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March 14, 2016
Papaya Salad

The Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco

San Francisco can be an expensive town to visit. But it’s still possible to eat like royalty without breaking the bank. Here are some of our top picks for where to dine deliciously on a budget.  

Merigan Sub Shop

Merigan Sub Shop has it all: local produce, house-butchered meats, wine and beer—and it’s all just a couple blocks away from Oracle Park, home of the beloved San Francisco Giants. Spectators are actually allowed to bring food into the park, for those catching a game. Everything on the menu is delicious, but the Italian combo, meatball sub, and chicken or eggplant parm are definite favorites. Don’t forget to add burrata for maximum indulgence! (636 2nd St. at Harrison, 415-536-2991)

S&T Hong Kong Seafood

Dim sum is definitely San Francisco treat not to be missed. It’s a bit of a trek out to the Sunset, but S&T Hong Kong Seafood is totally worth it. There aren’t any carts, but it’s still a blast. Don’t miss the shrimp noodle roll, har gow, and shrimp and chive dumplings. And don’t forget to ask for the English translation menu at the front desk! (2578 Noriega St. at 33rd Ave., 415-665-8338)  

San Jalisco

The Mission District is a must-visit, especially for those seeking cheap eats and delicious Mexican food. Family-owned San Jalisco is the best for chilaquiles any time of day (try the Chilaquiles Veronica), and any of their platters are sure to satisfy. Stay refreshed with a Michelada or Chelada. (901 S. Van Ness. Ave. at 20th St., 415-648-8383)

Taqueria Cancún and Taqueria El Farolito

The Mission-style burrito has become famous nationally, and welcome to where it all started. Taqueria Cancún makes a monster carne asada burrito (even the vegetarian is delicious), and Taqueria El Farolito’s two locations are fabulously open until 4am. (Taqueria Cancún: 2288 Mission St. at 19th St., 415-252-9560. Taqueria El Farolito: 2779 Mission St. at 24th St., 415-824-7877, 2950 24th St. at Alabama, 415-641-0758)

La Torta Gorda

Tortas are another specialty that don’t always get the same recognition as the burrito, but they are some of the best over-stuffed sandwiches you can ever hope to find. La Torta Gorda is another friendly, family-owned joint—with superlative tortas and darling retro décor (plus there’s a back patio). The pierna enchilada torta is excellent, ditto the tinga. (2833 24th St. at Bryant, 415-642-9600) 

Old Jerusalem

Also in the Mission, but a far cry from the traditional taqueria or Mexican food experience, is Middle Eastern restaurant Old Jerusalem. This is one of those magical places where vegetarians and meat eaters can dine together—the meat platters and vegetarian dishes are equally well prepared. The chicken shwarma is noteworthy, and the mezze platters are fresh and enormous. Plus, they bring pita bread warm from the oven, pickles, dip, and olives for snacking while you wait. No going hungry here, trust. (2976 Mission St. at 26th St., 415-642-5958)

Mission Pie

Pro tip: head across the street to Mission Pie for dessert. Any of their seasonal fruit pies are the perfect end to a meal, and don’t forget to make it à la mode! (2901 Mission St. at 25th St., 415-282-1500)

The Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is a magical wonderland for those who like to eat. But it can be expensive! The best way to do it? Bring a friend with whom to share and graze at a few different places, getting a sample of everything. If the weather is nice, take it all outside and enjoy the stunning views of the Bay Bridge and boats on the water. And don’t forget to pick up edible souvenirs! Check out local cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery (the helpful staff can answer any cheese-related question), along with freshly baked bread from Acme Bakery next door. Humphry Slocombe scoops some of the best ice cream in town and has a developed a serious following for their unusual and sophisticated flavors. Secret Breakfast, with bourbon and corn flakes, is their most famous, and rightly so. The egg salad sandwich at Il Cane Rosso is actually more of an open-faced melt—with aged provolone melted on top of egg salad made with fresh, local eggs. For fantastic local oysters, don’t miss Hog Island Oyster Co. The hot dog at Prather Ranch is great for meat eaters, and as with everything else at the Ferry Building, it’s made with top-notch ingredients (ditto their chili). For a pick-me-up after all that good eating, sample some of San Francisco’s best third wave coffee at Blue Bottle. The Gibraltar is basically a short, wet cappuccino, and it offers a perfect ratio of espresso and milk. (Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Plaza at Embarcadero)

