San Francisco Lunch: International Food Center

It’s time for another installment of everybody’s favorite game: ”Make Midtown Lunch’ers Jealous!”.   Last time it was Yvo, taunting us with fried chicken from a truck in Downtown NYC.  Today, we travel all the way to the west coast, where it’s Nicole’s turn.  She’s a 23 year old Investment Management Associate who loves everything Asian, and is about to make us all very envious.

If there is one thing we are totally, 100% missing in Midtown, it’s some cheap Vietnamese food ($7 banh mi doesn‘t count).  A write up on that alone would be enough to make me jealous.  Tell me about some cheap Vietnamese food that is part of a *food court* in the Financial District of San Francisco, and you’ve got me looking for a new job in the Bay Area.

Downtown San Francisco is not much different than NYC when it comes to lunch.  Most people work the typical 9 to 5, so lunch options abound.  But just like in NYC, people seem all too content to settle for places that offer your run of the mill deli salads, sandwiches and soups.  I have one coworker whose favorite salad place costs her $10-12 everyday.  That is not the spirit of Midtown Lunch.  I read the site everyday and it has encouraged me to seek out the hidden lunch gems near my office. 

My all time favorite San Francisco lunch discovery is without a doubt “The International Food Center” or as I like to call it, “The Underground Food Ghetto”.  It’s pretty unassuming, with a slightly dirty looking green banner calling you downstairs from the sidewalk into an underground ethnic food heaven.  There is Japanese food/sushi, Burmese food, Filipino food, Mexican food, and the most popular: Pho Express, a place serving up French Vietnamese food.  It’s not the cleanest place, so it’s only for the lunch adventurous.  

Dirty Asian Food Court Porn, after the jump…

Since San Francisco is know for its overcast days, Pho Express is a great option serving up tons of different types of pho and soups.  On this particular day, I chose to order #16 which is the Chicken Won Ton Noodle Soup.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see what $6.25 gets you: a huge ceramic bowl brimming with large strips of chicken AND chicken won tons AND a generous portion of thin noodles all in a piping hot broth.

On top of that, they give you a side plate of traditional Vietnamese soup additions: bean sprouts, jalapenos and mint.  The strips of chicken had a slightly sweet charred/barbecued taste, while the won tons were just mushy enough.  The broth had a strong chicken flavor but didn‘t overwhelm the other ingredients. All in all, it was really filling, and the perfect soup for an overcast workday.  

My coworker was hungover that day and came along since he needed something greasy.  I recommended the Chinese counter which serves up some amazing sesame chicken.  He got the two item combo for $6.50 with the sesame chicken and beef broccoli.  He agreed that the sesame chicken was amazing and that the beef broccoli was above average. 

If walking into a place with a slightly dirty cafeteria vibe makes you think that you’re in for an amazing lunch, than you will love The International Food Center. There are tables everywhere and a few flat panel TVs that are always set to CNN for the business lunch crowd.  Like all great food courts, there is something for everyone here and most importantly it meets all of the criteria of what would be considered a “Midtown Lunch”. Under $10 (easily), exotic and everything comes in very generous portions.

Internatonal Food Center, 380 Bush St. (nr. Kearny), San Francisco

Nicole… you know us so well.  Work outside of Midtown and have a favorite lunch you want to share?  Email me at  


  • wow, i used to go here when i was 15! My friends and I would go shopping at SF Centre and then go to the international food center before heading back to the east bay. Thanks for the memory! Can’t believe it’s still there(although i remember it being ground level with an upstairs balcony?)

  • I used to eat here all the time when I worked in the Fin District of San Francisco in 1999. Hate to say it, but there were more ‘obvious’ decent places to eat there then there are here in mid town. Thank god for this blog.

  • 3 quid for chick/beef & broccoli…..jesus wept!!! that would be £12 here!! ($12,456,234,294.90 at current excahnge rates …..hehehee)

  • I know this place!!!!!!!!! it’s amazing!!!!!!!!!!! reminds me of the “upstairs eatery” in Boston where I used to eat 10+ years ago — a similar food court setup, but everything was Chinese

  • Ld I totally know that food court in chinatown in Boston. Its right across from where the chinatown bus used to pick up! That place has great bubble tea and smoothies!

  • totally is not an adjective

  • Oh, Rudy. If you stop spelling things with extraneous ‘u’s I will tewtally stop writing like a stupid American.

  • you’re not stupid, you’re american.

  • “Downtown San Francisco is not much different than NYC when it comes to lunch. Most people work the typical 9 to 5, so lunch options abound.”

    Do most people really work 9 to 5?

  • how do you block rudy mcbagel? seriously, he’s annoying and zach, am suprised you haven’t removed him..

  • See, the thing is, I actually heart Rudy. But I also only date total assholes, so of course I would.

  • Im not a ‘Complete’ arsehole.

    Im not French.

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