Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is it because I'm #24?

I finished my week of chain sandwich shops (and month of lunches) today with a visit to Togo's, which I like better than Quiznos or Subway, but don't visit as often since it isn't convenient to my home or my work.

I've been going to Togo's since the 1970s and know their sandwich numbers by heart (#7-Roast Beef, #16-Italian). My favorite is the #24 (Turkey & Avocado) which I've been enjoying since the "low-fat" era when avocados weren't supposed to be good for you. They used to serve it with alfalfa sprouts, but no one eats sprouts anymore.

June 29:
Ordered: Regular (#24) Turkey & Avocado from Togo's
Cost: $5.49
Final Budget: $0.33

Made it with 33 cents to spare! On to new adventures next month.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Five Dollar Foot Long

Today's lunch continued my chain trek with a visit to Subway. In downtown SF, I think there are more Subways per square block than Starbucks per square block, and every one of them has long lines at lunchtime.

Their best deal is the "$5 footlong", from that insidiously catchy commercial jingle. Along with their five regular $5 footlongs, Subway has a sixth wildcard sub every month, and this month it's the Chipotle Chicken & Cheese. The cheese is melted, which means the sandwich is "prepared food" (i.e. taxable), so my five dollar footlong came to $5.48 total.

June 29:
Ordered: Footlong Chipotle Chicken & Cheese from Subway
Cost: $5.48
Remaining Budget: $5.82

My June lunch of the day is coming to a close tomorrow. And I have $5.82 to spend!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Green Curry & Jasmine Rice

It was supposed to rain today (and it did), so I didn't want to go out for lunch, and bought another Trader Joe's Thai frozen entree from home. Today it was their $2.99 Shrimp with Green Curry & Jasmine Rice.

Very tasty. This leaves me with $11.30 for the next two days ($5.65 per day).

June 28:
Ate: Shrimp with Green Curry & Jasmine Rice from Trader Joe's
Cost: $2.99
Remaining Budget: $11.30

Monday, June 27, 2011


I think I've already hit all my favorite places so far this month, so I might be tied up in chains (as in chain restaurants) for my last few lunches of June.

With just $18 to spend, my plans are to compare national sandwich chains over the next four days. Today was Quiznos. It's right across the street from my office, but I never go there
because there's always a line, and Quiznos sandwiches aren't worth waiting in line.

I ordered the turkey & cheddar, which my favorite of the three sandwiches they offer as one of their daily specials. The Quiznos regular is about eight inches, which is the ideal sandwich size (halfway between a six-inch and a foot-long) to fill you up without making you feel like a pig.

June 27:
Ordered: Turkey & Cheddar Sub from Quiznos
Cost: $3.99
Remaining Budget: $14.29

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mini Mac

Where did I eat lunch today? Well..

It was inevitable that I'd have to end up at the golden arches in a month of eating lunch at a different place every day on a fixed budget. I know chain fast food is bad for our society and our bodies, but it's cheap and it fills me up when I'm hungry.

I realize that McDonalds food is bad for you, which is why I like their mini meals. Much like yesterday's mini loco moco plate, if something is bad for you, eating less of it is better for you than eating more of it. I still can't stomach McD's hamburgers, so I usually opt for the McChicken mini meal, and they now offer this with their new jalapeno cheddar McChicken for just 20 cents more. Lunch for three bills and a bit.. Can't beat that!

June 24:
Ordered: Jalapeno Cheddar McChicken Mini Meal from Mickey D's
Cost: $3.49
Remaining Budget: $18.28

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Loco Moco

Today's lunch was a loco moco from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

Loco moco is a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg and then covered in gravy with rice and macaroni salad on the side. A giant wall of carbs and protein, ideal for a lunch when I'm biking, but not as good when I have to go back to work. Luckily they have a "mini plate" version with only one egg and one scoop of rice that fills me up without putting me in a food coma.

June 23:
Ordered: Loco Moco from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Cost: $5.49
Remaining Budget: $21.77

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Frozen Pad Thai

As strange as it seems, downtown S.F. lacks decent cheap Thai food. There are tons of Thai restaurants in the area, but most of them are either too expensive or not very good (or both). Pad thai used to be one of my regular lunches, but my best and cheapest way to get a fix now is to bring it from home.

I like to stock up on Ethnic Gourmet frozen entrees from Grocery Outlet (lunch-sized microwaveable portions for $1.99), and my favorite is their shrimp pad thai. I need my remaining $30 to last seven days, so I'll do at least three home meals in the next week.

