There’s something slightly suspicious about the category “fast-casual.” Lunch is so rushed, and it’s easy to settle for an unsatisfactory meal just to get something in your stomach, that a few buzzwords can lure us in. Fast-casual is the food equivalent of “athleisure,” which basically consists of ugly clothes that are too functional too dismiss. (And if everybody else is wearing them, too, who will judge you?)
At its worst, fast-casual can be bloodless and corporatized, and leave you feeling like you got hoodwinked into paying a premium for a glorified Subway foot-long made with the world’s palest tomato. But at its best, it’s tasty, nutritious, and convenient. Dabba, the SoMa brick-and-mortar concept that evolved out of a food truck dedicated to “ethnic confusions” doesn’t feel like anyone convened a focus group to determine what’s trendy with the millennials. Rather, it derives from Avatar’s, the Indian restaurant in Sausalito where the recipes were never written down.
Here, things are equal parts Mexican, Caribbean, and Indian. And Dabba’s Pork Bowl — as well as the Pork Burrito — is unquestionably excellent, playfully messing with authenticity to yield strong flavors with a bit of originality.
Chef Walter Abrams has done stints at The French Laundry and at Spruce, as well as at Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach, and the menu reflects his cosmopolitan approach. Dabba’s menu is simple overall, essentially permutations of chicken, pork, lamb, and veggie (as bowls, burritos, and three-to-an-order tacos). But the $13 pork bowl isn’t an industrial sous-vide preparation shipped from a centralized distribution center; it’s braised for 12-hours in a Caribbean jerk, then plated — or bowled, as it were — with pickles, wilted greens, and yogurt, along with paratha, the Northern Indian flatbread. Get it spicy.
While the burrito was sheathed in foil to the point of suffocation — it does get a little frustrating to tear pieces off without ever seeming to unwrap it — it’s equally delicious, a perfect balance of rice, meat, and zing. I like a ton of cilantro, and this sauce is tangy and pungent. At $11, it’s arguably a shade costly as burritos go — although about what you’d pay for a Sushrrito around the block on New Montgomery — but the quality of the pork is undeniable and hey, there’s real silverware.
OK, fast-casual, you win this round.
Dabba, 71 Stevenson St., 415-236-3984