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Bibimbap at Saucy Asian
Bibimbap at Saucy Asian
Patricia Chang

26 of the Best Counter Service Spots in San Francisco

Not your typical "fast food" joints

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Bibimbap at Saucy Asian
| Patricia Chang

In a city obsessed with food and tech, it makes sense that San Francisco is home to some of the most forward-thinking counter service restaurants around. Whether it's a robot-run quinoa spot (not kidding) or an elevated burger joint, "fast food" in this town has an entirely different meaning.

Between everyone being in a rush and the city's staffing shortage, restaurants have adapted their service models to get fresh, high-quality meals out the door quickly and affordably. These 26 spots to grab a meal are all places that use fresh ingredients and won't keep you waiting, with meals that vary from salads and sandwiches to tacos and falafel. The food on this list may be fast, but it's certainly not your average unidentifiable fast food.

Don't see your favorite fast casual place? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for burgers specifically? You can find the best in town right here.

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Barzotto

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Barzotto is a unique counter service restaurant because it can even pull off a date night. The atmosphere — plenty of marble tables for two — is just right, and so are the toothsome pastas and heartier main dishes like a killer porchetta. Mark Sotto (former director of operations for Adriano Paganini) and chef Michelle Minori (previously executive chef at the restaurant group behind Flour + Water) opened Barzotto last summer in the former, full-service St. Vincent space. It's a good example of the city's new crop of higher-end, fast-casual restaurants emphasizing food over service to keep down sky-high costs. The wine list is reasonable too: All glasses are $10 and all bottles are $40.

Barzotto Patricia Chang

Basa Seafood Express

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This seafood market and counter-service restaurant is a humble pearl on the 24th Street corridor. Started by Scott Lie after his time at nearby Sun Fat Seafood Co., Basa has it all with a menu of oysters (raw or fried), clam chowder in bread bowls, salmon burgers, nigiri, sushi rolls, and poke. The value can't be beat, but the atmosphere — just a few tables in a seafood market — isn't what you're paying for.

Blue Barn Gourmet

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Blue Barn is dedicated to local, fresh ingredients and a quick turnaround. Snag a kale caesar or spicy tuna salad in their huge takeout box, or one of the hearty sandwiches. It's a good idea to all ahead if you're in a real rush, considering its popularity.

Corridor

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Corridor, Mid-Market's newest addition, is a counter-service all day until dinner. The menu, created by chef Jason Halverson (Trestle, Stones Throw) runs the gamut from soups and salads to a kill croissant egg sandwich, falafel croquettes, and savory, pull-apart monkey bread. There's also a list of approachable beer, wine, and cocktails, plus LA's LAMILL coffee is featured.

Dabba, from a former French Laundry chef inspired by Sausalito's popular Indian mash-up restaurant Avatar, is a choose-your-own-adventure quick service spot. Select pork, veggie, chicken, or lamb to fill your taco, bowl, or burrito; all come with rice, pickled carrots, chutney, yogurt, and chickpeas. Hummus, curry popcorn and mango lassis are excellent additions. Stay tuned for a second location headed to the Marina.

Dabba Patricia Chang

Though it's not really run by robots, this lunch spot is changing hearts and minds about quinoa with its efficient and tasty methods. Diners enter their order on an iPad, then pick up their food from a cubby that flashes their name when its ready. It's so smooth, it's criminal.

Eatsa

Lemonade

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Lemonade has arrived with three SF locations — one in Yerba Buena, another in West Portal, and a third in the Inner Sunset at 1266 9th Avenue — to share its vegetable-focused fare, following the growing trend of making meat a side dish rather than the star of the plate. Though based in LA where sunny skies are the norm, the bright and airy brand came to San Francisco with a slightly different menu offering to match the weather.

Little Gem

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"Something for everyone" is the motto at Hayes Valley's new fast casual spot. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering meals free of dairy, gluten and refined sugar. Coffee, tea, beer and wine are also on offer.

Media Noche

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Media Noche arrived in the Mission in 2017 with a pastel splash and a menu of Cuban-inspired bowls, salads, and of course cubanos, including the restaurant's namesake late-night Miami party sandwich. Owners Jessie Barker (Nopa, Tres) and Madelyn Markoe (Tacolicious, Tres, Boxing Room) don't channel Cuba directly: Instead, their fast-casual restaurant is Havana by way of Miami as self-consciously recreated in San Francisco. You'll want to linger over your empanadas and sangria to admire the tile work, but — big counter-service drawback — beware of table vultures hovering over you at limited first-come, first-served seating.