June 22:
Ate: Pad Thai with Shrimp from Grocery Outlet
Cost: $1.99
Remaining Budget: $27.26

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bulgogi Burrito

Today was the day I finally tried the bulgogi burrito at John's Deli. I've been afraid of it, because they call it a "kimchi burrito", and I'm not that big on kimchi (for wind-related social awkwardness reasons), but that's just a small part of their burrito.

The owner ("John") is Korean but his helpers are Mexican, which means that their burritos are wrapped properly and end up being pure fusion food (the four corners where East meets West and North meets South). It's a handful as well as a mouthful.

June 21:
Ordered: Bulgogi Burrito from John's Snack & Deli.
Cost: $6.25
Remaining Budget: $29.25

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bulgogi Bahn Mi

This is going to be Asia Pacific week on my lunch odyssey. I was getting ready to finally try the famous kimchi burrito at John's Snack & Deli, but the line was too long. I'm not a big kimchi fan anyway, but maybe tomorrow? It's a San Francisco tradition, just like the curry burrito.

I went down the street to Henry's Cafe for another fusion fave, their bulgogi sandwich. Bulgogi is Korean barbecued beef marinated in a sweet-spicy sauce then quick-grilled. It's like Korean Bahn Mi..

June 20:
Ordered: Bulgogi Sandwich from Henry's Cafe & Deli.
Cost: $5.10
Remaining Budget: $35.50

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lunch In The Box

This is the mystery restaurant that has better teriyaki bowls than Ichiban.

When I used to work in suburbia, franchise fast food was one of my few lunch options, but there are so many other options in downtown SF, that I try to steer clear of chains. JITB prices are higher in the city than they are in the suburbs (two tacos for $1.49 instead of 99 cents, Jumbo Jack for $1.99 vs. $1.49), but they always have advertised monthly specials that cost the same everywhere.

This month's special is the ménage a tacos, three tacos plus fries and a drink for $3.49. I usually don't eat french fries or drink soda, so it's like a big unhealthy treat a couple of times a month.

June 17
Ordered: Three Taco Combo from Jack In The Box
Cost: $3.49
Remaining Budget: $40.60

After SF's "Happy Meal Ban" went into affect, fast food places in the city stopped offering promotional toys with kids meals, which is really sad: "no toys at this location". There's also mandatory nutritional information on the menu at chain restaurants (just chain restaurants), which has kept me away from Starbucks Frappuccinos -- those things are loaded with calories!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tekiya Teriyaki

Ichiban Teriyaki is the Japanese equivalent of all those shady Chinese restaurants in SF's Chinatown that look like mob hideouts. It's right behind my office, and one of the few places I can go on a rainy day without getting wet, but I've only gone in a few times because I'm afraid of getting caught in a Yakuza turf war every time I go inside.

Plus Ichiban's food isn't that special. It fills you up when you're hungry, but it's not anything to go out of your way for. Their chicken teriyaki is about what you'd expect from the food court at the mall or the chain where I'll probably end up eating tomorrow (no spoilers!). But I was hungry at noon, and now I'm not, so it's good for something.

June 16
Ordered: Chicken Teriyaki Bowl from Ichiban Teriyaki
Cost: $5.94
Remaining Budget: $44.09

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hitokui Papaya

Yesterday I went to Trader Joe's looking for a frozen entree that cost about $2 that I could have for lunch today, in order to keep up my total lunch tab under $50 for the first half of the month.

I found this Green Papaya Salad in the frozen food section (frozen salad?), and decided to give it a try. It's okay, especially on a warm day like today when I wasn't up for a hot meal. The salad and dressing are in separate frozen packets that need to be "defrosted" (not cooked) in the microwave for a few minutes. Which worked okay, but it came out a bit liquidy. I think it would've been better if I'd ignored the instructions, and cooked my salad until it was warm..

June 15
Ate: Green Papaya Salad from Trader Joe's
Cost: $1.99
Remaining Budget: $50.03

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hi Tea Tuesday

Since I've been making up my own rules for this month, one of the things I've been wrestling with is whether I can eat the exact same thing twice. For example, if I had leftover pizza last Tuesday, could I have it again this Tuesday?

I decided that I couldn't do that, mainly because I didn't have any leftover pizza today, but I did end up ordering the same thing today that I ordered yesterday. Vietnamese Bahn Mis have become my favorite lunchtime food next to burritos, and today's bahn mi came from Hi Tea, which is right next door to Happy Donut where I ate yesterday.

