Txoko's Chef Talks Tapas And How The North Beach Food Scene Is Blowing Up

Chef Ian Begg behind the bar at Txoko. Photo: Shilpi Tomar
San Francisco has never been known for Spanish cuisine. However, Ian Begg and Ryan Maxey, the guys behind Naked Lunch, are hoping to change that with their new Basque spot Txoko, which opens tonight! To find out how they plan to do it, while also helping to revitalize the tourist-centric food scene in North Beach, we sat down for a chat with chef Begg.
Keep clicking to read our interview, plus see pictures of the just-opened eatery!
A large animal-tastic mural adorns one of Txoko's walls.
How long was Txoko [pronounced cho-koh] in the works?

“Ryan and I wanted to do a tapas place for a few years now, even before we opened Naked Lunch. Then this place [formerly Enrico’s, next door to Naked Lunch] opened up and we were approached by the landlord and got a good deal. We noticed the city has a lack of good Spanish restaurants. And since my repertoire is French food, looking to the Northern part of Spain just made the most sense.”


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How did you guys settle on the name of the restaurant?

“Txokos are gastronomic societies or clubs in Spain that have been going on for about 140 years. It’s a time when friends and family can meet up and each member cooks a dish and everyone relaxes, gets some food and wine, and enjoys life.”
What’s the inspiration behind your menu?

“It’s just good food with a Spanish influence. We focused on pintxos, which are two-bite hors d'oeuvres. So the first part of the menu, which is filled with small plates, is almost like a tasting menu. One of the things we love are the parallels between the Basque country and the Bay Area. We are both right next to the ocean, we have great seafood, we’re surrounded by the wine country, and we have great produce. So although we’re influenced by Spanish food, Txoko is very much a restaurant that’s here in California. The majority of the produce and meats are all local. We’re not trying to copy the Spanish exactly, because we can’t and it would be foolish to try to do that when we can use the amazing stuff that we have here.”


What were you going for in terms of the feel and decor?
“We wanted to bring a warm feel with natural wood and stones to make it cozy and comfortable. We added a few little modern touches, but overall we wanted it to be laid back and not too stuffy. We’re also trying to keep it casual by putting the silverware and paper napkins on the table, which brings the price down a little bit for customers, opposed to using linens and having more service.”
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Get ready for Spanish wines and cozy ambiance in the sprawling space.
When it comes to restaurants, San Francisco is a notoriously early-to-bed city. How important was it for you guys to keep your doors open until 2 a.m.?

“That was very important to us. Working in this town for so many years, we know there aren’t a lot of places that stay open late and we thought it was a good niche to fill. Hopefully we’ll attract a like-minded crowd who like to eat out late and get more than just a burger. We’ll have a full menu and a full bar until 2 a.m.”
What’s been the most exciting thing you’ve noticed in the local culinary scene of late?

“One of the coolest things is the resurrection of the North Beach neighborhood. For the longest time there have been a lot of tourist-driven Italian joints that no locals would go to because the quality of food and service was so low. But there’s a lot of new young blood coming into the neighborhood. The people who did Marlowe are opening up a place in Washington Square. Bottle Cap’s new spot is opening. The guy who did Aziza is moving out here from the Richmond. There’s Quince and Cotogna. We have a lot of quality operators. It’s exciting because this is such a cool area with so much history, it’s so dense and central to the city, and now it’s becoming a place that locals can come to, opposed to just tourists.”
I’m sure you’re not booking a lot of off-the-clock time at the moment, but when you’re not working, where would we find you?

“These days I’m mostly just sleeping. But I really like pasta, and there’s a really cool little hangout not too far from here that's across the street from Vesuvio, which is another great little watering hole that Bob Dylan and Kerouac used to go to.”

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