Most San Franciscans are aware of Charles Phan, restaurateur behind Slanted Door, one of the most profitable restaurants in the United States. Last year, Phan turned his focus from high-end, gourmet Vietnamese food to open Heaven's Dog in San Francisco's South of Market area. Heaven's Dog focuses on gourmet Chinese food and an excellent bar program.
There are several keys to having a great experience at Heaven's Dog:
1. You should sit at the bar, which takes up a majority of the restaurant. It's perfectly comfortable to sit in the bar seats and have a meal and a cocktail at the wide, wood bar. The bartenders always make time to talk cocktails, and are knowledgeable about the food menu.
2. Order from the small plates section of the menu. While the large plates are decent, I'm happiest with an appetizer, dumpling plate, and maybe a vegetable.
3. Come ready to enjoy a cocktail or two—alcohol or no alcohol.
The superstar of the menu is the braised pork belly in a clamshell bun ($9), savory and delectable, the buns make a perfect bar bite and are a great thing to order if you just want a small snack. If you have more of an appetite, try the salt and pepper squid ($13), deep-fried and tossed with chili peppers, or the Shanghai soup dumplings ($10) with pork and broth inside the dumpling. The vegetable sides like the sauteed Brussels sprouts are great—pull them apart by the leaves.
The real star at Heaven's Dog is the bar program. When the restaurant opened, it was the subject of blog chatter because many of the best bartenders in the city were snatched up to work there. While several have moved on to new openings or brand ambassadorships, the bartenders at Heaven's Dog are top notch.
Try the Whiskey Sling made with bourbon, simple syrup, and a grating of nutmeg. The wintry deliciousness is a perfect almost-Thanksgiving drink. It's poured over Heaven's Dog's hand-cut ice—one large cube chills the drink without watering it down.
The Remember the Maine, a 1930s-era cocktail typically made with rye whiskey, is not currently on the menu, but you can request one. Mine was made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry heering (a sweet, cherry liqueur), and an absinthe rinse, served up in a small cocktail glass with a lemon twist.
Insider's tip: Put yourself in the capable hands of the bartenders here. Just tell them what liquor you would like, and if you want a spirituous drink or a citrusy drink and let them work their magic. I did this and received a delicious cocktail which was made from bourbon, Cointreau, Angostura bitters, Peychaud's bitters and an absinthe rinse.
1148 Mission Street, San Francisco (map)
About the author: Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. She is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.