When I’m out shopping in Japantown — at Daiso for some new soup bowls, say, or grabbing groceries at Nijiya — there’s a good chance I’m going to need a little snack. But I don’t always have the time to sit down for sushi or take in a whole bowl of soup. I need a place to perch and take a load off from my grueling errands, and it needs to be quick and easy. Good thing there’s a candy shop that doubles as a lunch counter that’s always clutch for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Benkyodo Co. is a Japantown institution on the corner of Sutter and Buchanan streets, open since 1906. Specializing in confections like manju and mochi, it’s become a must-stop shop for anyone looking for fresh, homemade Japanese sweets. Run by the original owner’s two grandsons, Ricky and Bobby Okamura, Benkyodo has become a fixture of the neighborhood. Along the bright red counter, locals can find a spot to gossip and fill an hour while the world buzzes by outside.
Although their desserts are infamous, what I come here for is something very different: lunch. There are few places you can always count on for an empty bar stool and a quick bite. Benkyodo is one. If it’s your first visit, go for the deviled egg sandwich. Sliced egg whites are layered with mashed yolks and piled thickly onto two pieces of sliced bread. It’s topped with tomato, lettuce, and sliced onion that makes the sandwich look like a flower in bloom. The creamy mayo and mustard aren’t lost in the compilation of ingredients, either. This is a no-frills situation, just a damn good egg-salad sandwich.
If you’re looking for something to warm you up, go for the “hot dog sandwich.” This eight-inch frank comes on a massive sesame seed bun with two sliced tomatoes, chopped onion, relish, and yellow mustard. It’s the hot dog from heaven: not too messy, but just enough extra stuff to take it to the next level. Five bucks later and you’re back on the old dusty trail.
San Francisco isn’t exactly a lunch-counter kind of town. There is the occasional diner here and there, but rarely do you find a slender hall with nothing but spinning stools and soda fountains. Benkyodo does a lot of things well, but this is one thing they do very well that often gets overlooked.
Benkyodo Co., 1747 Buchanan St., 415-922-1244 or benkyodocompany.com