kitchenette's indian-inspired fried chicken sandwich
with garam masala honey, chile mayonnaise
The interesting phenomenon of the San Francisco food scene right now is the emergence of takeout, sometimes mobile, lunch spots. It all started with The Sentinel downtown, a tobacco shop that turned into a breakfast and lunch takeout counter.
Then came kitchenette, an offshoot of a catering company that uses its loading dock as a semi-charming way to do 2 - 3 lunch options a day. About the same time emerged curry and crême brulée carts and even mobile arms of restaurants that serve chowder or French food from vans and trucks. You can get chicken and waffles at Little Skillet (although I don't recommend the waffle dog). There's a bicycle that goes around downtown selling Boccalone sandwiches. Even Town Hall now serves takeout lunches that include some of their specialties. Twitter seems to be the main form of advertisement of these places, which is quite effective in communicating rotating menus and varying locations.
Some of these places have permits to sell food, but some don't, making it a bit risky for those who like to have some assurances of food safety. Prices are usually reasonable but are still not at the level of say, traditional taco trucks in Oakland. These new places in San Francisco reflect the culture of the city, with many using organic ingredients and serving on recyclable or compostable packaging. Even the Ferry Building is getting into it, with the start of the new Thursday market in a few weeks, bringing some produce vendors but mainly prepared foods (I would personally rather they bring back the Thursday evening produce market for those who can't go to farmer's markets mid-day).
It's quite intriguing to see these places that have lower start-up and maintenance costs as well as lower service staff expenses in these financial times. Chefs have started to narrow down their menus, usually settling on comfort foods that fit in with the casual nature of the business. It seems to have replaced the previous trend of fine-dining chefs who opened bistros or casual restaurants, stating desires to cook simpler food that reminded them of home.
San Francisco has fairly temperate weather which allows for such businesses to operate year-round. Can you imagine standing in line outside a loading dock in a foot of snow? The ambiance for each of these new places ranges from being near picturesque parks and food courts with ample seating to squatting down on a sidewalk in order to be able to use both hands to eat with.
In general, I've been enjoying hearing about and sampling these places. Small, focused menus mean the execution is usually quite good, especially since San Francisco isn't known for having quick, accessible lunch places. This trend reminds me of many countries in Asia where hawkers or food vendors specialize in one or two things and take pride in what they produce.
I applaud one side effect of these places: getting people to eat outside again. Having lived through two Boston winters, I've lost sympathy for native Californians who shiver when it's 60 degrees and reach for their wool coats. Eating outside in fresh air is a privilege I don't take for granted anymore. Being able to have delicious and interesting foods while doing so makes it even better.