By Joe Bonadio

It’s no secret that the popularity of seafood on American menus has increased in recent years. Seafood now makes up a significant portion of the average American’s diet, a relatively new trend that is only expected to continue. One reason for this shift is our increased focus on health: as a high-quality source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, seafood is a wise choice for those trying to watch their diet. It’s also a low-calorie food, and can help to reduce the risk of obesity and other chronic disease.

Indeed, the only thing that’s surprising is the extent of the shift. According to the National Fisheries Institute, in 2017, seafood made up 23% of the total calories consumed by Americans—and that’s up from just 12% in 1985. The proliferation of seafood restaurants is largely responsible for this jump. During the same 32-year period, the number of seafood restaurants in the United States increased from just over 1,000 to approximately 3,000. If you’ll allow the pun, this amounts to a sea change for the restaurant business.

Sotto Mare Fettuccine Tony Bennett

The fettuccine with bay scallops, just one of the exemplary pasta dishes on offer at North Beach’s Sotto Mare. | Photo: Addison L., Yelp

Just in North Beach alone, a handful of seafood restaurants have opened up to try their hand over the past decade or so. And even in a neighborhood still crowded with pasta and pizza, they have for the most part survived and thrived. But despite all of the competition and the changes across the city, there is still one seafood establishment that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Sotto Mare.

Ever since opening its doors way back in 2007, Sotto Mare has been helping set the bar for quality seafood in San Francisco. Their original concept was to serve seafood in the style of the Italian coastal towns: as fresh as possible, prepared simply and plated with fresh vegetables, along with properly made, Italian-inflected sauces.

Sotto Mare on Green Street Tony Bennett

Located at the lively epicenter of North Beach, Sotto Mare has become a neighborhood institution. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

As readers of the blog know, I’ve been coming here faithfully since early 2008. Without a doubt, my favorite entrée has always been the grilled salmon with the butter-lemon-caper sauce on the side. I order it medium rare, and that’s exactly how the chef serves it. Paired with a nice glass of chardonnay, it’s one of my favorite meals, full stop.

When I want to change things up, I also love their Petrale sole. If you haven’t tried it, do—it’s far tastier than your typical sole. I’ve also got a soft spot for their Scallop Sauté: fat, impossibly sweet sea scallops, caught wild and perfectly browned, then dressed in a luscious sauce that complements the rich shellfish. It’s not to be missed.

And you needn’t just take my word for it. As reported earlier this month, Sotto Mare used to be the first place Tony Bennett would stop whenever he visited his beloved San Francisco. The late crooner used to eat here every time he was in town, taking his customary 4-top in the front and ordering the toothsome Crab Diavolo. And no, he didn’t get a reservation. As owner Richie Azzolino told the folks at the Star Tribune: “It’s Tony Bennett!” Talk about an endorsement.

Sotto Mare Crab Diavola Tony Bennett

Sotto Mare’s Crab Diavola, reportedly the go-to dish of the late Tony Bennett. | Photo: Jon. L., Yelp

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Sotto Mare’s vaunted headliner: their world-famous Cioppino. A rich tomato-based seafood stew that combines crab, prawns, scallops and cod in a rich brodo that cooks for 16 hours, this enormous tureen of goodness has been tantalizing tourists and locals alike for a generation. You’ll even spot a few pieces of brodo-soaked penne swimming around in there. And to clarify, ‘World Famous’ is no idle boast: the restaurant landed in the Chinese news media not long after opening––resulting in a wave of expectant Chinese diners that continues to this day.

Be advised, Cioppino is not a dish that you’re likely to tackle alone, so bring some help along. And for starters, make sure to try the Benita’s Baccala––think salt cod, but prepared by an Italian chef. Prepared with over a dozen proprietary spices, this is one of the most unique flavors in North Beach. It’s served room temperature with plenty of fresh bread, and alongside a few fresh oysters, it’s the way to start your meal.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially for the home chefs out there: Sotto Mare sells all of its seafood fresh out the door every day. It’s the freshest you can get, and the selection changes with the specials board, so be sure check it out. See you in the neighborhood!


Sotto Mare
552 Green Street
(415) 398-3181