Windy | May 1, 200501:55 PM     52

or as one of my co-workers says, $8 a day and you still get fat.

Lunch in the Financial District has been the worst part of my otherwise wonderful new job. I hadn't worked in this area regularly for more than ten years. Lunch in Emeryville and SOMA in the 90s was a great adventure, somewhere new to discover nearly every week.

But down near Embarcadero & Market, it's a steady diet of overdressed salads, overpriced pressed sandwiches, greasy pseudo-ethnic food, dumbed down for suburban tastes, and the occasional splurge. I expected the hundreds of Starbucks outlets but wasn't prepared for the Subway invasion. And while Subway isn't my idea of a great meal, at least it's cheap.

While I've mined the list of Friday chowdowns, I don't have the luxury of long meals in the middle of a workday. I'd rather spend under $10 (and $6 or 7 would be better).

Kamakura on Battery. Mediocre donburi, soba, and uninspired heavy tempura. Friendly staff, nice place to relax and read or hang with a friend. I usually get the grilled saba (mackerel) bento. Set your expectations low, and you might become a regular.

Tadich Grill. Cool atmosphere, rude waiters, okay but expensive seafood. Better after a bloody Mary, I suspect. Lump crabmeat and shrimp salad was not great. Tiny iced tea, never refilled.

Torrefazione on California & Battery. Okay. Trendy scene for those too cool for Starbucks. Nice logo. Overpriced cookies, but they do sell Brown Cow yogurt. Cappucino at Peet's is better.

Lee's Sandwiches. One of the best values. The big branch on Battery is not as good as the one on Front at California. (Many of the employees making sandwiches don't speak much English, and I had trouble getting a sandwich without mayo. Then they offered me cucumber and told me after I'd said yes that it was extra.) Turkey is fresh roasted, not pressed, for under $4 and they have cranberry sauce. Rolls aren't as good as remember. Shrimp salad is okay. Fruit salad is quite good but might double your bill.

Henry's Hunan. I was a regular at Henry's on Bryant for years, generally sticking to either rice plate #1 or the cold noodles with chicken and peanut sauce. Jeff always brought me hot and sour soup. The branch on Clay is awful--smoked ham was salty, greasy, and flavorless. Holding out hope for the one on Natoma, which is rumored to be better.

Sweet Max's in 101 California. Okay rare roast beef and good chicken noodle soup. Beautiful fresh turkey and the chicken on the chicken salads is fresh roasted. My friend pronounced the onion soup "sherry soup." Awful coleslaw. Used to be pricey but now a relative bargain.

Cafe Rocca in the back of 100 Pine by the MUNI heart. Decent salads garnished with fresh steamed broccoli and cauliflower, run by a Spanish speaking Korean-American woman. Jars of rice krispies treats.

Specialties. All our catered lunches come from here. The veggie sandwiches with the shredded carrots are good, even if they don't have any protein. Salmon salad is tasty. Giant cookies, the size of small cakes. They slice the strawberries, which I like.

Palapas on Pine. Sorry, can't do fake Mexican taco salads. I'll take Chevy's instead.

Chevy's in Embarcadero 3. Despite being big enough to wash your hair in, the margaritas are really vile. We ordered top shelf ones, and they were far too sweet--nearly undrinkable until the ice melts. The happy hour bargains are only in the bar area, which they didn't tell us until after we'd ordered in the restaurant. Good guacamole for typically outrageous prices. The nachos were delivered with burned tops.

Sapphire on Sacramento and Battery. Another steam table, this one with a few Burmese dishes. The rice noodles are okay (bland). The Burmese garlic chicken is good. $5.29 for two entrees and a rice or noodles. Very blue walls. Full bar at dinner. Anywhere else, I wouldn't be impressed, but one of the more promising meals I've had downtown.

Birley's Sandwiches, Embarcadero 4. They're huge, expensive, and the clientele spends more on a suit than I do on a vacation. But I like this place. Plus they have occasionally interesting fresh fruit--4 tiny tangerines for $1 one day. The roast beef is rare. Get half a sandwich and one of their fancy soups for $6.95. (As everywhere downtown, pick up a frequent buyer card.)

Bananas on Pine. Very friendly steam table Thai and American grill at the front. Get the combo plate--2 entrees plus rice (but they'll substitute pad thai for the rice) for $6.95. Greasy but good orange chicken. I get whatever veggie entree has just come out. Pretty indistinguishable sauces and flavors, but lots of food and sri racha on the table.

Seller's Market. Known in my office as S&M. Pastries from Boulangerie/Bay Breads--I'm hooked on the blueberry madeleines for breakfast. $2 muffins. Friendly cooks, clueless order takers, very odd layout. Pulled BBQ chicken salad was awful--fake smoke, overdressed. Pizzas are paper thin. Tiny containers of Sharffenberger pot de creme for $2, great looking yogurt and fruit parfaits--for $4.75? Rotisserie chicken looks good--but would make more sense if they were open when I leave work to take one home. Goood Frikken Chicken this is not.

Tea Garden on Mission & 1st. The beef noodle soup is okay; the tendon was yummy, but I wasn't wowed by the salty broth. I like their won ton a lot. Not great if you want to eat there: you have to stare at yourself in the mirror.

Happy Sushi truck by the Pacific Stock Exchange. Fine sushi for $7 for assorted nigiri. Sometimes he has spider rolls. Plus he's a sweet guy. Maybe it's just the principle. Not there on Wednesday.

Arabi in the Rincon annex. Tried the pastitio with salad for $6.95. More like spaghetti with meat sauce and some eggy custard, but tasty and fresh.

The Gap cafe. Excellent condiments and mashed potatoes. And real silverware. I liked my grilled sausage but was surprised it was served without a bun. Not open to the public, and make sure your button down shirt is ironed.

Oasis on Drumm. What a scene! I got in line for my chicken schwarma with hot sauce along with another 20 or 30 people, paid, and then wondered how I would know which was mine without a number. The guys behind the counter have some mysterious system--since practically everyone orders chicken schwarma with some variation. $6.95 and I like Truly Med's better. But pretty good. Next time I'll get the lamb gyro.

On the list to try: Cafe Madeleine, Yank Sing 2 Go, Cafe Algiers, maybe Bistro Burger and the $5 smoothie place on Front. One of the engineers promised me a cafe with live music on Friday afternoons.

Help me out here, folks. I've got another 11 months of this. Or I could just live on chocolate bars from Fog City and Acme epis.

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