Families shop for seasonal treats in San Francisco's Italian enclave
XOX Truffles
A merry Christmas for all with chocolates from XOX Truffles.

Sacripantina cake
Silvia Santucci Scott’s sacripantina cake.

Photos by Terrence McCarthy

Hand-painted ceramics at Biordi Art Imports.

It’s more likely to be sunny than snowy, but make no mistake― it’s holiday time in the city’s North Beach neighborhood.”North Beach at Christmas is all about family,” says SilviaSantucci Scott, who, along with sister Christina Santucci, runspopular Stella Pastry. “People come to the neighborhood to get allthe things they need to prepare for their own celebrations.Italians value family so much.”

Start crossing names off your favorite foodies’ Christmas listsat Scott’s cheerful Stella Pastry (446 Columbus Ave.; 415/986-2914), with its cloud-paintedceilings and behind-the-register shrine to Marlon Brando. Themust-taste here is the handsome sacripantina, an airy layered cake with Marsala wine-infusedzabaglione filling ― have a slice with coffee or get awhole one to go as a gift.

A few doors down is Biordi Art Imports (412 Columbus; 415/392-8096), the deservedly loved Italiantableware and ceramics store. And on the corner is the NationalShrine of St. Francis of Assisi (610 Vallejo St.; 415/983-0405), where free organ and carolconcerts are offered at 4 on Sundays year-round. Also nearby areMolinari Delicatessen (closed Sun; 373 Columbus; 415/421-2337), forimported olive oils, cheeses, pasta, and salami, and Little CityMeats (closed Sun; 1400 Stockton St.; 415/986-2601), an old-schoolbutcher where you can order a special holiday roast.

Continuing north on Columbus, stop in for an espresso atCaffè Roma (526 Columbus; 415/296-7942) and check out the hand-pickedselection of Italian wines. And don’t miss Jean-Marc and CasimiraGorce’s XOX Truffles (754 Columbus; 415/421-4814). Their charmingly lumpy,nugget-size chocolates make yummy gifts.

When you’re ready for a meal, stash your parcels back at the carand settle in for casual, hearty fare. The sausages and polenta atMario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe ($; 566 Columbus; 415/362-0536) are comforting in winter, asis the excellent roast chicken with coleslaw at Il Pollaio, a localfavorite ($; closed Sun; 555 Columbus; 415/362-7727).

Buon natale

Eureka Cartography

The heart of North Beach is along Columbus Ave. betweenBroadway and Greenwich St. Parking is difficult; try the two publicgarages on Vallejo St. between Powell and Stockton Streets. Or takeSF Muni ― bus lines 15, 30, and 45 all travel through theneighborhood.

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