For those of us who live in San Francisco, finding the really good places to eat on a budget in Union Square can be a serious challenge. There are a lot of chains and a lot of expensive options, and many of them are geared towards tourists’ tastes, so a lot of the options aren’t that interesting. When I moved my studio space to Market Street last year, I accepted the challenge and set out to find places to find a decent lunch for under $10.
75 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94108
The low-down - Tiny, not many places to sit, but so close to Union Square that you can make a picnic out of it. They have a $9 lunch deal for under with half sandwich/half salad or small soup. And you can add coffee to this deal for an extra $1. They have, without a doubt, the most interesting mix of meat/vegetarian/gluten/gluten-free options. It is the kind of cafe that you can bring almost anyone to regardless of their dietary restrictions. They have daily quiches without the crust (great for anyone with a gluten allergy). And vegan concoctions too! Bonus - the food is delicious and I am especially partial to their case full of chocolate covered things - chocolate covered candied grapefruit peel being my chief weakness, followed by their homemade chocolate peanut butter cups.
157 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94109
What to get - Um, the Freshrolls. Or the rice/noodle bowls, or the sandwiches. Really, everything is good. It’s like the Vietnamese answer to Chipotle - everything is prepared to order right in front of you. My favorite thing to order is their bowl, and you can get it with half rice and half salad as the base. The lunch lines get long after 12:30 (especially if there is an event at Moscone) so I use the Order Ahead app to jump the line.
865 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Food Court?!? Food Court. If you grew up in any kind of suburb, “food court” probably makes you think of major chains and limited, greasy options - i.e. bland and unhealthy. Fortunately for us, the Westfield Mall bucks this trend by offering more local chains and higher quality restaurants for their food court. I love Andalé for their Tacos Dorados, tostada salad and aguas frescas. Caffe Central has the best lunch deal downtown. They have mini sandwiches for under $6, and you can add a side salad for $3. Their beet salad and kale salad are particular favorites of mine. I also love Loving Hut for their vegetarian (and vegan!) take on Vietnamese food.