Restaurants & Bars

Windy's month of lunches 2008 [San Francisco]

Windy | May 10, 200808:16 AM     81

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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