SAN FRANCISCO has more trendy restaurants than you can shake a duck leg at. The tech bubble shows no signs of popping, meaning there are plenty of folks in San Francisco who don’t scoff at three-figure tasting menus and overpriced cold-pressed juice cleanses. That being said, not everyone wants to live such a luxe culinary lifestyle (nor can they afford to). For everyone else, San Francisco has plenty hole-in-the-walls, cash-only counters, and well-loved institutions that will offer you the chance to experience the city’s diverse food scene without blowing your entire life savings. Here are the 11 best places to eat cheap in San Francisco.
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1. Empanadas from Chile Lindo
Mexican tacos may be San Francisco’s Latin-food darling, but if you’re looking to support South American cuisine in general, Chile Lindo is the place to do it. The walk-up food counter sells massive Chilean style empanadas that more closely resemble overstuffed calzones. They sell Chile’s most popular varieties including jamon y queso (a classic ham and cheese) and de pino (a savory-sweet empanada stuffed with beef, raisins, and onions plus a surprise olive and hard-boiled egg).
Chile Lindo has classic style; the changeable marquee, red awning, and tired beige interior decorated with sun-damaged posters maintain the unpretentious atmosphere that most other neighborhood haunts have lost.
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM; Sat 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Address: 2944 16th St.
2. Burritos at El Farolito
Taqueria culture in San Francisco extends far beyond a quick bite. No one can agree on which taqueria slings the best carnitas, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from trying a Mission burrito at any one of them.
If you don’t know where to start, sample the San Francisco staple at El Farolito. Named after the neighborhood where these bad boys originated — the Mission District — their Mission burritos are stupendously stuffed with rice, beans, salsa, and grilled meat, wrapped in a tortilla, then rewrapped with a tight layer of tin foil. If you know what’s best, you’ll make your burrito “super” and get it loaded with cheese, sour cream, and avocado.
Hours of operation: Sun-Thu 10:00 AM -2:30 AM; Fri-Sat 10:00 AM – 3:30 AM
Address: 2779 Mission St.
3. Curries from Pakwan
Dinner at Pakwan calls for heaps of biryanis, tandoori chicken, and some life-changing garlic nan. While the $8 curries from this Indian-Pakistani spot are already an excellent deal, there’s something else that really makes it my budget dining favorite; Pakwan has a liquor license that allows you to bring your own booze. Rather than splurging on a marked-up Kingfisher to wash down your paratha, you can bring your own six pack or bottle of wine to the table, free of charge.
Pakwan is almost always busy and largely self-service, so get there early on the weekends and expect to throw some elbows to secure yourself a table.
Hours of operation: Daily 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Address: 3180-82 16th St.
4. Sausages from Rosamunde
Forget hot dogs. Rosamunde — the German-influenced sausage shop — sells all natural sausages of the beef, pork, vegan, and rattlesnake variety. Ordering from their menu is simple. Step 1 is choosing your sausage, step 2 entails picking two toppings, and step 3 is stocking up on all kinds of uncommon sauces from the self-serve station while you wait. Inspired by the Germans, Rosamunde also has a huge beer list incorporating California craft beers and European classics.
Hours of operation: Wed-Sat 11:30 AM – 12:00 AM; Sun-Tue 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Address: 2832 Mission St.
5. Dim Sum at Shanghai Dumpling King
If you’ve ever hoped to eat like royalty but are on more of a pauper’s budget, the banquet of small plates at Shanghai Dumpling King will certainly bridge the gap. In San Francisco’s Outer Richmond, Shanghai Dumpling King is a well-loved Cantonese hole-in-the-wall known for their soup dumplings (XLB) and green onion pancakes. Sure, the lines are long and the service isn’t so cordial, but the food makes even the less-than-regal treatment worthwhile.
Go with a group so you can go in on the full spread of dumplings, potstickers, and noodles.
Hours of operation: Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri 11:00 AM – 9:30 PM; Sat-Sun 10:30 AM – 9:30 PM; Closed on Tuesdays
Address: 3319 Balboa St.
