Pine Street Market is crowded AF. If you're not careful, you can spend $21 on lunch. Lots of the stalls need to get their menus and execution in order. It's confusing—like the fact that showing up at 10 am on a Sunday means your only option for breakfast is a milkshake. And some people seem to care way too much that the bathrooms require a punch code.
But in the two months since the upscale food court opened, I've learned to stop worrying and think Pine Street is pretty okay (because love is too strong of a word).
Recent visits have showed a more manageable bustle. I've gotten used to grabbing my silverware and water in one go before sitting down. I now relax and wait for my dishes—maybe gyoza from Marukin, a burger from Common Law, and a salad from Pollo Bravo—to roll in.
Pine Street market is expensive. It will undoubtedly be a tourist trap. But I've also seen parents of young kids—who are most definitely NOT welcome in most of these chef's actual restaurants—bring their wriggling progeny and enjoy a dish that isn't mac 'n' cheese. I've seen downtown workers slurping some of the city's best ramen. And I've been happiest when I've gone with a few friends and made a mish-mash meal of plates that capitalizes on the best of each stall.
And that's what a visit to Pine Street requires: menu hacks on how to fill up. Here are our picks for the top eight items for $10 or less at Pine Street Market:
1. Bocadillo de Lomo, Pollo Bravo, $7
Pollo Bravo is probably my least favorite place in Pine Street. The rotisserie chicken, which should be the star, is undercrisped and oversalted—and the papas bravas are middling compared to the ones made in John Gorham's other restaurants. We also paid $9 for seven limp asparagus spears in a puddle of sauces. (This is the problem with trying to do high-end tapas in a downscale environment.)
Instead, we fell hard for the sandwiches. The Bocadillo de Lomo has tender rotisserie pork loin, caramelized onion, romesco sauce, and a layer of griddled manchego cheese. Holy Wisconsin, that is some good cheese. It's like eating all of that amazing edge-of-the-lasagna-pan cheese. When Gorham fixes his fast casual concept, I hope he finds a way to keep this sandwich.
2. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sundae, Whiz Bang Bar, $8.50
Share it with a friend, cheapskates. You can smell your fluffy bun being toasted, and then this huge pile of glory arrives: vanilla custard loaded with Oregon Marionberry jam and housemade peanut butter cereal. It is a thing of childhood throwback glory.
3. Burger, Common Law, $10
I cannot in good conscience recommend ordering the tofu dashi, no matter how complex the broth is. For $10, it's a few slices of tofu in a shallow bowl of broth—the fallen face of the lunch bro next to me who ordered this dish said it all. But the excellent burger is a must try: a modestly sized patty on Ken Forkish's brioche bun, heaped with lovely lemony greens, fried onions that French's wishes they could be, and a green curry aioli. I can't find a single flaw, except the accompanying limp five-spice chips.
4. Mocha, Brass Bar, $6
I have climbed to the top of the $6 mocha mountain, and I can holler from its peak that it's actually worth it. Brass Bar is the prettiest stall in Pine Street, with its copper-plated features and dark wood. And that mocha—made with whole milk and 70 percent dark chocolate—is a dialed-in level of sweet and rich that still features the espresso. It's chocolate milk for grownups.
5. Classic Frank, OP Wurst, $7
Like Gretchen Weiners, restaurateurs keep trying to make fancy hot dogs so fetch. Fetch isn't going to happen, Gretchen—and neither are fancy hot dogs. That's not to say that OP Wurst's aren't the very best efforts I've tried—the Caesar dog has a little anchovy on it! But my favorite is still the regular frankfurter. Add the sauerkraut for $1; you'll still come in under $10.
6. Green Falafel Pita, Shalom Y'All, $9
This pita's stuffed with four hefty vermillion falafels made with parsley, mint, and onion. For $9, it's about as much as you'd expect to pay at any other Middle Eastern restaurant, and this one's refined with walnuts, tart sumac, onions, and a creamed eggplant that adds richness without overpowering the balance. Thanks to the herbs, the sauces, and the textures, it's a very solid lunch.
7. Chocolate Popper, Trifecta Annex, 50 cents
This might be the cheapest single item in Pine Street. It's a tasty two-bite version of the larger double chocolate croissant. Topped with a tiny bit of salt for flavor, I'd be willing to fork over another 50 cents for some cream filling.
8. Tonkotsu Ramen, Marukin, $10
Marukin Ramen is perfect for Pine Street: It's got a daily rotating roster of soups, and not much else. While the paitan and shoyu options are also noteworthy, my money's always on the rich, porky tonkotsu base. In Japan, ramen is slurped at counters in bustling train stations and inside stalls tucked in alleyways. The chance you'll get thwacked by an elbow or two at Pine Street just makes this Japanese chain's experience more authentic.
Pine Street Market
126 SW 2nd
open daily 7 am-11 pm (individual restaurant hours vary)