Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco

Track down Fog City's best food bargains, from breakfast platters through late night slices.

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Frugal Finds in Fog City

In a city famed for its food, where even sandwiches and salads can push $20, finding cheap eats is a challenge. From Mexican taquerias to upscale French brasseries and everything in between, we found some of the best under-$10 meals without resorting to a burger or a food cart. 

Rice Bowl at The Chairman

The Chairman began as a food truck and became famous for its bao, stuffed with fillings like pork belly and tofu. You can grab one big baked bun or just about any two steamed buns for under $10, but our most-filling pick would be the namesake rice bowl. The basic version comes with pickled daikon, marinated mushrooms, spicy cucumbers, daikon sprouts, furikake and tempura flakes; top it with a spicy chicken or Coca-Cola-braised pork and the check will still be under a 10 spot. 

The Chairman

Arepas at Pica Pica

On the edge of the Mission you’ll find this completely gluten-free restaurant offering traditional Venezuelan fare. The arepas clocking in at $9.50 are corn-based pocket breads split open and stuffed till overflowing with fillings such as crispy chicken with spicy pickled mojo, lettuce, jicama, tomato, aioli and guasacaca (an avocado salsa) or blackened beef asado with sweet plantains and queso fresco.

Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen

Super Kati Roll at Kasa

Once a food truck, Kasa now has two brick-and-mortar restaurants serving their signature kati roll and the meal-sized super kati roll. A wheat wrapper is filled burrito-style with your choice of chicken or vegetable fillings, chutney, onions and basmati rice, then topped with cooling cucumber raita.

Kasa Indian Eatery

Buffalo Chili at Tommy’s Joynt

The hofbrau is San Francisco’s version of the grab-a-tray cafeteria, except with a bar and carving station. The phenomenon is best experienced at Tommy’s, where you’ll find daily dinner plates with specials like roast beef, brisket, corned beef or turkey and a side dish for just $9.75. Our pick is the buffalo chili served over rice for just $6.75, with a fresh sourdough roll and butter on the side. 

Tommy's Joynt

Vietnamese Sandwich or Spring Rolls at The Soapbox Cafe

Banh mi is at its best at The Soapbox Cafe. Freshly toasted French bread is spread with Vietnamese mayo and pâté, and is then piled high with jalapenos, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber and cilantro along with slices of pork belly, roast pork, lemongrass chicken or tofu. Even the fanciest combo sandwich will set you back only $8. If you are gluten-free or low-carb, check out the saladlike spring rolls with similar fillings, wrapped in thin rice paper. 

The Soapbox Cafe

Farmers Market Salad at Roam Artisan Burgers

Roam is known for burgers (heck, it’s in their name). But the real deal on the menu is the massive, hearty and seasonally changing farmers market salad. The Fall version, for example, starts with a base of mixed greens, then adds rainbow carrots, French breakfast radishes, watermelon radishes, chives, pomegranate seeds, persimmons, pumpkin seeds, avocado, goat Gouda and a choice of dressings. For a $5 surcharge, top it with a skewer of mini burger patties.

 

Photo courtesy of Paige Green

Roam Artisan Burgers 

Dim Sum at Dim Sum Club

We love dim sum, but the mix-and-match setup is typically best for larger groups. Also, many places stop serving it late in the afternoon. Not Dim Sum Club. Here you can order a dim sum platter for dinner for just $10 and get two shrimp dumplings, two pork-and-shrimp dumplings, one steamed barbecued-pork bun, one egg roll and, for dessert, two sesame balls with lotus paste.

Dim Sum Club

Three-Egg Omelet at Brenda’s French Soul Food

Brenda’s is one of those places with an ever-present line, but head there on the early side during the week and you may not wait too long. The three-egg omelet is only $8.25, which means you can add a vegetable and a cheese filling (perhaps spinach with Swiss) and still come in under budget. Best of all, the breakfast includes an obscenely large and buttery cream biscuit along with potato hash or grits. 

Brenda's French Soul Food

Pizza Slice at Arinell New York Style Pizza

Pizza, the official food of frat houses, is no longer the bargain it once was. These days, an individual-size pie can run upward of $20. Fortunately, we have Arinell, offering “quality and value since 1975.” The classic and massive Neapolitan cheese slice is really the best thing to get here and a deal at just $3 (including tax). Still hungry? You can afford to order a few more slices at that price. 

Arinell Pizza

Taco Trio at Pancho Villa

Every San Franciscan has a favorite taqueria, but Pancho Villa is a classic with plenty of bargain-minded choices. The taco trio is just $7 and comes with a side of fresh chips and salsa. There are 12 different fillings, including spicy chicken, carne asada, tongue, chorizo and pork chile verde. We opt for the steak fajitas, cooked to order with plenty of fresh peppers and onions.

Pancho Villa Taqueria

Stuffed Pancakes at House of Pancakes

This tiny restaurant specializes in hand-pulled noodles, dumplings and Chinese pancakes. Chewy and crisp, the pancakes come filled with beef, lamb or a combination of onion and egg. Some are rolled and others are stacked, but all ring in around $7. It’s cash only, but considering how cheap it is, that shouldn’t be a problem. 

House of Pancakes

Roasted White Sweet Potato Sandwich at Souvla

The Greek-inspired pita sandwiches and salads at Souvla are so big they can probably suffice for multiple meals. The inventive vegetarian version, with roasted white sweet potato, comes with garlic yogurt, chopped Kalamata olives, toasted walnuts, pickled red onion, pea shoots and Mizithra cheese, all for $10. 

Souvla

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