Next to the Italian Cultural Institute, this large space opens up before you after walking through a narrow doorway. It feels like a former grade school cafeteria, complete with wood walls painted turquoise and white, mirrors, and small pictures and posters of Italy. Among dozens of indoor café tables (they have food service/deli counters located throughout), there’s even a homey corner with a black leather sofa, coffee table, and fireplace. Italian pop music often fills the place, reinforcing the fact that this isn’t your typical coffee house.

Il Massimo's entrance along Washington St. Il Massimo's cafeteria-like interior Comfy seating options at Il Massimo

Like many Italian cafés, they have a dedicated beverage/espresso bar. There they also sell Caffè Mauro & Lavazza Super Crema (what they use for their espresso) by the bag. Using a rare (for SF) three-group Ariete machine, they pull an espresso with a moderate layer of very dark brown crema and serve it in Lavazza logo IPA cups. The coffee is black, with a smoky flavor and some subtle sweetness. This is a nice improvement over what they produced when I first visited years ago, which tended to be tarry.

Il Massimo's Ariete machine - ask for it short Il Massimo's single short espresso

One thing I like is that their morning barista asks if you prefer your shots short or long. And, as a default, he serves them short. Just the way it should be. (Why anyone would want a bitter, watery long shot is still beyond me.) And because their espresso can run from just good to very good, I have to rate them as ‘Inconsistent’. But it’s a good kind of inconsistent.

Read the updated review.