Urban Picnic specializes in Vietnamese-inspired, California-fresh cuisine (the lighter side of Vietnamese). This makes sense when you know the owner is a Vietnamese-American, born in Vietnam, and then raised in California. Its newer sister restaurant, Mekong Kitchen, is more about traditional Vietnamese food that’s a bit heartier, but this place does a nice job of keeping things light. With two locations (FiDi and SoMa), it’s an excellent lunch option; the SoMa location is especially beautiful–it sits beside a massive sun-filled public outdoor seating area …
Every item on Urban Picnic’s menu is labeled clearly with indicators as to whether it contains gluten (or dairy, nuts, etc), as well as indicators for items that are vegan and vegetarian. It should be noted all of Urban Kitchen’s pho is also free from MSG. For all the dietary-restricted peeps, this makes ordering a breeze. The kale & quinoa salad, a bountiful bowl of GF grains topped with loads of fruits and vegetables and coming with a sesame ginger vinaigrette, is as delicious as it is photogenic. The other four entree-sized salads on the menu are also 100% gluten-free, and full of fresh produce. My friend had the Urban Bowl, which is composed of cabbage, herbs, pickled veggies, and bean sprouts, topped with protein of your choice (5 spice chicken, tofu, lemongrass chicken, ginger beef, or grilled pork), and then garnished with chopped peanuts and a tangy garlic-lime “nuoc mam” sauce. We got the grilled pork version and also requested it over quinoa, which made it a super filling meal. My favorite thing I tasted however was the pho, made with naturally GF rice noodles and msg-free bone broth. I went with the chicken which was very tasty, but your other options include beef with bone broth, or tofu with vegetable broth. As with any bowl of pho, the garnishes and condiments are crucial, and this one comes with a hefty amount of fresh herbs and bean sprouts, which is just how I like it. Add a couple squeezes of lime, some hoisin and Sriracha, and you’ll be in pho heaven.
Anyone lucky enough to be working within walking distance of the 2nd street location should treat themselves to lunch al fresco here on a sunny day. You’ll forget you’re in the middle of downtown as you bask in the sun, enjoying this comforting yet light and fresh Vietnamese goodness.