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Golden Boy Pizza Is Where You Want To End Your Night

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Two men devour a pizza straight out of the box while standing in a crowd of other customers.
Eating a Golden Boy slice while standing on the sidewalk late at night is an indelible San Francisco experience. (Thien Pham)

The Midnight Diners is a regular collaboration between KQED food editor Luke Tsai and graphic novelist Thien Pham. Follow them each week as they explore the hot pot restaurants, taco carts and 24-hour casino buffets that make up the Bay Area’s after-hours dining scene.

If you’re a lifelong San Franciscan, chances are you’ve grabbed a slice at Golden Boy Pizza.

Or to be more specific: If your misspent youth involved hanging around the vicinity of North Beach late at night, you’ve probably burned the roof of your mouth scarfing down a Golden Boy clam-and-garlic slice while standing on the sidewalk well past midnight.

Ever since Golden Boy’s original Green Street location opened in 1978, the pizzeria has been an indelible fixture of San Francisco’s late-night scene. Pre-pandemic, and for the bulk of its 40-plus-year heyday as an after-hours hangout, Golden Boy was open past 2 a.m. on the weekend, making it the ideal place to hit up after a punk show or a reckless night of bar-hopping. Back then, the restaurant itself doubled as a neighborhood dive bar of sorts, with pizza eaters squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder at the counter to enjoy pitchers of cold Stella and a thrash metal–heavy playlist with their meal.

Times change, of course. These days, Golden Boy is strictly takeout only. It now closes at 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 p.m. on weekends. But even in its streamlined form, the restaurant remains one of the best spots in the city to grab a bite late at night. At a little before 10 o’clock on a recent Friday night, you could still spot the pizzeria’s iconic neon sign (an enormous hand, lit up in red and green, its index finger pointing the way) from several blocks away. The line outside seemed as long as it had ever been, maybe nine or 10 customers deep — an ethnically diverse crowd, mostly in their 20s or 30s. Because there isn’t any dine-in option, some took off in their cars as they’d gotten their pizzas. A few took their slices into the cocktail bar next door; a few more, like us, found a spot on the sidewalk where they could lean against a wall and eat their pizza standing up, like a proper street food.

Illustration: A line of customers waiting outside of Golden Boy Pizza.
Even though it’s no longer open past 2 a.m. on the weekend, Golden Boy Pizza remains a popular late-night destination in North Beach. (Thien Pham)

What I love about Golden Boy is its commitment to selling just pizza, nothing else — no perfunctory salad or chicken wings. (If you want a balanced, multicourse meal, there are plenty of other places in North Beach that’ll do the job.)


The pizza, meanwhile, is uniquely and idiosyncratically Bay Area. A Golden Boy pie’s thick crust and rectangular shape predate the region’s recent wave of trendy, right-angled Detroit-style pizzas by about 40 years — though no one would confuse the two styles. According to its official backstory, a Golden Boy “San Francilian” pie is basically “focaccia with pizza topping.” That description might lead you to imagine a pizza with a spongy or bready texture, but the most remarkable thing about a Golden Boy slice is how light and airy it is once you’ve bitten into its golden-brown, impeccably crunchy bottom. Though I’ve never tested the theory, I feel like I could eat 100 slices without feeling uncomfortably full.

It’s a tempting prospect, too, because the pizza’s components are so well-balanced and delicious — the juicy, thick red sauce (hands-down one of the best in the Bay); the generous amount of stretchy cheese; the charred, squared-off edges on each coveted corner slice. The toppings list is short and sweet, not veering far beyond pepperoni, sausage and a few simple vegetables. The clam-and-garlic pie is the cult favorite of the bunch, topped with chewy baby clams, enough garlic to bowl you over and linger on your breath, and a flurry of chopped parsley to act as a fresh counterpoint. How good is it? If we were sculpting a Mount Rushmore of Bay Area pizzas, it would easily snag one of the four spots.

Golden Boy also does a more standard combination pizza, as well as a tasty vegetarian pie that subs in pesto for the red sauce. During our recent visit, however, we found ourselves gravitating toward the simplest pizzas — the plain cheese slice and the classic, no-frills pepperoni. Without any fussy toppings to distract, we marinated in that perfect union of cheese, sauce and ethereal crust.

I don’t know if this is the best slice in San Francisco, but it sure felt like it was. Standing there hunched over outside in the lamplight, balancing the pizza box in one hand and a can of soda in the other while we ate. Cars whizzed past. A saxophone guy on the opposite street corner was playing something plaintive and jazzy. In that moment, it was hard to imagine anything better.

Golden Boy Pizza’s original North Beach location is open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. and Friday to Saturday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. at 542 Green St. in San Francisco. There’s also a San Mateo location and a forthcoming location at 1447 Taraval St., in the Parkside neighborhood of SF.

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