Porter Ale House Gastropub / Austin, Texas
In a perfect world, every neighborhood has a spot like Austin’s “c’mon in and kick up your feet” Porter gastropub. In this comfortable, woody space, 30 taps showcase Texas stars (Jester King, 512, Hops and Grain), and there’s wine on tap, too, if you like that sort of thing. Gastropubbers know that gooey Beer Cheese Fondue, served with a warm, soft pretzel and apples, can be the trailer or the feature film, but it’s a blockbuster here. Don’t shy away from pub staples like the crisp fish and chips, and if you’re in the mood for some S&M (that’s spaghetti and meatballs), that’s done up pretty darn well, too. ORDER: The brunch menu’s Croque Madame with beer cheese fondue, and a tart beer like Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne as a stand-in for O.J.
The Stumbling Steer / Albuquerque
Nearly $2 million transformed a gigantic former barbecue joint into Stumbling Steer, an equally huge, 270-seat gastropub with the body of a brewpub but the soul of a Western saloon: There’s a burger, but it’s stacked with beef and pastrami. There’s beer-can chicken, but it’s accompanied by ginger-lemon sauce. And there’s beer, but it’s brewed on-site by former Newport Beach brewmaster Kirk Roberts, who brought along the recipe for his GABF gold-winning Scotch ale. In the kitchen, chef Thanawat Bates (formerly of Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel) makes everything—even the butter—from scratch. Bringing it all full-circle, that burger (and its chili-cheese sibling) is made from the beef of cows that dined on Roberts’ spent grain. ORDER: The loud, resin-and-grapefruit Double IPA and the equally strong pork belly braised in ginger beer.
The Belfry / Kansas City
You’ve seen Celina Tio battling it out on “The Next Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Masters,” but inside The Belfry—Tio’s third restaurant, opened last January in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District—there’s a good chance she’s the one pouring your pint.
The James Beard award- winning chef is surprisingly accessible, an attitude that translates into this sunny spot’s approach to dining and drinking. A pocket-sized menu of feel-good food (“What mama never made you, but wanted to,” Tio jokes), places comforting, beer-friendly plates of chicken nachos, judiciously slathered in gooey Manchego cheese and sherry onions, alongside lip-smacking spins on KC classics like Berkshire pork ribs, served with fries and hoppy pickles (sweet, briny cukes hopped with Citra and Cascade). Early risers can scoop up stuffed croissants before heading to work.
An equally thoughtful list of 20 taps covers all the bases, from Deschutes’ juicy Fresh Squeezed IPA to Odell Udderly Cherry milk stout—Tio, a certified Cicerone, marks her personal favorites on the chalkboard with a heart. But to push this place into serious beer geekdom, The Belfry doubles down with interactive events, like a recent beer dinner with New Belgium’s Eric Salazar, where guests customized their own sour ale blend to take home in small growlers. ORDER: A pint of Boulevard’s citrusy Pop-Up session IPA and fries, covered in savory short rib gravy, pickled onions and topped with a perfectly fried egg.
Hopwater Distribution / San Francisco
Twenty years. That’s how long Bruce Paton’s been doing beer dinners; he used to beg people to attend pairing events with Sierra Nevada and Moylan’s brews back in 1995. Now, every meal’s a beer dinner at Hopwater Distribution, but while you’d expect one of beer’s biggest chefs to go all-out for his first kitchen, the place—a cozy Nob Hill brick loft—is remarkably restrained: The menu pairs Paton’s favorite local salumi with sandwiches and small bites like bacon-jam deviled eggs and Dungeness crab tater tots. John Guinea of Oakland’s Wood Tavern takes the reigns on the beer, rotating the 30 taps with all-California craft, most of it hailing from Bay Area brewers within a few miles of Hopwater’s door. ORDER: The meaty (yet meatless) Grits & Greens & Beans, and anything on tap from Almanac or Oakland Brewing.