Shoutout to national holidays. Also, shoutout to birthdays, “sick” days, and any other days when you don’t have to work. Whatever the reason for this free day of yours, you should be making the most of it - and an easy way to do this is by getting a great lunch. On this guide, you’ll find 22 restaurants where you can get something about 10 times better than your normal weekday meal, and, as an added bonus, they should all be easier to get into in the daytime. Go forth.
If the only thing you have on the agenda today is making sure you change out of your night sweatpants and into your day sweatpants, we have a suggestion: lunch on the parklet at Family Cafe. The kissaten-inspired spot in North Beach is open from 12-5pm - and since today’s your day off, you deserve to make it there for a special treat. Like a perfectly-fried katsu sandwich on soft milk bread, or a plateful of silky smooth Japanese curry over rice. Don’t forget to snag one of their excellent cookies, too.
Waiting in line for weekend brunch at Outerlands requires the patience of someone who builds giant Lego sculptures for a living. But on a random Thursday morning, it’s almost too easy to get your hands on their cast-iron grilled cheese or an enormous sticky bun, which makes this Sunset spot the perfect candidate for your next “sick” (read: hungover) day. Grab a seat on one of their outdoor tables or take your goodies to the beach and stare out at the ocean for a couple of hours.
It’s not that hard to make a good sandwich. But making a great one that’s worthy of planning an entire day around? That’s a feat in itself - and no place does it like Deli Board. The SoMa spot cranks out absolutely massive sandwiches that are well-stuffed with everything from corned beef to tuna salad and falafel. Whatever you order off of their usual menu or titular board of daily-changing specials will be fantastic, but when in doubt, get anything with pastrami.
You could spend your day off marathon-ing old seasons of Survivor like it’s nobody’s business. Or, you could make your way to La Palma in the Mission to pick up some pupusas, carnitas tacos, and a bagful of chicharrones, and bring it all back to your couch for said marathon. Also grab some of their excellent homemade tortillas to take home - they’ll easily power you through the rest of the work week.
The bright green kaya toast from this small Richmond bakery is easily one of the most photogenic dishes in the city - and it’s delicious, too. The only problem? Breadbelly’s hours are 10am-2pm, Thursday to Sunday, so getting one requires some serious planning and/or blocking out a “dentist appointment” on your Google calendar to make it here in this narrow window of time. So keep Breadbelly in mind for your next day off, and stop by for the toast, plus some chicken karaage, a short rib sandwich, or a couple of their excellent baked goods for dessert.
On our day off, we like to aimlessly wander around North Beach and people/dog-watch to our heart’s content. We get hungry during all this, which is why we love SF Chickenbox. They do a fantastic fried chicken sandwich, plus squishy mochi muffins and a standout macaroni salad. It’s the ideal picnic meal, so grab a box of it all, take it to Washington Square, and eat it in the sun while you contemplate the pros and cons of shiba inu ownership.
Whether you’ve got family in town for the first time, are playing hooky with your roommates, or just want a kind of fancy, white tablecloth lunch all to yourself, Zuni Cafe is the answer. The Civic Center restaurant is an SF institution, and for good reason - their wood-fired roasted chicken and face-sized piles of shoestring fries are excellent. Plus, it’s the type of place that’s built for long lunches and never-ending glasses of white wine. And don’t leave without ordering their iconic Caesar salad, which puts all sad desk salads to shame.
Hinodeya Ramen Bar
We’ve highly considered filling up an empty milk jug with Hinodeya Ramen’s excellent dashi-based broth so we can take a few sips of it every day from home - it’s that good. But until we gather up the courage (and jug) to put this plan into action, we’ll settle for grabbing a table at the Japantown spot and getting into their house ramen, which comes with char siu, bamboo shoots, and a soft-boiled egg.
It doesn’t take much convincing for us to order a big bowl of soup from Turtle Tower. Their Hanoi-style pho arrives steaming hot, with flat, chewy noodles swimming in a super fragrant broth. Come here when you have as much time as you need to work your way through the whole bowl, which you can count as your accomplishment of the day.
Yank Sing has been around for over 60 years and is considered an SF classic, so it’s no surprise that crowds still gather at peak brunch times on weekends. To avoid those crowds, come to the dim sum spot on a weekday, and get your fill of dumplings and Peking duck in relative peace. They have two locations, but we like going to the one at the Rincon Center before taking a post-meal stroll along the Embarcadero.
