It’s the answer to Morgan Spurlock’s dreams: fast-food takeout that’s gourmet, healthy, and cheap. It sounds improbable. But thanks to several award-winning local chefs, the much-maligned fast-casual food industry is in for an awakening. Perhaps it’s time the Super Size Me documentarian did a drive-by in San Francisco.
Every football Sunday this past fall, celebrity chef Michael Mina traded in table service for cafeteria-style 49ers tailgates at his new restaurant, Bourbon Steak and Pub, in Levi’s Stadium. In addition to his own fare, he invited some of the country’s top chefs (Thomas Keller, Christopher Kostow, and Ming Tsai, among them) to fancify beer-friendly staples, such as Chicago beef sandwiches, Seattle fish and chips, and St. Louis barbecue ribs, incorporating regional flavors from the opposing team’s hometown. Mina continues to plate up the football feast seven days a week at the stadium and also adapts such decadent signature dishes as oak-roasted short ribs and Maine lobster pot pie for fans in the off-season.
But Mina isn’t the only highbrow chef bringing normcore to the restaurant world. This spring, none other than Joshua Skenes, the tweezer-wielding chef-owner of Michelin three-starred Saison, is also getting in the game. Along with Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, he is realizing a longtime dream: Fat Noodle will specialize in hand-pulled noodles inspired by China’s Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces. Diners will traverse an assembly line of classic flour and rice noodles and a myriad of tasty, locally sourced accompaniments (meat, veggies, garnishes, and sauces) to create a customized meal for under $10.
Think that’s cheap? Chef-restaurateur Daniel Patterson (Coi, Plum Bar) is not to be outdone. He’s teaming with Los Angeles street-food king Roy Choi for an upmarket homage to the Golden Arches: Loco’l will rival McDonald’s prices but serve healthier, local ingredients—think 99-cent seasonal veggies and tofu-and-chicken nuggets, and $2 grain-and-beef burgers topped with buns by Tartine’s Chad Robertson. Patterson and Choi plan to target underserved neighborhoods beginning this spring in the Tenderloin, an area that Choi calls a “food desert” for its lack of healthy dining options. They also aim to open in East Oakland and LA’s Huntington Park. Choi says, “Loco’l is going to be on as many corners as Taco Bell.”
This article was published in 7x7's February 2015 issue. Click here to subscribe.