I've been working in Union Square now going on 10 years which has gained me some keen insight into eating on the cheap around these parts. Not known for its culinary prowess, this part of town still has some good eats—you just have to pick and choose, even within each restaurant.
1. For blustery days, my new favorite go-to soup is the organic chicken pho at Urban Picnic (a spot that I'd written off until I tried the pho). It's not quite Turtle Tower, but the the slices of chicken are tender, the broth is bold. (Not to mention there are plenty of brain-numbing, US Weekly-type magazines to read while you slurp.)
2. A perennial favorite around the office, Crepe au Chocolate's skinny baguette sandwiches ($5), put on the panini press for a bit to get toasty and warm, make the perfect grab-and-go snack. I go for the asparagus and egg, but the goat cheese and fig jam is good too. Walk a block up and have your own mini picnic in Union Square proper.
3. My guilty pleasure? Like the kind of craving that builds up over time and then you just have to have it? A Louisiana hot link with sauerkraut ($4.35) plus fries with curry ketchup at Zog's Dogs little stand. On a sunny day, it never disappoints.
4. When I'm in need of something healthful (to make up for my Zog Dog moment), I stop by Boxed Foods Company for their Boxed Chicken Salad ($8.25), complete with shredded chicken, lots of greens, tart matchsticks of apple and a little bacon (hold the red onions). I like to bring it out to a table in Claude Lane alley.
5. One of the best deals had has to be the karaage chicken special at Sawaii Sushi (226 Kearny St., 415-362-8558) For just over $7, you get crispy pieces of boneless fried chicken with a delicious dipping sauce, rice, cabbage salad, four pieces of California roll and miso soup.
6. La Boulange (685 Market St.) might have developed into a bona fide chain, but they still make some very good bread, which makes a very great egg-salad sandwich, something I get all the time.
7. Katana-ya (431 Geary St., 415-771-1280) makes some of the best ramen in the city. I like the spicy miso. Enough said.
8. Then there's King of Thai Noodles which I love for their pad see ew, wide rice noodles tossed with pork and Chinese broccoli ($5) and their yellow curry ($5) which comes with a great little cucumber salad, the perfect foil.
9. Downstairs in the basement of the Westfield Centre, there's every kind of food under the sun at this upscale food court, but the line at the Sorabol Korean BBQ is always the longest for good reason. I like their vegetable bowl (which is basically bi bim bap) as well as their dumpling noodle soup. But I hate eating in crowded rooms with no windows, so I get it to go.
10. Muracci's Japanese Curry and Grill serves up a classic Japanese katsu curry ($8.95) that's been part of our Big Eat for two years running for good reason. Unlike in Tokyo, there's no vending machine to order it from. You actually have to wait in line, of which at this tiny, popular spot, there's always one.