If you're a true card-carrying San Franciscan gourmand, there is an unofficial list of destinations you have to visit, ticking them off the list one beignet, Irish coffee, and tamale at a time. Otherwise "they" might revoke your gourmand resident card quicker than "they" do when some fool calls The City "Frisco."
THE LIST is actually quite immense (well, my list is), but here are a few core basics: lunch at Swan Oyster Depot, an al pastor taco dorado from La Taqueria, dim sum at Yank Sing (oh those magical Shanghai/XLB dumplings), a Caesar salad and roast chicken from Zuni, a croissant from Tartine, an espresso from Blue Bottle while at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market one Saturday or one at Ritual if you're kickin' it in the Mission, salt and pepper crab from Lichee Garden or R&G Lounge, a peach from Frog Hollow, burrata at A16, and let's not forget a drink at the Top of the Mark (seriously, the view is truly magic there). Oh, and Faith's Cheese Toast at Town Hall. And don't forget popovers at the Rotunda. Oh my God, I have to stop. STOP!
I know, THE LIST is a yuppie foodie cluster*uck. (I promise to share it later.) And right up there is the entire pizza experience at ~PIZZETTA 211~. Every once in a while I mention this place and someone has no idea it even exists, let alone that it's on THE LIST. So let's fix that right now and get any of you who have never been schooled up to speed. I want to make the experience as painless as possible. To manage expectations, I'm just going to do a primer. This place gets maligned for all its quirks and even quirkier staff. You just need to know what's the deal, that's all. Let's do it.
This place is hella small. Like a few precious tables and a counter inside, and a few tables outside under some heat lamps but you still freeze booty. Rainy night? Errr, not a good idea. Don't come in a group of more than four. Not a place for the kids. Seriously. They get tres bored.
You will wait. Unless you go really early, or after the lunch rush. Don't come when you're super hangry because you'll just get hangrier. Maybe some mixed olives ($2) will help.
You won't get seated unless your entire party is there. So if you're smart and tag-teaming ("I'll look for parking, you go get our name down on the list") and magically a table is available, you will not get that table until you're done parking your jalopy and the staff can see the whites of your eyes. Don't even think about arguing about it.
Usually you have to order at the counter. Once a server took my order at the hard-won table. See what happens. You have to get your own napkins, silverware, water. Tip however you see fit.
Cash only, babe.
You still with me? Good. You can do this. Because now it's time to order yourself one of the scrumptious, thin-crust Neapolitan style pies made with stellar and often organic/sustainable/local ingredients. Order a pizza with the egg. Just trust me. You get two beautiful runny eggs on top. Once you taste how well yolk melds with tomato sauce and cheese it will make you see the light, Carol Ann.
The margherita ($9) is a thing of beauty--you just want to kiss her. The special pies are often fantastic. One night there was a puttanesca (yeah, I ordered it--those puttane know a thing or two) with capers, sardines, and olives with a citrus kick.
Don't be afraid of anchovies--embrace them. Especially with pepperoni. Sounds crazy, but it's freaking delicious. A regular there turned me on to this pizza (thanks!).
These are not big pizzas. Everyone should get their own. Especially because you're gonna want all that egg to yourself. The place is called Pizzetta, as in "little pizza." The pizza is not that little. But not a flying saucer either.
You might want to start with an artisan cheese salad ($8.75) and finish with the Scharffen Berger flourless chocolate cake ($5.50) with fresh whipped cream--it will make you forgive how dated a dessert it is because it just tastes so good. And with some Blue Bottle coffee, oh, purr. The saffron biscotti ($2) with some vin santo are another spiffy finish.
Go on a Monday and you will be seriously tempted by the poussin. Or some other Monday night special. Save this for another outing. You must pop your cherry with the pizza first. Poussin is for those who are more "experienced."
If you show up and they have run out of dough, you are not the first person this has happened to. It's nothing personal. It just is. Don't shoot anyone or yell profanities. Just leave the car where you parked it, and get all old school and amble on over to Gaspare's just around the corner on Geary between 19th and 20th. This is not a great pizza, and it's not a bad one. But it's pretty darned good. It's more like kitschy pizza (wait until you see the booths and dusty Italian ephemera hanging overhead). Just stay away from the yucky black olives--they taste like can. Plot your Pizzetta 211 attack for another day.
Okay, staff attitude. They can be nice, or surly, or odd, or attentive (or not), or hippie freaks, or fast friends, whatever. Joey the pizzaiolo is from New Jersey--he just needs to warm up to you a little before he'll decide whether he actually wants to talk to you. He's actually pretty cool. And also rather busy making everyone their pizzas. I've had the full gamut of treatment here. Like Tartine. Sometimes the staff can be infuriatingly chilly or ineffectual, and then suddenly you get this nice barista who is on top of things and makes you a dreamy espresso to go with your warm croissant and it's all catnip. So just remember, in the end, you are here for the pizza, and keep your boat steady, no matter what.
Unless you live next door, don't order it to go. This pizza is meant to be hot out of the oven and slid onto a plate and promptly put into your mouth. Stat.
Don't miss a trip to the bathroom for the munchkin theatre installation. You gotta see it. Tres charmant. This pizzeria will become charmant for you too--it's just a fussy little car that doesn't drive like all the others but you still totally adore it.
211 23rd Ave.
Cross: California St.
San Francisco, CA 94121
Wed-Fri 12pm-2:30pm, 5pm-9pm
Hours as of July 2012
Lunch Mon-Fri 12 pm-2:30 pm
Dinner Mon-Fri 5 pm-9 pm
Sat-Sun 12 pm-9 pm