Albona: Actual Istria in San Francisco

This is an article from our archives that was previously run on another site in May, 2009.

When it comes to Italian restaurants in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, the choices are nearly endless. When it comes to Italian restaurants in the area that are actually good, the list tightens up a great deal. So enters Albona, which is best described as the Italian restaurant in North Beach that is pretty much not Italian nor in North Beach. A simpler way to say that is to call it an Istrian restaurant.

Istria is a peninsula that sticks off the far western corner of Croatia. This wasn’t always the case as the region has been under flags of Venice, Italy, and even France for a spell. This is reflected in the cuisine a great deal. While it’s easy to call it “Italian-esque” and leave it at that, this would do a heavy disservice to what makes the food unique. It’s a crossroads of Central European, Mediterranean, and Slavic foods and you taste that with every bite.

Take for instance the strudel. Yes, that’s right, a strudel. Try and find that on an Italian menu! This dish which is oft considered Germanic or Slavic is one of the stars on the Albona menu. But, it’s not like your Central European strudel. It has prosciutto, béchamel, a tomato-cream sauce, and a number of seasonings that lend it an extremely unique flavor. It’s absolutely delicious and is typical of what Albona offers. The dish is a delicate balance showing the influence of several different cultures.

The menu doesn’t stop there and while it has a great selection of pasta and chicken dishes, there are also a few seafood dishes and a veal shank that is delicious as well. You really can’t go wrong and the best part is that the foods go well with any number of wines from many places, again showing diversity of the region.

Albona, much like Istria is a little out of the way, sitting at 545 Francisco, just off Columbus. It’s in something of a transitional area between North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. The beauty of this is that it avoids the cheesy hustle and bustle on Pier 39 as well as a lot of Columbus, while still being very convenient and offering a quieter, classier evening out. Give them a try if you want to sample a much different take on dishes that you’ve known a long time, as well as getting to know some new ones.