Mike hale, the grub hunter_ the pleasures of eating at the bar

The restaurant bar has evolved quite handily over the years. Best lunch restaurants in los angeles Once a way station for disgruntled diners cooling their heels past their reservation time, or a landing spot for barflies piecing together a meal of martinis and mixed nuts, the bar is now prime culinary real estate.

I love eating at the bar. Best lunch spots in los angeles In fact, I prefer it, especially if I’m dining solo. Famous restaurants in los angeles for celebrities I ignore the lack of lumbar support, and gladly turn my back to the amenities — cushioned seat, experienced server, proper busing — that come with a time-honored table-and-chair experience.

At the restaurant table I’m trapped in a bubble, forced to face my dining companions, whomever they may be, unable to avert my gaze when conversation sags or strays into the uncomfortable.

And when dining alone, sitting at the bar removes that stigma. Famous restaurants in los angeles It’s awkward being led into a dining room and seated solo at a two-top. Best lunch spots in san diego “Should I clear the extra place setting away, sir?” the server will undoubtedly ask in a loud voice. Popular restaurants in los angeles Translation: “You’re one of those lonely losers who talks with his mouth full.”

It’s easier to grab a single seat at the bar, face to face with your new best friend — the bartender. Best restaurants in san diego And when I dine with my wife we will often choose to sit at the bar, finding it quite intimate sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Finally, the bar allows you to experience a restaurant on busy nights when the dining room is choked with patrons who managed to secure reservations weeks earlier. Best restaurants in downtown san diego Bar-diners can effectively jump the line at the last minute and enjoy a meal with the bartender stepping in as your server and sage.

This is only possible when a restaurant allows folks at the bar access to the full menu, not some watered-down, pedestrian wings-and-nachos highlight reel. Best places to eat in downtown san diego Most restaurants offer a bar menu, or a happy hour menu, but the smart ones allow access to everything — specials and all. Best places to eat in san diego on a budget Another criterion is that the bar is spacious enough to allow for elbow room — and a multi-course experience. Good places to eat in san diego Finally, the bartender must be able to hold a conversation but leave you alone at the right moments (a deft touch), and not resent you for expanding his or her job description.

Dining at the bar is not ideal for a first date, or a business meal, because eye contact seems too important under those scenarios. Mexican food in san diego And I don’t recommend it with kids in tow. Best seafood restaurants in san diego And large parties kind of fall apart at the bar, with friends shouting over and through each other.

By the way, I’m not suggesting the lounge, or the high-tops surrounding the bar. Best restaurants in chicago il For this to work you must belly up to an actual bar, preferably one with a television at just the right height (no one wants to look like a slack-jawed, mouth-breathing cretin, craning your neck back to gaze upward.

So, without further adieu, here are my Top 10 local restaurant bars where you can enjoy the best seat in the house — bar none.

Valley Kitchen at Carmel Valley Ranch: This expansive, hip bar is well-stocked and lively, with delicious, contemporary food coming out of the kitchen. Mexican food in los angeles Drink: Vocal “Alfaro Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner (Santa Cruz). Best dinner restaurants in los angeles Eat: Butcher’s Block (chef-inspired, casual dinner).

Crown and Anchor, Monterey: C&A has the feel and look of a true British pub, with bawdy bar jokes thrown in as a bonus. Best inexpensive restaurants in chicago Drink: Pint of Guinness. Best cheap restaurants in chicago Eat: Cutty Sarks’ chicken curry.

The Whaling Station, Cannery Row: This horseshoe-shaped bar fills with locals beginning at 5 p.m., and has a pulsating, big-city vibe. Best affordable restaurants in chicago Drink: Barrel-aged Manhattan. Best lunch spots in new orleans Eat: Open-faced steak sandwich and fries.

Il Vecchio, Pacific Grove: The dining room fills up quickly on weekends, but the small (no spirits) bar often yields room if you’re patient. Best food in new orleans Drink: The Romeo (pungent Contratto Aperitif with prosecco, over ice. Best chinese food in chicago Eat: Tonnarelli alla carbonara.

Rio Grill, Carmel: A classic watering hole filled with happy locals, Rio has bar food service down, and the comfy stools are a bonus. Best chinese food in chicago chinatown Drink: Rio ‘Rita. Best seafood in wildwood nj Eat: Smoked chicken with artichokes.

Andre’s Bouchee, Carmel: Arrive early and the small bar will generally accommodate a few more bodies. Best indian restaurants in chicago Drink: Glass of Burgundy. Best seafood restaurants in new york city Eat: Steak Frites with broccolini and truffle butter.

jeninni kitchen + wine bar, Pacific Grove: This smallish restaurant often fills up, so try to grab one of the six barstools and watch the action in the kitchen. Best cheap eats in chicago Drink: There are no spirits, but try a “mocktail” such as the barrel-aged negroni. Best fast food places near me Eat: Chargrilled lamb burger with eggplant fries.

Il Fornaio, Carmel: This under-the-radar Italian spot inside The Pine Inn is part of a regional chain, but maintains a homey touch, and boasts some of the friendliest bartenders. Best restaurants near times square Drink: Grey Goose martini. Best seafood in miami beach Eat: Polpettine pizza with meatballs, fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, Grana Padano cheese.

Porter’s in the Forest, Pebble Beach: This delicious 19th hole at Poppy Hills Golf Course falls under everyone’s radar, which is mysterious because chef Johnny de Vivo creates some of the best food in the county. Soul food restaurants in new york Drink: Barrel-aged old-fashioned. Soul food restaurants in newark nj Eat: Chicken Two Ways (fried and truffle-chicken sausage).

Cultura Comida y Bebida, Carmel: This newbie offers hipness and comfort (commodities rarely seen together), and chef Michelle Estigoy takes regional Mexican food to newer, greater heights. How to get free food from restaurants Drink: Mezcal margarita. Fast food restaurants delivery Eat: Oak-Roasted Steelhead Trout. Fast food restaurants near my current location Or try late-night menu (9 p.m. Seafood restaurants near my location to midnight), including tacos on Tuesdays, or Michelle’s Nachos Locos.

Those who read this column know of my reputation as a red-blooded carnivore. Best seafood restaurants in san francisco But I wanted to use a little more ink on chef Francisco “Pancho” Castellon, whose plant-based menu at Pacific’s Edge continues to confound meat-eaters with its rich, umami-laden flavors.

His new $50 tasting menu includes the likes of charred vegetables, local mushrooms, almond yogurt, pickled mustard seeds, pistachio granola and other tricks of his trade. Best mexican food restaurants You will not miss the meat, and you will do your part for your health … and the planet.

Mike Hale can be reached at thegrubhunter@att.net. Best soul food restaurants Listen to his weekly radio show “Food Fodder” at noon Wednesdays on KRML, 102.1 FM.

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