Highbrow-Lowbrow in SoMa

Taco Bell Cantina finally starts serving beer, while a block or so away, 25 Lusk opens a swank new rooftop bar with Dungeness crab rolls and adult Otter Pops. Who will win this battle?

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For two years after the Taco Bell Cantina opened on the corner of Third and Townsend streets, it was basically a regular Taco Bell, unable to serve alcohol as initially promised. With its artfully faded reclaimed-wood exterior — which evinces more than a passing resemblance to Outerlands and to the hipster McDonald’s on 24th and Mission streets — it had hoped to blend into the urban fabric like an underage kid who’d pocketed one of his dad’s brews before heading out to meet some indecisive teen acquaintances at an aspirational Chipotle.

But nope, neighborhood opposition proved fierce, likely because people didn’t want another locus of ballpark-adjacent pre-gaming in their midst. It was a setback for Taco Bell, which plans to open 300 of these things nationwide.

So far, there are only 12 Taco Bell Cantinas all told — although yea, ours has served beer since mid-April. What kind of beer, you ask? At this point, it’s Firestone Walker 805, Stella Artois, Dos Equis Especial, Anchor Steam, and good old Bud Light, most of which likely pair with a Chalupa Cravings Box. Be warned that you might pay a premium for these hard-fought and otherwise commonable available alcoholic beverages, though, since this particular Taco Bell is known to command steeper prices for its iceberg-stuffed foodstuffs than its discount brethren.

We probably shouldn’t wait for margaritas, either. But barely a city block away, a more highbrow transformation of a South Beach space has been underfoot. The eight-year-old 25 Lusk, a darling of architectural critics and a spot where Barack Obama dined in 2016 on one of his final swings through town as president, has crowned the century-old building it inhabits with a rooftop bar.

Rooftop 25 is only the latest such space around town, and while it doesn’t quite have the panoramic vista that Charmaine’s above Mid-Market’s Proper Hotel can brag about, it’s quieter and less overtly Angeleno in feel — plus you don’t have to wait your turn to ride up an antediluvian elevator. Here, with their hard right angles softened by olive trees, glass windscreens keep the subarctic-oceanic banshees at bay, and overhead heaters attached to the canopy keep you warm instead of merely not-freezing. It’s not just for golden hour, either: Rooftop 25 opens at 11:30 a.m., daily.

Chef Matthew Dolan’s menu leans toward fanciful nibbles like Dungeness crab roll sliders and a burger with shishito aioli, mushrooms, and Valley Ford Farm’s Highway 1 cheese, plus tried-and-true bar bites like wood-fired pizzas. There are heavily bedazzled Spanish-style gin-and-tonics alongside frozen cocktails like a spicy passion fruit margarita and a John Daly — essentially, an Arnold Palmer spiked with vodka — plus no-nonsense summertime stuff, like red sangria.

If you’d prefer a little bit of nonsense, there are also “adult Otter Pops” in flavors like key lime or caipirinha. Individual tables, communal tables, and a semi-private cabana break up the space, that last section holding enough room for 14 people and their Otter Pops. And if indoors you must go, 25 Lusk has shifted its dinner service to a prix fixe format while renovating its lowest level into a lounge called The Social.

But back to the roof: It’s not quite high enough that you can see all the way to John Daly Boulevard while drinking that John Daly, but we will definitely take it.

Rooftop 25, at 25 Lusk, 
25 Lusk St., 415-495-5975 or 25lusk.com

Taco Bell Cantina, 
701 Third St., 415-979-1587 or tacobell.com

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