Henry’s Cafeteria: A Delicious and Cheap Lunch
92 2nd Street
(between Jessie St & Mission St)
It’s been a while since I’ve posted any truly grub findings. Why not? Sure, I’ve been a little busy, but really…they’re hard to find! (And even harder when some friends who claim to be grubgals and grubboys get the heebie jeebies when my eyes light up about true grub finds.) Well, this one is a hidden gem. And you have to love grub cooking to appreciate it.
Remember, set your expectations. Henry’s is about getting good food on the cheap. And that means for $5 on a weekday at lunch you can get what feels like 5-6 pounds of homemade Chinese / Hawaiian food to go. Keep reading folks. This is not like the cheapo places you see on Clement St. with the steam trays or aluminum foil pans of pre-made crappy chow mein, fried rice, or dried out dim sum.
This place makes you your food to order, while you wait. Did you read that? The food is made, for you, from scratch. Allow 8 minutes, please. Stand or sit, as you wish. $5-6. It uses fresh ingredients. Did you get that, too? I ordered a beef & mushroom scramble (Hawaiian style, which means you get 2 big scoops of rice and 1 generous scoop of macaroni salad on the side). The mushrooms, green onions, carrots, and onions were all behind the counter, looking fresh, and I saw them getting sliced up for little old me. The spinach in this scramble was from a bag, but I’m ok with that. Even the macaroni salad gets a little bit of homemade preparation, as I saw the woman behind the counter mixing in a little more mayo into its vat.
I’ve also ordered the chicken and green bean stir fry. Again, fresh ingredients. HUGE portions. Nice recyclable take-out containers that make for easy transport to work and home without leakage. My last visit there, the woman was getting ready to close for the holidays. I got an extra portion of the cooking, at no charge. Now that’s someone deserving of good karma.
The woman behind the counter (Henry’s daughter) makes your order in a huge wok…maybe this reminds me of home cooking, of the “whip it up in an instant because the kid’s hungry” variety.
The restaurant itself could cause some of you to get a little skeeved out. It looks like it was a grand cafeteria in the day, with the stainless steel counter that probably had several plastic trays pushed across it. The steam trays and heat lamps are still there but not in use. Instead the steam trays house some tupperware that house the fresh veggies. Next door is a liquor store apparently also owned by Henry…and so much of the floor space in the cafeteria doubles as storage for cases of beverages. Sure it’s a little dusty and dingy. But it’s the type of dingy based on it just being an old place probably without a lot of helping hands to scrub down every nook and cranny. I think this is a little different than busy places with a lot of staff that is still dirty (like certain Chinatown establishments).
So to fully appreciate this place, you have to understand downhome, latchkey-kid, Chinese American cooking. Or at least that’s what growing up in Northern California was like for me (ok maybe without the macaroni salad.)