consider yourself a chosen one if you ever score a spot outside.
The past two times I've had lunch here, I've been really, really lucky: no wait. And at 12:30pm on a Thursday and Friday, positively freakish. (Don't let this encourage you.) But if you are one of those freelancer or self-employed or late-riser types, this place is ideal for "linner" (late lunch meets early dinner) since it's open continuously Tuesday-Sunday.
The look is simple and functional, with shiny white tiles, a packed kitchen, a blackboard menu, and stacks of pizza boxes which I think are best reserved for leftovers--unless you live a block away or plan on shamelessly scarfing your pizza in your car out front, I don't see how these pies can hold up in a box for more than a couple minutes. If you can, eat 'em here, piping hot and crispy out of the oven. Admittedly, there is a dark side of me that wished they did slices, but the chaos would be like something out of Revelations.
While the Neapolitan-inspired pizzas here are really, really good (you can take your pick from nine or so), I am equally a fan of the antipasti and rotating specials of the day, made with stellar seasonal ingredients. This place functions best when you have a partner in crime, so you can share at least a few dishes and split a pizza.
Some folks can't pass up the fresh-stretched mozzarella ($8.25) with a drizzle of olive oil, but I like saving up my cheese/caloric allotment for my pizza. The Venetian-style sardines in saor ($7) have been on the menu as long as I can remember, and their sweet and sour preparation takes me right back to my favorite enotecas when I was living in Venice.
Have you had the spicy cauliflower ($7)? Uh, like, yo. I adore this dish, it reminds me of Southern Italy--an explosion of flavor with garlic, Calabrian chili, capers, plus the crunchy texture of breadcrumbs, all playing off the browned tenderness and sweetness of the cauliflower. And there's a somewhat unhealthy dousing of oil--I say bring it. I've tried the recipe at home a couple times and it didn't quite hit it. I guess I need to make it every day for a year or something before I can even come close to this version.
Hey, let's talk carbs: you're definitely going to fill up on the delicious breadsticks. You might think they're made in heaven, but they are actually from neighboring La Cocina Community Kitchen.
And yes, the pizzas. I've found the pies can be a little inconsistent, but are always pretty darned delicious. Sometimes the crust is a sporting a bit too much char, but the flavor of the dough is always so pleasing. I love how thin it is, and yet it has a substantial and blistered cornicione (lip) that you can really hang onto. And chomp.
The tomato sauce here has that divine balance of sweetness and tang--so fresh-tasting. Don't pass up the experience of a margherita ($11.50) at least once. And while the fior di latte mozzarella is the traditional cheese to have on it, you can also considering swapping it out for the supplement of the creamy bufala mozzarella ($13.75)--because you're worth it, baby.
You can always sprinkle on a bit of the dried oregano, grated pecorino cheese, and feisty red pepper flakes that are provided on each table, but I've actually never used any of these condiments. Wait, I lied: I put that chili on anything I can. Although I draw the line at the baba au rhum (a fabulously boozy dessert that's like an adult cream-filled donut doused in rum).
I almost always try the pizza specials--they tend to vector me right in. I haven't stopped dreaming about the special I had in the springtime called the Gricia, a spin on a Roman pasta dish, made with spring onion, guanciale, panna (cream), and chili ($16). That pizza was just sick. Creamy, spicy, salty, acidic. I'm pining for it like some long-lost Italian boyfriend.
The other pizza that haunts me was yet another special: the Purgatorio, with spicy tomato sauce, pecorino, and two perfectly runny eggs. What a pizza--a combination that sets the benchmark for delicious. My grandmother used to make me "uovo in purgatorio" for cena (a light dinner that's served on the later side) when I'd visit her in Calabria: a couple eggs with those decadent orange Italian yolks, cooked in her wonderful leftover tomato sauce from pranzo (the main meal served at lunchtime) earlier that day. She'd never make her sauce that spicy--my nonno couldn't handle the heat--so it was always a treat to get my own version at night with a little chili kick added in. (Thank you Grandma Rose, mi manchiâ¦)
Now, I know Bi-Rite Creamery is beckoning just down the street, whispering its salted caramel siren song. But if you pass up the cannoli ($5.25) here, what can I say, you're missing the boat (to Sicily). The crisp and flavorful shell is stuffed with a creamy Bellwether ricotta filling and the overflowing ends are then dipped in pistachio. Uh huh. In a town with a dearth of good cannoli, you gotta get a good one when you can. I'd drive to my hometown of San Mateo for one from Romolo's, but luckily my mother buys them from time to time for post-family dinners. So as far as cannoli in the 415 are concerned, these are top notch in my book.
I get super fired up on the wines by the glass here, too--there are something like 11 whites and eight reds. And bless them: not only are they served at the right temp, but true to pizzeria style, there are a couple glasses of red for $6.25 and under. They don't have to do that, but they did, so bravo.
So let's do the math: you and your honey can get a substantial dinner of the spicy cauliflower, a salad or some other antipasto of your choosing, split a pizza (I'm figuring a margherita with the bufala supplement here because I like spoiling you) and a cannoli, and each get a glass of wine, for a total of $45.50. Figure in $1.25 each for the SF Health Care Ordinance (yup, they charge it here), and a tip for your hopefully friendly/with-it server, and you're outta there for about $60. Not too terrible for a bougie and rather delicious date night out.
Excited about the upcoming Pizzeria Delfina opening in Pacific Heights? I know I'm not the only one.
3611 18th St.
Cross: Guerrero St.
San Francisco, CA 94110