looking for an avalanche of cheap great places
Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin in SF is the cheapest lunch I have found, though their new counterpart Vietnam Sandwiches is allegedly even cheaper ($1.75 - 2.00 for a great banh mi sandwich). On Larkin at Turk and also at Golden Gate. Search the SF board for a lot of recent discussion.
Red's Java House, at the bottom of Bryant Street on the Embarcadero in SF, offers a cheeseburger-and-beer lunch for around three bucks. I haven't been there since they remodeled and added french fries to the menu, but it was always a great cheap lunch. Also they roast their own coffee, and it's good coffee, which they sell for $4/pound.
Take the BART to Fruitvale and wander up/down International Boulevard. The taco trucks there offer good tacos and other fare. Tacos usually cost around $1.00 and the other options are cheap and big too. Ruth Lafler did a great and extensive report of this plethora of bargain deliciousness not long ago. Search for Oakland Taco Truck Report to get the full scoop.
There's a series of books called "Cheap Eats" that covers lower-priced eateries in various West Coast cities. I assume there's one for the bay area. They're published by Sasquatch Books.
Though, I've done this recently in another post, I will again recommend Mom is Cooking in the Excelsior district on Geneva. It's got a huge number of selections on the menu and I've never had a bad meal there. It's divey but clean, and it's got astroturf in odd places, but you go there for a big, filling, tasty mexican meal and I'm sure you'll be happy. I can't recommend the nopales enough, and also the carnitas taco is great.
In the Guardian, there's a column called Cheap Eats. You might want to see if anything in his past columns strikes your fancy. Here's a link for this week's:
How cheap is cheap? nothing is truly "CHEAP" in San Francisco, but there are plenty of places to grab something deelish for under 10 dollars a person.
My personal favorite is Hons Wun Tun on Kearny and Commercial. My other favorite is a super beef taco from La Taqueria at 26th and Mission. (these are actually both around 5 dollars a person with drink and tax and tip...)
So i am sure that you can find some delicious things if you set your mind to it. Where are you coming from? I tmight be easier for peopel to recommend stuff if they know from where you hail and what you absolutely should not miss....
Also, if you have access to a stove,i would buy yourself some Dungeness and take it home and boil that sucker and go crazy with food euphoria. (it is crab season right now, and it will be far cheaper to buy your own than try to get some at a restaurant)
ok, i'm done.
i'm coming from boston. i am actually coming to take a beginner's food writing seminar. so food is probably one of the most important things to me (barring my dog, family, etc of course)
-not a vegitarian
-love all kinds of ethnic food
-cheap is i guess up to $20 -boston ain't that cheap either
-want to try things that are truly from the region, i love great produce etc
I'd say, take a trip to Berkeley to visit the Berkeley Bowl (if you don't have a car you can take BART to Ashby station and walk about three blocks north). The produce section is truly amazing.
Since you're interested in fresh local cuisine, squeeze your budget and try the Cafe at Chez Panisse and/or Greens.
Also, don't miss the Ferry Plaza (San Francisco)Farmer's market on Saturday morning.
TOO FUNNY! I am a boston translplant my self and the most important food difference i noticed out here, besides artisinal cheeses (i totally second Ruth's suggestion for going to Berkeley Bowl!!!), is the sushi. I will not quibble about this, San Francisco has without a doubt the BEST sushi in the united states. I have eaten sushi everywhere, and this is the only town to get it. There are a million and one suggestions on this board as to the best places to go, but no matter where you do go, you will find that even if you are eating at what some of us here would now consider a "crappy" sushi spot, it will still be better than Ginza. (and don't get me wrong, i am incredibly fond of Ginza, nobody does the box sushi out here like they do. but still....the fish is just that damn good!)
The other main difference i noticed in food out here, is to try and shoot for those restaurants that revel in the year round abundance of produce. Make sure that you stroll to the farmer's markets and that you check out the varous produce shops.
Another large difference between Boston and SF is that there are still an incredible abundance of private butchers, fish mongers, produce hawkers, and cheese shops. Unike in Boston where you have to get it all at either Bread and Circus or Star. Boston seems to still revel in private bakeries, but unless you are in the North End, you can't find a butcher or fish monger to save your life.
The key to SF food is the freshness. Knowing the seasons, what is best, what is not, what restaurants can do with the variety available to them.
Make sure you take in some taqueria's, some take out dim sum (i recommend Good Luck Dim Sum at 10th and Clement)
Make sure you stroll down Clement street and check out the scene, it blows the boston China Town away. I will say this, the chinese food here is TOTALLY different from the chinese food in Boston. you will be surprised and hard pressed to find what you are used to. (don't let that discourage you, though)
SF is without a doubt a food mecca. There are places that can not be missed. Clement Street, Berkeley Bowl, The Mission, The farmer's markets. Soak them all in, enjoy! Have a fantastic trip and trust me, with a limited budget, you will still eat fantastically well.
To with the long list of excellent ideas I would add:
Ti Couz--16th between Valencia and Guerrero. Most things are delicious here, but I'm partial to the mushroom crepe+cheese, the tomato w/or w/o cheese, the onion soup is really good, the seafood salad makes a great lighter but still filling lunch or dinner, but do save room to have a dessert crepe-- the nutella is yummy, and for a bit of a splurge, the belle helene (pear, chocolate, vanilla ice cream and chantilly) hits all the right places.
Emmy's Spaghetti Shack---on Virginia, just up the hill off of Mission Street;Virginia is just after 29th--heading out of the Mission. I've had some great food there. Funky atmosphere, fresh ingredients, good often quirky wine list. Dessert has been on the weak side, but I've been happy with everything else.
Have a great time!
Here's a link to the SF Wholesale Produce Market on 2095 Jerrold Ave. You might also enjoy walking the Alemany Farmer's Market - 100 Alemany Blvd. - the city's oldest farmer's market. This market is definitely more affordable than the Ferry Plaza one and attracts more families and working class folks. They're both interesting in their own ways.