Josh Even is the chef at Tosca, one of the most storied spots in North Beach, one of our city's most historic neighborhoods. (For a fascinating look back, see this oral history, with remembrances contributed by Bono, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Roman Coppola and more.)
Three years ago, the 1919-born dive bar was bought by Spotted Pig chef April Bloomfield and her business partner, Ken Friedman, and reborn as a high-aiming restaurant with Even in charge.
Here, he shares his picks for the top five eats in the neighborhood — in addition, of course, to Tosca itself.
Breakfast: Boulette's Larder
This is the best breakfast in S.F., hands down. The menu isn't huge, but I could eat any of it every morning and never fall out of love with anything there. Chef Amaryll Schwertner has an endless knowledge of and love for her ingredients, and the food she creates from them. I always always get the yogurt, and one more item. The scrambled eggs are always cooked perfectly, and the warm cereal is the best porridge there is. If I could wake up early enough, I would eat at Boulette's every morning.
Coffee break: The Station
Just down the street from Tosca, The Station is where I get my coffee pretty much everyday. I'll pop in for some caffeine, or hang for 30 minutes or so with my wife and son, before I head into work. Full disclosure, I'm a real wimp when it comes to coffee so I usually drink the sweet stuff — a mocha or vanilla latte, which they make with homemade vanilla simple syrup — or sometimes a Nitro Cold Brew with a ton of simple syrup. The tuna salad is simple, sneaky good too — tinned tuna, vinegar, romaine — and the eggs are fluffy and light on the croissant sandwich.
Lunch: The House
I never eat lunch in North Beach because if I'm there at lunch time, I'm working. But if I'm off on a market day, and have to drop produce off at Tosca, on occasion, I'll pop over to The House on Grant Street. It is one of the best restaurants in all of North Beach, and lunch is a bit easier to just walk-in than during their very busy dinner service. I would call The House a sleeper pick, but it's been busy since it opened in 1994 — long before I arrived in North Beach — and doesn't seem to ever slow down.
Tommaso's is a North Beach and S.F. classic, and if I'm not working or eating at Tosca, I'll try to grab a table at Tommaso's. Opened in 1935, Tommaso's had the first wood-fired oven on the entire West Coast. Tomasso's was the spot that brought Southern Italian cuisine to S.F. It's all about the pizza and classics, but make sure to order the baked fresh coo-coo clams too. They are baked in the wood oven and soothed with the warmth of loads of toasty garlic.
North Beach is really the last neighborhood in S.F. that has held tight to so many of its historic places. Specs ranks among the most classic. It's old and it's a dive, and looks pretty plain inside and out. But what makes it so special is that the clientele are all people who have been drinking there for 30 years, or people who will still be drinking there in 30 years. Order a cheap beer and a shot of Jameson, smoke a cigarette in the alley, chat with some other folks doing the same, repeat.