Lunch can be like quicksand. You dip your toe in and all of a sudden you’re recreating a scene from Jumanji, trying to find the healthiest option before you finally succumb to too many slices of pizza during a lunch-and-learn. Before you know it, you’re comatose at your desk while Jim is kicking off the goals review meeting without you.
Don’t let this happen. There are places for a healthy lunch all over the city, and by ‘healthy’ we don’t mean sad salad bars with mix-in options ranging from croutons to herbed croutons. We’ve rounded up the best options for healthy midday eating whether you want an actually-good salad, a sandwich, or grain bowl. No food coma naps for you today.
FIDI / EMBARCADERO
The Plant is the safest bet for healthy food you can make. Smoothies, juices, salads, quinoa bowls - the good-for-you gang’s all here. There are lots of seats inside if you want to linger over your kale-quinoa mashup, and they run an efficient to-go operation if you need food fast. The Plant has two other city locations, and a bunch more scattered around the Bay Area for your lunching needs. The dino kale salad and Full Belly Bowl are our favorites.
Eatsa serves a variety of quinoa bowls that you order from an iPad, and then wait patiently outside a set of lockers to pick yours up without any need for human interaction. If you’ve got social anxiety and don’t mind getting your food from a robot, this is the place for you. Having said that, Eatsa’s bowls are surprisingly cheap and surprisingly delicious. Be polite though - some day those robots will be our overlords.
The Chipotlization of America is real. Pretty soon you’ll be designing babies out of four options and paying extra to have them arrive wearing a guacamole hat. Dabba takes this model of tacos, bowls, and wraps and applies it to Caribbean/Indian/Mediterranean food. It’s quite good and affordable, and also has lots of outdoor seats.
The best deal in FiDi might be Heyday’s $11 lunch special - you can choose two from a soup, salad, and half sandwich options. Everything is healthy, changes regularly, and there isn’t a single sad plastic-wrapped sandwich in sight. The kale salad is something you will actually enjoy, and it doesn’t even have bacon in it.
Sababa is another assembly line situation, but in this case they’re serving Middle Eastern food. The salads - especially the carrots and roasted cauliflower - are phenomenal, and the hummus and eggplant are excellent too. We’d like this place to sweep the nation.
A cafe practically under the freeway is not generally a place you’d associate with picnics. However, Picnic on Third manages to feel, if not picnick-y, at least pleasant. Because they serve hot food instead of the usual sandwich/salad stuff, it can be crowded and a bit slow, but this food is worth it. The menu changes daily, but there are always vegetarian and meat options, and it’s a nice change of pace from your usual plastic tub of lettuce plus five random vegetables set-up.
There are a million make-your-own salad joints, but in a sea of dime-a-dozen soulless places, Sweetgreen is on its own level. The quality is high, the portions are hearty, and the dressings you can put on your bowl of health are excellent. It’s a national chain that will probably take over the world soon, and they’ve officially set up their first outpost in SoMa.
From the outside, this looks like a Disneyland Ye Olde Shoppe that serves fresh eggs and hay. Inside, it also looks like this. Luckily, they actually serve amazing salads - either ordered off the menu or choose your own adventure. Blue Barn’s take-out operation is excellent, but they also have plenty of seats inside if you want to take your time. The only catch is that you will easily spend $20 on lunch, especially if you want to add any sort of protein to your pile of lettuce. The Marina location has also recently doubled in size, so keep that in mind for when you’re struttin’ the ’Nut.
mid-market / union square
Mazarine, on Market Street, serves beautiful toasts and insanely good salads for a coffee shop. They then go and one-up themselves by having many outlets and wifi. If you’re a freelancer, see if you can establish permanent residency here. We are particularly into the salmon toast.
Not somewhere you’d find unless you’re looking for it, Azalina’s - located in the generally overpriced food hall/grocery store in the Twitter building - does lunch right. This is spicy, fresh Malaysian food that’s light and comforting at the same time. On a cold day the laksa noodle soup is the move.
This is a hole-in-the-wall on Market Street that serves fantastic falafel and hummus and pita. There are no meat options, but everything is filling enough that you won’t miss it. Definitely plan on grabbing it to-go, unless you feel like standing on the sidewalk while wolfing down a sandwich.
HAYES VALLEY / NOPA / THE CASTRO
All-day breakfasts should never be underestimated. Omelets can be a healthy lunch (if you get less cheese than is your natural inclination), and The Grove makes them right. Besides eggs, the salads are sizeable and good, especially the Berkeley Bowl. There are outdoor seats for people watching and tons of space and comfy chairs inside for a leisurely midday meal and/or siesta.
Little Gem is basically a spa restaurant in fast-casual form. It’s all very serene, and nothing has any gluten, dairy, or added sugar, so you’ll walk out feeling like you just spent a weekend at Canyon Ranch. The bowls are filling enough for a meal but the salads are too small to get you through the rest of your day - stick with the former and you’ll be good.
The Souvla empire is slowly expanding and we are all better for it. The Nopa location has a stellar outdoor area with a big communal table, and the usual menu of delicious Greek salads and wraps. Since this is a healthy lunch guide, we’ll advise you go with a salad. And Greek frozen yogurt to go. Not technically part of lunch.
It wouldn’t be a healthy lunch guide without some raw fish in the mix. I’a Poke is one of our favorites in the city because the fish is very fresh, the people are nice, and the tamago (egg) topping makes everything better. You can pick from pre-set options or make your own - you can’t go wrong either way.
cow hollow / marina / pac heights
When all you want for lunch is something easy, plain, and kind of good for you, Rooster & Rice is your spot. The thing here is rice bowls topped with chicken (or tofu), and you can add broccoli, some delicious sauces, and even a poached egg if you feel the need. And in case you don’t think you want to eat like a dog with an upset stomach, know this is actually a super satisfying and healthy meal. There are no real seats except a few sidewalk tables though, so plan accordingly.
Jane is a mecca for moms, working from home people, and children auditioning for Baby Gap commercials. The salads are massive and delicious, the sandwiches are awesome, and the wifi is strong and steady. Given the great natural light and pretty tiles, this place is also catnip for influencers in their fancy Tevas.
richmond / sunset
Judahlicious is the real deal - raw, vegan, and very concerned with your well-being. Over-the-top healthy people are unsurprisingly obsessed with this place, but it’s worth noting for the rest of us that Judahlicious is actually good. Provided you don’t have a nut allergy, because cashew cream sauce flows like water here. The food is generally hearty, but if you’re in the market for acai bowls, they do those right too.
In case you needed clarification, Nourish Cafe is here to provide nutrients. The all-vegetable menu is long, with salads that are actually satisfying and a lot of nut-cheese toasts. The place has a great local feel and just a few tables inside where you can watch the vegan sausage being made in the open kitchen. The food, from the breakfast acai bowls to the hearty lunch salads, is fantastic and fresh - we love this place.