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May 10, 2008 08:16 AM

Windy's month of lunches 2008 [San Francisco]

Imagine my frustration returning to the Financial District two years later only one block from where I last ate!

I've been downtown on and off this year, and am now settled in at Market and Fremont. In two years, the average price of a muffin or a cup of tea has risen from $1.25 to $2+, and salads are topping $10. Many more organic offerings especially in the chicken breast family, and of course all manner of quasi-green containers and cutlery.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how cheerful most lunch purveyors are at peak hours, dishing out the turkey sandwiches and bowls of soup.

None of these is meant to be a full review. I'm determined to eat somewhere new almost every day at least until I run out places. Except that I want to go back to Muracci's on Monday.

In general order of preference.

New to me:
• Muracci's Japanese Curry on Kearny. Every bit as good as has been reported. Maybe better. I don't even like curry, and I would happily stand in line for half an hour for a container of that sauce. I had the pork katsu with brown rice (and then took the leftover sauce home and made two more meals). The green tea jelly roll like things were good too. Good luck finding it btw. I had the address and walked by it twice.
• Paladar Cuban on the same block. The $6.50 half sandwich and soup of the day take out special is an amazing deal. Soups can be a bit bland but homemade with care. I love their Cubano. Excellent cortadito, the best coffee I've had downtown aside from Blue Bottle Cafe. I've tried their picadillo and enjoyed eating in too, although it costs more. Warm service. Full bar?
• Boxed Foods Company on Kearny. Call ahead! You can wait 20 minutes in line, and then they make everything to order. Excellent salads, although I love the BLT. Blue Bottle Coffee.
• Morning Brew on Sansome. Looseleaf teas, incredibly good eggs and bacon and cheese on a bagel or muffin, respectable pork bahn mi ($5). I haven't tried the coffee or tapioca drinks. A warning that teas are steeped in flimsy paper cups, and I scalded myself quite badly.
• Mixt Greens on Battery. The kind of place I'd love to hate, encouraging $15 lunches and endless choice, and long lines. But the food's awfully good. I had a Kobe meatloaf sandwich but really wanted the salad with the oranges and toasted pecans. Also a beautiful place to sit, rare downtown.
• Power Source on Fremont. $6 juices? Quinoa? all I know is I was exhausted from cough medicine, and I got the organic chicken breast bowl with whole grains and peanut sauce and greens, and it tasted healthy. This is more about shopping than cooking, but in a sea of sandwiches and hot dogs, a virtuous (and tasty) choice.
• Bun Heaven at Pine and Battery. A weird corner, and a too huge menu of burgers, sausages, and cheesesteaks. I went with the latter ($6.75), which was fine, and immediately regretted it after I saw the hot dog toppings. Super friendly employees. They were playing "Carwash," and everyone was dancing--seriously. I'll be back for the chicken apple sausage.
• Sausalito Espresso on Beale and Mission. Again, gracious owner. I had a shwarma salad, which was just chopped chicken. But the salad part was fresh and plentiful, and the other Middle Eastern offerings looked appealing. Ahmad teas--always a good sign.
• Tokyo Express Sushi off Mission. I got a sushi combo B. Sushi was mediocre especially the rice. Hamachi was clearly frozen. Surly bussers, with signs on the tables trying to guilt you into leaving a tip for self-service. Tables were not clean. Avoid.

Old favorites:
• I had a cold my first week on the job and headed right to Tea Garden for their extraordinary won ton soup. It took forever--are they really frying shallots in a broom closet for $4.95?--but it was as luscious as I remembered. Disconcerting to eat there, facing yourself in a giant mirror. Has anyone tried the new pig's trotter soup ($6.95)?
• Thanks to Ruth Lafler for sending me to Focaccia three years ago and posting about the quarter chicken with two sides special ($4.95). I went late, and they were almost out of sides! I was not there for the zucchini. But when I pouted, the chef went next door for a giant scoop of amazing mashed potatoes. I asked if it was all butter and cream, and he said no, high quality roasted potatoes. Great cookies by the register too. Succulent roast chicken--hard to beat, when you need a little Thanksgiving in May.
• Another day I tried the Thai chicken noodle soup at Happy Donuts. I needed a quiet place to read the paper, and my soup arrived in moments. They enthusiastically offered sri racha. Not the best item I've had from their cooked menu, but huge, fresh, and aromatic. ($5ish)
• Birley Sandwiches. Appalling crowd, kind employees, perfect roast beef with horseradish sauce, made to order $6.
• Lee's turkey and avocado leaves you enough money left over to buy a fruit salad and potato chips for under $7.
• Cafe Algiers has a line out the door for their huge sandwiches (under $5). I tried the meatball with provolone; not Italian, but recommended. Looseleaf teas in tins, and their famous coffee drinks, as impeccable as when I first had them 10+ years ago. Espresso is best in the a.m. or after the lunch rush.
• Golden Gate Meats defied the friendly service rule, or the good value proposition. $7 for a pastrami sandwich on a roll. No vegetables, no pickle bar, no wishes of a great weekend, just well seasoned meat and a napkin. You can have a salad for dinner. Good luck finding a place to sit by Book Passage.
• Yank Sing 2 Go at Rincon Center. We got two combos and a walnut and cabbage salad for ~$21 for two. Quality of dumplings, noodles, and buns varied wildly. The same dim sum as inside, just older? Har gow were delicious, as was the crunchy salad. I remember the branch on Stevenson being better, but I'd rather sit by the waterfall.

