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Chris Hennes

[SF] Light breakfast and lunch options in Union Square area

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I'll be in San Francisco for a few days soon, and I'm looking for some light breakfast and lunch options within walking distance of Union Square Park. Any cuisine, probably at the lower end of the price spectrum considering the dinner lineup, however. Any suggestions?


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Last time I was out there I tried a great burmese place called Burmese Kitchen. It's an easy walk from union square, but it's in a pretty rough neighborhood so it's definitely more of a lunch place than a dinner place. If you read about it online, it's also called 'larkin express deli'... I think they recently changed the name!

It's quite cheap and it's got some good light options. The tea leaf salad was fantastic, and I enjoyed the pork with mango pickles (both pictured). We also tried a roti, which was similar to a malaysian roti but, but the sauce that came with it didn't pack the flavor punch we'd hoped it would.

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David made a great suggestion and is one that is always on my list of places for people who are visiting because it is so different, inexpensive, and fabulous.

You haven't told us what your dinner line-up is which would help in making breakfast and lunch suggestions. I'm assuming some of the local biggies or are you coming in for the Benu opening?

Shockingly, one of my stalwart lunch suggestions is the food court in the Westfield Mall. I say shockingly because it is a food court but it is a really good food court. The eateries I frequent is Out The Door, the faster version of Slanted Door which is at one end of the food court and this Japanese place at the other end (sorry, they recently renamed it and I can't recall the new name). But I ADORE their poke bowl which is a rice bowl with poke-prepared ahi, pickled seaweed, thinly sliced apples, avocado, pickled cucumbers, ginger, and wasabi. Really good and really cheap. There is also Rick Bayless' restaurant, Frontera Fresco in the basement of the Macy's.

And what do you consider a light breakfast? The three best breakfast joints in the city are within walking distance; Brenda's Soul Food, Dottie's True Blue Diner, and Canteen (only open on weekends). None of those would be considered "light" but they are incomparable.

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I'll definitely check out Burmese Kitchen, it sounds great. Out the Door and your Japanese place also sound good, so I'll make sure to wander through the food court.

For dinner I've got reservations at Aziza, SPQR, and Acquerello. Hence my request for a low price-point lunch! As for "light" breakfasts: I'm just not looking for a massive plate of food (again, see dinner lineup). But if anyplace in the area is particularly noteworthy I will give it a shot, light or no. I won't be there on any weekend days so Canteen is out, but I can definitely check out Brenda's and Dottie's. Are these places typically busy? Is there a "best" time to get there?


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Yes, both Brenda's and Dottie's are busy and lines start to form a good half-hour before they open. The earlier you can get there, the better especially since those are big, hearty breakfasts and may make it that you will want a lighter lunch. Also walking distance from Union Square is La Boulange (on Market). They have very good breakfast pastries. Mint Plaza has Blue Bottle Coffee which would be another light breakfast option; the best coffee in the city and well-prepared breakfast options that would be significantly lighter than Brenda's or Dottie's.

Another lunch place of note is Naked Lunch in North Beach. My review is here. If you have time and want a nice long walk, I have done it and would take 45 minutes to an hour from Union Square (depending if you walk quickly or dawdle).

At Burmese Kitchen, make sure to order the Ginger Salad. That is my standard although I love everything on the menu. At Aziza, the Chef's Tasting Menu is the best thing to order; you actually get more food for the money than ordering a la carte.

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Burmese Kitchen is a must--it is my favorite Burmese in the city (and I have tried them all).

Canteen might not be open early on weekdays, but The Sentinel, a to go breakfast/lunch counter by the same chef is. I'm not a big fan of Out the Door--I can't tell if I have just ordered poorly (I've tried the bahn mi and a special duck dish) or if they've succumbed to the genrally blander style of cooking that tends to happen when a cuisine goes upscale. I wanted to like them, since they claim to serve sustainably sourced meats. I found both dishes to be quite bland, however, and knowing that Saigon Sandwich, and the other Vietnamese-run bahn mi shops weren't that far away. But for mall food and convenience, it isn't bad, it just doesn't have the flavor I expect from Vietnamese food. The same could be said of 'witchcraft in the same mall. Pretty good for mall food, but it didn't blow me away.

My favorite Thai place so far has been Lers Ros Thai. It is well into the Tenderloin, but I find it worth it to walk through the chaos (crackheads) to get there, Burmese Kitchen, and the bahn mi shops on Larkin. Though if you want to stick to Union Square for Thai I was pleasantly surprised the time I stopped by the King of Thai Noodle House next to Macy's because I was starving. The made a perfectly cooked pad kee mao. And if I were in Union Square every morning I would check out some dim sum in Chinatown, which is very close. I don't have any specific recommendations, as my dim sum scouting has taken place in the Richmond and Oakland, though I used to get the to-go dim sum from some places on Stockton street on my brief lunch breaks when I worked at a coffee shop near the Stockton tunnel. People generally recommend the upscale, cleaned-up Yank Sing. It isn't in Chinatown, but the Stevenson branch would be a reasonable walk from Union Square, or you could always take public transportation and be at the Embarcadero in 5-10 minutes. Oh, and I also like Taqueria Cancun on Market, also in a divey area, though I wouldn't call the signature San Francisco burrito a light lunch. Two tacos would be light enough, though. Have fun!!

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... the bahn mi shops on Larkin.

