Cow Hollow At just 136 sq. ft., a maximum occupancy of 22 people, and only nine bar stools, Black Horse is SF’s smallest bar, which makes it a no-brainer for this list. But it’s also one of SF’s best neighborhood watering holes thanks to the friendly, intimate vibe, outstanding cheese plate (the only food served), the fact that beers are kept on ice in a bathtub, and the constant rolling of dice. Know before you go: beer only, men who are sitting must relinquish their stools to women who are standing and, shocker (not really), it’s cash only.
North Beach If you find yourself in North Beach after a few drinks and you’re getting a hankering to chow down, grab a seat at the counter at Sam’s where you can get one of the best burgers in SF. Sam’s has been open for 50 years and not much has changed in that time; it’s still a tiny no-frills, cash-only joint. Oh, and when Anthony Bourdain ate their burger, he proclaimed Sam a “walking Buddha” and “a patron saint.” So there’s that.
We love Mini Bar because it’s so much more than just, well, a mini bar. It’s also a community gathering space that’s always filled with interesting art from neighborhood artists. The space is long and narrow, but every inch is used wisely and the art is really the hero. Though it doesn’t hurt that the cocktails are pretty darn tasty as well.
Chef Jackson Yu’s SoMa restaurant has just 14 seats, but the fact that it’s almost impossible to get a reservation doesn’t stop it from being one of SF’s highest-rated sushi spots. Omakase means “chef’s choice” (but you probably knew that already) and there are just two prix fixe menus available ($150 and $200). Yes, it’s a total splurge, but it’s worth it to eat some of (if not THE) best fish in the city.
There’s probably been a line out the door of this famous seafood spot since it opened up over 100 years ago because not only is the seafood the best in town, there are only, like, 18 counter seats total. The food’s not cheap and the vibe’s not fancy, but it’s still worth the wait for some of the freshest, tastiest oysters and crab you’ll ever eat. Leave room for the clam chowder though.
Cow Hollow's Black Horse London Pub is the smallest bar in San Francisco at 19ft x 7ft and has enough character to be one of the best bars in California. All of the beers are bottled and kept in an ice-filled, claw-footed porcelain tub squeezed behind the bar, and the selection rotates based on whatever owner James "Big Dawg" King picks up at the grocery store. Aside from the tub of beer, there's a dart board that mostly decorative. Note: Black Horse is cash-only.
This Bourdain-approved burger (and pizza) hole-in-the-wall has been keeping San Francisco fed on the cheap since 1956 (often well after midnight). If you've had a long night in Chinatown there are few better decisions than spending $8.99 on a beautifully simple old-school cheeseburger, a pile of fries, and a Coke.
This Divisadero neighborhood bar is literally a mini bar -- at 600sqft, it includes a couple of booths near the door, a dozen stools at the bar, and some extra seating in the back. It's got solid classic cocktails and some of the best beer on tap in the city. It feels like a total local hang, due in no small part to the local artwork on display.
On the fringe of SoMa’s Design District, Omakase is busy crafting edible works of art all their own. Seats at the sushi destination have become a highly coveted commodity thanks in part to their Michelin star and a rave review from San Francisco Chronicle, so reservations are a must. Diners can choose from two prix fixe menus (with optional sake pairings) loaded with artfully prepared sashimi and nigiri at the discretion of the Tokyo-trained chefs. Fish and other ingredients are flown in from Japan to ensure an authentic and singular experience.
Swan Oyster Depot, open since 1912 in Nob Hill, is a raw fish institution. The seafood is unbelievably fresh, and the menu includes everything from clams, oysters, and Dungeness crab to sashimi platters and sea urchin. The clam chowder, a buttery and briny both made with the day's clams, is awesome, as is the twice-cracked crab. Basically, everything here rocks. The narrow space has only 18 bar seats, and it's a great option for a solo lunch since parties of one can usually bypass the long wait.