Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco

From artisan cheese bars to unfussy taco joints and everything in between, these places serve some of the best under-$15 meals in San Francisco.

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Photo By: Wes Rowe

Photo By: © Kassie Borreson | kassieborreson.com

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The Hot Wes at WesBurger ‘n More

There are many good burgers in town, but you can grab a truly great one for 12 bucks at this hip retro spot. Inspired by a favorite fast-food burger, owner Wes Rowe created The Hot Wes by stacking a magical combination of crisp onion rings and spicy pickled jalapeños on a six-ounce patty smothered in gooey queso. Order it at lunchtime for this golden bonus: a heaping portion of potato tots served on the side.

Go to: WesBurger ‘n More

Half Rotisserie Chicken at RT Rotisserie

Right around the corner from Michelin-starred Rich Table is RT Rotisserie. It’s a casual spot offering rotisserie chicken and ribs with a variety of sauces, perfect for dining family-style. A half-chicken ($10) is plenty to share, so add on a side dish or two, like their shredded cabbage and almond salad for $5 or Brussels sprout Caesar ($6). If you’re not in a sharing mood, the rotisserie chicken sandwich ($12) or pork belly sandwich ($14), both served on ciabatta rolls, with garlic aioli and pickled onions, transcend standard deli fare.

Breakfast Board at Le Marais

French bakery and cafe Le Marais is the perfect place for the indecisive, since it offers both sweet and savory options. The breakfast board in particular allows you to mix and match, choosing five items for $15. Go sweet with homemade granola, steel-cut oatmeal or a muffin or scone and choose savory items like smoked salmon or trout, eggs, prosciutto or goat cheese. You could also make a bowl with five choices for $12, like yogurt, oatmeal, granola or quinoa layered with your choice of seasonal fruit, a variety of nuts, maple syrup and more.

Souffle Pancakes at Derm

The gravity-defying soufflé pancakes served for breakfast and brunch at Thai restaurant Derm require patience. They may take about 30 minutes to arrive at your table, but rest assured, they will be Instagram-ready when they do. For $13 you can personally partake in the Japanese-style pancake phenomenon currently dominating social media. The pancakes are served with homemade strawberry sauce and mixed berries or with bananas, walnuts and vanilla-caramel sauce.

Super Kati Roll at Kasa

Once a food truck, Kasa now has two brick-and-mortar restaurants serving an array of signature kati rolls priced at $7 or less and meal-sized super kati rolls that clock in at around $11. 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.

Go to: Kasa Indian Eatery

Hummus Sabich Bowl at Oren’s Hummus

San Francisco is home to entrepreneurs from all over the world, some of them homesick for their native cuisine, which inspired Oren’s Hummus. The restaurant serves the flavors of Israel, tweaked for a California sensibility. The hummus sabich bowl ($13) tops the signature hummus with diced ingredients found in a sabich sandwich, namely fried eggplant, potato, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, tomato and chopped pickles as well as amba sauce and fresh herbs. This creamy and crunchy riot of flavors is served with two fluffy pita breads for dipping.

Niku Udon at Udon Time

At Udon Time, follow the name and you’ll slurp slippery housemade udon noodles. The $14 signature bowl has sweet onions, ginger, green onion and wagyu chuck or a blend of heritage Berkshire pork from The Butcher Shop by Niku Steakhouse next door. It’s a luscious bowl of noodles swimming in a light and sweet savory broth. To make it even richer, add an egg for $1.

Chicken Okayu at Stonemill Matcha

Stonemill Matcha is an always-packed Japanese café that specializes in high-quality green tea. The $14 Chicken Okayu sounds like a humble dish — rice porridge with egg, mushroom, green onion and the Japanese seaweeds nori and wakame, along with spicy togarashi seasoning — but the porridge is creamy, savory, comforting and somehow healthy at the same time. If you’re feeling more indulgent, the fried pork tonkotsu sandwich with cabbage slaw on fluffy Japanese white bread is another winner that won’t break the bank.

Clare’s Locally Famous French Dip at Turner’s Kitchen

This tiny sandwich shop makes a big impression with its gourmet sandwiches built on freshly baked bread and priced at $10 or less. One standout is the French dip (named for the prior owner of the shop, Clare) piled high with paper-thin slices of rare roast beef blanketed in a gooey layer of melted Gruyere cheese. This prime-for-sharing stunner is so hefty that it’s cut in three pieces rather than two. In addition to the customary side of hot au jus for dipping, the sandwich also comes with a creamy, cool horseradish sauce.

Go to: Turner’s Kitchen

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 $11 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.

Go to: Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen

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 $12 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.

