San Francisco has the most Michelin three-star restaurants of any U.S. city, but most travelers can’t afford to dish out hundreds for a single meal. Instead, enjoy the wonderful selection of cheap eats in San Francisco.
The Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco
Not all of the best cuisine in San Francisco costs a fortune. Here are some cheap eats you won’t want to miss.
Many visitors to San Francisco dine at pricey Cliff House for its spectacular views over Ocean Beach and the Sutro baths. What these travelers don’t know is that there’s an adjacent restaurant that has the same views with much more reasonable prices. Louis’ is a homey diner on the cliffs that has been owned by the same family for more than 80 years. For decades, it has been the place to go for cheap eats in San Francisco. There’s nothing like their satisfying combo of soup and grilled cheese when you come in from the ocean air, and cage-free omelets and scrambles start at less than $10.
The menu is typical American fare, listing plenty of sandwiches, burgers, and other griddle favorites, plus diner-style pie a la mode for dessert. An added bonus is that Louis’ uses organic, local, and fair-trade ingredients wherever possible. Come early to avoid a long wait for a table, and bring cash since this place doesn’t accept credit cards or checks.
When you’re looking for cheap restaurants in San Francisco’s Mission District, know that San Jalisco is a neighborhood cornerstone. Come for the long Mexican menu and large portions in a colorful dining room with a festive vibe. The reasonably priced specialties include fried plantains ($10), huarache con nopal (tortillas with cactus, beans, avocado, and more; $9), tangy breakfasts, and $5 desserts like dulce flan or pastel de tres leches. San Jalisco also serves up tasty cocktails and top-notch coffee.
Taqueria Cancún is a quick-fix taqueria in the Mission, serving up huge burritos made from fresh ingredients. It’s a good choice if you’re looking for cheap eats in San Francisco—specialties like the burrito mojado makes for a big meal at just $5.50. Don’t get intimidated by the crowds and long line here; the workers move swiftly so the queue moves fast.
More of the authentic Mexican options here include egg dishes with jamon; carne asada; and the gooey pechuga suiza, made with a flour tortilla, grilled chicken, and melted cheese—for only $4.50. Wash it all down with Modelo beer. Prices here are very reasonable, but hit up the ATM beforehand, since Taqueria Cancún accepts cash only.
This bustling hotspot in the Mission serves up savory Middle Eastern specialties with a kick. As far as cheap restaurants in San Francisco go, you can’t get much better than Old Jerusalem. In addition to reasonable prices, the Palestinian-owned eatery also offers rich flavors, warm and welcoming service, and quick ordering-to-eating time.
The falafel ($8.49) is delicious and authentic, as are the shish kebab sandwiches ($9.49), hummus, baba ganoush, shawarma, warm homemade pita, and mint tea. For dessert, try a cheese pastry in kunafa syrup ($5.49).
Sushirrito’s name is pretty self-explanatory—these small but popular outposts sell sushi burritos. Choose your fillings from the open-view counter of fresh, mostly Japanese ingredients (vegetarians welcome) and sauces, then watch as the pros stuff and wrap. Four city locations in the Financial District and Union Square make it easy for the working crowd to pop in for a quick takeaway lunch. These supersized wraps are big, flavorful, customized to your taste buds—and will keep you full for a good while, all for around $10.
For quick cheap eats in San Francisco that don’t involve a drive-through or food that’s overly processed, head over to The Melt, a growing chain whose high-tech feel matches its two FiDi locations. Go for the traditional Meltburger ($7.49) or something more unusual like a Mac Daddy—a macaroni-and-cheese sandwich with bacon.
If you’re in the mood for something simple but delicious, choose the grilled cheese ($6) with a side of tomato soup ($3). The Melt usually pops with people, but staffers do a good job of providing fast service with good value.
The gimmick at Eatsa is that you order on the in-store iPad—or on your smartphone—which means that there’s no cashier and no line. What comes out, in your own personalized cubby, is kicked-up fast food that’s as healthy as it is tasty. For your main course, build a warm quinoa bowl—burrito, falafel, bento, or curry, for between $8 and $10. For dessert, choose the vegan ginger cookie.
The iconic Ferry Building isn’t just the Embarcadero’s eminently recognizable architectural centerpiece—it’s also a major attraction for anybody who loves food. Its excellent vendors, representing cuisines from all over the world, sell everything from artisan cheese, fresh-baked bread, amazing jams, organic meats, small-batch coffee, and memorable ice cream.
Some of the best cheap eats in San Francisco can be found here, including Prather Ranch’s barbecue beef sandwich ($10), Bouli Bar’s wood-fired pizza (from $10), El Porteno’s Argentinian empanadas ($4.50), Gott’s Niman Ranch burgers (from $11), Out the Door’s Vietnamese five-spice vermicelli ($12), and Mariposa’s gluten-free sandwiches (from $10). On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, local farmers set up stands, hand out free samples, and sell gourmet bites at accessible prices.
Golden Boy Pizza
Since 1978, this family-owned Italian joint in North Beach has been selling its square slices out the window to late-night revelers. An institution among cheap restaurants in San Francisco, Golden Boy Pizza sells its thick cheese pieces for $2.75 and specialties like clam-and-garlic pizza at $3.75 a slice. Everything you order comes out aromatic, fresh, and fluffy. If you sit at the small counter inside, you can order beers on tap. Cash only.
Off the Grid
Off the Grid is a traveling convergence of food trucks that temporarily park in one spot to offer some of the best cheap eats in San Francisco. With more than a dozen locations throughout the Bay Area—including central city ones at Civic Center, the UN Plaza, and Fort Mason—this is a fun way to pick up some affordable grab-and-go food. Alternatively, you can linger to watch people and enjoy rockin’ DJ sets.
Fan-favorite trucks include An the Go (Vietnamese), Hula Truck (Asian fusion), Sam’s Chowder (clam soup and lobster rolls), and Waffle Roost (soul food). Check online to find out exactly when and where the trucks will be next.
–Original reporting by Avital Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.