Man, do I miss the BYOB scene. See, I lived in Philadelphia for a while, where, thanks to strange Colonial-era, puritanical liquor laws, restaurants had a hell of a time getting liquor licenses. Antiquated, sure, but it meant that there was a killer selection of restaurants where you could bring your own great bottle of wine, or magnum of wine, or handle of liquor, or whatever. It was glorious when underage (I mean, what?) and even better when we matured and had good taste in booze.
The BYOB culture in San Francisco is minuscule in comparison, but it does exist. Thanks to a combination of tasty ethnic joints, no corkage nights, and even pizza pop-ups, you can get your fill of good food and self-selected corner store booze (or fancy wine shop goods, whatever), so long as you know where and when to look. Presenting, in no particular order, 10 worthy no corkage BYOB options in San Francisco:
Author note: A few spots didn't answer our calls and confirm their current BYOB status. Some of these places do not endorse or allow BYOB by law, and you may need to brown-bag it, like you're in a park. And, we'd like to add a special shout out to Sam Wo, the best BYOB that ever was. Pour one out, dixie-cup style.
There's a lot to love about Pakwan. Tucked on the ever-bustling 16th Street stretch in the Mission, this unpretentious spot has held its own against the rising tide of cocktail bars and craft beer joints (no complaints on either count). Hearty portions of delicious North Indian cuisine make it easy to order up a killer cumin-laced feast — particularly when paired with some cold beers from the market across the street. We love a good I.P.A. with our Indian food, and consider Pakwan's saag paneer to be some of the best in the city (particularly after a few of those high-proof brews).
3180-82 16th Street #2
There's a Pakwan in the 'loin, too, but when we're in this neck of the woods, Shalimar's our go-to. Tasty tandoori, smokey-charred naan, and delicious orka go wonderfully with your grocery store bottle of red wine (screw tops are a good idea, but we've been provided with a corkscrew on occasion). Shalimar gets packed, but don't be afraid to wait — Tradition is right across the street, or you can always brown bag outside.
532 Jones Street
Alamo Square Grill's no corkage Wednesdays and consistently great menu of delicious seafood is special enough that we're half tempted to keep this secret to ourselves (but we love you, readers, so we won't). This perfectly charming neighborhood restaurant has a deft hand with fresh fish, frequently changing nightly specials, and a butter sauce that is good on everything (including spoons). Bring a bottle of something delicious and make Wednesday night an occasion.
803 Fillmore Street
Why wait in line for brunch at Zazie when you can make a dinner reservation and cruise in on a Tuesday night with a bottle of wine (or three) to pair with their tasty French bistro cuisine? Indulge in cheese and charcuterie plates, sample summer specials like corn cakes with avocado, or warm up with their excellent lamb tagine. They have a great $29 three-course prix fixe, too — all the better for your self-orchestrated wine pairing.
941 Cole Street
You know what's better than heaping plates of stupidly delicious dumplings? Heaping plates of dumplings and beer. Or wine. Or soju, or bourbon, or whatever else your twisted mind deems appropriate (we like it all). Shanghai Dumpling King has 24 varieties of dumpling on offer (uh-huh) including the namesake Shanghai Dumplings and the glorious pan-fried pork bun, but you'll find an extensive menu of meats, vegetables, noodles, and beyond should you want to diversify.
3319 Balboa Street
Old Mandarin Islamic
photo credit: Lauren Sloss
Why yes, there is a halal-certified Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco! And yes, it's really, really good — good enough to venture out to Parkside to sample the spicy deliciousness. Bring your own beer, wine, champagne, etc., and be sure to order the Extremely Hot Pepper (seriously, a huge plate of really spicy peppers with chicken and egg), the Stirred Shredded Pancake, and anything with lamb. The hot pot is fun, too — especially if you order lamb testicles (been there, done that).
3132 Vicente Street
We had to get a little South Indian cuisine on the list, and Masala Dosa is a solid contender. They have an extensive selection of North Indian dishes too, but their dosas and utthapam are solid, particularly when dunked in sambar and chutney (and eaten with your hands). Flavors are almost fusion-like, with chicken tikka masala fillings available, and as delicious as a crispy pancake filled with tikka masala should be. Their fried pakora is solid, too, particularly as a beer accompaniment.
1375 9th Avenue
Overhyped as it may be, we love everything about The Mill, from the excellent coffee to the butter-drenched toast (there, I said it). Add Monday pizza nights to the list — every week features a different kind of pie, topped with seasonal veggies, tasty cheese, and a wonderfully bright tomato sauce (the fresh baked crust, is, of course, delicious). The BYOB aspect is not officially advertised, but you'll see groups taking down their slices with tall boys of Tecate, large format IPAs in brown bags, and even a bottle of rose poured into paper coffee cups.
736 Divisadero Street
Complaints about service aside, the food at Guddu de Karahi is legendary — chef Zulfiqar "Guddu" Haider drew the crowds in at his original Tenderloin location, and continues the drumbeat of fantastic Indian and Pakistani cuisine in the Outer Sunset (the TL location is still around, and is also BYOB, but doesn't have the same mojo without Haider). Don't miss the lauded tandoori fish or the complex, deeply satisfying curries. To drink? A nice, bright white helps cut through the heat, without overpowering the intricate flavors at play.
1501 Noriega Street
The OG of San Francisco BYOBs, Poc Chuc has become a destination for their perfectly executed take on Mayan cuisine. Starters like empanadas and panuchos are tasty, but the large format plates are where things really come together. The namesake poc chuc is stellar — the citrus-marinated pork is salty, tangy, and sweet — slow-braised pollo pibil and pan-fried fish are tasty options, too. They appear to have gotten a beer and wine license but, as far as we can tell, it's still BYOB — bringing goods to spike their sweet, fresh agua frescas has become a time-honored Mission dining tradition.
2886 16th Street