There are a lot of really good reasons to hang out in Bernal Heights. Maybe you call this neighborhood home. Maybe you’re on a never-ending quest to find your dog’s new best friend running around Bernal Heights Park. Or maybe you’re house hunting here now that your kid is getting too big to sleep in their “bedroom” that’s really just a screened-off section of your living room. Whatever the reason, Bernal Heights is a great place to eat and drink, too. Most of the spots on this list are on Cortland Ave. or Mission St, but that just makes it easier to check out more than one of them at a time. Here are 21 of our favorite places.
With its giant Lisa Frank-style horse mural and hand-drawn menus with doodles all over them, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack feels like someone found their Trapper Keeper from middle school and turned it into a restaurant - and a good one at that. All the food on the classic Italian-American menu is great, from the big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs to the eggplant parmesan. And everything comes in huge portions, too. By the time you’re done with dinner, the only thing you’ll want to do is go home and crash on the sofa.
The dining room of this Nepali restaurant is a skinny hallway lined with tables, so the most you should come here with is a group of four, which is also the perfect amount of people to split their excellent starters like momos and chauamin noodles heavily spiced with cumin. You could get away with coming to Cuisine of Nepal just for these, but then you’d miss out on their mains like their great kukhurako ledo chicken curry with cashew cream sauce.
With its red-and-black checkered floor and lack of windows, The Front Porch feels like you’re sitting in a New Orleans dive bar, if those places served brunch. This spot gets crowded on the weekends, so it’s wise to make a reservation, but the food - from the cornmeal-crusted chicken and waffles to the garlicky biscuits and gravy - is worth it.
The fried hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are crunchy and chewy and one of our favorite appetizers, but that’s only one small reason to head to this ramen shop on Cortland Ave. They also have a solid by-the-glass sake list, and the smokey tonkatsu ramen comes with pork belly that crunches so loud when you eat it that we imagine the families passing by outside can hear us.
Old Devil Moon is a laid-back bar with excellent cocktails and plenty of beers on tap. If you get hungry, order po’boys and snacks from their New Orleans-inspired menu and enjoy it all on their small but sunny patio out back. And if the tarot cards, candles, and fortune teller photo booth don’t clue you into the dark magic theme (or make you feel like you’re in the Defence Against the Dark Arts class from Harry Potter), the terrifying bathroom mural of a Ouija board and a devil face will.
Piqueo’s is split up into a few small dining rooms, which makes this Peruvian restaurant feel pretty intimate. Share some small plates, like the ceviches made with spicy leche de tigre and whatever fish is fresh that day, or wine-braised short ribs that all but fall apart. The service is quick, but dinner here still feels like a full evening out.
When things start to get rowdy at El Rio, you’ll be glad to know that Virgil’s is right next door. The atmosphere here is much more chill, and the drinks are stiff and cheap. They also have a massive outdoor patio with a lot of picnic tables, strings lights, and heat lamps, too. (And they take reservations for parties of five or more). Just know it’s cash only.
Black Jet Baking Co. makes great breakfast pastries, like morning buns and pumpkin bread, that are perfect when you’re not in the mood for a full sit-down breakfast. If it’s a sunny day in Bernal Heights, we like to pop in here to grab something to snack on before a hike around the neighborhood.
If we had to be locked inside anywhere in SF for a week, we’d choose Barebottle Brewing Co. because we would never get bored. This huge brewery has screens everywhere so you can watch whatever game is on, plus video games, ping-pong, and board games you and your friends can set up at a long table in the main room. They also have over 20 different beers on tap with interesting names like the Blonde Swanson and Key Lime Pirate, which could only taste more like pie if there were graham cracker crumbs in it. And with a rotating food truck lineup, we wouldn’t get tired of what we ate either.
Wild Side West somehow manages to channel both a Gold Rush-era saloon and an art museum. This cash-only dive bar is a Bernal Heights community staple that’s been drawing in people from the neighborhood with reasonably-priced drinks and pool tables since the 1960s. But the real draw of Wild Side West is its lush outdoor garden, which has plenty of tables, chairs, and hidden corners that make you feel like you’ve left Bernal Heights completely.
If you just want a big bowl of pasta, head to Vega. This Italian restaurant serves excellent baked rigatoni and handmade gnocchi in an intimate setting that’s ideal for first dates, or dinner with friends you haven’t seen since you all traveled to Italy awhile back. Order a glass of wine to go along with your pasta - or their salads, pizzas with homemade tomato sauce, and appetizers like grilled calamari. On nicer evenings, ask to sit out front. Their heated patio will take you right back to your favorite sidewalk cafe in Rome.
Bernal Star is a casual restaurant with a large breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. On weekends, it’s the perfect place to grab brunch with friends who recently hit Major Life Milestones, and talk about your upcoming trips to Napa or Joshua Tree over plates of beignets, eggs benedict, and crispy fish sandwiches. But the real crowd-pleaser is their outdoor patio, which is outfitted with plenty of heat lamps to keep you and your dog warm on chilly Bernal Heights mornings. If you come here later in the day, the patio is ideal for having a beer and their solid burger.
Fog machines and punk rock bands don’t really go together. But when they’re combined at The Knockout, it creates one of the most fun live-music bars in SF. Even without the music, this place would still be a great dive with well drinks and leather booths. Expect The Knockout to be your last stop of the night because once you walk in, you won’t ever want to leave.
This bottle shop is so small that it feels like it could be a secret basement cellar, but one that sells mostly Italian wines and also doubles as a bar. It’s also one of our favorite spots in the neighborhood to go to for a quick date or when we just want to drink a few glasses and split a charcuterie or cheese board.
There are so many red lights inside The Royal Cuckoo that you might think it was a darkroom instead of a bar. But instead of stacks of photographs, this place on Mission always has great music playing thanks to their huge record collection. And it feels like a place that the Beatniks would’ve loved to order strong drinks while discussing poetry and how much effort they’re “not” putting into their facial hair. If the inside gets crowded, there’s also a back patio to hang out on, but you’ll still want to spend most of your time under the red lights inside.
There are only a few places we would happily sit around all day - a park bench with a nice view, a beach, or a movie theater that’s screening all of the Star Wars movies. Cafe St. Jorge is another one. This Porguese-style cafe on Mission serves Stumptown coffee and a menu that’s a mix of pastries like strawberry coffee cake and hot food (get the breakfast sandwich). They also have good wifi if you need to lug your computer in to get work done.
No real introduction needed, but here’s one anyway: El Rio is a San Francisco institution that’s always ready to party. This dive bar has a full calendar that includes themed dance parties, drag shows, live music, and ping-pong out on their fantastic outdoor patio. When you get tired of bobbing your head to loud music or drinking cheap cocktails, you can play pool or shuffleboard. And just when you think it couldn’t get better, they do free oysters on Friday nights. There are not many guarantees we can provide in this world, but going to El Rio means you’ll either leave here happy, sweaty, or kind of buzzed - or maybe a combination of all three.
Bernal Heights has a bunch of great dive bars and places to drink wine, but Holy Water is our favorite spot to get a nice cocktail. With its dark room, this place feels like you’re totally cut off from the outside world except for the few small TVs in the corners to check the scores on. The cocktail menu changes up every now and then, but expect everything to be well-made - like the Du Monde, a chicory-coffee cognac Old Fashioned. And when you finally realize you’ve been here longer than you expected, you can buy beer from the bar to take home.