4505 Burgers & BBQ

In the last few years, San Francisco has become a bit of a hot spot for barbecue made with quality meats. Leading the charge is 4505 Meats from local butcher Ryan Farr. His burger developed a cult following at farmers’ markets, and now he’s got his own shop on Divisadero, called 4505 Burgers & BBQ. The locally loved burger is on the menu, as well as smoked meat platters with offerings such as ribs (so good!), brisket, and chicken, plus sandwiches and sides. (705 Divisadero St. at Grove, 415-231-6993)  

Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza & Slicehouse and Golden Boy

Everyone loves pizza, and North Beach is a fun place to do it. Tony Gemignani has made a name for himself faithfully recreating pizza styles from all over the world, and his Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza & Slicehouse, next to the world-famous Tony’s Pizza, is the best place to check out his pies on a budget. A New York-style meat lovers slice is a winner, or feel the California vibes with a California veggie slice. Night owls have flocked to Golden Boy Pizza for a slice of their thick Sicilian-style pizza for decades (garlic lovers, get the clam and garlic!). (Tony’s Coal-Fired Pizza & Slicehouse: 1570 Stockton St. at Union, 415-835-9888. Golden Boy Pizza: 542 Green St. at Grant, 415-982-9738)


A visit to Chinatown should start with a visit to Good Mong Kok Bakery. This is dim sum in a no-frills setting: order a pork bun at the counter, grab a napkin, and walk around, taking in the narrow streets, sights, and sounds of the busy neighborhood. Make your way to Golden Gate Bakery for dan tat, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t open. The shop is famous locally for its odd hours; there’s even a website dedicated to their current open status. For a sit-down meal in Chinatown, Z & Y Restaurant is always a winner, with spicy Szechuan dishes and a pleasant atmosphere. (Good Mong Kok Bakery: 1039 Stockton St. at Jackson, 415-397-2688. Golden Gate Bakery: 1029 Grant Ave. at Jackson, 415-781-2627. Z & Y Restaurant: 655 Jackson St. at Kearny, 415-981-8988) 

Kin Khao and Ler Ros

There is also some excellent Thai food to be found in San Francisco. Right near Union Square is Kin Khao, offering dishes not often seen outside of Thailand, and a full bar to boot. There’s also the super casual Lers Ros in the Tenderloin, which has some of the most authentic, spicy dishes around. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. (Kin Khao: 55 Cyril Magnin St. at Eddy, 415-362-7456. Lers Ros: 730 Larkin St. at O’Farrell, 415-931-6917) 

Off the Grid and SoMa StrEat Food Park

For a special bonus round of cheap eats, there are always food trucks to explore. Off the Grid has different groups of trucks together almost every day of the week, in different neighborhoods. Find the one that works best and get munching, but be sure to bring layers in case the famous fog rolls in. The SoMa StrEat Food Park is in an odd location under the freeway, but the space offers heated seating, beer and wine, and even a television for watching the game. The trucks change regularly—check their website schedule for each day’s offering. (Off the Grid: locations and times vary. SoMa StrEat Food: 428 11th St. at Bryant)

Marcia Gagliardi writes a popular insider weekly e-column about the SF dining scene, subscribe for free at Out now is her first book, The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion, a groundbreaking new style of guidebook. And check out her new app, Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats, which highlights 95 SF spots serving food past 11pm!

Photo by Yuichi Sakuraba / CC BY-NC

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