Even for someone who spends most of his free time running around the Bay Area checking out different bars making interesting cocktails (yes, yes, I hear you playing the world's saddest song on the world's smallest violin), taking a break from work still means going to a bar.
Except in my case, it doesn't mean fancy spirits, the latest techniques, or anything trendy or cutting edge -- it means going to a comfortable neighborhood dive for a shot of whiskey and a beer. For me, that spot is Bender's in the Mission. On Whiskey Wednesdays, you can get a can of PBR and a shot of whiskey for $5, in a no-bullshit, come-as-you-are bar.
If you aren't content to simply get your whiskey in a glass, like me, you can also get it through a burger from Bender's Grill. The Whiskey Business Burger ($9) is a half-pound patty that is a blend of beef, bacon, all marinated in bourbon whiskey. While I'm not sure if the whiskey has as much impact on the burger as it does on me, it is one damn juicy burger. Even better, the burger comes on a pillar of some of the crispiest tater tots I've ever enjoyed, by simply being shatteringly crunchy on the outside, yet creamy in the middle.
Sean Asmar, who has owned and run the grill for the past several years, has created a fun menu that caters to all diets, with a strong selection of vegan and vegetarian options. Just like the bar, the menu welcomes everybody.
"When I was creating the menu and writing the recipes, my goal was to create bar food for both vegan and meat eaters, that was both artistic and simple," says Asmar. "We're not trying to do anything fancy, we keep our ingredients simple but without losing any quality. I take a lot of pride in my food and believe in what I set out to do three years ago, and that's to make great bar food that's decadent, delicious served in generous portions with affordable prices and tater tots for all."
The vegan and vegetarian offerings include items like Satan Lil' Helpers ($6, deep fried seitan "chick'n wings" served with homemade vegan ranch aka "Godless Dressing"), a fantastically crunchy Grilled Cheesus Christ ($6, three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich served with tater tots), and a homemade vegan black bean burger Octopussy's Garden Burger ($8, also served with tater tots) that the menu dares you to order with bacon and cheese to "piss off a vegan."
This spring, Asmar is opening up a spot in Oakland called Analog, though he won't disclose exactly what the concept and menu will be like just yet, so you'll have to content yourself with shots, beers, and burgers at Bender's until then. Not a bad way to wait.
Bender's, 806 South Van Ness, 824-1800