If you work in downtown San Francisco - especially with the newly proposed corporate cafeteria laws that might take effect - you have probably encountered the all too common question of “where should we grab lunch today?” Many times we end up trying to juggle and weigh all the important factors that go into making this critical decision - cost, distance, time, quality, etc. - just to fall back on that same place you’ve been to twice already that week.
I’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite dishes from some amazing restaurants downtown that prove, once and for all, that “cheap and quick” doesn’t have to mean fast food, and you don’t have to sacrifice quality if you’re in a time crunch between meetings. Ready to dig in?
1. Perilla’s Five Spice Chicken Garlic Noodles - $11.00
First up is Perilla’s incredible Five Spice Chicken Garlic Noodles. Perilla has several locations in San Francisco, but the one at 510 Mission St. is super convenient for the SoMa and Financial District crowd. They offer all kinds of Vietnamese food from salads to fried tofu to pho, but they are best known for their garlic noodles. They’re packed with an unbelievable amount of flavor and the portions are extremely generous for the price. This is one dish where you can eat half or two-thirds and be totally content while still holding onto some leftovers for a late afternoon snack or dinner.
The Five Spice Chicken is out of this world. It has a very subtle sweetness mixed with the other spices. The skin is slightly crispy and covers some of the most moist and flavorful chicken I’ve ever had. The dish comes with a small container of fish sauce, which you can surely add if you’re a fan, but it’s definitely not needed at all. The whole meal is a flavor explosion that will make Perilla a worthy addition to your work lunch rotation.
Note: If vegetables are more of your thing, they have a Seasoned Vegetable Garlic Noodle dish on their menu that is just as flavorful and awesome for the same price!
2. Roli Roti’s Porchetta Sandwich - $9.50
Roli Roti is an institution crammed into a food truck and has been serving amazing non-GMO certified “gourmet street food” for 15 years. Their bread and butter is rotisserie meats served straight up or in sandwiches, but they also have some mouthwatering sides like potatoes, seasoned brussel sprouts, tomato salad, and green beans & arugula. The potatoes are placed underneath all the rotisserie meats so the fat and juices fall on them adding some ridiculously yummy flavors.
Their Porchetta Sandwich literally blew us away. The pork was cooked to perfection with crispy skin, juicy meat, and flavor-rich fat all combining to create heavenly bites from start to finish. Then, layer their house made onion marmalade on top with some arugula for good measure and you’ve got one of the best sandwiches in town!
Unlike a lot of food trucks that, for the most part, stay put, Roli Roti is always on the move so you need to plan accordingly! You can catch them in downtown SF at the locations and times above.
3. Kagawa-Ya Udon’s Kitsune Udon - $9.80
Kagawa-Ya has quickly made a name for itself in the San Francisco food scene by bringing traditional udon to SF, and by experimenting, pushing boundaries, and adding their own influences to their bowls. Clam chowder udon? Zhajiang Udon? How about Creamy Kabocha with Chicken Udon? These unique flavors might cause you to hesitate at first glance, but they’re all tasty and unique in their own way, so don’t knock ‘em till you try ‘em!
The owners actually imported a legitimate udon noodle making machine from Japan for making the freshest noodles for their dishes. The bowls are served to customers in a cafeteria line (kind of reminiscent of Henry Ford’s production lines) where they hand you the bowl you ordered and you can add pieces of tempura on the side for a little extra. But this means they crank out bowls super fast so this is a great place to go if you’re in a hurry!
The Kitsune Udon, in typical Japanese style, has subtle, light flavors and complement each other in all the best ways. The dish is served with a couple pieces of fried, lightly sweetened tofu, green onions, nori (seaweed), and some tempura crisps. While the flavors are light, I guarantee you’ll be stuffed after scarfing it down.
4. The Bird’s Fried Chicken Sandwich - $8.00
If you decide to go to The Bird, you’ll want to get there early. There’s a line out the door and down the block every day. If the line wasn’t there, you might actually walk right by it since it’s just a little hole in the wall place, but they have definitely made their mark and demand attention (rightfully so). It’s a place that focuses on pretty much one thing - Fried Chicken Sandwiches - and does it very well.
The chicken is super crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. You can get it classic (not spicy) or spicy. I would rate the spiciness level at about a medium. If your spice tolerance is high, this sandwich probably wouldn’t phase you, but the flavor and textures still make this one heck of an enjoyable meal. If you can spare a few extra bucks, I’d recommend pairing the sandwich with some curly fries or their fully loaded fries (applewood-smoked bacon, cream, green onions, melted cheddar cheese) for the complete experience.
5. Freshroll Vietnamese Rolls and Bowls’ 3 Freshrolls - $10.99
Freshroll is an awesome, healthy, refreshing alternative to some of the heavier dishes mentioned above. This is another place that gets busy quickly approaching lunch time, so make sure to get there a little early! The line moves fairly fast, though, so it’s still a relatively quick in-and-out.
Freshroll takes Vietnamese spring rolls to another level with respect to size and flavor. You can customize your three Freshrolls however you’d like, starting with lemongrass pork, grilled chicken, tofu, or garlic shrimp. Then, you can add ingredients like lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, cucumber, crispy shallots, pickled veggies, and jalapenos. Lastly, grab a side of grandma’s peanut sauce, citrus ginger, sweet & sour chili, or Vietnamese vinaigrette and you’re ready to chow down. Pick and choose, or get one of each with everything like I did! They’re ultra refreshing, a great health-conscious choice, and will definitely fill you up - they’re huge!
BONUS: Freshroll’s bowl - $9.99
If you’re heading to Freshroll and prefer a fork or chopsticks over using your hands, their Bowl is another refreshing option I had to mention. It’s the same ingredients for the most part, but just a different style AND a dollar cheaper if you’re looking to save some cash.