Now that cooking has become entertainment and cooks our favorite performers, the counter is no longer the worst place in the restaurant to sit. Some counter spots require reservations, while others are the only seats you can easily score. Eat by yourself, and you're dining with company. Sit with a friend, and there are a million activities to comment on. Just remember: If you're eavesdropping on the cooks, they can probably hear you, too.
655 Divisadero (at Grove), 409-0679
It is usually easier to find a table seat than a stool at Bar Crudo's L-shaped zinc bar, whose dollar-oyster happy hour is more effective than a fire drill at luring diners away from the office. Cool and spare, the restaurant seems to be populated by cool, spare people spooning up cool, spare pieces of raw fish.
817 Sutter (at Jones), 928-8870
Your chances of sitting at Canteen's leprechaun-green counter are one in two, given the size of the place. That's great odds, considering the appeal of the floor show: A couple of pros, dipping and spinning in synch with one another to produce far more — and far more stylish — California cuisine than seems imaginable.
St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St. (at York), 826-4200
Classic without being hokily retro, this soda fountain has aged backward, hitting the peak of stylishness in its ninth decade. On a Saturday morning, a counter seat gives you a full view of fierce-faced short-order cooks, barely conscious club survivors, and overfilled platters of eggs, biscuits, and hash browns.
Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta
inside the Mission Market, 2590 Mission (at 22nd St.), 648-4737
Pick a stool at this market stand, ringed with counter seats, and the guy to your left is spooning up sweet corn atol from a steaming gourd bowl while the couple to your right is devouring a heap of pupusas, chatting about the soccer game on the TV overhead. Want to know what you should order? Ask, and you'll be showered in opinions from your neighbors. All will be correct.
558 Sacramento (at Leidesdorff), 772-9060
There are, in fact, three bars at Wayfare Tavern. A tiny one upstairs, where you can kibitz with the bartender. A more dramatic cocktail bar near the door, where businesspeople crowd around to watch the bartenders' ballet. And the kitchen counter, where diners sit with napkins on their laps and an eye on the cooks. On a lucky night, that includes chef-owner Tyler Florence.