Many San Francisco residents regard a jury duty summons as a kind of civic root canal. It can upend your life, and almost everyone has to go through it once or twice.
However, weighing a verdict in a trial isn’t the only decision people are called to make. There’s also the slightly less pressing matter of where to get lunch.
San Francisco directs potential jurors to one of two places near Downtown: the Hall of Justice in SoMa or Superior Court in the Tenderloin. A representative for the judicial system confirmed to The Standard that courtrooms are assigned randomly, and there’s a roughly 50-50 chance of one locale over the other.
You’ll probably want to escape a windowless courtroom, although it’s up to individual judges to set the length of a lunch break. Fortunately, both buildings are surrounded by excellent food options, either for a midday meal or an after-trial drink.
Be warned that if you’re heading to the Hall of Justice, don’t forget that any business at the SoMa Food Court (60 Morris St.) is a ghost kitchen that only does takeout and delivery.
501 Sixth St., SoMa
Opens at 11 a.m. daily
Dining options are sparse in largely industrial Central SoMa. But the broad selection of Northern Vietnamese pho at Turtle Tower is worth a summons to the nearby Hall of Justice. Broth from free-range chickens and freshly made noodles form the basis for these nourishing bowls of soup, along with the porridges and rice plates that make this family-owned operation such a favorite. Turtle Tower’s other location in Little Saigon wasn’t far from Superior Court, but that restaurant closed in September.
15 Boardman Place, SoMa
Opens at 7 a.m. Monday-Friday
Two words: Kimcheese smashburgers. Having begun a decade ago as a catering company, Kiss My Seoul’s brick-and-mortar is now practically a destination, albeit not the easiest one to find. Short rib bowls, galbi bowls, bulgogi bowls—all the staples of Korean lunch food are here, but it’s the smashburger with grilled onions and kimchi mayo with a side of crinkle-cut fries that really put Chef Alex Hwang on the map.
18 Boardman Place, SoMa
Opens at 10 a.m., Monday-Friday
The SoMa location—one of four Dinosaurs in all—of this Vietnamese spot more or less caters to the judicial-industrial complex, feeding pork and meatball banh mi to Hall of Justice staff on weekdays. Other sandwich options abound, from shaking beef to roasted portobello, as well as tofu and taro spring rolls. Tired of Vietnamese iced coffee? Try an avocado shake instead.
798 Brannan St., SoMa
Opens at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday-Friday, closed Mondays
If nothing else, SoMa is the land of dive bars. But there are only so many that serve both food and upscale cocktails and can boast about an outdoor patio, all while managing to maintain the friendly vibe that makes a great dive. Virtually every element of a good bar menu—nachos, burgers, mozzarella sticks, pulled pork sliders—can be found at the surprisingly spacious Mars Bar. But what sets this place apart are the “tachos,” tater tot nachos slathered with guacamole and pico de gallo.
272 McAllister St., Tenderloin
Opens at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, closed Mondays
Buoyed by its empanadas, this phenomenally colorful Cuban-Colombian restaurant opened in a challenging neighborhood in the middle of the pandemic and has managed to thrive ever since. Chao Pescao’s mostly gluten-free menu wins hearts through hearty dishes like Tajín fried chicken and a chimichurri-covered ribeye sandwich. It’s got a lock on the plant-based set, too, with inventive meat alternatives like vegan ropa vieja made with jackfruit. Whatever you get, get it with sweet plantains.
366 Golden Gate Ave., Tenderloin
Opens at 10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday
Few things are more satisfying than a bowl of bibimbap so hot that the rice crisps on the inside of the bowl. The Tenderloin’s Jin Mi Korean Cuisine may be the definition of unassuming, but it offers tons of bulgogi, spicy stews and under-$20 lunch specials. Further down, the menu has lots of harder-to-find dishes, like the Korean seafood pancakes known as pajun, and golbaengi somyeon, or spicy freshwater snails with noodles.
652 Polk St., Tenderloin
Opens at 8 a.m. daily
For more than 15 years, Brenda Buenviaje’s Polk Street outpost has been the gold standard by which every New Orleans-style restaurant in San Francisco has been measured. Enormous portions of shrimp-and-grits or an andouille-and-cheddar omelet dominate the menu alongside California classics like a hangtown fry. Don’t sleep on the beignet flight—three sweet options plus the crawfish beignet, for $14.50—but the sweet watermelon iced tea is unmissable.
601 Van Ness Ave., Civic Center
Opens at 11 a.m. daily
The diner inside Opera Plaza has a massive menu, spanning comfort foods like nachos, matzoh ball soup and a French dip along with more contemporary fare like poke bowls and a tofu and soba noodle salad. Or just fill your belly with huevos rancheros and other breakfast-for-lunch options. Got a few minutes to kill after finishing that Reuben? There’s a Books Inc. directly across Opera Plaza.
560 Larkin St., Tenderloin
Opens at 7 a.m. daily
One of San Francisco’s eternal lunch deals, the banh mi at Saigon Sandwich is also one of the most unimprovable. Lines extend out the door and down Larkin Street from this takeout-only spot where a crew of no-nonsense women cranks out roast pork, roast chicken and special combination (ham and patê) Vietnamese sandwiches, all stuffed with carrots, jalapeños and cilantro. And those baguettes: Sourced from Bakers of Paris, they envelop the filling with the perfect crackling crunch.
650 Gough St., Hayes Valley
Opens at 5 p.m. every day
Dealing with a grisly murder case? Consumed with legal minutiae in a boring property dispute? Don’t risk being held in contempt of court by tippling Bulleit from a flask. Head to Martin Cate’s rum-centric, three-time 50 Best Bars in America winner for an after-trial Fog Cutter made with rum, pisco, gin, lemon, orange, housemade orgeat and oloroso sherry. With more than 1,000 premium rums in stock, you may find yourself happily sequestered at Smuggler’s Cove.
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org