Go to: Dim Sum Club

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 pork shoulder sandwich or 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, are both just $12.

Go to: Souvla

Masala Omelette Frittata at Rooh

Rooh is one of the most-elegant and -refined Indian restaurants in San Francisco, but brunch is still a bargain with several dishes under $15. The masala frittata ($14) is a must-order dish, flavored with tomato, onion, chile and a drizzle of cilantro oil. Another stunning dish is the avocado on toast. It starts with Indian bread called taftan, and is topped with edamame hummus, burrata, slices of avocado and masala spice.

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 $6 surcharge, top it with a skewer of mini burger patties.

Go to: Roam Artisan Burgers 

Barbecue Pork Noodle Roll at Sam Wo’s

Sam Wo’s is a Chinese-American San Francisco institution that’s been around since just after the 1906 earthquake. The noodle roll ($5) is filled with crunchy vegetables and sweet slices of barbecue pork, and is complemented by a dish of hot and spicy Chinese mustard. You can pair it with fried rice ($8.25) or chow fun noodles ($8.50) and still stay under budget.

Mac and Cheese from Mission Cheese

This cafe puts American cheese front and center with menu options that include cheese flights, raclette and cheese-centric sandwiches. The mac and cheese is where it’s at, though. Mission Cheese’s kitchen amps up the richness by pulling in two kinds of cheeses (clothbound cheddar and washed rind cow’s milk), then topping the pasta with a crisp layer of breadcrumbs. Served in a piping-hot miniature skillet and priced at $10.50, this mac makes for a great shareable plate, though we won’t blame you for wanting this creamy dish all for yourself.

Go to: Mission Cheese

Pizza at All Good Pizza

Sitting at a picnic table on a sunny day in an urban oasis sharing a pizza and a salad is the next best thing to a day in the country. Enjoying that experience on the cheap makes it all the sweeter. All Good Pizza bakes 10 different Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizzas in a brick oven, and serves them at a 7,000-square-foot beer garden in the Bayview district. Prices top out at $15 for a whole six-slice 12-inch pizza, but the classic Margherita with organic homemade tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella and fresh basil is only $12.

Momos at Red Chilli

A trek into the city’s gritty Tenderloin section leads to a tasty reward: genuine Nepalese food. Opt for Red Chilli’s signature momo and you’ll get 10 plump dumplings for $10 or less, depending on the filling stuffed inside. Brimming with either minced chicken or fresh vegetables, these dough-wrapped wonders are brightly seasoned with ginger, cilantro and red onions. For an added punch of flavor, dunk them into the accompanying achar: a dipping sauce made from chiles, tomatoes and sesame seeds.

Go to: Red Chilli

Panuchos from Taqueria Los Mayas

Sure, this spot is billed as a taqueria, but we suggest skipping the obvious pick of tacos. Instead, order a panucho or two. A delicacy of Yucatan, Mexico, this must-try menu item starts with a fried tortilla that’s sliced open and crammed with a black bean paste. Each panucho can be customized with your choice of protein, which is heaped tostada-style on the crisp disc of dough, then crowned with lettuce, cabbage, avocado and pickled red onion. For a true taste of the Yucatan, opt for the poc chuc or cochinita pibil, which are both pork specialties of the region. Two panuchos at $4.75 each make for a filling meal that goes easy on the wallet. Oh, and don’t sleep on the chips and three kinds of homemade salsa that are served on the side.

Go to: Taqueria Los Mayas

Seafood Burger at Basa Seafood Express

Thread your way past the fresh fish, sushi and poke sold at this popular market and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a bargain hunter’s bounty of made-to-order seafood burgers at the back counter. Each burger is built on a sesame seed bun that’s slicked with house tartar sauce, then stuffed with your choice of fried fish, shrimp, oyster or soft-shell crab. A trio of typical burger fixings — mixed greens, tomato and red onion—come piled on top. The atmosphere is bare bones, with fluorescent lights and massive wall menus instead of decorations, but the sandwiches are a steal for around $8 each.

Go to: Basa Seafood Express

Greek Po’boy at Noosh

This Mediterranean restaurant offers a range of kebabs, Turkish flatbreads and mezze. The $14 Greek po’boy is a genius combination of greaseless crispy fried calamari, a smoky creamy tzatziki sauce and arugula on a tender “chubby pita” bun. While most dishes are good for sharing, the sandwich makes a fine meal for one.

