I’ve lived in Noe Valley off and on for just over 20 years. Gone are the days of the Star Bakery, Speckman’s, and Tuggey’s. Excitement about the filming of Sister Act has been replaced by Google buses and the new Town Square. Patxi’s pizza now arrives via Uber, if it arrives at all. Like Ponyboy said, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” I get it, this isn’t your uncle’s San Francisco. So is there still flavor? Yes, yes there hecka is, as the kids used to say. Here are my five in no particular order.
1. Chocolate Covered:
This place had me at the metal chocolate boxes that are magically attached to every inch of available wall. Endless three dimensional rectangles with blue and white images of San Francisco street names, John Lennon, Willie Mays, and countless others. Every member of my family has one of these boxes. We load them up with Flyer chocolate bars, organic comestibles from Ecuador, and foil wrapped cigars for good measure. Then there is Jack, the owner. The large skinny room is his house, he knows every single piece of brown goodness. Why endure the overly bright lights of Walgreens when you can step into this cave sanctuary of sugar?
2. 24th Street Cheese Company:
The smell outside this joint always gets to my kids, they refuse to enter. The name says it all, Cheese. Any variety imaginable, the pungency percolating everywhere within fifty feet. All the senses are surrounded by bottles of Italian reds and German whites. Then there are the olives, little Greek godlike spheres in huge glass jars. If you ask, they will cut the salami extra thin, the machine piling up delicate slices. This place is not to be missed, it is Europe with a wooden floor.
3. Noe Valley Bakery:
The smiley face cookies capture the essence. The bakery beckons with everything from colorful Warriors and Giants cupcakes, to their fabled tufty challah. My son can’t leave without an M&M cookie, politely slid into a waxy bag, only to be ravaged when he is barely out the door. The oven-produced goodies are almost as welcoming as the people behind the counter. They go out of their kind way to patiently greet everyone no matter how packed it is. There have been many nights when we arrived just after the 7pm closing, the model train dormant in the window, as we stared vacantly at what could have been.
4. La Ciccia:
I’m not alone here, rumor has it that author and entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss wrote part of one of his books in La Ciccia. Mark Zuckerberg and Gary Danko have dined here, along with many others. The decor isn’t the driving force, it’s the you’re almost in Capri octopus, the homemade pasta, and the earthy Sardinian wines. My wife and I usually pull in at 5:10pm to grab the last two seats at the bar. Owners Massimilliano and Lorella run a fast-paced ship but always have the Italian time to shoot the breeze for a minute or two. An evening here isn’t really complete without the lingering taste of sorbet, a silent siren song that urges you to return again and again.
5. Just For Fun & Scribbledoodles:
If the miniature Lassie-like dogs don’t get you hooked, the kinky greeting cards certainly will. There is something for everyone here. Need a monopoly game? Got it. Aspiring artist? The pens, paper, paints, and sketch pads always call out to my inner Da Vinci. This has been my go to place for countless birthday gifts, little rockets and bracelet kits, carefully wrapped by the mustached men who work here. They keep the music out front lively, matched by seasonal window displays of all that is good in San Francisco.
What are your favorite Noe spots? Drop a line and tell me.
Here are links to learn more about these stellar establishments: