Remember that old college chant, "Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer; you're in the clear"? I propose we change that to: "Markups on liquor, never been sicker. Bring your own beer; you're in the clear."
Seriously, San Francisco is a city that likes its liquor with a side of food, and no one knows that more than restaurant owners from the outright avaricious to those just trying to stay above their astronomical overhead in this real estate-deprived city. Haven't you been to a dinner where the bar tab doubles that of the food? And did you know that a martini usually costs the restaurant a tenth of what it charges you?
We've rarely been a city to sit by and tolerate injustice. But in this case, there's no need to go on a hunger strike about it: in fact, quite the opposite. Join the BYOB movement with a sit-in demonstration at any of these restaurants. (Interestingly, many are in the Tenderloin, which makes sense considering that the entire TL is pretty much a BYOB zone.) Refuse to pay ridiculous drink prices and sip the sweet nectar of freedom from bar tabs. It tastes kind of like Charles Shaw.
And remember: bring cash along with your booze. These places don't have liquor licenses or credit card machines. But you can swing most of these places at around $10 per person, so I trust you'll work it out.
Shalimar is the Starbucks of the city's BYOB Indian places, boasting two locations within eight blocks of each other. I prefer the one on Jones Street. The ambiance is group-therapy-room-at-a-public-clinic: wood laminate tables, green and white linoleum checked floor, institutional yellowed-cream walls. The service is fast, though never brusque. The food? Transcendent. The chicken tikka masala consists of plump balls of good-quality white meat chicken swimming in a delightful pool of clarified butter and masala. The garlic naan is heaven doughy, buttery, and flavorful. Also delectable is the palak paneer spinach and cheese sweetly spiced with cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and bay leaf. After dinner, cross the street to speakeasy-themed Bourbon and Branch for the ultimate lowbrow/highbrow evening.
Pairing: Try a sparkling wine like Italian Prosecco or Spanish cava with the dense multilayered spice of Shalimar's cuisine. Or bring along any of these Indian beers: Flying Horse Royal Lager Beer, Kingfisher, Himalayan Blue Lager, or Maharaja Lager.
532 Jones, SF. (415) 928-0333;
1409 Polk, SF. (415) 776-4642, www.shalimarsf.com
The orange walls of Tajine denote a more cheerful atmosphere than Shalimar, but this Nob Hill gem is tiny ... er, cozy. I meant to say cozy. If you do BYOB here, make sure you keep it mellow no flailing, weaving, or expansive hand gestures in this tight space. As for dinner, start with the chicken bastilla to share phyllo dough stuffed with chicken and almonds and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. For less than $10, the lamb or kufta kebab dinners come with zalook (eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley sautéed in olive oil), shalada (tomatoes, green onions, and parsley dressed in olive oil and lemon juice), and Moroccan bread. Or try the eponymous tajines the name for both a Moroccan clay slow cooker and the stews made inside it which have the same melt-in-your-mouth meat- and vegetable-infused flavor as your standard Crock-Pot dish. The chicken is cooked with lemon and olive; the lamb stewed with prunes and almonds. Tajine warns that if you BYOB, you must also buy a beverage from them.
Pairing: Morocco's native beer, Casablanca, is hard to find in the States, so opt for a full-bodied, fruity New World pinot noir instead.
1338 Polk, SF.