Mixt Greens

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This salad chain has solidly dominated the Financial District when it comes to lunch options, peppering the worker bee neighborhood with six locations, all within blocks of each other. The organic-leaning, sustainably-focused salad bar offers every type of lettuce and mix-in your heart could desire, and is all about customization, down to if you want light, medium, or heavy dressing (or on the side). There are fresh and bright pre-suggested plates, or you can make your own salad, sandwich, and grain bowl.

Mixt Greens/Facebook

Native Co.

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Fresh juices, smoothies, salads, and wraps are all available at both locations of this perky cafe. Bountiful avocado toasts and Bicycle Coffee are great for breakfast, while herb-filled salads and sandwiches are quick and healthy lunch fodder.

Native Co

Nourish Cafe SF

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Colorful, crunchy salads, bowls and wraps are the order of the day at this miniature Inner Richmond café. Breakfast and lunch are the main attractions, including fresh juices, smoothies and toasts like cashew-cream cheese, or avocado. Oh, and it's completely vegan. Grab to go or snag a chair on the sidewalk.

Nourish Café

Roam Artisan Burgers

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This casual but uspcale burger joint has a definite California spin in the form of seasonal farmer's market salads and vegetable sides, plus the burgers can be made with just about any meat of your choice, including beef, turkey, bison, veggie and even elk. As for the other burger joint necessities, fries also get an update in the form of truffled, herbed or sweet potato, and you've probably seen the bruléed marshmallow milkshakes somewhere on Instagram. Cow Hollow, Lower Pac Heights and Lafayette all claim locations.

Rooster & Rice

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With two branches and one specialty — khao mun gai — Rooster & Rice keeps it simple and succulent. The restaurant's Thai-style poached chicken, served over a bed of rice cooked in chicken broth (with spicy soybean sauce for spreading on top and more broth for sipping on the side), has won over diners in the Marina (at 2211 Filbert) and now downtown with its second location. Owners Bryan Lew and Tommy Charoe have a few khao mun gai variations on their menu, including vegetarian and paleo options, but chicken fans shouldn't stray from the classic.

Sababa's original, cozy (read: tiny) space is geared for quick, healthy eating based on the fresh flavors of Israeli food. The first location — a second is now open at 554 Commercial Street — was designed by the chef himself, and features exposed brick from the year the building was built in 1906, copper lighting fixtures and geometric tile give the space a bright, Mediterranean feel. As for the food, there's a "make-your-own pita" bar, where diners can choose from fillings like falafel, chicken shawarma, and merguez enveloped by made-to-order pitas, or in a bowl. There is also a selection of salads like charred broccoli with pine nuts and tahini, a moroccan carrot salad, and a house-made pickle bar. Beverages include frozen coffee and mint lemonade, beer and wine.

Saucy Asian

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Korean fusion cuisine — or mashups and remixes, in the Saucy Asian parlance — are what's up at this charming corner Castro space. Kimchi burritos, satisfying bibimbap, and poke bowls are all good to go or to eat in at communal tables in a bright, dare we say saucy, space that's decorated with neon and brightly-colored murals.

SoMa StrEat Food Park

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Food trucks have long been associated with fast food, since they are designed for swift turnarounds and quick getaways. SoMa StrEat Food Park has a variety of rotating options, including Bacon Bacon, the Lobsta Truck and Roli Roti. There's also wifi and plenty of seating, for those that want to stay awhile.

The original location of Souvla offers high-quality Greek cuisine, in the heart of Hayes Valley, that just so happens to be fast casual. Owner Charles Bililies prefers you call it "fine casual," since the vibe, service and wine list are all a definite step above your average order-at-the-counter experience. Get the rotisserie roasted lamb, chicken, pork or sweet potato in pita or salad format (or order it Greek-style, which means fries on or in it). Or, just stop by for Souvla's version of fro-yo: frozen Greek yogurt topped with a choice of baklava, sour cherry or olive oil and sea salt. Expect the city to soon be overtaken by Souvla locations: Divisadero and Valencia locations have already opened

From the minds behind Mixt, Split is an upscale, tech-savvy sandwich spot with two locations in SoMa, and a new spot in Russian Hill. A big emphasis on breakfast (including the ubiquitous, but always popular, avocado toast), plus sandwiches, salads and burgers for lunch and dinner make this a solid go-to. The newest location on Polk Street offers a punched-up dinner menu with entrees like grilled hangar steak with green peppercorn sauce, and Mt. Lassen trout.