Do you have a favorite there? I had heard great things about saigon sandwich on larkin from the friend I was staying with last time, but I was only on larkin right after eating at burmese kitchen so I didn't end up trying it.

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I was just in San Francisco last week and unfortunately didn't get to eat at all of the places I had planned. I didn't make it to any of the good breakfast places because I couldn't get the kids out of bed before 8am (darn jet lag) and the waits were just too long by then. Unless you want to wait get there when they open! Burmese Kitchen was probably my favorite meal. The tea leaf salad was great and we devoured the fried tofu appetizer in about 10 second. The Burmese fried rice was a huge hit with the kids and I barely got any but loved what I did.

Blue bottle has incredible coffee don't miss it if you are a coffee lover, I would have stopped every day if there had been one closer to my hotel.

My cousin took me to this wonderful El Salvadorian place out in the Mission, but I can't remember the name of it at the minute. The pupusas were so good the kids were fighting over them. We also stopped at Mitchell's for ice cream, they had this new Italian fig flavor that I'm still dreaming about! We went to these places by car so I'm not sure how accessible they are by public transportation.


Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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My cousin took me to this wonderful El Salvadorian place out in the Mission, but I can't remember the name of it at the minute. The pupusas were so good the kids were fighting over them. We also stopped at Mitchell's for ice cream, they had this new Italian fig flavor that I'm still dreaming about! We went to these places by car so I'm not sure how accessible they are by public transportation.

There are a handful of El Salvadorian places in the Mission; some of the best are El Salvador at 2278 Mission Street, La Santaneca De La Mission at 2815 Mission St (there is another La Santaneca at 3781 Mission as well), Los Panchos at 3206 Mission Street, and Balompie Cafe at 3801 Mission St.

Torakris - report back on where else you ate!

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I just returned from this trip and managed to catch three of the lunch options mentioned, but never did make it to breakfast. It's hard to be hungry in the morning after such gigantic dinners!! Here are my (somewhat terse) notes...

Monday lunch - Burmese kitchen

Ginger salad (I think? Ginger, peanut, pistachio, sesame seed, cabbage). This was excellent, a really wonderful flavor combination.

Tamarind fish. Pretty mild, but not bad.

Potato curry. Not really to my taste, it was like eating a bowl of cinnamon.

Pumpkin stew. Nice flavors, more sweet potato than pumpkin, but good.

Tuesday lunch - Kichi Grill (Westfield Mall Food Court)

I think this was the Japanese place that Carolyn was talking about. I got the Poke Bowl as recommended, and it was very good (though I'm not much of a judge of Japanese food). Just watch out for that little nugget of Wasabi hiding under there, it can sneak up on you!!

Wednesday lunch - Slanted Door

Kumamoto oysters. Hard to go wrong with these, I think. I probably tried the sauces and then didn't give them a second thought, I prefer my oysters unadorned. These were delicious, perfectly shucked, fresh as can be.

Crispy imperial rolls. Crispy and very good. Nice flavor, and nice accompaniments.

Rice noodle stir-fry with chicken, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, bean sprouts and egg. There was stuff besides rice noodles on this plate? It wasn't a bad dish, but that long list of ingredients had me expecting a little more than a plate of noodles with a few sprouts and a token mushroom. The rice noodles were a bit stickier than I might a have liked, predominant white pepper flavor that I did not object to.

Crispy egg noodles with prawns, scallops, squid, carrots, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms. Tasted overwhelmingly of shrimp, which were plentiful, but not of much else, though in contrast to the previous plate there was plenty of other stuff on the plate. Everything was well cooked, but the flavor was nothing to write home about.

Service a bit slow at lunch, but friendly enough. We had no reservations, but no problem getting seated, although it was quite busy. Wednesday is a non-market day, I'd guess that on a market day you'd want a reservation, or a good amount of patience.

I also grabbed a coffee and an espresso at the Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building. The coffee was very good, the espresso mediocre. Finally, a cherry turnover at Frog Hollow Farms' store in the Ferry Building, which was delicious.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Sorry about Blue Bottle - I should have said that the drip coffee is the best thing to order. I read all your other posts and glad you had a nice time in our city; just sorry it has been so cold, although that might have been enjoyable for you if you have been suffering from too much heat in Oklahoma!

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The Old Navy was the only place open early enough when I discovered I needed a sweater in August(!!), it's now the trendiest piece of clothing I own. :smile:

I wish I had more time to explore the breakfast and lunch options, but the recommendations above served me very well. And I definitely agree about Blue Bottle, their freshly-brewed drip coffee was really good. Maybe next time I'm in the city I'll skip the big dinners and focus on breakfast instead.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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The Old Navy was the only place open early enough when I discovered I needed a sweater in August(!!), it's now the trendiest piece of clothing I own. :smile:

I know. I had to go buy a new wool coat last week! This is our coldest summer in ages and it is getting REALLY old to go out with gloves and scarves in August...

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I frequent Saigon Sandwich, though that is partially because I am most often in the are on Sundays, when the Civic Center Farmer's market is also going on, and most other places are closed. I certainly recommend it over Lee's, but Wrap Delight is also quite good. Or at least it was two years ago when I made it there on a weekday. Usually grilled pork is my favorite sandwich, but meatball might be my favorite there.

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      * * *

      David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food, reviews restaurants and -- obviously -- does food presentation. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team for the Culinary Culture and Kitchen forums.
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