As North Beach cruises through the end of another Indian Summer, it’s hard not to feel grateful to be here. We’ve experienced a return to form in recent days, with a flurry of new restaurant and bar openings that shows no sign of abating, In a testament to the city’s taste, San Francisco has returned to North Beach, and suddenly our little neighborhood is back on the map.

Amid all the activity, last month Nader Parhizgari quietly opened what might be the best new Mediterranean restaurant in the city. Taking over the former space of Franchino on Columbus Avenue, Elena Mediterranean is Nader’s first restaurant. But it’s not his first business in North Beach, not by a longshot. Nader is a well-known face in the neighborhood, having owned Nature Stop, the indispensable Grant Avenue grocery, for 13 years. 

lamb shank at Elena

The mouthwatering lamb shank at Elena. | Photo Courtesy of Elena

I was curious about that. Why would someone who ran a grocery store for well over a decade suddenly decide to open a restaurant? Last week I sat down with Nader to find out more. Edited for length and clarity, our conversation is below.

Joe Bonadio: So Nader, you are anything but a newcomer here in North Beach. How long have you been here?

Nader Parhizgari: The first time I moved to North Beach was in 2005. I bought Nature Stop in 2006, and I had it until 2019.

Chef Adolfo and Nader at Elena

Nader on the opening night of Elena with Chef Adolfo. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: So you’re getting ready for a serious pivot. Tell us about your new project.

NP:  In the 30 years I’ve been in San Francisco, 20 of them in North Beach, I’ve always wanted to do something different. Something for the people of this neighborhood, something that’s healthier. Not pizza, not pasta.

So that’s what I’ve been working on for the past couple of years: bringing something new to the people of North Beach.

wine at Elena

A peek at the Elena wine list reveals an Italian bent, along with surprisingly reasonable prices. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: Do you have any experience in the restaurant business?

NP: Yes. Back in 2004 I established the menu for both Skyline College and San Mateo College. I also worked in student food services at the Berkeley campus for a while.

The Colossal, a red blend from Portugal, is elegant and fruit forward. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: You made a lot of connections in the neighborhood at Nature Stop. What’s it like to be coming back and starting something new, just a couple of blocks away?

NP: Since I live in North Beach, I’m excited. I know a lot of people here, and hopefully they are excited too.

JB: Tell me about Elena.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin and his wife Nancy enjoy an early dinner at North Beach’s brand-new Elena. | Photo: Nader Parhizgari

NP: Elena is a healthy Mediterranean style that draws from Spain, Greece, Turkey….all of the best of the region. We started out with a limited menu, five or six items, and we’ll add to that as time passes.

JB: What should we expect to see on the menu?

NP: Well, we cook with local and organic vegetables whenever possible, and only the best halal meats. We’ve got a beautiful rack of lamb and a lamb shank, and a few fresh seafood choices, all served with either couscous or farro.

Baklava at Elena

The fresh baklava at Elena, served with a delicate date syrup, is the best I’ve had anywhere. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: It all sounds great. Another thing that you were known for at Nature Stop was your ability to source extremely nice wines.

NP: Yes! I put that experience to work here. Our wine list is really special. 85 percent of the wines are from small wineries, a lot of it organic. In keeping with our goal of serving healthy cuisine, we’re trying to offer as much organic, biodynamic wine as we can.

I’m really excited about Elena. We’ve got something good and unique in the neighborhood, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Elena is now open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:00 PM until 10:00 PM.


347 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 757-0059