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Best/San Francisco "must-go" Lunch Spots

So I'll be in San Francisco in the next few weeks and I need to find quick, good lunch places in the downtown/embarcadero area. Not a sit-down place, but more of a quick-service/takeaway place that are San Francisco institutions or are just highly acclaimed for having good food. Any suggestions?

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  1. You are going to the Ferry Building Marketplace. That is it. Don't even listen to any other suggestions. Go there or you will regret it always. It is simply food heaven.

    Other great choices are in the Mission District for burritos. There are a few good places for quick cheap eats in the Financial District, but you have to go the the Ferry Building at least once, although I would say that you will want to go back most likely. And allow LOTS of time there...

    7 Replies
    1. re: WCFoodie

      If you made a list of the best quick takeout lunches in the city, which of the places in the Ferry Building would make the cut?

      Lulu Petite, Mistral, Boulette's Larder, and Delica have great food. I'm not sure which are quick at weekday lunchtime.

      Out the Door, Taylor's Refresher, Mijita, and Mastrelli's are not remotely close to being the best of their types.

      The prepared food at Golden Gate Meat is dreadful.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I generally agree with you, but the ones in the "good" category are far too pricey for most workers everyday lunch budget. Of course, Krystle might be on a expense account..

        What it Mastrelli's "type" for which there are better examples?

        If you think GG's roast chickens are bad, try comparing them to Whole Foods'. Their prep is basic hofbrau, not fancy, but nowhere near "dreadful."

        1. re: Gary Soup

          Mastrelli's is an Italian deli. It's good for its size and neighborhood but not great compared with Molinari's in North Beach, Lucca Ravioli on Valencia, or Lucca Delicatessen on Chestnut.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I don't recall if I've even tried Mastrelli's, but since it's the place that Molinari's owner put his own name on, I assumed it would be at least as good as Molinari's. Is that not the case?

            1. re: Gary Soup

              It's good, but the tiny space means a relatively limited selection.

      2. re: WCFoodie

        Very easy to BART to the Mission from Embarcadero for lunch - doesnt take long at all.


      3. The Ferry Blgd is a blast for sure.. Make sure you sample the Recchuitti chocolates!

        My personal fave for lunch on the cheap and fast (and yummy) is Tu Lan on 6th at Market - not pretty but IMHO the food is great.

        Have fun!

        1. IMHO, the Ferry Building is an interesting place to browse, but for a quick lunch the options are sparse and pricey. Allowing "lots of time" for a quick lunch doesn't quite compute, I might add.

          I don't normally recommend Yang Sing as a sit-downer by any means, but their Yank Sing 2 Go operation next to the main restaurant puts out good "sampler" boxes of traditional dim sum that are reasonably priced for the area, and won't leave you hungry.

          1. Ferry Building does indeed have some quick-service/takeaway counters... Slanted Door, Taylor's Refresher, a seafood spot, a deli with sandwiches... And the place is certainly a "must-see" for any visitor who enjoys food. You can do better elsewhere on price though, which might be factor if you'll be here long.

            A very quick "takeaway" lunch: banh mi at Latte Express, a few blocks west of Embarcadero center at Kearny & Sacramento. Don't pay any attention to the name this is a Vietnamese sandwich shop. Far better banh mi than Slanted Door at literally half the price ($3.50 for a roast pork banh mi vs $7 something at Slanted Door). This is the best lunch deal in the area in my opinion, and an exellent choice when you want something quick and to-go. Very friendly staff too, will treat you like a regular the 2nd time you're there, if not the 1st.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Pincho

              Slanted Door, (i.e. Out the Door) by your own reckoning, offers less than top grade takeway that is overpriced by at least 100 percent, yet you recommend it as an "experience." Therein lies the Ferry Building conundrum. Taylor's Refresher is another example. It serves a burger of neighborhood lunch-counter quality, but the combination of a Wine Country origin and its nailing down a spot in the Ferry Building gives it a license to steal.

              Unless one can survive on Acme bread alone, the only place that offers takeaway lunch value is Golden Gate Meats, but they don't get the lines because they are so iniexpensive they couldn't possibly be any good, could they? GG's meats apparently have enough cachet to have gained GG a prime slot in the FB, but they apparently lose this cachet when put into sandwiches or roasted and offered at a fair price. (I'd modestly propose that GG raise its price to increase its takeaway business.)

              The Ferry Building is a "must see" but by no means a "must buy."

