Where the tech elite go to eat

For Road Trip 2015, CNET uncovers where tech workers -- everyone from programmers to CEOs to venture capitalists -- line up for lunch in downtown San Francisco.

Brett Murphy Summer Intern / CNET News
Brett Murphy is an editorial intern for CNET News. He attends the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared on KQED, AJ+, New American Media, the San Jose Mercury News, and several regional magazines in Pittsburgh, Penn., where he went to college and put french fries in sandwiches.
Brett Murphy
3 min read

Check out all the places we've been on CNET's Road Trip 2015.

If you wait until noon, it's too late.

Lines of lunch-goers pop out of restaurants and spill onto the streets in downtown San Francisco. With long hours and stressful deadlines, tech works up an appetite.

Satellite offices in the city have become a recruitment tool for Silicon Valley tech companies, always on the lookout for an edge in attracting talent. And with good reason: Employees living in the city would rather work here than commute 30 minutes or more to an office park in the South Bay. But they need places to eat.

The influx of companies and their hungry employees has been a boon for restaurateurs in a city notorious for weird pizza and stale bagels. If you can afford it, downtown San Francisco is a haven for foodies, which is good for the 280,000 people who work here.

From authentic Asian food joints -- seemingly representing every corner of the continent -- to food trucks serving up burritos, soul food and everything in between, chances are whatever you're craving is within walking distance.

"There are a lot of restaurants with awesome ratings," said Julia Nguyen, an events specialist at Yelp. The headquarters of the user-reviews giant is in the heart of San Francisco's South of Market district, part of the city's central downtown area. "We encourage people to go out and spend money at the local businesses."

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Employees at San Francisco-based startup ProsperWorks enjoy catered burritos.

James Martin/CNET

And spend you will. On either side of Market Street -- the main drag cleaving downtown -- most food options are expensive even by city standards. There's a burger for $17 and tacos for $20. But these prices haven't scared away the techies.

A Yelp reviewer, using a similar economy of words, captured the industry's relationship to San Francisco cuisine: "I really like the food," a user calling himself Sean C. said in his appraisal of Store on the Corner, a Korean take-out spot in SoMa. "But as a random white dude, can't vouch for its authenticity."

If you look hard enough, you can still find chain restaurants. There are four McDonald's in the square mile surrounding downtown. There are more Subway sandwich shops, though, chiming in at 14. There are even two Chipotle outposts, serving up corporate America's take on the Mexican food you could otherwise easily find in this city.

The one thing these places all have in common: If you miss the noon deadline, you'll find yourself at the end of a snaking line.

"It's a great foodie capital of the world," said Hana Mandapat, a marketing manager at Salesforce. Tech's biggest employer and office tenant in the city, Salesforce is home to 5,000 employees here, with another 10,000 globally. "Tech people are notoriously chained to their desks. We have an urban campus to encourage people getting outside."

Some San Francisco-based companies still choose to feed their employees, a practice much more common south in Silicon Valley where lunch options are less abundant. Places like Pinterest and Zynga are famous for their mealtime perks.

Hot lunch spots for startups in San Francisco (pictures)

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ProsperWorks, a startup that helps businesses manage interactions with customers, feeds its roughly 40 employees catered lunch and dinner in a loft-style kitchen complete with a fully stocked bar. Thursdays are "Burrito Feast" from the Little Chihuahua, a popular Mexican food joint, brought in from catering startup ZeroCater.

Jon Lee, CEO at ProsperWorks, said he spends about $35 per person, per day. "It simply comes down to making a happy environment for our employees," he said.

For those who have to pay their own way at lunchtime, the good news is there are more restaurants per capita here than in any other city in the country, according to real estate company Trulia.

A lot more. At 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households, San Francisco has nearly 50 percent more restaurants relative to its size than the runner-up, Fairfield County, Connecticut (the southwest corner of the state nearest New York, which has 25.3 restaurants per 10,000 households). There's a restaurant in San Francisco for every 376 people.

From the 4,500-plus eateries in just seven square miles, we narrowed the field to just a few favorites in SoMa and the Financial District. Check out our slideshow above for a look at some of the places where tech -- from the programmers and engineers to the CEOs and venture capitalists -- goes to eat.