Finer fast-casual—7 of SF’s best counter-service restaurants

By Marcia Gagliardi


With the ever-rising cost of running a restaurant in San Francisco, and a worrisome shortage of workers, many places have turned to the fast-casual model (or fine-casual, as pioneers Souvla call it), with guests ordering at the counter, and runners bringing food to their table. Some nicer restaurants also have more price-conscious, fast-casual offshoots, like Rich Table’s RT Rotisserie, where the quality of the ingredients is still a priority. Fast-casual also does well with the city’s booming delivery services, and is ideal for midweek dining. Here are seven of the best spots in the city for a satisfying meal that won’t break the bank.

Media Noche (photo: Molly DeCoudreaux)

Media Noche
It’s no wonder there are always people hovering for tables at this colorful and cute spot that feels like it was transported to the Mission from Cuba by way of Miami. The namesake media noche and Cubano sandwiches are a highlight (be sure to peek at the chef’s special Cubano!), and the empanadas (the green sauce!) are also a hit. There are five different bowls—like mojo roasted pork shoulder or roasted kabocha squash, served with black beans, rice, and coconut slaw—which are good for lunch or dinner. The wine list has some affordable and food-friendly options, plus sangria and cerveza.
Neighborhood: Mission MAP

This popular downtown spot now has two locations, serving its house-baked and fluffy pita bread alongside Mediterranean and street food–inspired menu items, like tender falafel, chicken shawarma, ground beef kofta, and creamy hummus. You can order rice plates, bowls, and pita sandwiches (don’t miss the sabik with fried eggplant), as well as side salads, like the Israeli salad with tomato, cucumber, and onion, or Moroccan carrots with feta and orange. Everything tastes healthy, well-prepared, fresh, and the portions are abundant. Bonus: the Kearny street location serves dinner.
Neighborhood: Financial District MAP

4505 Burgers & BBQ
Day or night, windy or sunny, there is almost always a line outside and a packed patio at this popular barbecue and burger joint. Chef-owner Ryan Farr has created his own style of barbecue, with some of the best smoked ribs in town (ditto the baked beans), an equally epic grass-fed burger with a custom bun, and fun sides like the Frankaroni (crispy fried mac and cheese with hot dog inside). Get six friends together for the Presidential platter (the ultimate chow-down), and follow 4505’s Instagram for holiday specials and more.
Neighborhood: Western Addition/NOPA MAP

The Italian Homemade Company
Pasta lovers, here’s your spot—several of them, actually, including one in Berkeley, and another one coming to Hayes Valley very soon. This Italian-owned business is a local favorite, and all about pasta, from their crave-worthy lasagna to tagliatelle to gnocchi. There are stuffed pastas, too, like traditional tortellini (stuffed with meat) and ravioli with your choice of sauce (the pasticciata, a Bolognese with béchamel, is fantastico). There are also piadina flatbread sandwiches for daytime, or you can try a stuffed cassone, and salads, too. Buon appetito!
Neighborhood: North Beach MAP Cow Hollow MAP Berkeley MAP

The owners of this stylish daytime café were inspired by the canteens of Scandinavia, where workers gather for lunch. But this isn’t your typical café: Here, everything is made from scratch, from the sprouted rye bread in the open-faced smørrebrød sandwiches to the spiced bacon to the house-made skyr. Whether you’re building your own brunch board or tucking into a savory porridge, this is the kind of wholesome food that leaves you feeling nourished and taken care of. It’s also a sunny location, with big windows that will make you that much happier you’re not eating at your desk.
Neighborhood: Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle MAP

Tired of the same-old, same-old? Dabba’s menu–which pulls from Indian, Mexican, Californian, Cajun, and Jamaican cuisines–is all you need to get your palate inspired. You’ll find build-your-own bowls, salads with grains, seasonal vegetables, chutneys, yogurt, and more—with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, too. Everything is organic, healthy, and full of layered flavors. Dabba is well-known in the FiDi for their lunch, and the new Marina location also serves dinner (plus beer and wine).
Neighborhood: Marina MAPNeighborhood: Financial District/SoMa MAP

This brand-new, downstairs offshoot to Che Fico is like an all-day diner, opening with a notable breakfast sandwich (on a house-made English muffin of your dreams), segueing to lunch and dinner, with abundant salads, vegetarian chili with Mimolette cheese and cornbread, a bangin’ fried chicken sandwich, and a double cheeseburger. The wine list is one of the better ones to be found at the fine-casual spots in town. Chef Angela Pinkerton offers a daily selection of pies that aren’t the usual (like corn custard or PB&J), plus other baked goods, and there are sundaes and floats, too.
Neighborhood: NOPA MAP

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