Best Thing We Ate

Where to Find Must-Try Bar Food in SF

By Lauren Sloss  |  January 27, 2015
Credit: Virginia Miller

There’s a famous Ben Franklin quote that goes something like, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” We’re inclined to agree with our Founding Father, but man cannot live on booze alone (did Jefferson say that one?). Thankfully, San Francisco has no shortage of bars with fantastic food options (like the delicious burger pictured, from Tempest Bar/Box Kitchen). With the big game around the corner, keep handy these must-try spots for great bar food. 

Trick Dog

This 20th Street bar has been packed to the gills since day one, not least thanks to the killer drinks (and deeply fabulous decor) courtesy of The Bon Vivants. Their food menu is up to snuff too, with the playful, hot dog-shaped “Trick Dog” (that, gimmicks aside, is one heck of a cheeseburger), triple-fried, cheese sauce-topped “Manimal” fries and one of the best kale salads in town. Trust us, you’ll want to try it before you dismiss the idea of kale and cocktails outright. 

ABV

ABV quietly snuck onto 16th Street this past year with a stunning selection of cocktails organized by spirit. Those are accompanied by the kind of bar snacks you’d sneak out for even when you’re not in the mood for a drink — kimchi fritters, collard green dolmas filled with dirty rice, and a burger topped with pimento cheese, served on a sweet potato bun. 

15 Romolo

Romolo is quickly earning the reputation of a San Francisco institution — the North Beach bar, tucked in an alley off of Broadway, is the kind of place you can hang out for hours. Their excellent food menu will both sustain you through another round of cocktails and have you coming back on the regular —  their poutine is stellar, and their burger, while great as is, can be ordered “Yo’ Mama” style, aka topped with peanut butter. 

Photo Credit: Comstock Saloon

Comstock Saloon

Restaurant or bar? It’s a question worth asking considering Comstock’s thoughtful, consistently great food menu. Given the Saloon moniker (and Gold Rush-era urinal trough running under the bar) we’re sticking with the latter, but that won’t stop us from feasting on oysters, their andouille-encased Scotch egg or trout served with charred eggplant and lobster mushroom succotash. Don’t miss their Free Lunch Fridays, which actually require you to take down two drinks midday. It’s nothing but a good idea. 

Photo Credit: Monk’s Kettle

Monk’s Kettle

It’s fitting that Monk’s, one of the best beer bars in the country, has a top-notch food menu to match. Naturally, it’s exactly the kind of food you want to eat with excellent beers — cheese and charcuterie plates, fries dusted with hop salt and a burger topped with caramelized onion jam and sharp white cheddar. Also delicious are hearty main courses including a daily changing roast, brick roasted chicken and a roasted mushroom risotto that will haunt your dreams.

Photo Credit: Eric Wolfinger

Dirty Habit

The cocktails are good (and strong) enough at Dirty Habit that you’d be happy with free bar popcorn, but the extensive food menu, courtesy of chef David Bazirgan, is worth planning around. Go all out with mains like dry-aged rib-eye with béarnaise sauce, or stick with equally delicious small plates — standout dishes include the steamed buns with fried lamb belly and the sweet-and-spicy chicken wings, which may qualify as the best wings ever. 

Doc’s Lab

What’s better than a good bar with great food? A good bar with great food and a full roster of music and comedy performances. Get it all at Doc’s Lab, the downstairs bar attached to Doc Rickett’s. Winningly, you can get the latter’s full menu downstairs in the bar area, which includes top-notch housemade charcuterie, seasonal crudo and vegetables, and a roast chicken (served with liver-topped toast) that’s quickly becoming a city-wide favorite. 

Photo Credit: Fat Angel

Fat Angel

Every neighborhood should be so lucky to have Fat Angel. The pocket-size wine and beer bar features a thoughtful, well-curated list of both beverages (including wine and beer selections on tap), plus a menu of cheeses, meats and flatbreads that automatically better any and all drinking experiences. Absolutely do not miss their top-notch mac ‘n’ cheese, loaded with cheddar, Gruyère, and Parmesan. 

The Dark Horse Inn

If you haven’t been to The Dark Horse, it’ll only take one trip to make you a regular at this Excelsior bar. Their craft-beer selection is great, and the food is some of the more seriously delicious drinking food around. Beer-battered pickles and jalapeños are impossible to stop eating, but the real winner here is the kimchi Reuben, featuring housemade pastrami and gochujang-spiced Russian dressing. 

The Alembic

The Alembic has made many an organ-eater in this town — their jerk-spiced duck hearts are the perfect entry-level offal and still have a place on their newly expanded menu. Now, expect even more creative, flavor-driven options like a carrot confit with coconut dukkah, smoked dates, tangerine and feta; Dungeness crab and matsutake mushroom chawanmushi; and Josey Baker bread spread with black trumpet mushroom butter. 

Photo Credit: David Martinez

Maven

Lower Haight was something of a cocktail desert before Maven’s arrival. The bar’s delicious, creative food was an added bonus — particularly since the Maven team puts a strong emphasis on thoughtful food and cocktail pairings. Try a cognac- and pumpkin-rich drink with chicory-studded gnocchi, or a rye and maple cocktail with red kuri squash soup. Or choose-your-own adventure and try a variety of beverages with the Angostura bitters-laced burger. Their brunch food and drinks are worth seeking out too. 

Photo Credit: Virginia Miller

The Tempest/Box Kitchen 

You could always count on The Tempest to cure what ails you — in addition to being quick with the beer-and-a-shot combination, there was usually some kind of grub to soak up the inevitable overdrinking (oh hey, free meatloaf Friday!). But with the addition of Box Kitchen, a take-out window-cum-bar-feeding-operation, food offerings, and bar food in general, have been taken to a whole new level. This is exactly the kind of elevated food you want when you’re toasted — potato skins topped with pork belly, Gouda and quail eggs, chorizo-filled taquitos, and a fried chicken sandwich loaded with Caesar coleslaw. It should go without saying that the burger is excellent too.