Kantine is a Scandinavian cafe on Market Street that makes great pastries, porridges, soups, and sandwiches. The space is also well-lit and airy, which will probably make you want to pull up a wooden chair, read a book over a latte or a cinnamon knot, and stay awhile - or at least get a head start on the novel that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months. Get a smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich), which is a well-executed lesson in the art of layering.
Next time your “chill weeknight hang” turns into a Not So Chill weeknight rager, call out of work, fall back asleep, and wake up in time for lunch from Saigon Sandwich. The counter-service Tenderloin spot is home to the city’s best banh mi. The keys to their greatness are the soft, crispy roll, ample amounts of filling, and the price (they’ll only run you about $5 each). Caffeinate with their strong iced Vietnamese coffee, turn off your Slack notifications for the day, and you’re all set.
Lily is a fantastic contemporary Vietnamese restaurant in the Richmond that churns out dishes that are as delicious as they are gorgeous. The lunch menu is pretty similar to the one you’d see at dinner, with the addition of a few banh mi filled with things like roast beef or turmeric fried fish. Anything you get will be great, but make sure the shaking beef salad makes it on the table.
If you’ve elected to spend your day off chilling at Ocean Beach, consider stopping by Dumpling Kitchen on your way. There are many reasons we love this Parkside spot, from the siu mai overflowing with pork and shrimp to the juicy xiao long bao. But the highlight of a meal here is always the pan-fried pork buns, which are wrapped in a thick, chewy dough and sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions.
Most people enjoy days off because you can sleep past your alarm, or spend more quality time with friends and family. Those things are great, but we would like to submit one more reason for your consideration: the chicken katsu curry from Stonemill Matcha. On days when our lunch hour can actually be more than an hour, we like to come to the peaceful space and settle into a corner with a book, a matcha latte, and their excellent, gravy-like Japanese curry.
This Vietnamese restaurant in the Castro is a great place to pop into on a chilly day, thanks to its variety of noodle soups, like bun rieu, pho, and beef meatball. If you want a lighter protein though, go with the chicken pho. The hot bowl of soup comes with a ton of vermicelli and chicken strips, and a super comforting broth that tastes like the equivalent of getting wrapped in a weighted blanket.
Weekends at Palm City draw in lines so long you’d think there was a Supreme drop happening inside. Which is to say, weekdays are the best time to stop by the Sunset wine bar if you want a better chance of getting a seat quickly. It’s quieter then, too, so you can chill at one of their circular wooden tables or at the bar with a mortadella hoagie and a glass of natural wine, and strike up a conversation with the bartender.
Maybe you’re in the mood for a light lunch, and need an extra boost of caffeine to get you through all the errands you have to run before going back to work. Enter: The Mill. The bright, minimalist NoPa cafe makes thick-cut toasts topped with things like avocado or almond butter and sea salt, and excellent black pepper parmesan buns. And lucky for you, everything goes very well with one of their espresso drinks.
If Tadich Grill in the Financial District is one of those places you’ve probably “been meaning to get to,” use your newfound mid-day freedom to get there. It’s the oldest-running restaurant in the city, and you absolutely need to eat here at least once. Grab a seat at the bar with a bowl of cioppino and some crab cakes, and soak in the old-school vibes with a glass of wine.
Use your next day off to chill in the city’s crown jewel, a.k.a. Golden Gate Park, and maybe get around to finally visiting the deYoung or riding the ferris wheel. Before you head in, though, swing by Good Luck Dim Sum in the Richmond for some sustenance. There might be a line at the tiny Chinese bakery, but you’ve got time. Once you’re at the front, fill up a container with char siu bao the size of a baby’s head, siu mai, egg tarts, and more treats, and take them with you to eat in a sunny patch of grass.
If you want to make sure to do one thing right today, make sure it’s grabbing lunch at Bini’s Kitchen. The Nepali restaurant in SoMa makes excellent momos. We love everything about them - from the well-spiced turkey, lamb, or veggie fillings to the delicate flour wrappers to the tasty roasted tomato and cilantro sauce that comes on the side. Get the combo meal if you’re really craving momos and want to enjoy Bini’s other great dishes, like their sautéed cauliflower with peas, green onions, and spices.
It’s your day off, and you deserve better than frozen Eggos for lunch. Head to Auntie April’s in Bayview. The soul food spot delivers some of the best chicken and waffles around. What makes their version great? The chicken is tender, juicy, and perfectly breaded. And you get your choice of housemade plain, cinnamon, or red velvet waffles. Plus syrup, of course, which you should drizzle all over everything.