6. Burgers at In-n-Out
Should you ever find yourself with a 2-hour California layover, In-N-Out Burger is the kind of place worth calling an Uber for. The chain restaurant has become a West Coast institution with 300+ locations and a reputation far superior to McDonald’s. You see, In-N-Out Burger has a simple menu, but they do the basics pretty damn well — their fries are hand cut and their burgers filler-free. Diners in the know can also order off their “Not-so-Secret Menu” and make their burger “Protein Style”, “Animal Style”, or completely meat-free.
Hours of operation: Sun-Thu 10:30 AM – 1:00 AM; Fri-Sat 10:30 AM – 1:30 AM
Address: Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach
7. Pizza by the Slice at Escape from New York
After too many Tecate tall cans on a big night out, perhaps there’s nothing better to stave off the hangover than a carb-heavy slice of potato pizza at Escape from New York. Differing from the Chicago variety of pizza, the pizzas at Escape from New York are thin crust and hand tossed. Their pizza starts at $4.15 a slice, but you’ll get a slice so big that you have to lift the paper plate to your mouth just to eat it.
Hours of operation: Sun-Thu 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM; Fri-Sat 11:00 AM – 2:00 AM
Address: 1737 Haight St.
The Outer Sunset
8. Phở from Phở Huynh Hiep 2
For Americans, soup is typically reserved for head colds and nasty winter days, but I’d dare to say a bowl of phở from Phở Huynh Hiep 2 can convert even disbelievers into weekly soup eaters. The Outer Sunset restaurant is run by a Vietnamese family, so everything from their noodle soups to rice plates feel lifted straight from the streets of Hanoi. Best on their menu is the phở bo, a beef noodle soup served with rare strips of thinly sliced steak or spongy beef meatballs. The broth and noodles are served in an enormous bowl, so you’ll have plenty of room to toss in your herbs, beansprouts, and other condiments and create a completely custom soup.
Hours of operation: Daily 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Address: 1833 Irving St.
9. Food Truck Grub from SoMa StrEAT Food
Food trucks supposedly began as well-stocked wagons in the late 1800’s, but I’m certain they didn’t serve sushirittos and crab fries back then. Food truck culture has evolved from its grease-soaked roots into a completely unique form of gourmet dining. Open 7 days a week, SoMa StrEAT food is a permanent roundup of food trucks with a rotating lineup of restaurants hawking everything from gyros to Filipino fare. I like SoMa StrEAT Food for those days when I’ve got to have tacos, but can’t for the life of me remember where the taco truck parks on Wednesdays.
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM; Sat 11:00 AM -10:00 PM; Sun 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Address: 428 11th St.
10. Dollar Oysters at Waterbar
Dollar oyster happy hours in San Francisco are a dime a dozen — $12 a dozen, actually, but you get the point. Oysters are something you love or hate, so I won’t take the time explain to you what makes the briny molluscs worth chasing down in San Francisco. West Coast oysters like Kumamoto and Fanny Bay are often on the menu at Waterbar, and you can slurp them back alongside a glass of pinot or an inspired cocktail while pretending the San Francisco Bay is actually an oyster-filled ocean.
Hours of operation: Tue-Sat 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM; Sun-Mon 11:30 AM – 9:30 PM
Address: 399 The Embarcadero
11. Momos at Bini’s Kitchen
Getting lunch in FiDi typically means standing in a too-long line waiting for a customized salad. At Bini’s Kitchen, however, you can rock right up to the front of the stall and place an order for their no-frills Nepalese staples. Momos are the thing to order if you’re in a hurry or otherwise can’t be bothered; the Nepalese dumplings are filled with turkey or vegetables and served alongside a delicious tomato cilantro sauce. If you’re going with more of an appetite, any of their dishes are solid and can be upgraded with a momo add-on.
I guess what I’m really saying is that if you go to Bini’s, you’ve got to get the momos.
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Address: 1 Post Plz