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Friday, July 18, 2014

Vietnamese-Inspired Urban Picnic Arrives in the Castro

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 4:00 PM

Roasted pork banh mi - PETE KANE
  • Pete Kane
  • Roasted pork banh mi

The Castro already got its widened sidewalks, and it's about to get a Walk of Fame, rainbow crosswalks, and maybe a microdermabrasion. It's too bad such top-down beautification can't result in better food, because let's face it: There is room for improvement. Health-obsessed, Vietnamese-inspired Urban Picnic's second location is trying to rectify the situation for us.

See Also: Rice Paper Scissors' Brunch: Exactly As Good As You're Hoping

Strictly speaking, Urban Picnic is a salad-and-sandwich joint that's capitalizing on the banh mi craze, and has little in common with either Saigon Sandwich or Rice Paper Scissors. Here, the light fixtures are conical peasant hats and the menu (a wall-mounted flat screen) is cluttered with icons designating whether something is vegetarian, vegan, gluten- or dairy-free, contains nuts and seeds or constitutes a "superfood." Urban Picnic is, it would seem, tripping over itself to be nutritious, even if the superfood in question is the humble avocado, leading to a conspicuous non-appearance of rice anywhere on the menu. Everything has quinoa instead.

  • Pete Kane

The roasted pork banh mi (dairy-free, but with little else to recommend it to a health nut) was pretty good, improved with the addition of extra jalapeños and washed down with complimentary cucumber water. As a strong plus, virtually everything on the menu limboes under the $10 threshold, which includes genuinely tasty-sounding items such as aginger-soy beef banh mi, and a 5-spice chicken bowl made with either noodles or quinoa, plus cabbage, herbs, pickled veggies, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and peanuts.

With its KA-BLAM orange-and-lime color scheme and cheery mural of the S.F. skyline, Urban Picnic is an almost aggressively happy place to eat lunch, at a Chipotle-level of authenticity with respect to its mother cuisine. (But at least it's not a clone of the original Kearny Street location.) In the final analysis, since the Castro is such a consistently disappointing neighborhood to have to eat in, anything that's better-than-average and with an affordable price point is more than welcome.

Urban Picnic, 4039 18th St., 346-9700.

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About The Author

Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40


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