SFGuide

The Day-Off Lunch Guide

Where to get a weekday meal when you don’t have to work.

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 24 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 during the daytime. Go forth.

THE SPOTS

It’s not every day we come across a plate of mole that we crush on like it’s Steven Yeun in a heartfelt A24 film. But you’ll find it at Donaji, a Oaxacan restaurant in the Mission that’s impossible not to fall for (like Steven Yeun in a heartfelt A24 film). Bright pink and teal walls invite you in, and you’ll want to kick back with a glass of cold sangria and make you forget about whatever’s on your Google Calendar for a while. The pollo con mole with a zigzag of crema comes with two thick tortillas on the side, and should absolutely be on your table, as should the tamales and mole-covered totopos. And since it’s not a day-off lunch without a little treat, get the churro donut dipped in gooey chocolate for dessert.

Automat is an all-day bakery and restaurant in NoPa that’s great for coffee dates and casual weeknight dinners—but our favorite time to come here is midday. The lunch menu, which covers everything from hot fried chicken sandwiches to a decadent smashburger, is built for 12pm power-ups when you want to fill up with something that isn’t an assortment of miscellaneous Trader Joe’s snacks. And a visit isn’t complete without freshly baked brioche donuts and a cinnamon roll smeared with thick frosting. Post up for a few hours in a booth with any or all of the above, a cappuccino, and a good book—and grab more pastries to-go on your way out. 

If your day off includes catching a movie at the Metreon, don’t fill up on popcorn and $7 Icees (as tempting as it may be)—just swing by Joyride Pizza in Yerba Buena Gardens for a pre- or post-movie lunch instead. The Detroit-style pies coming out of the casual counter-service spot have caramelized cheese walls and dough that stays light and airy underneath the toppings, which range from plain cheese to pepperoni and a thick stripe of tomato sauce to a veggie combination with brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and olives. They also have a great chopped salad and cocktails to sip on while you gaze out at the gardens and consider playing hooky tomorrow. 

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.

A day of not working is as good of an excuse as any to check out some of the city’s cheesiest pupusas. The menu at this casual counter-service Salvadoran spot in the Mission has over 12 types, from non-meat options like zucchini, spinach, and loroco. Our go-to is the revuelta, a gooey mix of chicharrones, beans, and cheese, which always has crispy edges and is perfectly griddled on the outside. For a heartier lunch, go with the combo that comes with plantains and beans on the side.

The bright green kaya toast from this small Richmond bakery is by far one of the most photogenic dishes in the city—and it’s delicious, too. The only problem? Breadbelly’s hours are 10am-2pm, 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 char siu 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 goldendoodle 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.

Viva Goa in the Marina is serving some of the best Indian food in town, let alone the neighborhood. Their tandoori fish always comes out sizzling and flawlessly cooked, and we frequently dream about taking a soak in a hot tub filled with their rich curries. The creamy Navrattan korma with peas, carrots, and other vegetables is a standout, but it’s hard to go wrong here. Always get extra naan to sop up every last bit of sauce.

At night, this Guamanian restaurant in the Mission is a lively backyard party. During the day, though, the outdoor patio in a converted parking lot is a different story—it’s less packed and more serene, like a picnic in your very own private garden. What doesn’t change is the fantastic food. There’s no better way to spend an hour or two than dipping plump ko’ko’ wings into tangy lemon fina’denne sauce or cutting into roasted yams with creamed spinach. Don’t skip the tender Chamorro BBQ pork ribs that fall right off the bone. 

We’ve highly considered filling up an empty milk jug with Hinodeya Ramen’s excellent dashi 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 walk-in only 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.

We swing by this Arab bakery for midday lunches with friends, even those who are visiting the city for the first time. This Mission spot serves incredible pastries, chicken wraps, flatbreads, and hummus, all of which are great for sharing out on their sunny parklet. Make sure to get any dish that comes out of the oven—this is a bakery, after all—like the freshly-baked mana’eesh smeared with caramelized onion purée, or a falafel sandwich on ring-shaped sesame bread. If you don’t get the creamy hummus topped with sumac, chickpeas, and a pool of olive oil, you will have recurring regret flashbacks.

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 a while—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). Each one is neatly layered with things like curried herring with apples and capers, and smoked chicken salad with crispy chicken skin on top

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.

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.

If Tadich Grill in the Financial District is one of those places you’ve “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.

Meandering through the Japantown mall and picking up Hi-Chews and shiba inu tote bags is our ideal way to spend a day off. And when the fruity candy runs out, stop by Sasa. The Japanese spot is home to fantastic sushi that’s spot-on every time. Plus, their menu has tons of variety—you can get into omakase at the bar, go for a mini donburi topped with uni and ikura, or try the “mystery box,” a wooden tray of chef’s choice chirashi. No matter what mood you’re in, you’ll leave here happy. 

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 fried. And you get your choice of housemade plain, cinnamon, or red velvet waffles. Plus syrup, of course, which you should drizzle all over everything.

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