San Francisco is only seven miles wide and seven miles long, but crossing it can sometimes feel more grueling than listening to people talk about startup culture or finding a rent-controlled apartment. Friendships have been strained by someone moving from the Fillmore to Potrero Hill, and iPhone screens go unfixed for months because ordering a ride to the Apple Store in Union Square just seems like a lot for a “still functioning” phone. But there are some reasons that we’ll happily journey across the city without a second thought. Dinner at La Ciccia is one of them.
La Ciccia is a small Sardinian spot in Noe Valley that you’ll want to be on a first name basis with, or exchange holiday cards with for the rest of your life. Not only is the food that good, but you’re treated so well here and feel so at home that you’ll want them to remember you when you come back in. Every single night it’s open, this place is full of people from the neighborhood on dates, families celebrating things like someone learning to tie their shoes, and a couple of tables speaking primarily in Italian. Since it’s always busy, getting a reservation can be pretty tough, but just like coming from across the city to get here, it’s well worth the effort.
The main reason this place is always packed is the food. The menu has a lot of seafood on it and everything is simply prepared - from a salad with anchovies and the perfect amount of lemon to baby octopus stewed in a spicy tomato broth. Both of these are good things to start with, but the pasta is what you’ll find yourself looking out the window and daydreaming about during your staff meeting the next day.
They’re all great, from the hearty gnocchetti with pork sugo to the garlicky, spicy, and slightly fishy spaghetti with bottarga, and are large enough that they’re easy to share. If you’re only getting one though, it needs to be the Sardinian macaroni with sea urchin, tomato, and grated tuna. This is one of the single best pastas in the entire city, and not only would we cross seven neighborhoods for it, but if we went on a vacation that we didn’t want to leave, the thought that it was back in SF waiting for us is enough to make us start packing to come home. The sauce is intense with tomato and sea urchin. It’s sweet, salty, and creamy, but also airy and light. And once the macaroni is gone, you’ll be scraping up the rest of the sauce with a fork or some bread - anything to keep you from running a finger across your plate.
You’re going to feel well taken care of at La Ciccia. If this place was a plane in the 1960s, they wouldn’t just light your cigarette for you - they would probably offer you the cigarette. You’ll get all new plates and silverware at the end of each course. Napkins are folded, questions are asked, and the chef will come out and make sure you’re enjoying yourself. It doesn’t feel like you’re in a small neighborhood restaurant as much as it does a private club where you’re also somehow related to everyone - maybe like third cousins.
It’s easy to tell yourself that the small restaurant around the corner from your house is one that everyone should know about, and while most of the time that just isn’t the case, it is if you live close to La Ciccia. That doesn’t have us spending our weekends touring open houses in Noe Valley, but we’ll happily catch a ride across the city to come here anytime. Just don’t let your friend talk about his company’s latest pivot on the ride over.
If bad cartoons turned you off to anchovies like they were abandoned libraries taken care of by someone named Old Man Smithers, this is a good time to change your mind. These are simple and light, and the anchovies are way less fishy than you’d expect. Still, though, don’t go into any abandoned libraries.
Tender baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce. Once the octopus is gone, you’ll want to drink everything else, and that’s exactly what you should do.
The cheese changes, but the dressing is light and doesn’t have an overpowering truffle flavor. Split this with a few people.
You might have someone special with you, and if you do, ask for forgiveness in advance because you will not be sharing this with them. Get this on your table.
This is a perfect example of simple things coming together to make something great.
When it’s done really well, it’s tough to go wrong with pork meat sauce. This is one of those times.
This changes, but our favorite was a deboned and seared branzino served with vegetables and capers that was like a cross between ratatouille and puttanesca. This is an excellent piece of fish.
Unless you’re a trained brain surgeon, you’ll probably look a little ridiculous trying to get the meat out of the shells, but the prawns are sweet and good and the basil oil goes really well with them.
The thin slices of lamb are perfectly cooked, and while the balsamic it comes with is great, see if they’ll bring you some of the sea urchin tomato sauce to go with this.