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May 6, 2009 08:21 PM

Windy's month of lunches - SOMA edition

I got a new job, and just in time. Now located at 3rd and Harrison, I've been wandering in every direction, trying to spend under $10. So close to Moscone and yet the lunch options are spread out.

The obvious: Whole Foods. You can spend $15 if you're not paying attention at the hot foods bar. On the other hand, you can do well if you're careful, don't go when you're starving, and resist the fresh fruit drinks ($2.99, full of fresh strawberries, yum!) and cookies (don't ask). Sunny corner to eat in with free wifi and corn-based utensils. Tip: staples are very cheap if you can find them. I got a half gallon for milk, hidden way back in the farthest corner, for $2.49 to keep at the office.

Epicenter Cafe has Barefoot coffee drinks (delicious), empanadas (delicious), live music, a wine and beer license, and pumpkin bread ($4 a slice--I put it back). Hip, quiet, tasty. Wifi.

Despite inattentive service, Zesty serves big bowls of fine, well-priced Vietnamese food. I got rice noodles with pork and imperial rolls and listened to the guys at the next table discuss their poker strategies. What else is good?

Chaat Cafe has decent Indian. Kind of self-serve, kind of surly guy took my order. I liked my chicken korma. It was on my way to the interview though, so I spent a lot of time worrying about spilling it or my mango lassi on my herringbone blazer.

It had been years since I ate at Cha Am, which was packed on a rainy day. Green curry chicken was a bit salty, but the vegetables were perfectly cooked and it had a bit of kick and fresh basil. What's good here? Service was distracted. This is a nice place to sit though, and food is a cut above most mediocre Thai in the city.

We also checked out Naan and Chutney. Specials are the way to go since they come with rice and naan. Free chai for all. I had the saag ghost, which was flavorful if underspiced. Comfortable seating. Most entrees around $9, some less.

Bill's Teriyaki Kitchen is an old school dive. Japanese, burgers, Chinese. You want it, they got it. I got a chicken teriyaki and tempura combo. Teriyaki was dreadful, but tempura good enough I'd give them another try. Anyone tried the burgers? Friendly service including free delivery.

Gigi Cafe serves giant old-fashioned sandwiches with chips for $5.55. Cheerful service, made to order. I had pastrami, which was huge and okay. This is not a high-end place; more like a garage with a couple of tables in the front. Catering too. Anyone tried the burgers or breakfast burritos?

Mexico au Parc is dishing up huge burritos and the like in the old Gordo space. With two lines, it's a little confusing how to order. I got a carnitas taco and an al pastor (only so so) but while I was waiting saw what I should have ordered: the taco azteca with grilled onions and peppers and chicken or beef. Next time. Free thin chips and salsa bar, jamaica. Lunch under $7 is hard to complain about on South Park.

Thanks to proximity search on Yelp, I found Eden Plaza Cafe, on 2nd at Harrison, across from Maya. Huge menu, family run, a very friendly place. Any kind of salad, sandwich, wrap (I had a spinach wrap with a Cobb salad inside), soup, pasta, hundreds of kinds of chips and energy drinks. Like Gigi, this is good old-fashioned food--the cheese in your salad is not from goats in Bolinas. Thumbs up.

There's also a new Peet's across from Whole Foods.

Where should I eat next month? On the list: Pazzia, Chili, Lime, Garlic, and TWO to go. I heard a rumor Orson had sandwiches from a cart.

Cafe Chaat
320 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Cha AM Restaurant
701 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Mexico Au Parc
24 S Park St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Naan N' Chutney - CLOSED
474 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Whole Foods Market
399 4th St, San Francisco, CA

764 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Zesty Restaurant
850 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Gigi's Cafe
685 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

Eden Plaza Cafe
600 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

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  1. Great report!

    Chaat Cafe: I used to go here often and only ordered two things because they were outstanding. Don't miss the aloo naan served with yogurt dipping sauce. It's the best anywhere. I really like their samosas, too (served with chana).

    Cha Am: I used to go to the Berkeley location and really liked their Cha Am Noodles and their Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut milk) soup. I recall their Cashew Chicken being a standout as well.

    If you haven't already, some places to check out:
    -Maya (the to-go counter next door)
    -South Park Cafe (haven't been there but have heard good things)
    -Firewood (Metreon)
    -Mo's Burgers (Yerba Buena Center)

    Maya Restaurant
    303 2nd St., San Francisco, CA 94107

    772 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107

    101 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

    South Park Cafe
    108 South Park, San Francisco, CA 94107

    1 Reply
    1. re: katya

      Thanks Katya! I still remember having tom kha gai at Cha Am in Berkeley a million years ago and how good it was. I'm a little afraid to order a bowl in case my memory has improved the soup.

      I forget Firewood's in the Metreon. I used to eat at the one in the Castro all the time for lunch for the half pasta, half salad special.

      It's also been ages since I've been to South Park Cafe. Will report back.

    2. Maya Next Door is much better then Mexico au Parc but they can have issues with orders.

      The other places on South Park to check out is Butler and the Chef and Caffe Centro. Getting to-go and sitting in the park on a nice day is one of the best lunches in SF. Eating at Butler can take time and Centro is better just to go into the park.

