West coast slices best coast slices.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler
What's the story behind this restaurant?
What started as a venerated food truck run by Jon Darsky has blossomed into one of San Francisco's most beloved restaurants. Inside, there is dim, sexy lighting; the walls are painted gray; and collections of oil portraits accent different walls. The star of the room, though, is the open kitchen: anchored by a domed, wood-fired pizza oven and backed by a wall of stacked firewood. Despite the crisp, somewhat fancy vibes, the soundtrack is playful, with hip-hop and low-key electronic music. And the dress, while slightly elevated for San Francisco, still veers toward casual.
Speaking of, what's the crowd like?
The diners here vary, from older families catching up to business associates grabbing a meal after work to couples out on a date. It's primarily a young-professional crowd coming in from the Financial District and Nob Hill, and there are no children to be seen. Del Popolo may be serving pizza, but it's a pretty adult place.
What should we be drinking?
It's all about the wines, which hail primarily from Italy, California, France, and Oregon. There are a handful of options by the glass, but the list is dominated by bottles. If you're there with a group, you can't go wrong starting with a bottle of the Dhondt-Grellet sparkling chardonnay ($100), which is crisp and delicious, almost like a bubbly chablis. A glass of the Pascal Granger gamay, a well-rounded red with plenty of acidity, pairs perfectly with pizza. With dessert, try a glass of their Cocchi, which has a spice and depth almost reminiscent of mulled wine. Also note: If you love a bottle on the menu, they'll sell you it for 50 percent off the list price to take it to-go, as long as you purchase it with food.
Good to know. So tell us a bit more about those pizzas.
The Neapolitan-style crust has massive, crispy blisters and a chewy interior. Darsky said he aims to create "a dough that is distinct and different." His is made with the help of a sourdough starter—which means the level of tang "fluctuates depending on the dough on a given day," Darsky explained. "I actually prefer it when the tang is minimized and almost imperceptible, and other flavors are more forward." Del Popolo's margherita di bufala comes with high-quality crushed tomatoes and tastes incredibly fresh. The broccoli di ciccio pizza is topped with tender, perfectly cooked tendrils of broccoli, plus dabs of sausage that blend beautifully with the cheese and lend a bit of spice to the dish. And, though pizza is king here, starters are beautifully plated and would stand up in quality to any of San Francisco's top California-style restaurants. Del Popolo does business with F.E.E.D Sonoma, which sources produce from 50 small farms in Sonoma County up north, and the menu changes based on what's available by season. I'd recommend the little gem lettuce salad to start—perfectly dressed, with crispy crunchy bits of fried shallot, salty pancetta lardon, and refreshing radish. The tempura butternut squash is unexpected, with pomegranate seeds, fried sage relish, and ricotta cheese. It may sound strange, but it comes together seamlessly.
And how do the front-of-house folks treat you?
The service here is more upscale than a standard pizza place—servers fold your napkin and place it on the table when you leave, are proficient in the wine menu, and pace the dishes perfectly. You'll feel taken care of here.
Why would you recommend Del Popolo, then?
Have a friend that thinks West Coast pizza isn't good? Prove them wrong. Or, for the less vindictive among us, Del Popolo is hip and upscale enough that it would be an impressive place to take a date or to indulge for a special dinner.
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