There are a lot of good reasons to eat at a restaurant’s bar - maybe you forgot to make a reservation, maybe you want things to start with just drinks and see how it goes from there, or maybe you just like the high stools because of your Napoleon complex. Whatever the reason, you don’t want to end up at a bar eating Chex Mix or frozen chicken wings, you want the full restaurant experience, just from a different vantage point. That’s why we have this guide. These are the spots where eating at the bar is just as much fun as sitting in the actual dining room.
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Admit it, there’s been a moment when you’ve looked at whoever’s next to you and said, “That’s it. We’re doing this, we’re going to House Of Prime Rib,” before they tell you that getting a reservation takes forever. Throw those words back in their face and get dressed because the bar at House Of Prime Rib doesn’t take reservations, and because it’s just the two of you, you’ll get seated much faster than those four tourists from Nebraska who need a table. Even better, if you sit at the bar, you’re guaranteed to be in the main room of the restaurant instead of a random side room. Get your prime rib, position your sides between the two of you on the bar, and enjoy your martini and its side car in all its glory.
It’s arguable that eating at the bar at Alba Ray’s is a better experience than sitting at a table. Not because the bartenders are full of infinite wisdom (I mean, they could be), but because it sells the New Orleans experience more than sitting at a regular table. Just go, and then order some rabbit sausage or jambalaya after you get a drink. If you’re not in the mood for a cocktail, they have some Louisiana beers on the menu too.
If you want to take a step back in time without being as drastic as throwing your phone into an antique blender, you should go eat at Presidio Social Club. When you get there, you’ll feel like you’re somewhere that Jay Gatsby might have pulled up to at some point. Grab a few seats at the white marble bar, and order some spaghetti or meatloaf while you sip a few cocktails and pretend that the only way you can tell your friends in New York about this place is by letter.
Walking into State Bird Provisions without a reservation could land you at the bar after a wait, which is fine by us, considering it overlooks the kitchen. You’ll get to watch them put together all the small plates and have first dibs on them when they come out of the kitchen, but no matter what you get, don’t skip out on the state bird.
One reason we love Liholiho Yacht Club is because everyone goes here to have a great time. So it doesn’t matter that the place is a little split up, you can feed off the people around you and make your own fun. All of the food here is sharable, from the fried oysters to the Flintstones-sized beef ribs, but everything is so good that you won’t want to share. If you’re on a date, you may want to though.
The inside of Cala is large and airy, and everything is painted white. When you quit your job to become a museum curator, this is where you’ll want to host pre-unveiling dinners. And not just because you can project images of pre-Columbian bathroom fixtures all over the walls, but because the food here is just as incredible as that clay hand towel rack your team unearthed on a dig. The people eating at the bar won’t miss out on your speech either because it’s right next to the “normal” tables. While everyone is craning their necks to see you on stage, the bar-goers will only need to slightly turn their heads. Don’t make a long speech though, you won’t be able to keep their attention over the trout tostadas for long.
This is one of our favorite restaurants in Dogpatch, and it’s one of the places that we sometimes actually prefer sitting at the bar to a table. Most of the regular seating here is communal, so if you’re here on a first or second date, or are meeting your CIA contact to discuss new intel, the privacy of sitting at the bar is welcome. The food here is Indian with nontraditional ingredients like chanterelle mushrooms and blue cheese incorporated into the dishes. The drinks are good and have fun names like Chaat Up And Drive, and the music is always lively.
Leo’s feels like a New York nightclub from the 1950s, but instead of slabs of red meat and comics rattling off one-liners, there’s a lot of seafood and people sharing memes with one another (we assume). It’s a good spot to make a birthday reservation with a few friends, but if you’re more in the moment, or you just don’t want to make a big deal about your birthday, sitting at the bar and splitting some oysters, caviar, and a lobster roll with a close friend over cocktails would be a pretty great way to start the night, no memes necessary.
You tried to rally the troops on a Tuesday, but only you and your desk mate are willing to get drinks tonight. School Night in Dogpatch is only open the first half of the week, and aside from great cocktails, they have a menu of bar bites that are worth coming for even if you’re not drinking (get the carnitas tacos). If your whole office sticks to the plan and joins, you can grab a table, but because there’s just two of you, you won’t miss anything sitting at the bar.
No matter where you sit at Beretta, the noise is going to make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Nine Inch Nails concert, which isn’t great if you’re on a first date, but is if you need a “break” for some food in the middle of a long night out. If you’re in the dining room, you might end up having to shout across the table to your friend, but if you get seats at the bar, you’ll be right next to each other, so you can talk directly in their ear. While you perfect the art of whisper screaming, make sure you tell them you’re getting the walnut bread with burrata.
Che Fico can be a tough place to get a reservation, but you’re not missing anything if you walk in and sit at the bar. The Roman specialties are just as good, the pizzas are still charred and crispy, and you’ll still feel like you’re in the middle of the action, even though you’re not in the main dining room. A few of the bar seats overlook Divis too, so even if you can’t people watch on the inside, you can spy on everyone walking by the restaurant.
This place is for people who really love eating at the bar because even if you’re not actually seated there, the other tables and chairs in this place match the bar seating. Come here in work clothes or workout clothes, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is that your feet are free to swing under the table like you were sitting on a dock on Lake Tahoe. The drinks here are great (we really like the Corpse River #538), and true to any place that you’d choose to eat at the bar, their burger is fantastic.
When you’re hungry, anticipation for your food can be so intense that if a plate passes your table that even might be yours, you’ll consider lunging at it like a jaguar at its prey. But if you’re sitting at the bar at Del Popolo, you and your friends have a front row seat to watching some of the best pizza in the city go in and out of their wood-fired oven. If you’re a gambler, you may even start taking bets as to which pizza is actually yours, and while that’s probably illegal, it could add more fun to going to this place for dinner.
Ace Wasabi often feels like you’re crashing someone’s birthday party, but in a good way. They have Happy Hour everyday but Sunday, and there’s bingo to go along with the deals on drinks and rolls. Aside from the inherent rowdiness that comes with that, the food here - from skewers to sushi - is great.
Nopa is the king of action at the bar restaurants in SF. If you walk in and ask to wait for a table, you could be stuck for a while, but if there are open seats at the bar, they’re yours for the taking. The counter is deep, so you’ll have no issue ordering like it was a full table either, and if you had a drink or two before you came here, you can even walk away with friends. When you’re eating at the bar, it almost feels mandatory to order a burger, and it’s not a bad idea, just make sure to get the pappardelle too.
You can walk into Flour + Water on a random weeknight and sit at the bar or the communal table up front without having to wait in too crazy of a line. The only difference between doing that and making a reservation at midnight a month in advance is that you wouldn’t want a big date to happen at the bar. That said, you can still order the tasting menu, the pastas are still amazing, and the space still feels like you’re hanging out at your imaginary lake house that somehow plays better music than you ever would.