Classic Tables: Il Pollaio

Still, delightfully, a one-trick pony

Today's food trucks could learn a thing or two from Il Pollaio.

San Francisco's street-food revolution was supposed to produce a fleet of focused trucks, each perfecting a single dish. That hasn't quite happened.

Rows of butterflied chickens smoke on the grill behind the counter of Giuseppe Castellucci's highly specialized North Beach restaurant, just as they have for more than a quarter-century.

You rarely have to wait long for your half-chicken to come off the fire ($8 alone; $12 with fat fries or a green salad dressed with oil and vinegar). The breast meat is still tender, the thigh meat shiny and soft. But the taut, crisp skin–rubbed with spices and herbs, charred just so–is the piece you peel off first.

Functional and scuffed, with a diner-ish anti-glamour, the restaurant has acquired a nostalgic patina. In few other North Beach restaurants will you see beat cops seated next to old Italian women while clean-cut dudes in gym shorts line up for takeout.

With a tumbler of passable Sangiovese ($7) at your elbow, the restaurant somehow feels truer to the blue-collar cafés of Genoa or Lyon than to San Francisco's more self-consciously European bistros.

After all this time, Il Pollaio has no need to impress–only to satisfy.

Il Pollaio, 555 Columbus Ave. (at Green St.), 415-362-7727