Bay Area customers are notoriously chain-averse, whether it's because we always root for underdog restaurateur success stories or just plain dislike a sterile atmosphere with formulaic menus. However, the region absolutely loves its homegrown mini-chains. Places like Souvla, Gott's Roadside and Lers Ros might have grown beyond their original locations but they're still as exciting — and consistently delicious — as when they were just young, single restaurants. Yes, chains can be great; here are nine we love.
Little Star Pizza
The formula: Excellent deep-dish pizzas that make Chicago expats feel like they're back home
Lunch for one: Averages $15
Menu highlights: Little Star’s namesake pie with spinach, mushroom, ricotta and feta; BBQ chicken pie with pineapple and bacon; spicy chicken wings
Tasting notes: The popular Divisadero original location doesn’t accept reservations but has an online wait list — take advantage and sign up from work or home.
The formula: Né Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in 1949 along the Napa Valley’s main thoroughfare, Highway 29, Gott's is a James Beard regional classic award winner for good reason — serving high-quality, wallet-friendly, unpretentious food like ahi burgers and chili dogs that we seem to always crave.
Lunch for one: Averages $20
Menu highlights: Any burger (we particularly love the Texas avocado burger); Baja fish tacos; hot dog with cheddar and chili
Tasting notes: A St. Helena legend, Gott’s knows a thing or two about wine. On cue, it’s the rare fast- food/fast-casual concept that actually has wine geek–approved wines by the glass and bottle.
The formula: A Bay Area adjective for taco- and margarita-fueled good times in loud, hip environs. Oh, the tacos are pretty creative and definitely delicious too.
Lunch for one: Averages $25 with a drink and $15 without a cocktail
Menu highlights: Made-to-order guacamole; chicken chili verde taco; carnitas taco; margarita de la casa
Tasting notes: Join the crowd of devoted regulars for the hip-again hard-shell and ground beef tacos on Taco Tuesdays.
The formula: Three proteins and a vegetarian option paired with fresh, exciting Cali-Greek preparations as wraps or salad served in a rustic-chic space made this the OG fast-casual concept — and still the most popular mini-chain
Lunch for one: Averages $22
Menu highlights: Everything. The roasted sweet potato with garlic yogurt and pea shoots as a salad and the chicken wrap with “granch” dressing, fennel and navel oranges are particularly special. Don’t forget Greek fries with mizithra cheese and frozen Greek yogurt with baklava crumbles for dessert.
Tasting notes: The Divisadero and Mission locations are much, much less crowded than the Hayes Valley original.
The formula: Taking the ubiquitous burger, fries and shakes fast-food trio and transforming it into a family-friendly fast-casual concept with dozens of customizable options using high-quality, fresh ingredients. For fans of wild boar or bison burgers with eclectic toppings, Roam is your jam.
Lunch for one: Averages $20
Menu highlights: “French and Fries” burger with a bison patty, Gruyère, avocado, “piquant sauce,” caramelized onions and truffle Parmesan fries between two buns; arguably the Bay Area’s best housemade veggie burger; the “fry-fecta” side of regular fries, sweet potato fries and the zucchini-onion haystack
Tasting notes: You’ll never get tired of the extensive menu, but Roam often has compelling seasonal specials. A turkey burger with Brie and quince spread along with a pumpkin pie shake, anyone?
The formula: Oysters. Oysters. Oysters. Have some clam chowder and a glass of bubbles if you’d like but Hog Island is really about one thing only — the oysters plucked from its farm on Tomales Bay.
Lunch for one: Well, that depends on how many rounds of oysters you’d like! On average, consider $40–$50 a good estimate per diner.
Menu highlights: Oysters on the half shell; grilled chipotle-bourbon oysters; oyster po’ boy (not available in Marshall)
Tasting notes: Please, have all the oysters! But don’t forget about the oyster-free clam chowder and Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese at the Oxbow and Ferry Building locations. Also, don't even try walking into the Marshall location, where reservations are required; book online at least a week in advance.
The formula: There are a lot of craft breweries in the Bay Area, yet Woods manages to be different from the crowd by specializing in beers made with yerba mate, served up in small, quirky drinking dens.
Lunch for one: Averages $18 if your lunch is mostly a liquid lunch
Menu highlights: Morpho, a hop-less gruit beer with yerba mate, hibiscus and bay leaf; MateVeza IPA; Local Honey, a sweet and herbal pale ale; El Porteño empanadas
Tasting notes: Every March since 2013, Woods has created brews inspired by Girl Scout cookie flavors. Also, note that the Treasure Island location is weekends only.
The formula: Not so long ago, Thai cuisine in San Francisco consisted of mostly overly sweet pad Thai dishes aside from a few sleeper gems in the Tenderloin like Lers Ros. It's not a sleeper anymore. The menu is sprawling but the flavors are equally bold and the newer Mission and Hayes Valley locations have sleeker contemporary vibes.
Lunch for one: Averages $20
Menu highlights: Stir-fry pork belly with crispy rind; garlic quail; sliced beef stir-fry with peppercorn and galangal; green papaya salad
Tasting notes: Keep the Hayes Valley location in mind for dinner before or after the next show you’re attending. It tends to slip under the radar because of that neighborhood’s crowded dining scene.
The formula: Outstanding Neapolitan pizzas with a few salads, antipasti and Italian comfort classics that would be right at home at older sibling Delfina.
Lunch for one: Averages $30
Menu highlights: Clam pie; broccoli raab pie with caciovallo, mozzarella, olives and hot peppers; any burrata preparation
Tasting notes: Don’t miss fried chicken Mondays at the two Peninsula locations.