Blame the economy's downturn. Or blame the Tamale Lady's success. Whatever the reason, suddenly mobile food carts seem to be all the rage and those that serve the midday (rather than midnight) crowd all the more so. But while the idea of the Crème Brulee Man and Magic Curry Cart has gone from experimental to expected, another nontraditional lunch option has bubbled to the surface: pop-ups and dining windows. These more stationary yet equally delightful options have been sneaking onto industrial loading docks or into neighborhood supermarkets, seducing customers with their unconventional locales and keeping their loyalty with indisputably good food.
Douglas Monsalud and his crew started serving "spontaneous, organic, covert nourishment" out of a loading dock less than nine months ago, and the Dogpatch lunch scene hasn't been the same since. The weekday eatery features a thoughtful, rotating menu of inspired delights, always including a few sandwiches, a salad, a dessert (recent choices include bacon snickerdoodles and a nectarine/raspberry galette), and a housemade beverage (like honeydew/lime fresca or organic lemonade). Not only is everything delicious, most items are made from locally-grown ingredients. My favorite? Marin Sun Farms' pork schnitzel sandwich with braised cabbage and pink lady apples, a butterscotch cookie, and organic strawberry soda with local seltzer.
Weekdays, 11:30 a.m.1:30 p.m.; 958 Illinois, SF. www.kitchenettesf.com
Leave it to the Bay Area to host a joint that pairs fried chicken and waffles with farm-fresh, organic ingredients. This offshoot of Farmer Brown draws the in-the-know lunch crowd down to SoMa for crispy fried poultry, creamy grits and cheddar, angel biscuits and gravy, and red velvet cupcakes. For you old-school beverage aficionados, they stock Dublin Doctor Pepper (the original Doctor Pepper from Texas, made with real cane sugar), Fitz's cream sodas, and Faygo grape soda. After ordering from the little blue shuttered window, wait across the street on the funky concrete loading dock until you hear your name. Then, perched on milk crates with other soul-food seekers, you'll get your Southern charm with SF values.
Mon.Sat., 9 a.m.3:30 p.m.; 360 Ritch, SF. (415) 777-2777, www.littleskilletsf.com
Ian Begg and Ryan Maxey (formerly of Café Majestic) opened the door to Naked Lunch in mid-August. The sweet little annex to Enrico's features a menu that changes almost daily, although the signature foie gras sandwich will probably remain a fixture (controversy or not). At $15, it's outside my tax bracket, but the dried chorizo sandwich with bacon, d'anjou pear, pickled onion, and baby greens was pure perfection the salt from the bacon balanced with the sweetness of the pear. Ian and Ryan have plans to open a gastropub. For now, I'm just happy they're rockin' the sandwich combinations each week.
Mon.Fri., 11:30 a.m.2 p.m.; 504 Broadway, SF. (415) 577-4951,www.nakedlunchsf.com
American Box, brought to us by the folks at Fish and Farm (inside Hotel Mark Twain), offers more than simple sandwiches and beverages. From the now infamous Juicy Lucy's cheeseburger box, served with local organic potato salad and secret sauce, to the Niman Ranch taco box with sweet and spicy slaw, chef Chad Newton's Tenderloin pop-up cuisine is attracting curious foodies along with the neighborhood business crowd. Take your box to go or meander across the hotel lobby and enjoy a quiet spell in the dining room. There's nothing like a very grown-up lunch box to put a smile on your face even if Mom didn't pack it for you.
Weekdays, 10:30 a.m. 1:30 p.m.; 339 Taylor, SF.