Better than I remembered:
• Kamakura on Beale. I got the spicy pork and vegetables bento box ($6.95, free tea). Run by two kindly women, and always quiet with room to read the paper. At Kamakura on Battery, I always got the tempura and teriyaki combo bento box. This was better.
• Seller's Market on Front. As chaotic as ever, with too many items on the menu, too many $12 salads, and horrible seating options and line management. But my tofu peanut vegetable salad was excellent, and everyone who worked there was so damned happy I left smiling. Nice to be called by name instead of number. Maybe it's just the bad feng shui, living in a triangle. But I doubt it. How's the Cobb salad?

• Il Massimo Cafe, formerly one of my favorite haunts. The prosciutto sandwich was overdone in the press, music wasn't as good, and they've taken out the couches that made this so stylish. Sigh.

Oh, and for farmer's market fans, there are unusual baked goods Thursdays at Crocker Galleria. The seasonal fruit's pricey, but I'm there for the pretzels.

Any recommendations for next month? On my list: Front Door Cafe, Carla's, Lightening Foods, Best O Burger, Sawaii Sushi, and the gyro place on Battery, and revisiting the teriyaki burger at beloved tiny Oishii. Points for any place with seating and fewer than 50 choices on the menu.

Links to 2005-6 are in this thread:

Place records to follow if I get bored enough.

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  1. Good to have you back in the nabe!

    A few comments:

    IIRC the roast chicken combo at Focaccia isn't $4.95 anymore, but it's still both delicious and a good bang for the buck.

    I usually end up at the new branch of Julie's Kitchen (by-the-pound salad bar/prepared foods), which is tucked in the courtyard of 50 Fremont. You can run up a tab if you overload your plate, but the selection is good and the quality is decent -- they even switched to organic lettuce (both spring mix and romaine) a while back. Recently they've had lamb rib chops, which I find irresistible, almost every day.

    I had a pretty decent falafel sandwich at Sausalito Express, but not as good as the one at Oasis on Drumm. And I swear the Oasis guys are the nicest guys in the FiDi -- I went in there after not having been in for several months, and never being a frequent customer, and the guys recognized me immediately and noted I hadn't been in.

    When I go to the Ferry Building for the Tuesday farmers market I bypass the hot food vendors and go for the tofu salads at Hodo Soy. The kung pao tofu is delicious!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I think 1/4 chicken with two sides is $4.95; 1/2 is $6.95. Goood Frikken Chicken near my home charges twice that.

      The courtyard of 50 Fremont reminds I forgot one: I had a surprisingly delicious lunch at Cello (pizza and kabobs). $4.95 for one Kubideh Kabob with fluffy rice and free Persian tea, plus $2.50 for a mango lassi that was thicker and less sweet than most Indian restaurants. What else is good? It's a comfy place to sit, with kabobs cooked to order, chairs, and silverware. I wasn't tempted by the reheated slices of pizza, but appreciated the shakers of sumac.

      Lamb rib chops at Julie's Kitchen sound awfully good. Will add Oasis to the need-a-pick-me-up list.

      1. re: Windy

        A long-time-coming update on Cello.

        I've always been satisfied by not thrilled by what I've ordered there. The falafel plate is okay (but not as good as Oasis). When I order something with rice I like to doctor it with the green sauce on the condiment table (hot!). But one day I ordered the Masala Dosa "special" (they seem to have it most of the time).

        I'm not a dosa expert by any means, but this is delicious and I think it's a good value at $8 because with the big container of sambar that comes with it, it's really enough for two lunches.

        Somehow I never stop in there for "happy hour" (2-7) but how far wrong can you go with a $5 10-inch pizza? Note that it's one of the few places in the area that's open at that hour.

      2. re: Ruth Lafler

        I just finished the Hodo Soy kung pao tofu salad for lunch. Thanks for the recommendation, Ruth. Ruth is correct, that salad is delicious (and very spicy!). I recommend some rice or bread to mop up the juices. Since a side of brown rice at Out the Door is a whopping $4 (!), I opted for a roll at Acme, which did the trick nicely. Polished off a bunch of baby carrots from McGinnis Ranch to go with it. Great lunch.

