Monday, March 15, 2010

Tasty Options for a Supercheap Pre-Symphony Dinner?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 1:59 PM

click to enlarge If you can spare the time, wander the few blocks to Pagolac. - ED U./YELP
  • Ed U./Yelp
  • If you can spare the time, wander the few blocks to Pagolac.
Dinner is the hidden surcharge for symphony and opera tickets. When you've splurged on $50 seats, it seems wrong to heat up a can of Campbell's beforehand, but doubling that fee just to have an entree and a glass of wine at a nearby bistro isn't always an option. Last week, a question came in from B. L.:

I'd appreciate a recommendation for any cheap and cheerful dinner places within walking distance of Davies Symphony Hall, if you know of any. No dietary restrictions involved.
I asked B. L. to clarify how much she wanted to spend, how far she wanted to walk, and whether she had specific types of cuisine in mind. She wrote back:
Hayes Valley is fine. Not too far up Van Ness or along Market if possible. And it's for me and an unemployed pal, under $20 each is good. We can eat with our hands, but we want to sit down while doing it.
After riding around the neighborhood refreshing my memory, I have a few suggestions:

1. My first instinct would be to walk a few blocks beyond the immediate neighborhood, either visiting Pagolac (655 Larkin at Ellis) for baby lotus root salad and rice-paper-wrapped grilled meats or Burmese Kitchen (452 Larkin at Turk) for tea leaf salad, split-pea tofu, and chicken curry. Both restaurants have invested in decent lighting and flatware, but keep prices well within your limit.

2. If it's a clear evening, you could stop by Arlequin Cafe (384 Hayes at Gough) for press-grilled sandwiches and glasses of wine on the hidden back patio; the cafe closes at 8 p.m. on most nights, well after symphony performances begin.

3. I love the meze plates, adana kebabs, and ― if they still have any left from lunch ― the feta pies at Gyro King (25 Grove at Hyde). I wouldn't call the place romantic, but a recent paint job upgraded the atmosphere from government-building cafeteria to Whole Foods cafe, and the food's much better than at many of the other symphony haunts where diners will spend twice as much.

Season-ticket holders scouted out most of these cheap restaurants long ago, so you'll need to go at least 90 minutes before showtime. If anyone else has a favorite under-$20 pre-symphony meal to pass on, want to add it to the comments section?

E-mail your questions to

and follow me on Twitter: @JonKauffman

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