Eating at the Bar

Eating at the bar? Is super-mega-highly underrated. Sure, table service is nice, but I often prefer the casual, practical, down-to-Earth experience of bartender service and bar stools. The menu's the same, the execution is efficient, and the bartenders are generally happy for the change of pace. Here are a few of my favorite restaurants to dine at the bar, in no particular order. What are yours?

Zelko Bistro This new comfort food bistro in the Heights is housed in a small space that fills up fast, peak hours or not. But while the dining room is crowded with tables and servers, the bar area is often overlooked. So grab a stool and grub on some of the best meatloaf in town. Don't miss the fried green tomatoes while they're still in season, and the Reuben is beautifully awesome, too.

Tony Mandola's Tony Mandola's serves the best snapper dishes in town, and all of River Oaks seems to know it. But while the place gets pretty crowded at night, you can generally grab a seat or two at bar, where you'll still receive the signature white-linen service. You'll be in-and-out in good time, so you'll still be able to make that movie at the River Oaks 3 across the street.

Vic & Anthony's This steakhouse fills up nightly, but don't fret if you find yourself sans reservation -- you can get the fabulous full menu in the bar area, too. Outrageous crabcake, gorgeous wedge salad, and perfectly grilled New York strip? Check, check, and check. And while the bar's a little dark for my liking, the fantastic food more than makes up for it.

Shade The Heights mainstay is no longer as crowded as it once was on a nightly basis, but it's still turning out feel-good meals with fresh ingredients. That said, sitting at the bar here isn't necessarily to avoid the crowds, but simply to enjoy a beautiful space with pleasant service. I love the fish dishes and salads, and I'll never tire of the daily soup trio.

Giacomo's I wasn't entirely thrilled when Giacomo's switched from counter-service to table-service, but it did give me a chance to scope out the bar area a little further. I can still get the amazing vegetable cicchetti and pappardelle al telefono that I obsess over, and they arrive in almost the same amount of time as the old service I miss. The bar area as a little more mellow than the bright dining room; it's a wonderful place to unwind.

Max's Wine Dive I've always enjoyed the down-to-earth service and vibe at Max's, which makes dining at the bar there a pleasure. Bartenders are quick on the refills, plus they have a bit more time and knowledge to help you with a wine recommendation. Food is as hearty and tasty as ever -- still love that Max & Cheese -- though I do wish they'd update the menu a bit.

Birraporetti's It can be a struggle to find a decent meal in a decent timeframe in the theater district -- restaurants are packed, and servers, almost as a rule, are in the weeds. But try the bar at Birraporetti's for Italian food that's passable, if not pleasant. The bartenders will have you in and out with plenty of time to grab an extra drink before the opening curtain.

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