To those of you who are braving Union Square holiday shopping I say, Godspeed! I also say don’t forget to stop for lunch.
Here are my picks for the best inexpensive lunches in the Union Square area:
There are only a handful of stools so jockeying may be necessary; needless to say this is not the place to go if you are shopping en masse. Order the pork katsu curry, along with a kabocha squash croquette on the side. 307 Kearny St., 415-773-1101
The location of Rick Bayless’ casual Mexican joint, in the basement of Macy’s, is convenient but hardly romantic. No matter—you’re just taking a quick break anyway, right? Recharge with the tortilla soup (which is perfectly delicious without the addition of the optional chicken) or the giant vegetable torta. In the basement of Macy's, 170 O'Farrell St., 415-296-4349
There’s nothing more restorative then a big bowl of ramen noodles. At Katana-ya, we always opt for the hunger-smashing kimchi and tofu ramen with miso broth, which may well be the best meal under $10 in this part of town. 430 Geary St., 415-771-1280
Skip the sandwiches and go straight for the appetizer platter—hummus, smoky baba ghanoush, tabouli, ultra-garlicky ezme (a red pepper dip) and potato and eggplant salads, accompanied by a basket of warm pita. 552 Jones St., 415-928-1966
These may be the most lovely sandwiches in town. Ideally proportioned, we adore the tuna and piquillo pepper one, as well as the turkey, shaved celery and goat cheese creation. Though lunch options change frequently, one thing remains constant—an expertly executed cappuccino and a cookie will help fuel your shopping madness. 66 Mint St.
If you don’t ruin your meal with the fresh, warm tortilla chips (let’s just say we’ve done it before), try a plate of tacos accompanied, if you dare, by a very strong margarita made with fresh juice, the glass rimmed with spicy salt. 75 Yerba Buena Ln., 415-243-0299
Two words: French fries. Three: French Onion soup. Duck into this alley for a break from the crowds and restorative French bistro fare. 7 Claude Ln., 415-392-3505