              For the record, I personally would not recommend the microwave-nuked banh mi at Latte Express (Kearny Street venue). Even they are overpriced and inferior to what you can get on Larkin St., or even a couple of blocks up the hill at Little Paris, but then we're going even further away from the downtown/embarcadero area.

              There. I don't even need my morning coffee now.

              1. re: Gary Soup

                Ummm... I did not recommend the takeaway spots as an experience, or even recommend a visit to them at all. In fact I didn't use the word experience. I noted that Ferry Building is a "must see" for visitors who enjoy food, and it is in my opinion - for the vendors and the browsing, not the takeout.

                The question was about the Financial District/Embarcadero, not Larkin. I think Latte Express is a top takeout deal for the area, and I like their Banh Mi... not as much as my favorite spots in San Jose, but very good IMO for a "quick takeout".

                1. re: Pincho

                  Sorry, I had an earlier responder in the back of my mind, and reading your post again it is obvious that your view of the FB is not that much different from mine.

                  Since the OP used "quick" and "downtown/embarcadero" in the same breath, I deduced that Kearny St. was too far a ramble for her, forgetting, of course, that responses to queries aren't for just the OP's benefit only.

                  1. re: Gary Soup

                    I think we have a similar outlook on FB.

                    Kearny may not be too much of a jaunt depending on where in the FiDi our visitor is... it's close to TransAmerica for example. Anyway I'm willing to walk a ways for lunch (I bet a lot of us on this board are) so will try "Little Paris" up the hill on your suggestion!

              2. re: Pincho

                I like Slanted Door, but Out the Door is not quick at all -- there's always a long line, and then it takes a while to get your food. Lulu's is a lot faster (though I don't love the food). I really like the food at the Japanese place in the Ferry Building, but it's pricy. Taylor's is great on a nice warm sunny day if you're sitting outside, but not worth it for take out.

              3. Lee's Deli is a small local chain of sandwich shops in the downtown SF area. They make an excellent turkey breast sandwich from real baked turkey breast for under $4..

                1. So far I've tried Soup Freaks, SF Soup Company, and Specialty's . What about if price is no object, but it still needs to be quick takeout?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: krystle920

                    Where are you exactly, and how fast can you walk?

                  2. "... quick-service/takeaway place that are San Francisco institutions or are just highly acclaimed for having good food ..."

                    There aren't any in that neighborhood. Something about the combination of very high rents, a captive audience of hundreds of thousands of people during weekdays, and a population close to zero evenings and weekends. "Good for the area" is the best you can get. See this topic for more:


                    1. I'm at 101 California so hopefully not more than a 10 minute walk away

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: krystle920

                        That's right where I work. Smack in the middle of a culinary wasteland.


                        See also the post I linked to above.

                      2. Mexican restaurant on Polk a block or two north of "Good Vibrations", don't remember the name, but good Tacos and Hochata. Does anyone know the name?

                        1. Criteria: Places worth trying in the FiDi for takeout. The catch: go early on break and collect food for later or you may wait a long time.

                          Foccacia on sacramento next doorish to Orale Orale: try the wheat foccacia with marinated peppers and goat cheese

                          Birley in embaecadero 4: the soups a re usually very tasty and try some cold and hot sandwiches

                          Cafe Prague has a good tomato soup, Columbus and Pacific

                          Pancho Villa makes a good veggie burrito, Pier 1

                          Safeway sandwiches taste like food, Jackson near Drum

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Neilo

                            Cafe Prague's more than a ten-minute walk.

                          2. Your best bet is to head into Chinatown. A bit far from where you are, though.

                            Sweet Joanna's on Howard just east of Main is the best sandwich place.

                            The legendary Krivaar on Pine just east of Kearny can be awesome. Middle-east-y,
                            wacky combination plates, mac-n-cheese once or twice a week. Everything
                            can be packed to go. Now that I'm thinking about it, this is your place.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Thanks for all your suggestions! So far, I've gone to the following places and I liked pretty much all of them:

                              Taylor's Refresher - great fries
                              Delica RF - love the bento box
                              Seller's Market - pricey but the choices are pretty good
                              Boudin Bakery - i liked the chowder in the sourdough bowl - i know it's touristy, but i still like it
                              Frog Hollow Farm - the ham/cheese turnover and orange juice were surprisingly well made

                              Out the Door - I really didn't like it - the sandwich I got was pretty dry
                              Focaccia - maybe I ordered the wrong thing, but it seemed pretty ordinary