San Francisco, California is known for it’s year-round fog, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, antique cable cars, and colorful Victorian houses. It’s also the most expensive city to live comfortably in the United States. But don’t let that cause you any discomfort because San Francisco is one of the best places in the United States to enjoy mezcal. It’s home to mezcal blogging duo Mezcalistas, brands like Neta Mezcal, and is the backdrop for the incredible origin story of Mezcal Tosba. Members-only mezcal clubs like the Rare Spirits Society meet in SF bars regularly to taste the latest and greatest mezcals from Oaxaca and beyond. As a frequent visitor I’ll do my best to recommend the best bars, restaurants, and stores to find the good stuff.. but if I’m missing anything please leave a comment. Also, if your agave journey leads you into one of these fine establishments, tell them Mezcal Reviews sent you!
Bars and restaurants
San Francisco has an incredible bar and restaurant scene. As you’d expect from this seaside city, the seafood is top-notch. Beyond that, every neighborhood has a unique identity with its own food and drink scene: North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission, the Castro, SOMA, the Tenderloin, and many others. Here are a few places to visit for mezcal.
Calavera is a quick BART ride from San Francisco in downtown Oakland. Once you step inside and look at the bar you will be glad you made the trip. The upscale cantina serves reimagined versions of traditional Mexican dishes from Oaxaca, the Yucatan, and Chihuahua. The mezcal options are extensive. When I visited in February, I was amazed to see a lengthy selection of mezcals from Almamezcalera and 5 Sentidos on the menu. There were mezcals that haven’t made it to Texas yet like Metiche, Palomo, and Legendario Domingo Ensamble. Before calling it a night, I enjoyed the last pour from one of the 54 bottles of El Jolgorio Jabali Edition 1 from 2013. You can grab a table at Calavera but might need to make a reservation in advance. I enjoyed sitting at the bar where you can order anything from the dinner menu. Visit their website
Mosto is on Valencia Street in the Mission District of San Francisco, a few blocks east of Dolores Park. Mosto began as a cocktail lounge and small eats bar next to its sister restaurant Tacolicious. Thanks to the passionate team behind the bar, it has evolved into one of the largest collections of mezcal in the United States. As you step inside you will pass the al pastor trompo, spinning delicious pork and pineapple all afternoon and evening. Your cellphone will be rendered useless with No Service inside Mosto, which is good – forget the outside world for an hour or two. Now, order mezcal and talk with the Mosto team. If Candice, the bar lead, is there, ask her about Oaxaca.. she is probably leaving soon or just got back. The mezcal collection is constantly evolving but the team does a great job of keeping the menus it up-to-date.
On my last visit I wasn’t a fan of the huitlacoche dish, but everything else was delicious. Don’t miss the Gringa Al Pastor. The mezcal prices are very reasonable, with either 3/4 oz or 1.5 oz pours. Be sure to check their Instagram as they often run mezcal Happy Hour specials. Heads up, Mosto closes a bit early (midnight) due to its location in a residential building. Visit their website
Mezcalito is a relatively new addition to San Francisco’s mezcal scene. Located in the Russian Hill neighborhood, Mezcalito is a bar/restaurant that features Oaxacan-Californian inspired food and cocktails. The mezcal collection is quite good but the prices aren’t the best. If I recall, a pour of El Jolgorio Cenizo was around $40 or more. This place makes a ton of mezcal cocktails. When they opened their well mezcal was Siete Misterios Doba-Yej but they went through it so fast they weren’t able to get enough supply. On my last visit their well was Xicaru Silver. Mezcalito also has a Locker Program which allows regulars to keep their own bottle in a locker for every time they visit. Whether you order a pour or a flight, your mezcal will come with sal de gusano and fresh fruit. Visit their website
Loló is a Mexican restaurant on Valencia Street in the Mission. My girlfriend and I grabbed brunch there in August and stayed for over two hours. The staff is incredibly friendly. Our bartender was leaving for Oaxaca that night on a trip with Del Maguey. Their margaritas are near perfection – the perfect balance of citrus, sweet, and spirit. We had some awesome ceviche and guacamole. Among other mezcals we tried a new one called Aguas Mansas. The mezcal list is a bit out of date so head towards the bar if you want to order something new. Visit their website
There likely a lot of other places that locals will know about, but here are some honorable mentions:
- ABV – near the Castro, they also have a small speakeasy upstairs that has a new theme every month
- Azucar – a Mexican bar and restaurant in SOMA
- Junior – a cocktail bar near the Mission (never been but hear great things)
If you find something you like and need a full bottle, look no further. Not only does California have a plethora of online spirit stores, the brick and mortar bottle shops in SF are some of the best-stocked in the nation.
Healthy Spirits has a few locations in the city but you will want to visit the Cortland Avenue location. A wall of mezcal towers behind the register. Last time I visited they had rare bottles like Real Minero Cuish, Wahaka VdMs, and early editions of Mezcalosfera. Healthy Spirits also has (or had) an Agave Club where members got first dibs on the latest imports. They also have a huge bourbon and beer selection if you’re into that too. Visit their website
The Epicurean Trader
The Epicurean Trader is a store for small-batch artisan goods and mezcal certainly fits the bill. If you visit you might find yourself distracted by all of the other unique items for sale besides mezcal. They have a few locations and the Cortland Avenue location had a good supply of mezcal. If they don’t have the bottle you’re looking for, ask for Mat and he might be able to order it for you. Protip: If you’re on Cortland Avenue, Healthy Spirits is the next block over so you can check out both stores. Visit their website
Cask is a boutique spirits shop with a few locations around San Francisco. Their selection isn’t huge, but it’s well curated. You will always find something interesting here. I’ve only visited the location in the Financial District on 3rd and Market and found rare bottles like Rey Campero Mezcla Salvaje and 2008 Real Minero Espadin. Cask also has an Cask Clubs including an agave club! Visit their website
When it comes to mezcal, California knows how to party. Let us know what you think about these recommendations. Tell them Mezcal Reviews sent ya! If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments. What are the other big mezcal cities in the US? Chicago? New York City? We’ll see you soon.