Just like Chipotle and El Faro, there's usually a line out the door at Hi Tea during the lunchtime rush while Happy Donut has the same food with no waiting. My usual bahn mi routine involves going to Hi Tea, getting fed up with the line, then opting for Happy Donut. This week I'm doing them in reverse, because Hi Tea comes after Happy Donut in alphabetical order.

I beat the lunch rush by ordering at 11:30 (which is why I'm posting this just after 12 noon). The regular barbecue bahn mi sandwich at Hi Tea costs $4.95, 70 cents more than Happy Donut, and it's better but maybe not 70 cents better. It's a slightly nicer environment, but that doesn't matter if you're ordering to-go, and they have more meat and fewer veggies, but it's essentially the same sandwich. And I could easily eat it every single day.

June 14
Ordered: Barbecue Pork Sandwich from Hi-Tea
Cost: $4.95
Remaining Budget: $52.02

Based on $100 for the month, I should be at $50 on the 15th, which means tomorrow might be time for a two dollar lunch.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy Monday Bahn Mi

Now that I've visited most of my usual lunch spots, I'll need to spend the rest of June venturing North of Market to new places I don't usually frequent. Today's lunch was from Happy Donut, a Mom & Pop donut shop that also serves Southeast Asian food.

One of their specialties is bahn mi, a Vietnamese sandwich on a baguette. Vietnam was colonized by the French, so the highlight of any Vietnamese sandwich is the baguette, and Happy Donut makes their own bread. I ordered the pork bahn mi, which is the most popular one (pictured above). It has spicy barbecued pork with pickled carrots and lots other veggies, all for $4.25. Very nice and quite filling.

June 13
Ordered: Pork Bahn Mi from Happy Donut
Cost: $4.25
Remaining Budget: $56.97

Friday, June 10, 2011

El Faro Friday

One of the great mysteries that I've been trying to solve since I started working in downtown SF is why there's always line out the door at Chipotle on Market every lunchtime while there are better (and cheaper) burritos with no waiting, just one block away at El Faro.

El Faro is a Bay Area institution that served the first-ever "Mission Burrito" in 1961, so they've been doing burritos for fifty years, and their style has changed very little during that time. Giant flour tortillas, refried beans, shredded lettuce, grated cheese, and that "mexican rice" that comes in Swanson dinners. Total comfort food.

I lived one block from the Concord El Faro when I moved back to the Bay Area in the late 80s, and used to eat there at least twice a week. I don't think I could do that now, but try to go there at least twice a month for lunch. All those one and two star reviews on yelp must be keeping people away, but I'm happy that El Faro is still around.

June 10
Ordered: Super Vegetarian Burrito from El Faro
Cost: $5.25
Remaining Budget: $61.22

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pulling Pork

Posting late today because it took awhile to determine how much today's lunch cost. I had leftover pork and coleslaw, so I decided to buy kaiser rolls and make a Carolina style pulled pork sandwich for today's lunch. The rolls cost $1.99 for a pack of four (50 cents each) and the pork was $2.99 a pound (a quarter pound is around 75 cents) and the head of cabbage cost 29 cents (five cents worth of cabbage). Plus a few cents worth of mustard and barbecue sauce. Grand total = $1.35. Brown bagging rules.

June 9:
Ate: Pulled Pork Sandwich from home
Cost: $1.35
Remaining Budget: $66.47

According to arithmetic, I should have $66.67 remaining, so I'm only 20 cents short.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Flying Currito Bros.

A few months ago, I noticed an orange Curry Up Now truck parked on Bush St, with a line down the block of people waiting to order. CUN a regular taco truck that serves Indian Street food, and their specialty is the "tikka masala burrito", which is exactly what it says -- chicken tikka masala wrapped in a flour tortilla. Most regulars like to call it a "currito".

I've always wanted to try it, but keep getting intimidated by the crowds during the lunchtime rush. I found on yelp that the secret is to either show up before noon or order online via their iPhone/Android app (or old-fashioned website). I wasn't together enough to order early, so I headed over at 11:30 today when the line wasn't quite as long. I had my chicken tikka burrito in less than five minutes.

The "currito" looks like a regular Misson burrito but tastes like curry. Very spicy curry, with methi palao and chickpeas instead of rice & beans. They're quite filling, but on the pricey side at $7.50 (I don't think they charge 350 rupees for Indian street food in India), which means I'll need to bring lunch from home one day this month to stay within my budget.

