Take This Beautiful City Out: Grab and Go in San Francisco
By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Local Expert
Whether you're calling in for a pick-up, placing your order through grubhub.com, or showing up in person to grab and go, San Francisco offers a wide variety of take out options. The most exciting development in take out food is definitely the food truck craze, which has surged from a few taco trucks in the Mission to a fleet of trucks of all different offerings.
In fact, there are so many food trucks in San Francisco that the city is considering laws to organize this new business and create fair competition with classic "brick and mortar" restaurants. Luckily for tourists, that litigation should be years in the making, so it's still very easy to find a food truck in most San Francisco neighborhoods.
San Francisco is a city that prides itself on its food, so "take-out" is not greasy, messy or rushed - unfortunately, sometimes it's not exactly cheap, either. From the quick and classic Chinese of San Tung Chinese Bakery to the Mexican food of the Mission's infamous La Tacqueria, plus the newer food truck and "pop-up" eateries that have more complex dishes for those foodies out there, 10Best has comprised an extensive list that will get you good food fast.
San Francisco Soup Company
Soup is on the menu year round in San Francisco, a place that can stay in the high 50's for much of August. If you find yourself in downtown San Francisco on one of those days when it feels like the wind and fog are barreling right through you, head to San Francisco Soup Company for a bowl or cup of their organic Southwestern Corn Chowder or organic Smoky Split Pea. On a chilly day, the best part of this grab and go item is that it will warm both your hands and your insides. And since all coups come with a generous hunk of sourdough bread, this quick and inexpensive meal will give you all the energy you need to tackle San Francisco's hills. ((415) 834-0472)
Saigon Sandwich Shop
Although dimsum will always reign as the classic San Francisco takeout food, The Vietnamese sandwich has gotten more and more popular in recent years. And no one puts together these sandwiches like the Saigon Sandwich shop, which is no more than a hole in the wall in San Francisco's Tenderloin area, a great place to grab food and go....sometimes very quickly, since it's not always the safest of neighborhoods for tourists. The trip is worth it for the signature sandwich, the Banh mi, the Vietnamese terms for bread which is then filled with your choice of pork, sausage, or chicken and dressed with cucumber, cilantro and pickled carrots. ((415) 474-5698)
Clement Street in central San Francisco offers many sit down restaurants, but it's hard to beat Genki for its speed, quality and convenience in the take out category. If you're in the mood for savory, choose meats such ham, chicken, tuna salad to stuff your crepe. If you're looking for dessert, have an ice cream filled crepe. If you need to fill both hands, grab one of both to go, and get back out on Clement Street, one of the lesser known, wonderful neighborhoods, full of interesting bookstores and secondhand shops. Walking down Clement Street with a Genki crepe in one hand is definitely a San Francisco experience worth having. (415-379-6414)
No take out list would be complete without at least one pizzeria. If you're partial to Chicago-style, check out Zachary's in Berkeley, where they specialize in that city's thick, doughy crust. But if you need the slim and simple slice that screams NYC, head to Arinell's. If you're with a group, they'll fix you a pie for a reasonable price. If you just need a few slices, they'll have those piping hot in a New York minute. And, since it stays open late in the popular Mission district, Arinell is a great late-night stop when you need that quick bite before heading off to bed. ((415) 255-1303)
Good Mong Kok Bakery
You can't really experience San Francisco without visiting Chinatown, and you can't really experience Chinatown without eating dimsum, and you can't really say you've had dimsum until you've tried the dimsum at Good Mong Kok Bakery. The service is fast if not friendly, but there may still be a wait for takeout, as this place is renowned. But it's well worth the wait. Load up on wontons, dumplings and egg rolls and wander the streets of Chinatown, munching to your heart's delight for a true San Francisco experience. Be sure to grab some black tea to wash the take-out down, too. ((415) 397-2688)
San Tung Chinese Restaurant
A hidden gem of San Francisco's Sunset district, San Tung Chinese Restaurant boasts a menu that consistently impresses locals and visitors alike. The most popular item by far is the original dry-fried chicken wings, but other patron favorites include the shrimp and leek dumplings, hot and sour soup, string beans and black bean sauce noodles. With so many Chinese restaurants to choose from, San Tung stands out for the freshness of their ingredients and the quality of their service. A San Francisco visit isn't complete without some Chinese food, so be sure to stop by San Tung Chinese to make your San Francisco visit complete. (415-242-0828)
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
If you still have savory dreams from childhood of two slices of perfectly buttered toast squeezing out melted cheddar cheese, this restuarant is for you. And, even though the recipe is simple, they take their one product very seriously, with "Commander in Cheese" Heidi Gibson dreaming up delectable sandwiches such as "The Mousetrap," which has an unforgettable mix of Tillamook Cheddar, havarti and Monterrey jack. And since grilled cheese should go hand-in-hand with tomato soup, be sure to order a to-go cup of their house-made Smoky Tomato Soup. If you think you know grilled cheese sandwiches, swing by The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and get an education about this simple American masterpiece. (415-243-0107)
Off The Grid
When you get a half-dozen or more food trucks circled up like the OK corral, takeout food is taken to a whole new level. Why settle on one option when you can get Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and South American in one delectable truck round-up? And now that "Off The Grid" has been in the Bay area for awhile, it's become even more popular, drawing an eclectic crowd of locals and tourists. Even though you can grab and go, you might find the "Off The Grid" crowd provides the best ambience around - as well as a fantastic local resource on what should be your next San Francisco highlight. (415.779.6684)
The Codmother Fish and Chips
Location location, location works for this simple but popular seafood restaurant. If you're looking for fancy atmosphere, The Codmother is not your place, since you might have to fight off hungry seagulls while sitting at their modest patio tables. But if you want perfectly grilled, fried or baked fish, you can't do much better than this charming restaurant. While the fish and chips are a must-try, their Prawn Cocktail on a Hoagie Roll is inventive and adventurous. If you're feeling especially adventurous - and are not too worried about clogged arteries - sample some of their carny-style fried desserts, like their Fried Snickers Bar that will definitely turn heads as you walk around the piers. ((415) 606-9349)
At La Taqueria, you'll not only get a great Mexican meal, but you'll save a little cash too! The menu specializes in burritos, tacos, and quesadillas served with beef, pork, sausage, or chicken. Carne asada comes highly praised, and chorizo sausage must be sampled before you leave. And don't be discouraged by long lines, even if it's winding all the way back to the bathrooms. This longstanding family run operation will build you a tasty burrito, taco or fajita in no time at all. Be sure to grab a few samples of their red and green salsas on the way out, too. (415-285-7117)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom. Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
Read more about Tom Molanphy here.