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San Francisco Museum Cafés

Still Life with Lunch

If contemplating Warhol's "Soup Cans" or "The Last Supper" makes you hungry for the real thing, you're in luck! San Francisco's three biggest art museums, SFMOMA, the Legion of Honor (Fine Arts Museum) and the Asian Art Museum each include onsite cafés. In addition, the California Academy of Sciences has a café at its temporary digs on Howard Street.

At the top of the culinary heap is SFMOMA with a café that has become a destination for even those not attending the museum. With broad windows facing Second Street, you can sit inside or out and enjoy people watching or just decompress after taking in an exhibition or two. The menu includes soup, salads, sandwiches and pizza. The portions here are large and both the desserts and salads are very good so you may want to split a main course with a friend and indulge in some extras along the way. On Thursday nights, when the museum is open late, there is an expanded dinner menu and snacks as well as wine by the glass. You really can't go wrong here no matter what you order. We recommend the toasted Niman Ranch smoked ham and Fontina panini with mustard aioli and balsamic onions ($8.95).

Next on the list is the only other café you can go to without attending the museum -- the California Academy of Sciences. While the temporary location is just a mere shadow of what was in the museum in Golden Gate Park, there are some interesting exhibits, especially geared for kids and a show next year focused on chocolate sure to whet appetites. Schedule your visit so you don't miss the daily penguin feeding, which happens at 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. everyday. If seeing all those penguins gobble down those fish has you thinking about lunch, find your way to the back of the entrance hall where the mini-sized Grow Café offers sandwiches and salads and some healthy offerings just for kids. An inspiring venture, Grow Café provides job training and mentoring to youth and uses local, sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible. The toasted sandwiches are made fresh and are quite good. Especially tasty is the toasted Diestel farms turkey with Brie and cranberry pecan relish ($6.95).

While the drive along Sea Cliff to get to the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park is a scenic one, once you reach your destination there is no other option for lunch within the area. Fortunately, you will find a café downstairs opposite the gift shop where you can sit inside or among the olive trees in the garden terrace. It's a light, airy and relaxing environment and though the food is not exciting it will keep you going. Desserts are the best bet here so stop by for a coffee break or afternoon tea and try a generous slice of carrot, chocolate or chocolate swirled angel food cake ($3.50).

The Asian Art Museum located in what used to be the public library on Larkin Street is a terrific new addition to the city's cultural scene. With exhibits that explore new and ancient art, you can make a day of it here. The café, not surprisingly, offers a pan-Asian mix of options including grilled items, soups and noodles, and there is both indoor and outside seating. For a light lunch try the Café Asia chicken salad, a fresh, cool and crunchy mix of shredded chicken, crispy rice noodles, Asian pear, Napa cabbage and fresh greens topped off with a ginger vinaigrette ($6.50).