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup at Eat Americana

This low-key spot goes beyond basic diner fare by upping the ante on American classics. One satisfying combo that won’t sabotage your budget is the grilled cheese sandwich paired with tomato soup for $10. You won’t find skimpy slices of white bread here. Instead, Eat Americana’s kitchen builds its sandwich on thick Texas toast that’s layered with three different cheeses, then griddled until golden. As for the soup, it’s so dense that it’s more of a dip that clings to your sandwich. Nostalgia never tasted so rich (yet cost so little).

Go to: Eat Americana

Empanadas at Chalos

Just blocks from the ocean, Chalos is a bright and beachy cafe with over a dozen kinds of empanadas. At barely $4 each, these crisp Argentinian pastries practically demand a full sampling. Fillings include chicken, ham and cheese, three-cheese, and spinach and mushroom. Prepared to order and served hot, the classic “carne” with beef and hardboiled egg is highly recommended, as is the spinach and crema.

Fried Fish from Auntie April’s

Auntie April’s has become a community gathering spot of sorts, as locals crowd in for a taste of the restaurant’s Southern-style comfort food. The ever-popular option of chicken and waffles is served all day, but those in the know seek out the fried fish. Perfectly seasoned and always crisp, it seems like a steal at $10. In addition to creamy tartar sauce, each order is accompanied by a side of fries or grits.

Go to: Auntie April’s

Tomato and Eggs at Breadbelly

Scrambled eggs with tomatoes ended up on the menu at Breadbelly because it is a favorite family recipe from one of the cafe’s owners, and coincidentally the first recipe he learned to cook. A classic Chinese dish, scented with ginger, it balances sweet, salty and umami flavors. The juicy tomatoes and soft eggs are paired with thick slices of toasted milk bread. Breadbelly’s twist on the dish ($12.50) is addition of Chinese fermented black beans and a topping of fresh herbs, both of which make the dish even more appealing.

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 at around $7. It’s cash only, but considering how cheap it is, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Go to: House of Pancakes

Dumplings at Pushkin

Join the line between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays, alongside Eastern Europeans craving a taste of home. Hidden below street level downtown at an international food court, Pushkin serves Ukrainian specialties made from scratch using family recipes. Try bowls of pelmeni ($7) in rich chicken broth, sautéed potato-mushroom vareniki topped with fried onions, pirojki ($4) and beet red borscht ($6) with tender chunks of beef and potato. The pelmeni and pirojki filled with beef are most popular, but there are also available a wide variety of other creative and seasonal fillings.

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 specials like roast chicken, braised lamb shank, corned beef or pulled pork, all for less than $12. Our pick is the buffalo chili served over rice for just $8.25, with a fresh sourdough roll and butter on the side.

Go to: Tommy's Joynt

Banana Blossom Salad at Mau

At this chic, modern Vietnamese spot in the Mission, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Entrée-style salads are under $12 and vermicelli noodle bowls under $15 each with vibrant fresh herbs and topped with grilled shrimp, pork, beef or tofu. The bright banana blossom salad ($11.50) has tender sliced banana blossoms, pork belly, shrimp, onion, and crunchy fried garlic, shallots, and peanuts.

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.

Go to: Pancho Villa Taqueria

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 $10, which means you can add a cheese filling and still come in under budget. Best of all, the breakfast includes a large and buttery cream biscuit along with potato hash or grits.

Go to: Brenda's French Soul Food

Classica Piadina at The Italian Homemade Company

The Italian Homemade Company’s four locations are a testament to the popularity of the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. In addition to their homemade pasta, they offer two signature sandwiches, piadina and cassone. Piadina is a stuffed and folded flatbread sandwich, cooked on a griddle. The classic filling is prosciutto, arugula and melted stracchino cheese. At right around $12, it’s a filling lunch or dinner.

Braised Duck Leg and Wonton Egg Noodle Soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia

Located in Little Saigon, Hai Ky Mi Gia is a restaurant from Chinese immigrants from Vietnam, who make Teochew and Southeast Asian dishes, and in particular hearty, affordable and soothing noodle soups. The fan favorite is the braised duck leg soup with wontons and egg noodles. It’s the most expensive thing on the menu, but still clocks in under $11.

Fried Plantains and Eggs at Doña Mago

Fuel up for the day with a breakfast that goes beyond basic eggs at this family-run Mexican restaurant on the edge of the Mission district. This spot serves plentiful platters of food inspired by the cuisine of Mexico City for every meal, but the hearty breakfast entrees (which all ring in at around $10) have proven to be particularly popular. Choose from huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, or eggs served with nopales, fried plantains, chorizo, ham or sausages. But wait, there’s more! No matter which breakfast entree you order, rice, beans, fresh tortillas and salsa round out the plate.

Go to: Doña Mago

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