By Lou Bustamante
Getting a delicious snack to go with a good drink might be easier at a restaurant, but these five bars prove that a small kitchen can provide food that matches the excellence of its cocktails.
15 Romolo (at Broadway), 398-1359
Hidden in an alley off Broadway, this oasis of cocktails ($9-$10) offers some of the best bites to take the edge off the booze. The juicy pork sliders ($6) have become a house staple, but the new fried chicken in a homemade biscuit with spiced honey ($6) alone is worth a trip.
4395 Piedmont (at Pleasant Valley), Oakland, 510-601-0305
Adept with both a wine ($5-$12) and cocktail list ($9-$10), the tiny kitchen delivers an astounding variety of dishes. It's all about the house-cured salumi (some of the best in the Bay Area), with mixed plates ($16-$24) offering a great selection. The free food during happy hour with a drink purchase (Mon.-Wed. 5-6 p.m. and 10:30-11:30 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. 5-6 p.m. and 11 p.m.-midnight) makes it always worth the trip.
1145 Folsom (at Seventh St.), 863-2840
The hunting lodge chic bar, where you can always bag a great drink (all $9), doesn't have a kitchen, but it has mobile friends who do. Among the rotating vendors, you'll find Chairman Bao out front most Wednesdays, featuring steamed ($3.75) or baked ($6) buns with fillings like pork belly or crispy garlic tofu. At worst, the addictive whiskey beef sticks ($3) from Fatted Calf are satisfying.
1166 Geneva (at Edinburgh), 963-1713
The Excelsior is home to Jason King's whiskey haven, which features impressive bar grub. James Moisey and Shane Lavalley deliver with items like the pork fries ($8) — waffle fries topped with smoked pulled pork, cheese sauce, and brown butter buffalo sauce — or a third-pound burger ground in-house with Zoe's bacon and chuck ($10). Chase with a beer and whiskey for an ideal combination.
155 Columbus (at Kearny), 617-0071
There's no doubt you'll get a good drink ($8-$12) here, but don't overlook the fried potatoes, beef gravy, or cheese curds ($10) as the perfect way to fortify yourself for a night out in North Beach. For heartier fare, the beef shank and bone marrow potpie ($18.50) is mandatory for the marathon bar crawl.