15 Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Chicago-Style Dog at Rye Project
At Rye Project, a self-proclaimed “newish deli,” you’ll find an enticing array of plump sandwiches and bagels with smoked fish, but those in it for the bargain should steer themselves toward the hot dog with all the fixings. The all-beef dog is served on a poppy seed bun and loaded with sharp peppers, pickles, bright green relish, onion, a seasoning of celery salt and Cleveland brown mustard. It’s a meal in a bun.
French Onion Soup at Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar
This contemporary French brasserie serves all the classics — oysters, escargot and steak frites — but the true bargain on the menu is the outstanding French Onion Soup. Made with oxtail broth and served with a thick crouton weighed down with a thick layer of gooey melted Gruyère, it is a hearty, chill-busting taste of France.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
South Indian Breakfast at Dosa
Brunch is an elaborate affair at Dosa, where the extensive menu includes a long list of namesake dosas and filling breakfast bowls. The best option is one of the three South Indian breakfasts ($9), all vegetarian, which each include coconut and tomato chutney and tomato-lentil vegetable soup. Of the three, our pick is the scrumptious pongal, a savory porridge made from basmati rice, lentils and ghee.
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.