With so much craft beer, exciting small-batch wine and innovative cocktails, we're finding ourselves venturing into a wider variety of bars around San Francisco. Now during March Madness, bars are as packed as ever — and we need some top-seed bites to match. Thankfully, city bars are pulling off the pub-grub upsets with creative tater tot waffles with caviar, haute pigs in (housemade pastry) blankets and pastrami sandwiches stuffed with fries and slaw. Who can turn down some special ham on fries or chicken liver pâté on a burger? Grab a barstool and enjoy these outrageous gut- (and bracket-) busting bites.
Kale salad at Trick Dog
Kale salad rarely qualifies as an outrageous bar snack. But this is no ordinary kale salad. Served up at the Mission's always-jammed cocktail destination, Trick Dog, it’s a towering foot-high pile of kale leaves coated with that famous yolky dressing and peppered with pepitas, avocado and sharp Parmesan strands. In an envelope-pushing bar where drinks have sour beer gastrique and the namesake burger is shaped as a hot dog, it's a feat to be the most eye-catching (and some say most delicious) dish on the menu.
3010 20th St.; 415-471-2999
Pastrami-stuffed sandwich at Giodano Bros.
This almost feels like cheating: Put french fries and coleslaw in this already huge pastrami sandwich, and it’s borderline outrageous. They’ve been doing this for a century at the legendary deli Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, and this Mission bar geared toward Steelers fans follows suit. Be warned: It’s filling, and you'll want a siesta. But, it’s also just plain easy to keep eating. The coleslaw keeps everything moist but doesn't make the fries soggy. They know what they're doing in Pittsburgh. Ask for an extra egg in there, and it's like two meals in one.
3108 16th St.; 415-437-2767
Sardine skewer at Onsen
You’ve soaked in the spa's pool, sat in the sauna, drank lots of tea, eaten the Dungeness crab porridge and had a glass of sake. You're craving a substantial bite, but this is no time for chicken skewers. Instead, the Tenderloin bathhouse's izakaya offers a grilled sardine in all its squiggly glory. Accompaniments might include togarashi and preserved cherry tomato. For squeamish eaters, seeing an "S-shaped" fish unadorned can be shocking. But for fans of intensely fish-based umami, there is no better bar snack in town.
466 Eddy St.; 415-780-4987
Tater tot waffle at The Riddler
Totchos had their day. Now tater tots as a base for nachos are verging on passé. Enter the tater tot waffle. Yes, that's right. Hayes Valley’s outrageously popular champagne bar draws two-hour waits for its bubbles, but if you're drinking $20 glasses of champagne you need sustenance beyond the fancy popcorn. Luckily the tiny kitchen manages a mean potato waffle. It's like a hash brown cooked as a waffle that then becomes a blank canvas: a base for pizza toppings, a pseudo-bagel to pair with lox, or like a blini when topped with Bowfin caviar. It’s as bizarre a concept as The Riddler's "chambongs" — and may help thwart some of their effects.
Dirty chips at 1760
What happens when nachos meet barbecue wings? Things get dirty. Polk Gulch's excellent craft-cocktail-bar-meets-eclectic-restaurant makes its own potato chips and coats them with a housemade barbecue sauce (it's more of a slow-cooked tomato jam). Not to be outdone, they're coated with bleu cheese. Why choose one dip when you can have both? If we had this for happy hour every day, we'd always spoil our dinner. They're dirty and delightful like that.
1760 Polk St.; 415-359-1212
Doc's Way burger (off-menu) at Starbelly
Everything is better with bacon — or so it seems in bacon-mad SF. It's especially true when the bacon is the thick-cut variety on hand at Starbelly for topping pizzas, salads, sandwiches and burgers. Add it to the house signature Prather Ranch burger, which comes on a sesame seed challah bun. You can also top with avocado, roasted onions, bleu cheese or cheddar — then order it "Doc's Way" (off-menu) and you'll get one-and-a-half ounces of housemade chicken liver pâté and sweet onion marmalade. Whoever Doc is knew a thing or two about burgers.
3583 16th St.; 415-252-7500
Pigs in a blanket at The Treasury
These are not the frozen sausage pups in bland pastry dough that often pass for haute hors d'oeuvres. Those piggies dream of what chefs Arnold Eric Wong and Ian Deleoz created for FiDi patrons craving serious bar bites. Dunk these plump pigs, nestled in their housemade dough blankets, in an 11-spice "Savora mustard" condiment dip that isn't shy with the heat — or just enjoy the refined staple on its own.
200 Bush St. #101; 415-578-0530
Animal-style fries (off-menu) at Bellota
Why pay $35 for a tapas version of an In-N-Out off-menu specialty that’s usually $3.40? Welcome to tech-inflated SF, right? Well, these aren’t your normal fries topped with Thousand Island and caramelized onions, for one. The animal-style fries at this massive SoMa Spanish restaurant, one of our most important 2016 newcomers offer a killer combo if you get it all in one bite — a tapas menu staple ("patatas bravas") gets a meaty edge from a chorizo-laced aïoli and then its elegant star attraction: ribbons of the coveted, silky jamón Iberico de Bellota. The ham alone is almost worth the price of admission. As an off-menu dish at the bar, it's just plain outrageous.
888 Brannan St. #110; 415-430-6580