an member station

North Beach Cafe

2605 S. Decatur Blvd.

247-9530

It may not be in San Francisco, but the North Beach Cafe is one of the small stars in our restaurant universe. It features al fresco dining, al dente pasta and a little Al Martino on the sound system. Not to mention a master Sinatra impersonator Bobby Barrrett on Monday nights. All of which make for some cozy fun as you sample the Italian cuisine of owners Ozzie and Judy Montano. They even spice things up a bit from your typical Italian by throwing in a touch of Argentina (Ozzie's native land) along with some very tasty soups, salads and pastas. These make the North Beach Café a big favorite with locals who have kept this place humming for most of this decade….which is an eternity in restaurant years. One way the Montanos trump the Italian food competition is simply by being around a lot. Having on-premises owners gives this place a personality that others, especially the chains, never come close to. Most customers feel like one of the family, and the warmth of the greeting is equaled by the basket of dense, warm onion and herb foccocia bread that's as satisfying as bread gets. As good as it is, save room, for the superior linguini pescatori, chock full of good things that swim, or a solid osso buco. even the Argentine empanadas are fresh made, and served with a garlicky warm chimchurri sauce that is addictively good.

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Before I get too carried away, I will admit that the North Beach Cafe doesn't always stack up to the top tier of our Italian restaurants like Circo, Lupo, or the soon-to-be-opened Valentinos. But it does well what it sets out to do--and that is, serve good solid Italian food in a pleasant setting, at moderate prices, with enough personal touches and flavor to bring you back again and again.

This is John Curtas.

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