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Jan 11, 2009 06:27 PM

Boston hound needs recs for great dining at the bar

Hey San Fran hounds -

I'm here on business until Thursday and I'm travelling alone, so I need recommendations for places that offer great food at the bar, since I hate sitting at tables alone. Also recommendations for great cocktails welcome! For reference, in Boston I frequent Drink, Persephone, Eastern Standard, Craigie (both the original "Street and "on Main"), Green St, etc. etc.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Tadich on California Street. Great food, great food at the bar. Chat up the locals on either side of you. Walk back through the fog.

      1. Was actually back in Boston for a few weeks and hit up some of your above places, did a fun chef's whim at Craigie.

        Comparable places would be Beretta for cocktails (John Gertsen at Drink mentioned it last week).

        Boccadillos for a great Spanish wine bar, Piperade is by the same chef but the food is more refined.

        Bacar had a fun and interesting bar menu.

        Bourbon & Branch, but you need reservations to get in.

        Slanted Door- you won't find food like this in Boston.

        Be warned, SF is different in that most of the restaurants do not do a separate extensive bar menu. That was a hard adjustment from Boston, where most of them did and you could get a sense of the kitchen without full commitment.

        (Btw, saying San Fran actually makes locals cringe. Just a friendly warning! :)

        6 Replies
        1. re: chezchristine

          Thanks for the recommendations! Chezchristine: thanks for the heads up on improper terminology... good to know.

          re: Bourbon & branch - I really do want to venture there - it seems so unique! but I was concerned about the whole making a "reservation for one" thing. The website mentioned you could stop in w/o reservations on Wed-Sat for cocktails only, so I was thinking I should dine elsewhere Wed night and head over for a drink after. Thoughts? Otherwise - Can you reserve a seat at the bar?

          Piperade and Slanted Door: I had heard great things about both. Chezchristine, are these places where you can experience the kitchen at the bar, or do they fall into the not being able to get a true sense of the kitchen category?

          1. re: shoeshopper

            Tadich Grill is really good, historic, and fun. Gruff bartenders who know how to serve a proper drink. Keep the seafood simple -- the sauteed petrale sole or sand dabs. No reservations so a wait during prime lunch rush; try to go a little early or late.

            The bar at Zuni Cafe is also a good possibility -- perhaps the quintessential San Francisco restaurant. During lunch or latenight you can get their superb burger, after starting with the Ceasar salad or some oysters.

            Do avoid "San Fran." But the locals love it when you refer to their city as 'Frisco.

            1. re: nosh

              yeah, and they love nosh's Dodgers also....

              Re shoeshopper's question about the bars at Piperade and Slanted Door: when you ask about exeriencing the kitchen at the bar, are you asking about the food itself, or about a view of the kitchen? (As was said early, many restaurants here don't have a seperate bar menu, and you can generally order the same items at the bar that you can in the dining room. Not all of the places recommended have open views of the kitchen however).

              On Monday or Thursday, if you like oysters, hit Hog Island Oyster Bar, in the Ferry Building, during happy hour, starting at 5 pm. (no cocktails, but they also have a special price on a happy hour glass of wine, and oysters are a $1 each).

              Hog Island Oyster Bar
              Ferry Building,, San Francisco, CA 94111

              1. re: susancinsf

                Regarding the feel for the kitchen - I meant can you experience the full menu, rather than an abbreviated bar bites type menu. While seeing the kitchen can be fun, I don't consider it a requirement for dining at the bar.

            2. re: shoeshopper

              I haven't been to Bourbon & Branch yet, actually, but it's definitely on my list so I don't know how reservations work.

              I think the places I mentioned above are the ones I think that you get a good sense of the kitchen since most of them don't serve a separate bar menu and the food is what you'd get if you were at a table.

              The rec for Zuni below is also a good one.

              The new Pizzeria Delfina has a fun bar where you can watch pizzas being made in case you want to go for a more California approach to pizza. A16 is the same way and has a fun frenetic energy.

              And yes, don't forget the Ferry Building on Saturday if you're around, plenty of places to nosh on and a killer view.

              1. re: shoeshopper

                Just call it San Francisco or SF -- anything else will peg you as a tourist. Most places in SF serve the same menu at the bar. IMO, that's the way it should be. I really enjoy dining solo at Bar Tartine and Delfina in the Mission. If you make it out to A16, you can sit at the bar and watch them make exceptional neapolitan pizza.

