In keeping with the restaurant's handsome look, the Joe Six-Pack menu is full of sly upscaleness. The beef burgers are made from Black Angus, and there are several meatless choices available (including the amazingly lifelike Boca burger), along with homemade chili and soup of the day ($4.95 a bowl), which, even when it sounds drab — zucchini and mushrooms, maybe, classic bottom-of-the-bin, end-of-the-week stuff — is likely to be spiffed up with some cumin and chili pepper. You can get Stella Artois and Big Daddy IPA on tap. The one thing Toad's doesn't have is the alfresco option. For that you'll have to traipse over to Barney's Gourmet Burgers in Noe Valley.
Like Toad's, Barney's is a burger joint with a fair amount of discreet spit and polish. The space used to belong to a bistro, and the beer garden–worthy garden out front, set with umbrella-shaded tables and potted plants, was an important draw for diners who might otherwise be tempted to step into Little Italy (now Lupa) across the street. When Barney's took over, there was quiet mourning in some quarters at fate's lack of imagination, but the place has had a long run and — to judge from the crowds in the garden day and night — a successful one.
As it happens, Barney's, too, offers curly fries, and they are as good as Toad's (and Jack's), right down to the ranch dressing. Although I made the mistake of ordering the curlies separately, I thought I was exercising moderation by getting only a half basket of them ($3.50) and was dismayed to find, when I weighed myself the morning after, that I'd gained five pounds. Moral of story: no morning-after weigh-ins, and curly fries should probably be eaten with tweezers, or handled with some of the same ceremony and officiousness that Seinfeld's übertoff Mr. Pitt brought to the enjoyment of his Snickers bars. (Knife! Fork! White linen napkin!)
The burgers, they are fine and conform nicely to the local standard. (Assuming you know what I mean, I shall say no more.) Lighter eaters and beefphobes will be relieved to learn that Barney's offers turkey burgers outfitted in various ways — dusted with Cajun spices ($6.95), maybe, then blackened like Gulf red snapper. Such a burger might not play in Palookaville, but here in the big city, it's the people's choice, or one of them. SFBG
Dinner: nightly, 5:30–9:30 p.m.
Lunch: Sun., noon–3 p.m.
1499 Valencia, SF
Beer and wine
Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers
Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
4138 24th St., SF
Beer and wine
Pleasant noise level