WHAT’S for LUNCH? Lunch at Zare’s & Juhu Beach Club

Here are two of the best new lunch spots in town. SoMa residents/workers are lucky to have both, but they are worth a trek from anywhere in the city.

Zare at Fly Trap

ZARE’S GRILL & GRAIN – SoMa, 606 Folsom Street (at 2nd  St.), 415-243-0580, lunch is weekdays only, 11am-2pm

Pomegranate Soup

There’s no chef quite like Hoss Zare. All heart, skill and love, Hoss’ hugs are famous, as is his warm, inclusive greeting that makes dining at his restaurant, Zare at Fly Trap, such a pleasure.

There’s is also no one quite doing what he’s doing with Persian, Iranian and Mediterranean foods. His creative vision keeps his menus as interesting as Zare’s environment is welcoming.

I visited during opening week of his just-launched, casual, weekday lunches. Lucky are those who work nearby and can grab to-go meals. But it’s worth going out of your way for lunch here (just as it is for a more formal dinner or cocktails at the bar).

Salmon Lentil Salad

In keeping with his recent health scare (he’s doing wonderfully and looks great, post-heart attack), Hoss made the lunch menu as healthy as it is flavorful. You’ll find lots of whole grains, fish, lean meats and wraps. As one who sacrifices ‘healthy’ if it means flavorless or uninteresting, I find a couple items downright exciting.

I give you two words: Sardine Wrap. There are many wraps here, from crispy bulgur to lamb ($10-12), all on lavash bread or whole wheat pita. But the Sardine Wrap ($10) has no equal. It’s hands down one of the best things I’ve eaten this year. Loaded with grilled Monterey sardines and white anchovies, the wrap is meaty and not too fishy. It’s fresh and bright with grilled cherry tomato, broccoli rabe, walnuts and spicy bread crumbs for a bit of crunch, and the winning piece that ties it altogether: creamy black garlic spread. Reminding me of days on the Mediterranean coast, this is elevated, elegant ‘fast’ food…  a genius menu addition.

One-of-a-kind Sardine Wrap

You won’t go wrong with generous grain plates either, like Salmon Lentil Salad ($12), a heaping black pearl lentil salad dotted with fennel, braised endive, roasted bell peppers. Lemon, thyme and tumeric imbue dimension, while balsamic vinaigrette ties it together. Salmon is tender, even buttery, with a gentle crisp on the outside, topped with a dollop of salsa verde. It feels good eating such a balanced plate, thankfully with no lack in the flavor department.

Hoss has long done soups and stews right (I still recall his Persian Chili at last year’s Persian Pub Grub dinners). He continues the tradition with Pomegranate Soup ($9), a beauty of tart, savory balance with green split peas, French lentils, basmati rice, and mini duck meatball in the middle. This is another unique dish you won’t find peers to.

Rarely is a lunch this affordable and unusual. Order at the counter and eat-in with self serve utensil and condiments station, or take it to go.

JUHU BEACH CLUB inside the Garage CafeSoMa, 320 11th Street (between Folsom & Harrison), weekdays only 11:30am-8pm

Juhu Beach Club

Top Chef fans will remember Preeti Mistry from season six, which will surely be a draw for some. But the food lovers among us go for her creative Indian street food and home-style cooking.

I ever long for more unusual or regional Indian dishes beyond the curry houses I love so, so was delighted to hear of her concept. I’ve not been disappointed after a couple visits.

Juhu Beach Club resides inside a humble liquor store, Garage Cafe, where you can chat with Preeti as she cooks up your meal (hours are 11am-8pm).

Start with seasonal chaat ($4), Indian snacks like puri in tamarind sauce. Portions are generous for the price and ingredients fresh.

Preeti has fun with sandwiches like Sloppy Lil’ P ($7), a vegetarian, Sloppy Joe twist. On a buttery ACME bun, the patty is made of potato, onion, cauliflower, peas and carrots. It’s a comforting, warm mash laced with spices.

Sloppy Lil’ P

BOM Egg Salad Sandwich via LHR to SFO ($6) may be too long a moniker, but it’s a fine Straus yogurt-based egg salad laced with garam masala, topped with watercress and English cucumber. For meat lovers, there’s Holy Slow Braised Cow ($9): tender, smoky black cardamom short ribs in a bun with cucumber raita. Pickled sides of chilies, beets and garlic cloves are worthy sandwich accents.

Seasonal Chaat

Sassy Lassi ($3) is thankfully a salty (but refreshing) lassi, reminiscent of more traditional versions I’ve had. The drink is balanced with mango, lime and toasted cumin, pleasing to the savory tooth like myself.

Best of all, Preeti just returned from a food and booze-filled trip to New Orleans for inspiration. She is adding Nola influences into the Indian mix, offering specials with a Big Easy stamp. Her Shrimp Po’Bhai (‘Po Boy) is BBQ shrimp laced with curry leaves and ginger.

I suggest you go sooner rather than later to what is already one of the more gratifying take-out and creative Indian spots in all of SF.