Dinner (and Lunch!) on Demand

In San Francisco, ground zero for everything on-demand, the concept of food delivery is being re-imagined.
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Everything I want to eat I can order with a few touches on my smartphone and have delivered. I know, ordering in is nothing new. But in San Francisco, ground zero for everything on-demand, the concept of food delivery is being re-imagined. There's a new crop of start-ups in the Bay Area that employ professional chefs who make gourmet meals you can order and have delivered to your desk or your doorstep - often in fewer than ten minutes. I tested four: Munchery, Sprig, Spoonrocket and Thistle. The winner? Well, it really boils down to what matters most when you order: selection, speed, price and style. Here's the rundown.

Munchery: Of the four services I tried, Munchery by far has the best selection. On any given day you can choose from more than ten entrees like Coq au Vin, Acorn Squash Tagine or a Japanese Meatloaf prepared by local chefs who hail from celebrated restaurants like Boulevard and Michael Mina. There are vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free choices. There are also about ten side dishes like sushi rolls, salads and soups; kids meals; multiple gourmet desserts; and coffee, juice and a curated selection of beer and wine. The delivery presentation is awesome in aesthetics and substance. The food is packaged beautifully in eco-friendly packaging. But there are some hiccups they still need to work out.

My first Munchery order was a Pan-fried Cornmeal Crusted Catfish "Po Boy" served on a soft bun with shredded romaine, tomatoes, red onion and dill pickles with a Tabasco remoulade. It was served with white corn hush puppies and a habanero jelly dipping sauce. I also ordered two side dishes: Tuna Poke and a BLT Maki Roll. My husband ordered Japanese Meatloaf. By all accounts it should have been delicious. But the food and sauces were packaged all wrong. I ended up pouring the meatloaf glaze on my poke and dipping my BLT Maki in my salad dressing. First-world problems, I know. But it was gross. I tweeted to customer support and they were immediately responsive with apologies and $25 credit to try the service again. And I did: I ordered Flank Steak Tacos. The food was more than 15 minutes late and I had to call customer service to get confirmation of the delay. But when it did arrive it was super flavorful. The meat was rare and after heating it in the oven for eight minutes, it was cooked to perfection. All the sauces were in order. Prices range from $9 - $12. Dinner only. $2.95 delivery fee. Order from your desktop or smartphone (iOS or Android) and set the delivery time. Tipping is not included in the price of the meal and optional according to the company. The good stuff runs out fast. Best for: Selection.

Sprig: I love Sprig for lunch. I browsed the dinner menu for weeks but nothing ever called out my name. There are three choices for dinner on most nights and two are chicken and pasta. While with Munchery you name your time of delivery, Sprig is truly on demand. On one cold and rainy day my colleague Jenna and I ordered in for lunch. While the dinner options weren't my speed, Sprig's lunch menu managed to nail everything I love in one sandwich called the BLAT. The BLAT is a wrap with bacon, spinach, avocado lining a sun-dried tomato wrap with white cheddar cheese and a chipotle yogurt dressing. It was delivered to my desk (literally, I didn't even get up) in seven minutes! When the delivery person opened his bag it was filled with chilled (really chilled, bordering on frozen) BLATs. They must have drivers camped out with coolers filled with these things in all corners of the city ready to deliver. Lunch was $9 plus a $2.95 delivery fee (includes tip, in fact I received multiple notifications not to tip). Order from your smartphone (iOS or Android). Came with a salad. Best for: Speed

Spoonrocket: Spoonrocket offers a menu of four meals that you can order for lunch and dinner, as well as a smoothie. Of all the apps I tested Spoonrocket had the most straightforward meal options, or in other words, it's not fancy with fancy chefs like Munchery - just straightforward meals (for San Francisco anyway, we're spoiled here) delivered fast. I browsed Spoonrocket for a couple of weeks before I placed an order. The selection is small and it took some time to find something that appealed to me. On the evening I ordered the options were Slow Roasted Asian BBQ Pork Ribs with jasmine rice ($8); Butternut Squash & Broccoli Mac & Cheese with fontina cheese sauce and peas ($8); Lemon & Black Pepper Salmon with parsnip mashed potatoes ($12) and Southwestern Spiced Albacore Tuna Salad with a side of orange-cilantro dressing. ($10). I signed up and placed my order on Friday night while riding the escalator up from the Castro Muni station. The sign up process is super fast. I connected with Facebook and snapped my credit card with my iPhone camera for payment. I received a text with an estimate of 15 - 25 minute delivery time. But my food arrived much faster. In fact, the driver was there with my meal in ten minutes. I walked the two blocks from the Castro metro just in time to meet him at the curb of my place. My experience with Spoonrocket drivers, and all the drivers of these services, is that they are very polite (May I offer you a napkin and utensils?) and super friendly. My salad was undeniably fresh. I've found in most cases when I order salads in for delivery it's wilted. Not so here - the lettuce leaves were practically crisp and no brown edges in sight. But the tuna was a disappointment and very dry. I had to double-check the description because I thought it might be chicken. Best for: Speed and price. Spoonrocket accepts Bitcoin.

Thistle: Thistle's focus is healthy food. The company has its origins in raw, cold-pressed juice. It started with a small pop-up location in 2013 and grew to become a company that delivers food that is local and sustainable on demand. I'll be straight - Thistle's uber-healthy choices like chia pudding and quinoa dishes don't really appeal to me. So instead, I ordered juice. The "Hunter" juice (Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Spinach, Parsley) was delicious and well priced compared to other juices in SF. But the 100% ginger juice shot was the stand out. It was pure and concentrated so much so that I diluted it in 2L of water. So good! The company also offers cold brew coffee. Food, juices and cold brew coffee range from $6 - $10. My ginger juice shot was $3. Desktop only. It takes anywhere from 10 -30 minutes to receive your order. My juices arrived in ten minutes. Tip included. As with Spoonrocket, you meet your driver curbside. Thistle sends you multiple texts to track your order so you know exactly when to go and meet your driver. Currently website only. Best for: Speed and healthy lifestyle.

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