      3. Love these reports.

        Paladar Cafe Cubano
        329 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

        Mixt Greens
        114 Sansome St Ste 120, San Francisco, CA 94104

        Golden Gate Meat
        Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Tea Garden
        515 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105

        Bun Heaven
        200 Pine St Ste 120, San Francisco, CA 94104

        Mixt Greens
        475 Sansome St, San Francisco, CA

        Cafe Algiers
        50 Beale St # 102, San Francisco, CA

        Boxed Foods Co
        245 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

        Focaccia Cafe & Bakery
        119 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Lee's Deli
        222 Front St Ste Stlev, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill
        307 Kearny St, San Francisco, Ca

        Powersource Juice Bar
        81 Fremont St, San Francisco, CA 94105

        Sausalito Espresso
        50 Beale St, San Francisco, CA 94105

        Tokyo Express
        160 Spear St, San Francisco, CA 94105

        Happy Donut
        100 Bush St # 101, San Francisco, CA

        Birley Sandwiches
        100 Drumm St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Kamakura Restaurant
        77 Battery St Lbby Lbby, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Il Massimo Del Panino
        441 Washington St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        Morning Brew Cafe
        401 Sansome St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        5 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Since you've been kind enough to do all the hard work...

          Funny how the addresses only vaguely correspond. Birley is in Embarcadero 5, while Il Massimo is on Market St. Sellers' Market is on Front & Pine.

          And Cello's on 1st, a few feet from Julie's Kitchen, which is listed as 50 Fremont.

          Sellers Markets Inc.
          595 Market St # 160, San Francisco, CA

          Cello Kebob & Pizza
          75 1st St, San Francisco, CA 94105

          Il Massimo Lounge
          5 Embarcadero Ctr, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: Windy

            Glad you're back at it again!

            Here are some more links, including the one for Seller's at Front and Pine, i.e., 388 Market.

            Did you try Morning Brew (rwo included a link)?

            Sellers Market
            388 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            Julie's Kitchen
            250 Montgomery St Ste St3, San Francisco, CA 94104

            Julie's Kitchen
            50 Fremont St Ste Pl1, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Yes, Morning Brew is up near the top of the new category. Good tea and breakfast sandwiches, decent bahn mi.

              More places seem to be offering bahn mi than three years ago, when the only options were Happy Donuts (okay for $4) and Out the Door (tasty but $6).

            2. re: Windy

              I believe there's actually a second Massimo at 441 Washington.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yes, RW linked it above. I added the link for the branch I've been too.

          2. I'd recommend Tomo Cafe for (healthier) soups on 1st St between Market and Mission. They also have decent chicken jook.

            Also, I just had a pretty good blackened catfish sandwich at the SF Fish Company at the Ferry Building - for $8. Paired with some Blue Star for the princely sum of $3.32 :-)

            Sawaii sushi - serves the purpose, and is definitely a notch above the likes of Tokyo Express.

            Also recommend Muracci's Japanese Curry on Kearny St between Bush and Pine.

            2 Replies
            1. re: osho


              San Francisco Fish Company
              1 Ferry Building # 31, San Francisco, CA 94111-4230

              Cafe Tomo
              50 1st St Ste A, San Francisco, CA 94105

              1. re: osho

                Tomo was my regular lunch hideaway two years ago. Their bahn mi aren't especially notable, but I thought most everything else was a good value. Tea Garden's soup is better though, if you have time.

                I agree about Muracci's.

              2. Another month goes by.

                New to me:
                • Hadi's Cafe on Battery. I stopped in for the branded Kronos gyro special with fries and a soda. Tasty if processed "meat" served in Kronos-logo paper. Friendly people, cheap lunch (under $7), clean tables. Get the spicy sauce.
                • Front Street Cafe inside One Front has cheap sandwiches, salads, and soups. Fast and friendly. I had a half-turkey sandwich with a bowl of tortilla soup and was given a choice of light or dark meat; I took both. Under $5.
                • Best O Burger. There's still a line, but it moves fast. I got a bag of two sliders with 50 cents extra for lettuce, ripe tomato, and pickles for $6. I like my meat rare, so these are a little overdone, but they're flavorful enough. Knockout onion rings, good luck if they last all the way back to your office. Next time I'll skip the fries. Any word on their gelato?
                • Sushi Fantastic. Decent lunch time option. There's always a special under $10. Order at the counter, and they deliver to your table. Not exceptional, but fresh fish and comfortable seating.
                • Next door, I was happy with the chicken salad at Spazio, although I really wanted to pick at the fresh turkey carcass behind the counter. (They said no.) $6.95 is higher than several of the sandwiches above but cheaper than $9 at Sellers Market. What else is good? There were several Korean options along with a not exciting salad bar and two boards of sandwiches.
                • On a hot afternoon, I stopped in at Leah's for a small frozen yogurt. With sprinkles, it came to $4.55. I like ice cream and other frozen treats, but this $5 frozen yogurt business is preposterous.
                • Jackson Place Cafe off Battery makes a perfect Blue Bottle cappuccino. An elegant collection of treats too in the courtyard of a beautiful old building.

