At the start of the year, Ryan Maxey and chef Ian Begg decided it was time to make a change to Txoko, their North Beach Spanish tapas restaurant located in the heart of strip club row on Broadway. Closing the restaurant down, the duo replaced the space with a much more relaxed pub and grill, extending their revered North Beach sandwich shop, Naked Lunch, into the spot. It's a very distinct conceptual change from Txoko, with two billiard tables, a Pop-A-Shot basketball arcade game, counter ordering service (a fact I wish was made more prominent upon entry), and an all day menu.
See also: Naked Lunch Expands Into Txoko Space
The overall layout hasn't changed much, if at all, from the Txoko days, but gone are the pintxos of empanadas, boquerones, and sweetbreads, as well as the deliciously massive bone-in rib eye, replaced by a simpler, seasonal menu with salads, soups, their famous fried chicken sandwich, and a special Naked Lunch burger which is only available during weekend brunches.
And brunch is probably one of the best ways to experience the new Naked Lunch. Thanks to the restaurant's outdoor area and fully stocked bar, sitting outside on a warm weekend afternoon to people-watch is something one must shoehorn into the day. Sure, you could get bottomless mimosas in the Marina and watch drunk girls in yoga pants stumble around, or you could drink it up in North Beach, watching the colorful degenerates going into or leaving strip clubs in the middle of the afternoon. (One of these things is way more entertaining than the other after witnessing it for the fourth time ...especially if it's someone you know.)
On my brunch visits, I enjoyed the soups more than the salads. There was nothing terrible about the roasted baby beet salad with chevre and walnut vinaigrette, but I found the potato leek soup with green garlic to be so much more rewarding in flavors. The soup was creamy and comforting, yet light and bright with a soft aromatic roundness from the green garlic. A little citrus tartness at the end of each bite only added another layer to the sophistication of the soup. I had a similar positive experience with the celery root soup with grilled scallions and bacon. The fried chicken sandwich with buttermilk coleslaw and garlic aioli, which is sold on the regular daily lunch menu, still continues to be one of the best sandwiches in the city. And now that asparagus madness has gripped San Francisco, they're offering a unique and amazing grilled asparagus sandwich that manages to feel like everything good about spring blew up in your mouth.
The must-order item during brunch, though, is the Naked Lunch cheeseburger. The burger's juicy beef patty drips with saltiness with each bite and is nicely complemented by the spongy bun. A helping of caramelized onions provides a hint of sweetness, bolstered by the sweet acidity of oven-dried tomatoes (Maxey promises they will be fresh tomatoes once they're back in season) and house made pickles. A touch of aioli and mustard help to keep things from getting too dry while providing more depth for your taste buds and needed texture comes in the form of a crispy Manchego chip and butter lettuce. Is it the best burger in San Francisco? That's debatable, as is everything food-related in the city, but it is certainly one of the better burgers you'll find around town and a must try if you consider yourself a burger aficionado.
If you missed out on Txoko, do yourself a favor and check out the Naked Lunch brunch. It's worth braving all the guys in ill-fitting black suits yelling at you to check out their particular strip club. I mean, it's not like you can't go back and get glitter bombed by a tassel-wearing girl who's just trying to earn money to pay for law school after you've had your fill of food and drink; it would at least be truly a naked lunch/brunch in that sense.