There are neighborhood joints and then there's Pizzetta. Located at 211 23rd St between California and Lake, you'd never notice this place existed. That is until you see all the people congregated outside the storefront. Is it a garage sale, maybe a house party? Nope, just one the best tasting pizza in SF, and for that matter, the US.
Pizzetta is unassuming, there are only four tables inside, three tables outside, four stools at the bar, and a kitchen the size of most SF condos. No waiting area, no credit cards, no large parties, no reservations, no substitutes.
After reading through their website, we decided to call ahead on the wait and arrived around 6:45pm. Note that parking in the Richmond can be hard work. Took me about 10 mins, but others 25 mins. The owner, a charismatic gentlemen with a scruffy face and short curly hair took our name down and within 15 mins sat us at the bar. The interior is a combination storage room, dining area, bar, and kitchen. The real joy are the owners and workers - it's a group of four lads who look like either frat brothers from Cal or musicians appearing at Outsidelands. Really nice fellows, one making the pizzas, one tending to the appetizers and drinks, one at the cash til, and one for the front of house. They took care of the many happy clients wearing shirts made by a regular customer with the words "Pizzetta Attitude" and a photo of the owners.
We started with the special appetizer of the day - artichokes with aioli and butter beans with olive tapenade. Simply amazing and not the type of elevated food you'd expect from a small place like this. The artichokes were freshly cooked through without being rubbery, the aioli was not overpowering (only a small amount on the artichokes), the butter beans were tastefully seasoned, and the olive tapenade was pureed down with chives and kumquats for a tasteful mix. I've never had something like this before and would want to steal this recipe for future house parties. At $7, it's the perfect amount to share without getting too full.
The pizza sizes were about 12", so we decided to order our own rather than share. Sheila opted for the Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzerrella, and basil) and I sought the advice of our waiter. He suggested the San Marzano (san marzano tomato sauce, mascarpone, and wild arugula) because of it's balance. It's great to watch the chef create the pizza right in front of us - from pulling the dough, the drizzling the olive oil, to spreading the sauce, to placing the cheese. After about 15 mins in the electric oven, our food was brought over all the while we were entertained by the wait staff.
Sheila's pizza looked fantastic; the owner calling it food porn when I took the below picture. It was well done Margherita with a twist of basil pureed with olive oil rather than fresh. The thin crust was a true flour crust flavor without any seasoning. Sheila loved the fact that the crust was not burnt, which is what tends to happen in coal or wood-fired ovens. The sauce was mildly sweet and the cheese was fresh as can be. Sheila is not one to finish her entree - no problem this time which says enough.
The owner brought out the San Marzano followed by the comment - he (the waiter) fooled you into picked this one, huh? I knew it would be good at that point. The crust was similar to Sheila's; the flour flavor was not masked by anything. My sauce, however, had the kick of chilly flakes, which is what I was looking for. The pizza needed this because I was expecting the mascarpone would overpower this dish on the sweet side - it was not. I loved the richness and subtle tones of this cheese. The arugula (simply tossed in salt, pepper, olive oil) was layed fresh on top - great to pick off and eat on its own. I caned that pizza in no time.
For dessert, we chose a goat cheese tart with candied kumquats - another recommendation of our waiter. The only way to describe it is like a cheesecake - but so much better. The crust had a nice butter flavor, the mildly sweetened goat cheese was much lighter than cheesecake, the kumquats were like a candied circuit provide a nice kick of sweetness.
Pizzetta would definitely be our version of Gialina's if we lived in the Richmond. It has the loyal clientele, personable wait staff, amazing food, and local SF charm. If it weren't so small, we would take all our out of town guest here (to join Papalotes, Slanted Door, & Tartine Bakery). Sheila even wanted to go back the next day! Go to Pizzetta, brave the wait - it's worthy of the rave reviews in the SF Chronicle, Sunset Magazine, and Zagat.