      Butler & the Chef Bistro
      155 S Park St, San Francisco, CA 94107

      Caffe Centro
      102 S Park St, San Francisco, CA 94107

      1 Reply
      1. re: ML8000

        I also liked Maya Next Door, but I haven't been in about 2 years now. They have freshly made tortillas and the prices are decent ($5 for two well served tacos). I liked the chicken tinga, although it was a bit too spicy for me.

        Another place to try that's maybe a little trek is Split Pea Seduction. I have been meaning to go, so it's on my list (
        I am glad that Epicenter is still there - I was worried for them when Peet's opened on 4th.

      2. The best items at Cha Am, imo, are the cocktails, though I am not sure that does you any good for lunch, and grilled items. They seem to do a good job with grilled seafood.

        1. Can't believe no one has mentioned Samovar Tea Lounge. It's like a little oasis.

          Ask for Erik - just talking to him will improve your day.

          Samovar Tea Lounge
          730 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          1 Reply
          1. re: LAWoman

            Thanks! I am very fond of the chai at Samovar (which is on my Financial District thread). The theme meals are a bit pricey for my lunch budget though.

            What do you like, aside from Erik?

          2. Oooo. fun. My favorites from the last year:

            Brickhouse Cafe. Big tasty burgers. Some nice sandwiches. Usually good soups. Still runs you about $8. Call ahead and pick up if you want it to go.

            South Park Cafe - Pig Salad. Enough said. Let's go to celebrate something fun.

            Toaster Oven - Pretty tasty sandwiches. Made to order. Sort of like Sellar's but cheaper.

            HRD Coffee Shop - This is one of those greasy spoon dinery only in SF places. Half the menu is Chinese and the other half is lunch from a school cafeteria. If you order carefully, you can get a good tasty, cheap meal. Yes on roasted pork.. Yes on the fried rice or rice, egg, meat plates. Yes on the Turkey (fresh roasted). But No on the mashed potatoes (instant. tasteless). No on the Chicken a la King. Just tread carefully, and have fun.

            Lees - I know everyone knows about Lee's. But I really like the one on 2nd Street. Nice outdoor place to hang out. concerts on fridays in the summer and fall. And their Chinese dumplings are really good! Not the ones on the steam table, the ones you order with the noodle soups.

            Chavo's (not to be confused with Chavas in the Mission) - Mexican place. I think its better than Au Parc. Quesedillas are good. Watch out for veggie versions. Sometimes they sneak in tofu, which is a nono in my book. Tamales are pretty tasty. You always need a nap afterwards though. Also they an little outdoor seating, which can be nice.

            Zuppa Sausage Gal - Occasionally on 4th street outside of Zuppa, there's a gal who cooks sausages and peppers on this little stove on the sidewalk. mmm.

            Sandwich place on 2nd street, across from South Park. Can't remember the name. It's a deli store type place. Very good potato rosemary focaccia for sandwiches. They often sell out so you have to go early.

            Primo Patio - Caribbean food with a patio in the back on Townsend. haven't been yet, but lets try it!

            Two - Great for after work drinks happy hour!

            564 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

            Primo Patio Cafe
            214 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94107

            Toaster Oven Sandwich Shop
            145 2nd St, San Francisco, CA

            HRD Coffee Shop
            521 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

            Brickhouse Cafe & Bar
            426 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94107

            Lee's Deli
            303 2nd St Ste 101, San Francisco, CA 94107

            Chavos Mexican Restaurant
            595 Bryant St, San Francisco, CA 94107

            7 Replies
            1. re: MelissaSF


              Primo is great. Jerk chicken and spicy fries, and a sunny place to eat outside.

              And of course Le Charm, for a splurgier meal.

              Sounds like the list now includes cocktails. Has anyone been to happy hour at SOUTH yet?

              1. re: Windy

                South is also participating in the June DAT. One of these days I'll get over there for that licorice dessert.

              2. re: MelissaSF

                Hennessy's? Don't go there. The service is very odd to simply ignoring you. I worked in South Park for quite awhile and no one I knew had an okay experience. Most never got food after being ignored. I can't figure out how they stay in business.

                A couple of doors over is 21st Amendment. It's brew pub fare but good to very good.

                South Park Cafe is very good for a leisurely/casual business lunch. At 3rd/Brannan there's Koh Samui & the Monkey...v. good, not great, good for business/clients. Coco 500 is at 4th/Brannan and open for lunch. Might also try Two and their take out lunch.

                22 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA 94105

                Koh Samui & the Monkey
                415 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                598 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                21st Amendment Brewery Cafe
                563 2nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                1. re: ML8000

                  I'll not only second, but third, fourth, and fifth the rec AGAINST Hennessy's. In the decade I lived in the area I have never received good service before or after their move and there was never anything in there worth the attitude.

                  1. re: rworange

                    Interesting about Hennessy's. I've only had pleasant and tasty experiences there.

                    For drinks:
                    SOUTH is kinda expensive, so I've never gone. District is not bad, if you go on Mon-Wed. Its a little over the top with trendsters and hipsters on Thurs - Sat.

                    B in YB is good fun on (one of the 4) warm days in SF. Nice patio, good views of YB.

                    Oh and of course there's Tres Agaves for tequila fun.

                    1. re: MelissaSF

                      We have have our work cut out for us. B has $1 oysters for happy hour. South just started bar snacks and discounted wine until 6 or 7 weeknights.

                      Completely agree about the scene at District. Terroir isn't that far either.