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SEVEN OVENS BLOG
October 4, 2023

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana: #19 In The World, Right in Your Backyard

by Joe Bonadio

It’s true: there’s nothing quite like pizza. Even in the world of foodies pizza stands in its own category, commanding a loyalty that other types of cuisine have never enjoyed. By the time this humble pie had made it to New York from Naples 120 years ago, it was already revered by the Italians, but its rise had only just begun. Today pizza is the most popular takeout and delivery food in the entire world—and according to people who measure such things, Americans eat an astounding 350 slices of pizza every second.

There is nothing quite like Washington Square Park, the perfect backdrop for Tony's and its sister restaurant, Slice House by Tony Gemignani. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

There is nothing quite like Washington Square Park, the perfect backdrop for Tony’s and its sister restaurant, Slice House by Tony Gemignani. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

I personally don’t trust anyone who doesn’t eat pizza, so these numbers seem just a touch on the low side. But you get the point: people love their pizza. And happily, the category has been undergoing a serious resurgence in recent years. You can now find great pizzerias in every state in the union, and that has changed the public’s perception of what constitutes a good pizza. Simply put, the bar has been raised.

Tony Gemignani is one of the people behind this pizza renaissance. When he opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach back in 2009, he quickly put our little neighborhood at the center of West Coast pizza. Since then he’s built a veritable business universe around the corner pizzeria, with a sizable legend to go with it.

My friend Jonathan recently brought me out to lunch for my birthday, and it being a Monday, Tony’s was the natural call. Monday is locals day at the Tony’s bar, so I knew I’d be sure to see a few people I knew, and that Robvell would be working the day shift. I’ve known Robvell since he was the regular ‘tender at the lovely and long-defunct Rose Pistola around the corner. He’s one of my oldest friends in the city, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to start the afternoon.

As expected the bar was loaded with familiar faces, so once I’d fielded a few birthday greetings (and a glass of very nice reposado tequila from my friend Lacey), we settled in at the bar. From there, Robvell poured us each a glass of Franciacorta, an Italian sparkling wine that I adore. Well ensconced, we proceeded to zero in on the menu.

With muenster cheese, smoked bacon, calabrese peppers and honey, the delicious Eddie Muenster is adorned with a generous crown of tasty, crispy-fried kale, and finished with a squeeze of lemon. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

With muenster cheese, smoked bacon, calabrese peppers and honey, the delicious Eddie Muenster is adorned with a generous crown of tasty, crispy-fried kale, and finished with a squeeze of lemon. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Ordering at Tony’s is a challenge, and that’s not just due to the sheer number of choices. I’m always torn between being loyal to one of my favorites and trying something I’ve never had. As a result, it’s hard for me to keep up with the new additions—and no matter how often I visit Tony’s, there’s always something new on the menu. This time, I was curious to finally try the Eddie Muenster; although it’s anything but new, it’s a pizza I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about.

An outlier even on the Tony’s menu, the Eddie Muenster is a counterintuitive combination of muenster cheese, smoked bacon, calabrese peppers and honey, topped with heaps of crunchy-fried kale. Drizzled with a squeeze of fresh lemon, this pizza turns out to be a flavor bomb, and unlike anything either of us have had before. It’s also got to be the tastiest deployment of kale you’ll find anywhere. Coming out of a 900º wood-fired oven with a chewy, toothsome crust, this pizza lived up to the hype, and we made short work of it.

Creative combinations like the Eddie Muenster abound here. Another fun example is the El Jefe, which brings together pork carnitas, apricot habanero jam, mozzarella, sweet plantains, white onion and cilantro, which the chef finishes with a mist of orange juice. For some an unholy alliance, this melange of toppings nonetheless works like a charm. Admittedly, I had my doubts at first—carnitas on pizza? Nonetheless, this savory pie has made it’s way into my regular rotation.

If you're a fan of oven-baked pasta, Tony's toothsome Lasagna is a dish that you have to try. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

If you’re a fan of oven-baked pasta, Tony’s toothsome Lasagna is a dish that you have to try. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Meanwhile, If you like Sicilian style, the Burrata Queen is another standout that might make you say How did they think of that? A rich combination of ricotta, sliced mozzarella, pesto artichoke cream, burrata, garlic, hot pepper oil, crushed red pepper and agave, the Burrata Queen is unique, delicious—and it’s also vegetarian. I’m a big fan of Sicilian pizza, and the flavors and textures are a perfect foil for the pillowy, crunchy crust.

After nearly 15 years on this corner, by now everyone knows Tony is a serious player in the pizza world. But this last year has seen a serious uptick in attention for our favorite pizzaiolo. He started out last Fall by capturing Pizzeria of The Year from Pizza Today Magazine, the nation’s biggest magazine for the pizza trade. The holy grail for American pizza makers, this was an honor Tony had always coveted, and one he describes as “bigger than James Beard.”

He’s also become a regular leader on Italy’s 50 Top Pizza list, which has become highly influential in recent years. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana has appeared on their list since the organization’s inception, and early on was recognized as their #1 pizzeria in America. This year, 50 Top Pizza named Tony’s the #19 best pizzeria in the world, the only California restaurant to make the worldwide top 50. Tony also snagged the Robo Award for being the only operator with two restaurants appearing on their U.S. list (Las Vegas’ Pizza Rock placed 18th).

Nick Lawlor keeps things lively at the Tony's bar. Pro Tip: you can get Tony's full menu at the bar––and it's first come, first served. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Nick Lawlor keeps things lively at the Tony’s bar. Pro Tip: you can get Tony’s full menu at the bar––and it’s first come, first served. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

The local press has finally started getting on the bandwagon, too. The San Francisco Chronicle in particular, who previously hadn’t written about Tony since the Obama Administration, seems to have discovered Tony’s anew. Starting with a quick nod on a best-of list in February, the paper and their sister publication SF Gate have featured Tony’s a half-dozen times in the past year alone. Following their lead, a slew of local publications and broadcasters alike have covered the restaurant since, including CBS, KRON, Eater, 7×7 and others.

For my part, I’m glad to see Tony and his incredibly talented crew finally getting the local ink they deserve. I’m not sure what they’ll come up with next, but I’ll be the first one to check it out.


The Seven Ovens Blog appears here regularly, documenting the stories and characters behind Tony Gemignani’s remarkable group of restaurants. Don’t forget to bookmark us–and we’ll see you in North Beach!