(By Lauren Sloss)

Apparently, people in San Francisco like waiting in lines for food (a lot). Sometimes, that wait is worth it. Introducing While You Wait, a guide for how to pass the time while trying to get into San Francisco's most ridiculously popular restaurants.

Minimum wait time at Tosca Cafe for party of four, Saturday, 7:40 PM: one hour and 45 minutes.

Tosca has been packed since opening last October, and with good reason. April Bloomfield's thoughtful, expertly executed menu of Italian classics pay homage to the former bar's colorful North Beach history; bar manager Isaac Shumway's killer cocktails make it a veritable drinking destination, too. If/when you get in, you won't want to miss the house-made bucatini d’amatriciana, laced with rich guanciale and spice; the not-so-secret “secret” meatballs; and the fancy revamp of Tosca’s famed house cappuccino, featuring Dandelion Chocolate and Buffalo Trace bourbon.

An hour forty-five isn't half bad for a Saturday night at Tosca (that is, if you can get through the crowds to get your name in), especially considering their no-reservations policy. But we've been known to stick it out for up to (gulp) three hours, and consider it wise to prepare for the worst. Where to wait it out?

Hour One: Spec's, a.k.a the Adler Museum


Spec's is an obvious choice thanks to its proximity; it sits directly across a narrow courtyard from Tosca. It's a necessary choice for the typically rad scene you'll find there. Spec’s is one of those North Beach bars that reminds you why North Beach was so damn cool back in the day — before the tourists, this was where the Beats hung out. You’ll probably still find some of them there, about 1000 years old, wearing battered fedoras and drinking scotch. As for its first-hour wait potential, the bar is usually quiet enough to hear yourself think, and you'll definitely be able to grab a table. Settle in with a pitcher of Sierra Nevada and a basket of Saltine crackers and gouda cheese. As you explore the incredible assortment of miscellany all over the walls, you'll barely notice an hour passing.

Spec's Twelve Adler Museum Cafe: 12 Saroyan Place (at Columbus), 415-421-4112

Hour Two: Comstock Saloon

Two hours in, and you're going to want a little more sustenance to tide you over. But, you're still in a classy mood. I mean, you're going to Tosca! Cross Columbus and head straight to Comstock. The former San Francisco Brewing Company has got a bit of history, too — check out the urinal troughs under the bar for proof of the bar’s Barbary Coast backstory (but please, please don’t use them). Here, the drinks are strong but the presentation remains civilized. Order up a round of Barkeep’s Whimsies, specifying your spirit and flavor profile of choice if you’d like, and a dozen oysters. You’ll still have plenty of room for hearty Tosca fare; also, oysters are delicious.

Comstock Saloon: 155 Columbus (at Kearny), 415-617-0071

Hour Three: 15 Romolo

photo: atl10trader

Agreed, it's tough to stay motivated when you enter the third hour of waiting. But head up to 15 Romolo for some of the city's best cocktails and bar bites. You can get a little rowdier here than Comstock, and there’s a top-notch jukebox poised to take your mind off any hunger pangs. The drink menu changes frequently, but some iteration of their Suckerpunch cocktail can be counted on for maximum deliciousness. (And yes, an order of poutine is a very, very good idea — theirs is doused in house-made sausage gravy. Go ahead, order two. You’ve earned it.)

15 Romolo: 15 Romolo Place (at Broadway), 415-398-1359

Hour Four… Screw This: Sam's, followed by Mr. Bing's.

photo: Erik Wilson

Four hours? Four hours?! Yeah. You're done with Tosca. Cruise down Broadway to Sam's Pizza and Burgers, one of the most legendary late-night dining destinations of all time. You're ordering a double cheeseburger—extra greasy, extra delicious after your accidental North Beach bar crawl. You eat that burger as sloppily as you want to, friend. There's no need to wipe your face off before heading to your final stop of the night: Mr. Bing's. Here, the bottle of Tsing Taos are cold, the bourbon flows liberally, and the regulars might smell (but just a little bit). And no one will judge you if you happen to fall off your stool. By the evening's end, you'll be slurring to yourself, "Hey, what's Tosca?"

Sam's Pizza and Burgers: 618 Broadway (at Grant). 415-391-1359
Mr. Bing's: 201 Columbus (at Pacific); 415-362-1545

photo: leyla.a