            3. I would recommend the Monk's Kettle. It is one of those fancy bars with all of the different Belgian beers, etc. But they also have a mean cooking staff. I was just there yesterday and had the pot pie of the day, which was lobster. They also have the best burger in town.

              Zare at Fly Trap is also great. Delicious and unusual cuisine.

              1 Reply
              1. re: The Perrer Assassin

                Just ate lunch at Zare - had the fish of the day special, which was scallops with french lentils and a tomato saffron sauce. It was lovely, very healthy and perfectly portioned. I wish I had had more time (by the time I walked there, I only had 45 min to eat) to sample a few more courses, but based on my experience, I'd say Zare was a great recommendation. Also loved the space - very cute. Thanks!

              2. Try Houston's on the Embarcadero. Always good food as well as service. Full menu is available at the bar.

                9 Replies
                1. re: BigE1967

                  Houston's is a very expensive national chain. No sense of San Francisco at all. Might as well be eating at a bar in any airport.

                  1. re: nosh

                    I agree to a certain point, however, they have great burgers, ribs, fish and salads, great service especially at the bar, it is not THAT expensive, and it has a location that is uniquely "san francisco" to an out-of-towner. It would put that person on the Embarcadero for a nice walk or ride on the F-line to head one way to the Fisherman's Wharf area or the other way to the Ferry Plaza Terminal building. When traveling on business and eating alone, Houston's is a welcome site for me. Just my opinion.....

                    If you could recommend a restaurant at any airport with food as good as Houston's, I am all ears.......

                    1. re: BigE1967

                      If you're after that location, go to the Fog City Diner. Food quality is about the same as Houston's and it is actually a San Francisco restaurant. Much more authentic experience than the chain place.

                      1. re: Shane Greenwood

                        I have been to Fog City in San Francisco as well as the location in Las Vegas. Fog City is as much of a "chain" restaurant as Houston's, but WAY overpriced, with a scattered, mediocre menu. Maybe that is why Houston's has so many locations and Fog City has so few. Houston's may have numerous locations, but to call it a "chain" when compared to the TGIF, Olive Garden, Red Lobster or even CPK's of the world is simply not fair.

                        1. re: BigE1967

                          My point is: if you are going visit a chain restaurant, at least go to the one that was started in San Francisco and enjoy the original, authentic location. Kind of like visiting the original Starbucks in Pikes Place Market. There are lots of different kinds of chains, and nobody is saying Houstons is the same as TGIF, et al. But it is a chain and feels out of step with most local foodies. I agree with you on the price point of FCD. Much better suggestions on this board.

                          1. re: BigE1967

                            A chain is a chain is a chain. At this point Michael Minna is a chain. A national restaurant with so many locations with a standard rote menu with food out of Sysco ... chain. There are no chefs at these places only cooks ... good cooks sometimes ... but just cooks.

                            Just as there are good and bad single owner restaurants, there are good and bad chains.

                            I live here and have yet to go to Houston's because I just consider it a waste of my time and calories. Yes, I know the French dip is great ... but there are so many good and interesting restaurants, I just don't see it happening before trying those other more local places.

                            I don't discount being a fan of familiar and comfortable when traveling so having a Houston's in your pocket isn't necessarily a bad thing, but my own preference is to save that type of place for locations with nothing but chains.

                            Anyway, the OP didn't say anything about price and given the Boston examples, I'd say that what would be more interesting is a SF experience. In that same neighborhood is Piperade. Although I don't think any answered the OP's question, but I can't think of one restaurant that won't serve a full menu at the bar ... they probably prefer that for single diners anyway.

                            Anyway, Boulevard is on your profile as a favorite restauarant. Don't you think that would be a better rec? I had the full tasting menu at Gary Danko's too. The bartenders are pretty good chatting it up there.

                            1. re: rworange

                              There have been mixed reports on Boulevard lately, but it is a great place to dine solo (sitting at the chef's counter facing the semi-open kitchen). One of my best ever bar dining experiences, actually.

                        2. re: BigE1967

                          While I enjoy Houston's, it's not someplace I'd send a visitor to a city with as many choices as SF.