                • The teriyaki burger at Oishii cafe is as juicy as remembered. Where do they cook it? Thick cut fries aren't perfect, as if reheated in a toaster oven. Call ahead and have your white paper bag with napkins and ketchup waiting. Under $6. Yum.
                • Cafe Tomo hasn't changed either. Healthy if bland food in quiet surroundings at a modest price ($6-7). I ordered cold soba noodles with chicken and vegetables and immediately regretted not getting the ubon. One morning I'll get there in time for the chicken rice porridge.
                • Oasis has raised its prices slightly, and the line was shorter the day I went by. I had chicken shwarma for $6.95 and liked it, but wished I'd gotten a side salad or something to wash down all that protein.
                • Hodo Soy at the Tuesday farmers' market. I had spicy yuba (bean sheets), which was tasty if pricey in combination with tofu fa and ginger sauce. $10 without a drink, and you will need one.

                Sushi Fantastic
                215 Fremont St Ste 2A, San Francisco, CA 94105

                Oishii Cafe
                388 Market St Ste 107, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Cafe Leah II
                77 Beale St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                Spazio Soma Cafe
                215 Fremont St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                4 Replies
                1. re: Windy

                  Glad you are back in the general vicinity, Windy--I definitely followed some of your suggestions two years ago or so, when I started getting bored with my few regular spots after a year on 2nd between Mission and Market.

                  I have a few more suggestions for you: the old greasy burger joint, Flames, on 2nd Street, has undergone something of a redo. They have a good selection of Mediterranean food, and now feature Niman Ranch beef in their burgers. My coworkers love the burgers, but for me the big attraction is the felafel, which they make from scratch and fry to order. Same with their french fries--cut from whole potato and fried to order. Fattoosh salad is delicious, with a pomegranate molasses-based dressing and seasoned with sumac.

                  There is a Seller's Market on 2nd at Stevenson now--they have much more seating area (outdoor seating, too) than the Front location, and though I like their sandwiches occasionally, I usually get the chicken gumbo. They have a great happy hour deal on Thursdays, 3 to 6, 20 oz Anchors for $2 and a nice patio with large picnic tables. The outdoor space is large enough and semi-recessed from the street to feel like a real place to hang out, rather than an afterthought.

                  Finally, I cannot rave enough about the Sentinel on New Montg'y and Stevenson, I am addicted to their mochas and blueberry muffins. I bring in my lunch a couple days a week, and then feel ok splurging on their $8 sandwiches or the lunch combo.

                  1. re: Leadbelly

                    link 3

                    Mediterranean Flames
                    88 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                    1. re: Leadbelly

                      I'm excited to check out Flames. Actually I'm excited there's a place in the vicinity I never noticed.

                      Have you tried the sliders at Sellers' (Seller's?) Market? They looked good going by, but I'm usually disappointed with my orders there.

                      Sentinel is definitely on this month's list. It's a block too far, and I rarely get out before 1, so I hate the idea of trekking to New Montgomery in vain. Maybe tomorrow. Will report back.

                      1. re: Windy

                        Holly at the Sentinel told me they are usually packed from 12 to 1, less so after 1.

                        The sliders at SM were only ok. But I do like the salads that come with their sandwiches, it actually makes it into a good deal.

                  2. This is a really helpful list, I am going to start trying more of these places!

                    One question - I get the sense that most of these are places you order at the counter and then they may or may not have seating. I'm looking for ideas of where to meet a friend for lunch where they have table service but is not too expensive. Perry's on Sutter used to be my typical spot for something like that, not because it was great but it was OK for the price range. There's another place I go in that same block on Sutter but I can't think of the name (a door or two West from the post office). Let's say entrees under $15, where you can order a glass of wine and have a reasonably quick lunch. Location - anywhere between the Embarcadero and Kearney within a block or two of Market. In this case I'm not thinking of Asian food. Any ideas?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: LauriLF

                      Metropol or Cafe Claude are good for lunches like that.

                      1. re: farmersdaughter

                        Metropol is the place LauriLF is thinking of.

                        The options for table service but not expense account prices usually mean pretty ordinary food (Osha Thai in Embarcadero 1, The Window on Pine near Front, Yank Sing for better food but a splurge).

                        Paladar does have table service and a liquor license, and is highly recommended if you haven't been. Be sure to try the coffee.

                        1. re: Windy

                          Thanks, I will try Paladar. I also forgot about Cafe Claude, that is a good spot too.