Contrary to what you might think, some of my “all-time favorite restaurants” in the city haven’t been reviewed on this site. Sure, lots of them have a review — but definitely not all. Sometimes, it’s because I don’t have photos or decent photos of the food, but sometimes, it’s because it’s a place I love and whenever I go, I go to enjoy myself and completely forget that this is a place I should share.
One of those place is Pazzia. I’ve been here many times over the years for the last 7 years or so, but either didn’t have my camera on me, or came without my camera because I was there to have a great meal. It rivals Albona in terms of great Italian flavors.
Located in the heart of SOMA, Pazzia is on Third Street. There’s nothing Italy-like about that location — nothing. But for some reason, when you walk into Pazzia, within a minute of being seated, you’re whisked away to the outskirts of Rome, or in an alleyway in Firenze a restaurant you frequent regularly. I personally prefer to sit outside at Pazzia in the few patio tables they have — and if the weather is warm and you’re hidden behind some bushes — you are, at least for the next hour or two — in Italy.
The owners are Italian. They often personally greet guests and serve them. With heavy Italian accents, a warm and personable demeanor that only Europeans can authentically exude, this place is simply awesome. “Grazie Mille” and “Prego!” are heard everywhere.
The Food at Pazzia
No matter how wonderfully you greet me, anyone who knows me knows I won’t eat there unless the food is at least good. There’s little in life that is as aggravating as spending the money and time to eat out somewhere and be left with that unfulfilled feeling of not having your tastebuds pleased.
At Pazzia, that doesn’t happen.
With a moderately priced Italian wine list, I almost always order a bottle when I’m there. On this day, I opted for a $40 bottle of 2013 St. Michael-Eppan Pinot Grigio. Over the years, I haven’t had a bottle here that stopped me in my tracks after one sip, but every bottle I’ve had here is just good. The St. Michael-Eppan Pinot Grigio was about the same as well. While my mood was for a white wine on this day, I’d highly recommend you get a bottle of red if you’ll be ordering their pizza or pastas. You’ll see why below.
When at Pazzia, I dive into the bread and olive oil — though I always need a little salt in my olive oil. Perhaps it’s because you feel like you’re at a restaurant across the ocean, but this isn’t really the place to be on a diet. This is a place where you enjoy to your heart’s content — and if you’re too full from the bread to finish your entree, so be it — that’s the attitude that overcomes me when I enter Pazzia.
When at Pazzia, I don’t miss out on the burrata cheese appetizer ($14). This buffalo milk cheese is simply outstanding. With a thin, malleable sheath (technically a rind, I guess) that cuts with a subtle “pop!” — the inside of the cheese is cold, soft and creamy — sort of oozing loose from being contained in the sheath. The flavors are milky and a bit reminiscent of ricotta but 10 times better than ricotta. The prosciutto is also great, combining well with the cheese if you’d like, but who can think of prosciutto in the face of this creamy goodness? I eat it on its own or with my bread. DIVINE, I tell you!
On this day, we opted for the beet salad ($9.50) which was refreshing. Tender beets offering up much sweetness. Served with arugula and goat cheese, it’s a simple yet extraordinary dish that was perfect to share alongside the burrata appetizer.
Each time I go to Pazzia, my intent is to try some of the heftier entrees like the lamb chops or chicken. And each time I get here, I change my mind. I don’t know how to skip the pasta here, and eating both is just not possible. The portions of the pasta or pizza are big enough to be very filling, especially after the bread and appetizers.
And at Pazzia, you can’t skip the pasta.
Shown above is the paparedelle — fresh pasta with a simple meat sauce. The pasta is always perfectly cooked to a nice al dente. It’s good — and with a nice bottle of red, it would have been better, but this wasn’t the best dish of the night.
Truly impressive at Pazzia is the pizza. Y’all know I don’t really like pizza except when it’s outstanding, and at Pazzia, it is.
Authentic and delicious, the thin crust is near crunchy but not quite — and even the slightly charred parts are delightful. It’s really no different that grabbing a pizza in Italy. The cheese is delicious but most remarkable is the tomato sauce at this restaurant. It’s actually “bright” in both flavor and color — the acidity of it bringing lots of ingredients to life. Nothing is overcooked on the pizza.
While Mr. K ordered the prosciutto, mushroom and olive pizza, the Margherita and the Mushroom and Sausage Pizza at Pazzia is better. Simplicity at its best and utterly delicious.
But even this outstanding pizza wasn’t the best dish of the evening.
The rigatoni ($17) that I ordered was, hands down, fabulous. It’s a given that at Pazzia, the rigatoni pasta itself was wondrously cooked. But this dish is where the tomato sauce they use truly shines. Combined with italian sausage, the sauce is so vibrant and playful, if a sauce can actually be playful. With each bite, it yields more and more flavor — and dances on the palate. I was near dying for a great glass of Chianti at this point, but refrained.
Large chunks of sausage and mushrooms are in this rigatoni dish, though I would have gladly accepted more. With the parmesan cheese they sprinkled over it, it was exemplary of what a tomato sauce based pasta should be. The balance between the starch, acidity, meatiness and cheesiness was wonderful!
From my past experiences, the one dish that is on par with how good this dish is the lasagna. As someone who makes a pretty great lasagna, I rarely like lasagna elsewhere, but Pazzia might offer the best lasagna I’ve had on this continent.
Now do you see why I can never NOT order pasta here?
Unlike every other visit to Pazzia, on this day, nobody else wanted dessert. But after a perfect little dinner, it felt like I should order dessert. From past visits, I can tell you without any doubt that the tiramisu and affogato are amazing; the tiramisu rivals the best in the city.
But since nobody else was wanting dessert, I figured I might as well try something different and ordered “the custard” — which turned out to be almost exactly like flan in appearance and color. The texture was a bit denser like custard rather than the soft flan. It was perfectly fine, but I’m happy that my two dinner dates shared with me as it really didn’t get me wanting to hog the dish by myself; it was fine, that’s about it.
Overall, dinner at Pazzia is always delightful. On this evening, we were lucky enough to score the only available table (yay!) which happened to be outside (also yay, since as mentioned, I always prefer outdoor seating here). Between the three of us, the bill came to $129.96 before tip. In San Francisco, three people dining on that amount is average, at best — never mind with a bottle of wine. So prices here are relaxed compared to many other spots in the city — which always makes for an even better evening.
With the great food, fantastic service and fair prices — you really can’t ask for more than Pazzia.
I’d highly recommend reservations if you plan to dine here. Chancing it like I did could end up in a ridiculously long wait. Strangely enough, Pazzia doesn’t have a website of their own, and they aren’t on Opentable, so you’ll have to call the restaurant directly. Their phone number is (415) 512-1693; the restaurant is located at 337 3rd Street in San Francisco.
Ambiance: 8/10 — pretty casual
Addictive Factor: 9.5/10
Overall Rating: 9/10
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.