3621 18th St (Between Guererro and Dolores)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Since 1998, Delfina, a bustling neighborhood Italian trattoria has been packing them in. The menu changes daily and they use organic produce and sustain-ably raised meats and fish whenever possible. It is a popular place that requires advanced booking for a reservation or showing up at 530pm for a table at the counter or bar. Our last visit was in the summer of 2019 where we found it as busy as ever.
If you cannot find parking, try the valet at sister restaurant Locanda or the paid parking lot at Cherin’s Appliance, 18th and Valencia street.
Pizza is only available next door at Pizzeria Delfina, where you usually have to wait because there are no reservations.
Decor, Vibe – Delfina has a compact but stylish modern decor, industrial metal tables, wood chairs, cramped seating area for parties of 2. Nice patio area in the back, for when the weather allows. The place is extremely loud even though you can see quite a bit of sound dampening material on the walls and ceiling. Most of the crowd was couples or small parties of people in their 30’s and 40’s.
Menu changes daily. It features a variety of appetizers from grilled seafood to salads. 8 pasta courses and five entrées. The roast chicken, spaghetti, and the hanger steak are almost always available on the menu.
Delfina Food Picks:
Delfina uses Tartine bakery and Acme bakery for the bread. You can dine on legendary Tartine dark bread without waiting in line. For the full culinary effect, you should call ahead and pick up your bread from Tartine bakery before dining at Delfina.
Spaghetti ($11 small, $18 regular) eggless, with plum tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and peperoncini came full of their tomato sauce mixed in. Decent dry pasta dish with a good kick, but other pasta items were even better. In 2019 we ordered this with the pork sugo, which was even better.
Delfina’s Blood Orange Bellini ($9) was Fruity and balanced.
Wild fennel sausage ($11) with Umbrian lentils and strong pickled onions was also an excellent appetizer. The sausage came to us extremely hot and full of fennel flavor while retaining a lean level of healthiness.
Grilled fresh calamari ($16) with warm white bean salad is a great signature dish that tastes as good as it looks. The beans were delicious and tender. Large pieces of squid.
California King Salmon Crudo | Calabrian chili, Meyer lemon ($13) is a dish that seems to be on most menus around here. This version was fantastic and not a bit spicy. Top the Tartine bread with this!
Insalata di Campo | bitter greens, pancetta, walnuts, parmigiano, balsamic vinaigrette ($12) was decent. Some bitter greens along with varied textures on each bite.
Fresh San Joaquin Valley Snails ($12) and celery formatino had only 5 small snails that tasted like butter along with the tasty and smooth flan. Tasty but way too few snails.
Heirloom Tomato Salad ($18) with pane bucato, Bellwether crescenza, olives, and salt packed anchovies was in season and tasted great. Very light dressing, reasonable quantity. A classic on the menu.
Sepia in nero ($19) was a fresh pasta in a squid ink sauce that had a hint of fishiness. It also came with a small bit of uni, and English peas. An excellent pasta dish with a small hint of spiciness. It that was the special of the evening.
Handmade Pici | Berkshire pork ragu ($22) is a star if you like long boiled old school sugo. Rich robust flavor.
Paccheri all’Amalfitana | local rock cod ($22) had egg free pasta with some compact but wide noodles.
Chicken Agnolotti | lemon-chive burro fuso ($20) looks great. Tiny raviolis filled with tender chicken in a light sauce.
Risotto nero ($18) with sepia inzimino or squid ink was extremely delicious. One of the best risotto’s around. It came out steaming hot and had a bold complex flavor to it.
House made linguine with local petrale sole ($18) was a freshly made pasta that came with tomato sauce which turned out to be excellent. This pasta dish was well-balanced, ensuring the fish did not overwhelm.
Rosemary Tagliatelle ($18) with wild boar Ragu came al dente with a fresh made wider pasta noodle making for a very good dish. Overall a low key, well integrated dish with bits of boar meat. On another visit it came with a fantastic guinea hen ragu, vin santo. Excellent!
Mint Tagliatelle | artichokes, mascarpone ($16) was a top notch fresh pasta filled with the essence of fresh artichokes. A good dish for vegetarians.
Ricotta Cavatelli | cherry tomatoes, caciocavallo ($17) was very tomatoey and had a gnocchi-like pasta filled with cheese. Also fantastic.
Squid Ink Chitarra| Dungeness crab, Calabrian chilies, meyer lemon ($21) possessed subtle crab flavors along with a spicy note. Another solid fresh made pasta.
Leg of Lamb Special ($25) was tender slices of roast lamb leg bathed in gravy with lacopi butter beans. Slightly gamey but very tender meat. Good combination with the soft butter beans.
California White Sea Bass salsa greca, blistered cherry tomatoes ($30) is a good entree, but the pasta and starter dishes before it outshine this. Portion size is on the small side. This is good if you do not like pasta.
Wolfe Ranch quail ($26) with fennel sausage, polenta and vin santo was very good even though it looks like a mess. Quantities are not high with this delicate bird, but the flavor and tenderness is great. The sausage makes the polenta a great combination.
Grilled Swordfish ($25) with warm lentil salad, fennel crusted fennel and anchovy aioli. Tender meaty fish that was cooked just right. A little on salty side. This dish really did not need the aioli.
Roasted Mary’s chicken ($29) with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and hen of the woods mushrooms was a very good dish and prepared well but not as spectacular as say the chick at Zuni Cafe. Cooked just right, still juicy. Huge portion of mashed potatoes.
French fries ($4) were complimentary because they took too long to bring your entrée’s. Nice, thin, hot, with lots of Rosemary mixed in.
Roasted Tokyo Turnips and Their Greens ($8) has just a couple turnips along with pea shoot like greens.
Smothered Chard ($9) are smothered in olive oil and cooked just right.
Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes ($5) are a must get, fantastic dish and not too creamy. Use some bread to sop this up.
Buttermilk panna cotta ($13) with golden and red raspberries was smooth as silk. Perfect balance of sweetness to cream and definitely a signature dish. Could have used more berries. A signature dessert.
Warm Scharffen Berger chocolate torta ($9) with olive oil gelato and maldon sea salt sounds like a weird combination but it works. Torta was very chocolaty, a little nutty and bitter, and very good. The olive oil gelato took getting used to, but then became delicious.
Affogto Espresso with fior di bufala gelato, Margerum amaro ($13) had strong coffee and some nice eggless gelato.
Bergamont and Té Inglese Gelati ($7.50) comes with Rosemary Shortbread and is simply divine. You get two very smooth, but eggless scoops of the yogurt flavored gelati and one scoop of the Earl grey tea flavored gelato.
Limoncello Pate de Feui to round out the meal.
OK: (order only if you like to dish)
Anson Mills Polenta with fontina Val d’Aosta Cheese ($7.75) was a huge steaming hot pile of polenta. Not very buttery, but full of corn meal texture.
Brussels Sprouts alla Mostarda ($8) had a slightly different and better preparation than before. The texture was almost cabbage like meaning that they should have left the brussels sprouts intact.
Delfina’s service was very good, as you could see the waiter circulate down the middle of the restaurant repeatedly. They do sit some tables for two way too close together. Parking is not fun in this neighborhood! $1.25 per person charge for health plan wasn’t fun but probably worthwhile, as long as all employees get health care.
This restaurant serves up excellent food and remains one of our favorites. Other top notch Italian spots include Perbacco. Delfina has high wine markup with glasses from $8, bottles from $29, $18 corkage.
Do not forget to save some space for nearby delicious Bi-Rite Ice cream that is across the street and down the block.