Anyone can spin a story about how their product is made in house and throw words out like “authentic” and “forged,” but that ignores the most important question - is what they make any good? If a bad cocktail named the Jack Dawkins was painstakingly crafted from small batch liquor by a bartender in a handmade artisanal leather apron, it’s still just a bad cocktail at the end of the day. A Mano is an Italian restaurant in Hayes Valley with a great story about how they make their own pasta in-house. But the story is much better than the food itself.
There are plenty of other things about A Mano to draw people in. It’s in Hayes Valley, where you’re bound to end up if you like window shopping, being surrounded by attractive people, and gawking at designer pets. The restaurant itself is a pretty space with a lot of indoor and sidewalk seating and floor-to-ceiling glass panels overlooking Hayes Street. Everything on their menu is under $20, which is pretty great considering SF standards. They don’t take reservations, which could be annoying, but while you wait for them to text you that your table is ready, you can go next door to Anina for a cocktail or just go stare at the weird sculpture installation across the street. A Mano checks a lot of boxes on the list of things that you could want in a restaurant. The problem is that the food isn’t one of them.
The pasta, which is A Mano’s main draw, is particularly disappointing. The sauce in the bucatini all’ amatriciana tastes like something you could get on a grocery store shelf, and the freshness of the peas in the fusilli verdi gets lost in the pool of butter underneath that you can see your sad reflection in. It’s like buying a pair of custom shoes in Italy and thinking you got a steal, only for the soles to fall off the first time you wear them.
There are some other things on the menu that are good, but nothing is earth-shattering. The roasted summer squash focuses on the flavor of the vegetables instead of making it secondary to the prosciutto and cheese that come with it. The cauliflower has a nice bite from the chilis and brightness from the lemon, but this is just an appetizer - and it will set you up for disappointment when the rest of your food comes.
If a pretty space and getting a table last-minute without a giant hassle are more important boxes for you to check than having memorable food, A Mano is a passable restaurant. You’ll get your negroni and some Italian food after a day in Hayes Valley. But if you’re looking for excellent pasta, we suggest you try somewhere else.
This squash comes with prosciutto and fonduta. It’s simple and light and one of the better things on the menu.
This dish of squid, corn, and shishito peppers comes with a “roman-esco” sauce and as a whole, it just doesn’t really come together. Skip this one.
This cauliflower is one of the other better things here. It‘s topped with lemon, chili, and bagna cauda and kind of tastes like tater tots - but in a good way.
The mix of chicken and pork keeps this pasta from being too heavy and while it’s the only one we would order again, it won’t call to you in your sleep.
The sauce is basic and the pancetta tastes like what you’d find in $2.50 chunked hash browns from Waffle House. It doesn’t need to be on your table.
The orecchiette comes with ground octopus, so you’re not cutting up and eating tentacles like you might expect, and the flavor is pretty intense and briny thanks to the olives and capers. It tastes a lot like a puttanesca, which is fine, but nothing we’d go out of our way for.
The fusilli had the potential to be the best thing we tried until we found a well of butter under the pasta that overpowered the freshness of the peas it comes with.
This pizza with sausage, olives, and provolone piccante could be good, but there is a lot of cheese covering up what’s going on underneath. Stop somewhere else for a slice after dinner instead if you really need a pizza fix.