Split Bread

Super Duper Burger

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Simple, quick and consistent, Super Duper is also expanding locations rapidly. According to the local chain, its all about "Fast food burgers. Slow food values." High-quality beef, artisan buns, Straus creamery milkshakes and Four Barrel Coffee back up their claims. Breakfast and happy hour are both great times to visit one of their locations.

Super Duper

Tender Greens

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This local salad chain got a major credibility boost last summer, when Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (Shake Shack) announced plans to invest in an outside venture for the first time in its history. The main draw here is selection of fresh salads, followed by "big plates" centered around proteins like chipotle barbecue chicken with mashed potatoes ($12).

Tender Greens

The Bird

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To say that the Bird is like Super Duper but for fried chicken sandwiches instead of burgers would be accurate, but not quite just. Yes, this SoMa chicken counter comes from restaurateur Adriano Paganini's Back of the House restaurant group, but its menu is even more back-to-basics than Super Duper's, with the focus on chicken thigh meat admirably fried in a mixture of flour and spices (spicy or regular) and served with curly fries. At breakfast, get it on a biscuit.

The Italian Homemade Company

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Sometimes you just want a big bowl of pasta stat, and The Italian Homemade Company is here for you at those times. Pick your housemade pasta and your sauce, and get a glass of wine to boot.

Stefanie Tuder

The Ramen Bar

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No one expected empire builder Michael Mina to stay out of the fast casual trend. Enter: Ramen Bar. The Financial District spot always has a line out the door on weekdays during lunch for worker bees to grab a hearty bowl of unorthodox ramen soups such as shrimp & crab, ginger chicken and mushroom & soy. There are also some of the traditional variety — hokkaido and shoyu tonkotso — as well as rice and noodle bowls, sandwiches and salads. The best trick of all is to order online and head straight to the front of the line upon arrival.

Uno Dos Tacos

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Snatch up a trio of tacos, a burrito or make it a salad at this quickie, fresh Mexican spot. There's a hilarious amount of tequila here too, so take a shot if you're really in a hurry (or sit down for a flight).

Uno Dos Tacos

Wise Sons Bagel & Bakery

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After five years of being nearly the only SF supplier of Jewish food, Wise Sons has finally added bagels to its repertoire. Its bagelry on Fillmore offers several sandwiches, from a traditional lox and cream cheese to a vegetable variety with squash steak, hummus, housemade pickled red onions, and a market green mix, plus there's Intelligentsia coffee.

Barzotto

Barzotto is a unique counter service restaurant because it can even pull off a date night. The atmosphere — plenty of marble tables for two — is just right, and so are the toothsome pastas and heartier main dishes like a killer porchetta. Mark Sotto (former director of operations for Adriano Paganini) and chef Michelle Minori (previously executive chef at the restaurant group behind Flour + Water) opened Barzotto last summer in the former, full-service St. Vincent space. It's a good example of the city's new crop of higher-end, fast-casual restaurants emphasizing food over service to keep down sky-high costs. The wine list is reasonable too: All glasses are $10 and all bottles are $40.

Barzotto Patricia Chang

Basa Seafood Express

This seafood market and counter-service restaurant is a humble pearl on the 24th Street corridor. Started by Scott Lie after his time at nearby Sun Fat Seafood Co., Basa has it all with a menu of oysters (raw or fried), clam chowder in bread bowls, salmon burgers, nigiri, sushi rolls, and poke. The value can't be beat, but the atmosphere — just a few tables in a seafood market — isn't what you're paying for.

Blue Barn Gourmet

Blue Barn is dedicated to local, fresh ingredients and a quick turnaround. Snag a kale caesar or spicy tuna salad in their huge takeout box, or one of the hearty sandwiches. It's a good idea to all ahead if you're in a real rush, considering its popularity.

Corridor

Corridor, Mid-Market's newest addition, is a counter-service all day until dinner. The menu, created by chef Jason Halverson (Trestle, Stones Throw) runs the gamut from soups and salads to a kill croissant egg sandwich, falafel croquettes, and savory, pull-apart monkey bread. There's also a list of approachable beer, wine, and cocktails, plus LA's LAMILL coffee is featured.

Dabba

Dabba, from a former French Laundry chef inspired by Sausalito's popular Indian mash-up restaurant Avatar, is a choose-your-own-adventure quick service spot. Select pork, veggie, chicken, or lamb to fill your taco, bowl, or burrito; all come with rice, pickled carrots, chutney, yogurt, and chickpeas. Hummus, curry popcorn and mango lassis are excellent additions. Stay tuned for a second location headed to the Marina.

