San Francisco: Gourmet to-go windows

Courtesy Spencer on the Go
Spencer on the Go, Chez Spencer's to-go window

Award-winning chefs at establishments like Fish and Farm and Chez Spencer are now serving lunch out of to-go windows, all for about half the price of what you'd spend in the restaurant. Now that the weather is getting warmer—and the sun is actually coming out—a picnic seems like an idyllic way to spend an afternoon. It's easier than you think with these delicious options at to-go prices.

One caveat: These windows draw crowds, so expect lines—but it's well worth the wait.

American Box Lunch

'Hood Union Square

Grub Sandwiches, salads, and burgers.

During lunch hour on weekdays, Fish and Farm, a much-buzzed-about new restaurant serving local seafood and meats, sells boxed lunches just across the street from the restaurant's main entrance. Called the American Box Lunch, the to-go meals are becoming even more popular than the restaurant itself, mostly due to the line-caught, house-made tuna sandwich with heirloom tomatoes and tartar sauce ($9) and a cheeseburger with Niman Ranch beef, house-made pickles, and grilled onions, which local magazine 7X7 named one of the best in the city ($8).

Where to sit Take your boxed lunch three blocks over to the park in Union Square, which has benches and tables.

Details Cash only, Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 339 Taylor Street.

Spencer On the Go

'Hood SOMA

Grub French.

Instead of the fine-dining experience at Chez Spencer, enjoy French food by the same award-winning chef Laurent Katgely at the restaurant's taco truck, parked in the evenings at the corner of Folsom and 7th Street. The menu features items like caper-braised skate cheeks ($8), Sweetbread with Sherry ($9), and escargot puffs ($2.)

Where to sit Pop a squat right there on the sidewalk, or take your food across the street for a glass of wine at Terroir, an organic wine bar that also provides wine for Chez Spencer and welcomes Spencer on the Go patrons.

Details Cash only, Wed.-Sat. starting at 6 p.m.

Greens to Go

'Hood Fort Mason/Marina

Grub Vegetarian

Green's is one of the first and most famous vegetarian fine-dining restaurants in the country. Entrees are made with all-organic, local ingredients, some grown at the restaurant's own garden at Marin's Zen Center. While Green's has a $15 minimum during sit-down lunch, the to-go counter features a seasonal menu, along with mainstay items like vegetarian curry ($6.50) and a peanut noodle salad ($ 6.50) at a more reasonable price.

Where to sit The Marina Green park, two blocks south of Fort Mason, which overlooks the Bay and has excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

Details Mon-Thurs. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Fort Mason, Building A.

The Sentinel

'Hood Financial District

Grub Sandwiches and salads.

Converted diner Canteen serves a prix-fix menu of organic-fusion food (aka California Cuisine) and is a favorite among locals in the Tenderloin. But, their prices can break the bank. Luckily, chef Dennis Leary has started the Sentinel, a to-go window about eight blocks from the restaurant that serves salads and sandwiches through lunchtime, like the much-coveted corned-beef sandwich with Swiss ($8.75), polenta soup ($5.65), and seasonal specialties like roasted salmon, avocado, and fennel salad, with a rhubarb crisp on the side ($11.65).

Where to sit Enjoy your food at the steps on Market and Post Streets with the bike-messenger crowd for prime people watching, or head to Yerba Buena Center for the Art's lawn at Mission between 3rd and 4th Streets, two blocks away.

Details Mon-Fri. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 37 New Montgomery

Little Skillet

'Hood SOMA

Grub Soul food.

Farmer Brown's serves its signature gourmet take on southern comfort food at Little Skillet, a take-out window in a side alley in SOMA. The restaurant, on Mason Street, supports local and African-American farmers and uses sustainably raised foods and even beverages whenever possible. Get two pieces of fried chicken with a waffle ($8) or with a buttermilk biscuit and a side of potato salad or grits ($8.50) and top it off with a red velvet cupcake ($3).

Where to sit Most people eat right on the spot at the loading docks (the food is that good), but grassy South Park is two blocks away, and it's got benches and manicured lawns.

Details Cash only, Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 360 Ritch Street at Townsend.

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