June 8:
Ordered: Chicken Tikka Masala Burrito from Curry Up Now
Cost: $7.50
Remaining Budget: $67.82

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Take Out TCP

For as long as I can remember, Monday night has been "pizza night" for me, which usually means that Tuesday is "leftover pizza day", since I can't eat a whole pizza by myself (at least without feeling guilty).

Sometimes I make different pizzas from scratch, but now that I'm commuting, I've found that it's easier and cheaper to order a pie from Papa Murphy's to bake at home. Yesterday I tried their new "Thai Chicken De-Lite" ($8 with the coupon).

I've long been a fan of "Asian style pizza", even though it's an unholy bastardization of two different cultures. Papa Murphy's Thai pizza is "Thai" because of the sweet chile sauce and veggies, because cheese isn't that common in Thai food (most Asians are lactose intolerant), but it's still really yummy.

I ate five pieces last night, and left three for lunch today. The cost per piece for an $8 pizza cut into eighths is easy to calculate, so today's lunch set me back a grand total of three dollars. More money for more culinary adventures later in the month!

June 7th:
Ate: Leftover Thai Chicken Pizza from Papa Murphy's
Cost: $3.00
Remaining Budget: $75.32

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tuna + Egg = Yummy

My regular Monday lunch is to head downstairs to Lee's Deli for a quick soup or sandwich. Today was a good day for soup (in June?), but they didn't have my favorite chicken sausage gumbo, so I opted for the sandwich.

My usual go to deli sandwiches are either tuna salad or egg salad, and Lee's has a combined tuna & egg salad sandwich for the same price as either option by itself. Two slices of bread with tuna on one side and egg salad on the other, with two big slabs of lettuce (iceberg) in between to keep them separated. The most awesome sandwich ever, for just $3.95, with no tax if you order to go.

June 6:
Ordered: Tuna & Egg salad sandwich from Lee's Deli
Cost: $3.95
Remaining Budget: $78.32

The only problem is that I've used up all my favorite lunch places (taco truck, Bindi, Lee's) in the first week of June, so I'll need to branch outside my comfort zone for the next 24 days.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tres De Asada

Friday is my regular "burrito day", so I was ready to head to Chipotle, which was the next restaurant on my list. It's kind of silly to eat chain Mexican food in a town full of authentic taquerias, but Chipotle is just downstairs from where I work, so it's a nice "rainy day" restaurant.

The line at Chipotle was out the door (even at 11:45), so I headed across the street to Los Compadres Taco Truck, which I wasn't supposed to visit until next Friday. There are four lunchtime taco trucks in the area, but I think Comadres is the best (and cheapest) option. You can get three soft tacos for $5, which keeps me right at magic five dollar lunch. The cheapest burrito at Chipotle is $6.30.

My standard Compadres order is either three carne asada or three carnitas tacos, and today was asada day. "Tres de Asada, por favor". Delicioso!

June 3:
Ordered:3 Carne Asada Tacos from Los Compadres
Cost: $5.00
Remaining: $82.27

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Bun Thang

Today's lunch took me to Cafe Tomo, a Pan-Asian cafe down the street from my office that doesn't take credit cards. Their Thursday special is Bun Thang, a Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken, egg, and pork. Very filling, and great for a cool day like today.

This set me back $6.95 plus tax ($7.73), which put me $2.73 over my $5/day goal after just two days, but it was worth it. I can make it up by brown bagging a few more lunches from home later in the month.

June 2:
Ordered: Ban Thang from Cafe Tomo
Cost: $7.73
Remaining: $87.27

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so

I'm revising an old blogging theme during the month of June. I've been working in downtown S.F. for the past year and have been eating lunch at the same few places, so I'm going to try to eat lunch at a different place every weekday this month, and keep my monthly lunch expenses to $100, or roughly $5/day for 20 days.

Five dollar lunches are hard to find in the financial district, so I might need to bring lunch from home a couple of days each week to save money, but I'm going to try to get my monthly lunch tab under $100. I'm also going to try to eat in alphabetical order, starting with A places and working my way to Z.

I couldn't think of any A restaurants in the area, so my first lunch was a chicken vindaloo lunchbox from Bindi Restaurant & Wine Bar. Wednesday is usually "curry day" for me, and Bindi is in my regular rotation. It's a regular sit-down Indian restaurant with a lunch buffet, but there's also an area at the back that sells $5 lunch boxes to go (cash-only, no tax).

After the first day, I've spent exactly $5, leaving me with a budget of $95 for the rest of the month.

June 1:
Ordered: Chicken Vindaloo Lunchbox from Bindi
Cost: $5.00
Remaining: $95.00