Dabba Patricia Chang

eatsa

Though it's not really run by robots, this lunch spot is changing hearts and minds about quinoa with its efficient and tasty methods. Diners enter their order on an iPad, then pick up their food from a cubby that flashes their name when its ready. It's so smooth, it's criminal.

Eatsa

Lemonade

Lemonade has arrived with three SF locations — one in Yerba Buena, another in West Portal, and a third in the Inner Sunset at 1266 9th Avenue — to share its vegetable-focused fare, following the growing trend of making meat a side dish rather than the star of the plate. Though based in LA where sunny skies are the norm, the bright and airy brand came to San Francisco with a slightly different menu offering to match the weather.

Little Gem

"Something for everyone" is the motto at Hayes Valley's new fast casual spot. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering meals free of dairy, gluten and refined sugar. Coffee, tea, beer and wine are also on offer.

Media Noche

Media Noche arrived in the Mission in 2017 with a pastel splash and a menu of Cuban-inspired bowls, salads, and of course cubanos, including the restaurant's namesake late-night Miami party sandwich. Owners Jessie Barker (Nopa, Tres) and Madelyn Markoe (Tacolicious, Tres, Boxing Room) don't channel Cuba directly: Instead, their fast-casual restaurant is Havana by way of Miami as self-consciously recreated in San Francisco. You'll want to linger over your empanadas and sangria to admire the tile work, but — big counter-service drawback — beware of table vultures hovering over you at limited first-come, first-served seating.

Mixt Greens

This salad chain has solidly dominated the Financial District when it comes to lunch options, peppering the worker bee neighborhood with six locations, all within blocks of each other. The organic-leaning, sustainably-focused salad bar offers every type of lettuce and mix-in your heart could desire, and is all about customization, down to if you want light, medium, or heavy dressing (or on the side). There are fresh and bright pre-suggested plates, or you can make your own salad, sandwich, and grain bowl.

Mixt Greens/Facebook

Native Co.

Fresh juices, smoothies, salads, and wraps are all available at both locations of this perky cafe. Bountiful avocado toasts and Bicycle Coffee are great for breakfast, while herb-filled salads and sandwiches are quick and healthy lunch fodder.

Native Co

Nourish Cafe SF

Colorful, crunchy salads, bowls and wraps are the order of the day at this miniature Inner Richmond café. Breakfast and lunch are the main attractions, including fresh juices, smoothies and toasts like cashew-cream cheese, or avocado. Oh, and it's completely vegan. Grab to go or snag a chair on the sidewalk.

Nourish Café

Roam Artisan Burgers

This casual but uspcale burger joint has a definite California spin in the form of seasonal farmer's market salads and vegetable sides, plus the burgers can be made with just about any meat of your choice, including beef, turkey, bison, veggie and even elk. As for the other burger joint necessities, fries also get an update in the form of truffled, herbed or sweet potato, and you've probably seen the bruléed marshmallow milkshakes somewhere on Instagram. Cow Hollow, Lower Pac Heights and Lafayette all claim locations.

Rooster & Rice

With two branches and one specialty — khao mun gai — Rooster & Rice keeps it simple and succulent. The restaurant's Thai-style poached chicken, served over a bed of rice cooked in chicken broth (with spicy soybean sauce for spreading on top and more broth for sipping on the side), has won over diners in the Marina (at 2211 Filbert) and now downtown with its second location. Owners Bryan Lew and Tommy Charoe have a few khao mun gai variations on their menu, including vegetarian and paleo options, but chicken fans shouldn't stray from the classic.

Sababa

Sababa's original, cozy (read: tiny) space is geared for quick, healthy eating based on the fresh flavors of Israeli food. The first location — a second is now open at 554 Commercial Street — was designed by the chef himself, and features exposed brick from the year the building was built in 1906, copper lighting fixtures and geometric tile give the space a bright, Mediterranean feel. As for the food, there's a "make-your-own pita" bar, where diners can choose from fillings like falafel, chicken shawarma, and merguez enveloped by made-to-order pitas, or in a bowl. There is also a selection of salads like charred broccoli with pine nuts and tahini, a moroccan carrot salad, and a house-made pickle bar. Beverages include frozen coffee and mint lemonade, beer and wine.

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Saucy Asian

Korean fusion cuisine — or mashups and remixes, in the Saucy Asian parlance — are what's up at this charming corner Castro space. Kimchi burritos, satisfying bibimbap, and poke bowls are all good to go or to eat in at communal tables in a bright, dare we say saucy, space that's decorated with neon and brightly-colored murals.