Sports bars are great, but their one pitfall is that they often phone in the food, assuming they serve anything edible at all. If you’re past accepting reheated mozzarella sticks and freezer-burnt chicken wings in order to watch your team play, then you should use this guide. It has our 14 favorite places around the city to watch sports and also get some actually good food, while shamelessly trying out that looking-at-the-elbow high-five method every time Steph hits a three.
San Francisco Athletic Club crams about as much sports into one bar as you legally can. This place has more screens than a Circuit City circa 2002, and with that, they could easily get away with having nothing but big pretzels and some wings to mindlessly eat while you watch the Masters. They do have those wings and pretzels, but they’re on the menu next to some legitimately great fish tacos with guacamole and spicy slaw and huge hot dogs wrapped in bacon and served with griddled onions and peppers. If you reserve a booth beforehand, you can also get a bathtub of beers at your table.
Barrio is across the street from two sports bars, and while you could go to The Boardroom for 50-cent wings on Mondays or Northstar for popcorn and watching people take shots while they still have their company backpacks on, Barrio is where you should go around here when you care more about what you’re eating than if you’re going to win your fantasy league this week, but still want to watch football anyway. This place has Mexican and Peruvian food to go with their great craft beer selection. Start with some shrimp ceviche and go for the res skirt steak or cochinita pibil tacos that come on homemade blue corn tortillas.
Balboa Cafe feels like a bar inside an old golf clubhouse somewhere, complete with an antique wooden bar and a menu featuring taco salads, fried calamari, and an excellent burger on french bread, as well as a clientele that generally looks like they jumped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog. It’s a good place to come when you have drinks with clients, but want to watch soccer out of the corner of your eye or just want a slightly more civilized watching experience than going to any of the dives in the area.
If you walk into Golden Gate Tap Room in Union Square, but immediately walk out terrified because you feel like you’re the only person there whose sports fandom doesn’t quite reach, “Let’s get matching Rickey Henderson tattoos,” head a block down Sutter to Hogwash instead. The only TVs here are embedded behind the bar, out of sight to the majority of the tables to the side, but if you grab a stool, you’ll still be able to watch. The sausage sandwiches are the thing to get here, and we like Sheepish with two lamb merguez sausages heavy on fennel seed, blue cheese sauce, pickled cabbage, and beet relish. And if you want something to split with whoever else wanted to leave Golden Gate Tap Room, get the curry fries and don’t forget to add a duck egg on top.
This is our favorite spot to watch sports in the Castro, and it’s one of the better places to start a night out in the neighborhood too. If you actually care about baseball, there are a bunch of TVs lining one wall of the bar, but even if you couldn’t care less about how good the Giants are this year, it’s worth coming to Hi Tops for some cocktails and food, all of which is pretty great. Go for the kale caesar with added grilled chicken or the fried chicken sandwich.
Going to Nick’s Crispy Tacos is probably the only time it’s OK to find yourself in a room that looks like it could’ve been a Soviet-Latin strip club in a former life. Their tacos, though, are worth the full-on visual assault that you get from more bright red felt than you ever knew existed. No matter what type you get, get your tacos Nick’s way - a hard taco inside a soft tortilla with cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo. They also have good tortilla soup, but that’s a riskier move when you might suddenly jump up to yell at the college football game happening on ESPN.
Brickhouse is enough of a restaurant that you can get away with stopping here for lunch on a workday. It’s also enough of a bar that you’ll want to come by on a weekend and hang out at the bar for a few hours because hockey is on and no one actually has cable anymore. The menu is on the upper end of bar food with things like a pulled pork sandwich and a yellowfin burger to go with a beer or a Bloody Mary, but no matter what you order, get the onion rings.
You could buy tickets, go through security, find your seat, buy an overpriced beer, and then get hypothermia at Oracle Park, but you usually save that for the seven really good games per season. If you live in the area and need a place to watch baseball when the Padres or Marlins are in town, though, head to 21st Amendment Brewery. All of the beer they make here is great and the food stands up to it well - we like the Cubano and burger. This place is also huge, so you can meet up with a group here and not have to worry about finding a spot.
The Taco Shop At Underdogs is from the same people as Nick’s Crispy Taco, but instead of the strip-club feel that Nick’s has, Underdogs actually looks like a sports bar, with flags from nearly every team imaginable hanging from the ceiling. There’s a ton of bar seating here, so getting a spot shouldn’t be an issue, and when you get hungry, they have tacos Nick’s way and other things like elotes to remind you why you’re here instead of somewhere else eating a stale pretzel.
Short of having your maps app permanently highlight the nearest Popeyes relative to your location, it’s not easy finding good fried chicken in this city. But that’s exactly what they have at Little Skillet in SoMa - along with waffles, mac and cheese, and other things like catfish poboys if you’re in the mood for a different type of fried food. This place is pretty big and, with its lower ceilings, feels like a sort of modern Viking beer hall - but with fewer people slamming down their drinkware when they finish a beer and more people watching the Giants instead of listening to someone boast about fighting a sea monster.
Bowling alley food usually conjures up the image of some teenager wearing a funny paper hat microwaving a slice of pizza before handing it to you on a grease-soaked paper plate. But the food, and especially the pizza, at Fifth Arrow is about as far from that as possible. The pizza crust is better than we’ve had at some actual pizza places, the salads are delicious, and the cocktails have more effort put into them than we know of anyone putting into their actual bowling game. You can work on that here if you want to pay $55 for 55 minutes of lane time, but if not this is still a great place to come with a few friends and hang out while you maybe watch the professionals do it on TV.
Most people familiar with Golden Boy know it as that place they wake up next to a pizza box from on Sunday mornings. But instead of just jumping in line after the North Beach bars shut down, we like coming here earlier in the night. The pizza is just as good and affordable, and because people haven’t lined up yet post-closing time at Maggie’s around the corner, you’re more likely to be able to get a bar seat where you can have a few beers with your slice and watch the Warriors on TV.
Giordano Bros. sounds like the name of some kind of chain, and even if this place had 10 locations around SF, it’s still somewhere we’d highly endorse because their sandwiches are so good. This Pittsburgh bar has a menu full of things like Italian meat sandwiches stacked high with slaw and french fries directly on the sandwich. If we go this route, the pastrami is what we order, but they also have other things like pierogies filled with cabbage and mushroom and buffalo wings to eat while you bet pickleback shots on whatever game you’re watching.