Getting a good bite to eat around Union Square has never been the simplest task — especially if you're looking for non-hotel food and you have standards. And now with holiday shopping season in full swing and the Harry Potter show playing at the Curran for the next six months to a year (at least), you could probably use some ideas for when you're stuck and hangry in tourist trap central.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (see our review here) plays as a marathon in two parts every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday — starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday, 1 p.m. on Sunday — with an approximately two-and-a-half-hour dinner break in between Parts One and Two. This doesn't leave quite enough time to escape the neighborhood and have a leisurely meal elsewhere — and on Sunday when Part One lets out at 4:15 there isn't a whole lot that's open and serving food outside the hotel bar and fast-food realm until 5 or 5:30. With a total of six hours of theater-watching in a day, you ideally need a nice break with more than sustenance in between, right? The same goes if you're spending five or six hours on a weekend doing holiday shopping.
Below are some solid suggestions for food options, with and without booze, for the purposes of having a pleasant meal after binge-shopping, or between three-hour bouts of theater.
Melissa Perfit's one-year-old seafood-centric spot landed on SFist's list of the best seafood restaurants in town, and it's a great option all around for Union Square shoppers and theater-goers alike. The menu offers oysters and other raw-bar selections, as well crudos and excellent entrees like a "cioppino verde" and some nori spaghettini smothered in Dungeness crab. They also do a Martini Hour every day from 5 to 6:30 which fits right in the Harry Potter break window, and features multiple cocktail options for $9.
398 Geary Street at Mason - Open at 5 p.m. for dinner
This top-notch Neapolitan pizza emporium is a little bit of an uphill hike away from the square, but it's worth the exercise. Chef Jon Darsky does excellent work with salads, seafood starters, and house-made focaccia in addition to the delicious pizza array. And while there's no full bar, there is a great selection of Italian, French and California wine.
855 Bush Street bet. Mason and Taylor - Open at 5 p.m. for dinner Fri-Sun, 5:30 p.m. Tues-Thurs.
If you'd rather grab quick sustenance that's not Jack in the Box and head for nice drinks elsewhere, I'd suggest dinner at Halal Guys two blocks away from the Curran and drinks at Benjamin Cooper. Halal Guys offers simple gyro sandwiches or platters — chicken, beef and lamb, or falafel are the choices — and the secret is in the special "white sauce" and an extra slathering of tahini at the end. This is also a good option if you're starving after the show — they're open until midnight most days, and until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday night.
336 O'Farrell Street between Mason and Taylor - Open daily 10 a.m. to midnight
This is probably the only spot on this list where you'd be wise to make a reservation ahead — and it won't work for the Sunday Harry Potter gap because it doesn't open until 5:30 p.m., and you have to back in your seat at 6:30. It is, hands down, some of the best Thai food in town, and it has a Michelin star to show for it. Also, it has a full bar with interesting, Thai-inspired cocktails, and it's just two blocks from the theater.
The corner of Mason and Ellis, in the Park 55 Hotel - Open at 5:30 p.m. for dinner
Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen
For some hearty food and cocktails that are a step above a lot of the hotel options, this gastropub a few blocks away from Union Square is a great bet. Dinner starts at 3 p.m. daily — and the brunch is a good bet too, offered daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The simple menu includes a solid burger, wings, sliders, and fried cauliflower. And there's a late-night menu, too, starting at 10 p.m., featuring chicken and waffles and a breakfast burrito.
401 Taylor Street at O'Farrell - Open all day, with food until late
This ramen spot arrived in SF straight from Japan a few years back, specializing in the creamy, chicken-based tori paitan ramen. There is almost always a considerable (if fast-moving) line outside during prime dinner hours, but it may not be so bad if you roll up right at 5 p.m. when they open. In true Tokyo fashion they keep people moving in and out at a brisk place without a lot of chit-chat, and he ramen options are all solid. But if you’re chilled to the bone and in the mood for something heartier and meatier, go for the spicy lamb ramen, which is filled with tangy ground lamb and topped with chile oil.
672 Geary Street near Leavenworth
You'll need to hoof it back downhill to Market Street, but this mall Chinese place from TV chef Martin Yan, upstairs at the Westfield Centre, offers some of the best and most reliable Chinese food in the 'hood — with the added bonus of a full bar. And with two hours to spare, you'll have plenty of time to walk and have a leisurely meal here. Don't miss the hand-pulled noodles, which are a house specialty.
845 Market Street, Fourth Floor - Open for dinner at 3 p.m. daily
The bistro level at this multi-level spot makes for a nice escape from the bustling streets, tucked upstairs in an unassuming building across from Macy's on O'Farrell. The menu (which is near impossible to find on the website) includes things like escargot, steak tartare, whole grilled fish, and braised beef cheek. The traditional bistro fare is offset by a slick, almost airport-like dining room and chef's counter. And you can order down cocktails from the fancy Elements bar upstairs — or you can eat snacks and burgers there as well.
165 O'Farrell Street - Open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, no dinner Sunday
OneUp at the Grand Hyatt
The soaring, sleek bar at the Grand Hyatt — up a level from the lobby, down a long passageway — is a nice spot to relax among tourists and get a meal at odd hours. The simple menu is offered all day on weekends, featuring things like a burger, a prosciutto and brie flatbread, and a good but salty Cuban sandwich. The draw here is really the generally mellow bar, and the respite from the madness of Union Square on any given day.
345 Stockton Street at Sutter - Open all day
Rambler (Wed & Sat)
The restaurant at the Hotel Zeppelin is a quick walk from Union Square and the theaters, but there's a break between brunch and dinner when they do not serve food — between 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. This means it works for a 5:30 dinner (reservations suggested) for Harry Potter-goers on any day but Sunday, when the curtain for Part Two is at 6:30 — though service can be brisk and this wouldn't be impossible. The menu features pizzas and elevated bistro fare, including a good burger, and some great braised short ribs.
545 Post Street between Mason and Taylor