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Mar 13, 2007 06:25 AM

Best value eats in downtown SF

We'll be visiting San Francisco in a couple of weeks and are looking for dining suggestions. We like ethnic food, especially the kinds we can't get at home in Vermont. We'll be staying in the Haight area but will be visiting Chinatown, North Beach, and who knows where else. We have a limited budget but would consider a splurge or two. Thanks for any guidance you can give.


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  1. Tu Lan hands down - A great Vietnamese joint that is legendary. And dirt cheap. And somewhat rough around the edges but this just keeps the hoi polloi away.

    Taqueria Can Cun on 19th and Mission....epic.

    Many many others - I'm sure the posts will roll in.

    have fun!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jbyoga

      I must disagree about Tu Lan. I work nearby and have tried it a dozen times. The famous imperial rolls are grease bombs. The beef (or pork or chicken) with pickled cabbage is passable, but loaded with bland supermarket tomatoes and canned pineapple. The pho doesn't merit the name compared to what's served at any random joint on Jones or Larkin St. The place is indeed an institution, but I'm afraid it's living off it's reputation.

    2. Not sure what ethnic cuisines you DO have in VT, but you'll find SF a treasure trove of cheap ethnic eats. Assuming you mean "downtown" in a fairly broad sense, don't neglect Little Saigon (Larkin St. northward from the City Hall area) for banh mi and other Vietnamese goodies, or the "Tandoorloin" area (generally around Jones St. southward from Geary for dhaba-style North Indian places serving curries and other Punjabi delights.

      Chinatown in general is almost the definition of cheap eats, but Hon's Wun Tun House on Kearny is considered a treasure by some, and the walkaway dim sum places like You's on Broadway are fun if you like hand-held food. For sit-down dim sum, Dol Ho and Y. Ben House on Pacific are notably cheap and good, as is Lichee Garden on Powell (which doesn't have carts, however). Hardly any of the dim sum palaces of Chinatown will break the bank, however. You'll also find a lot of $5 and under "rice plate" specials.

      North Beach isn't exactly "cheap" in the same sense, but it's the birthplace of coffee culture on the West coast (sorry, Seattle) and it's de rigueur to linger in a caffe over a "doppio" pulled by an Old World artisan for the price of one pulled by a pimply-faced Starbucks "barista". (North Beach, incidentally, is officially a Starbucks-free zone).

      1. The topic title says "downtown" but it sounds like you're interested in the whole city. Here's a recent topic on cheap eats, which 95% of the time means ethnic:

        Here's a list of some of the ethnic cuisines we have here, which are you interested in?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          You're right about location. I'm not exactly sure what defines "downtown" in SF, but we'll be exploring via public transportation from our B&B in the Haight. Info about any great eating spots in any SF neighborhoods would be welcome.

          That list is ethnic cuisines is great! Here are the ones that sound most appealing:

          - Afghani
          - Basque
          - Basque tapas
          - Burmese
          - Cambodian
          - Chiuchow / Chaozhou / Teo Chow / Chinjiew
          - Ethiopian / Eritrean
          - Breton crepes
          - Guatemalan
          - Korean
          - Lao / Laotian
          - Nicaraguan
          - Persian
          - Peruvian
          - Indian pizza
          - Salvadorean
          - Shanghai
          - Singapore / Malaysian
          - Sichuan / Szechuan
          - Taiwan / Taiwanese
          - northern Thai
          - Turkish
          - Vietnamese bahn mi
          - northern Vietnamese
          - Xinjiang
          - Yucatan / yucatecan

          Yup, that's most of them.

          Thanks, Robert

          1. re: DWC

            Afghan: Helmand, currently closed but supposed to open in a few weeks

            Basque: Piperade (bit on the pricey side)

            Basque tapas: Bocadillos (same owner as Piperade)

            Burmese: Burma Super Star, Mandalay

            Cambodian: Angkor Borei

            Crepes: Ti Couz

            Korean: Han Il Kwan (or better yet Ohgane in Oakland)

            Laotian: Champa Garden in Oakland

            Persian: Maykadeh (can be cheap or pricey depending on how you order)

            Indian Pizza: Zante

            Singapore-Malaysian Restaurant on Clement

            Turkish: A La Turka

        2. I have a few favorites from SF, I lived there for 5 years and went back last april to visit, found more fun spots..I know these spots and taking them from SFGates website

          Rosamunde Sausage Grill
          It's a cult favorite, but soon to become our own Tuesday tradition: Rosamunde Sausage Grill in the Lower Haight makes room on the tiny grill one lunchtime per week for whopping, juicy hamburgers on onion-scented, buttery buns with grilled onions and all the fixings. As with the delicious sausages, you can take everything next door to Toronado for a beer — root or otherwise — and watch the scene as regulars wait for their weekly fix.
          Cuisine: American
          Vitals: 545 Haight St. (near Fillmore Street), San Francisco; (415) 437-6851. Burgers served only at lunch on Tuesdays. Sausages served at lunch, dinner daily.

          Ti Couz
          The always-popular Mission hot spot continues to serve delicious crepes — and with more than 30 fillings, there are endless combinations. Smoked salmon, shrimp, scallops, sausage and ham are only some of the savory stuffings that can be folded between the buckwheat pancake-like layers. Add-ons such as caramelized onions and mushrooms make the decision-making process even harder. More difficult, though, is creating the perfect dessert: How do you choose between Nutella, caramel, berries, chocolate and coconut? Our suggestion: choose them all and throw a scoop of ice cream on top.
          Cuisine: French
          Vitals: 3108 16th St. (near Valencia); (415) 252-7373. Lunch, dinner Friday-Monday; dinner only Tuesday-Thursday. Full bar. Credit cards accepted.

          Cordon Bleu Vietnamese Restaurant - California St. at Polk
          My favorite San Francisco cheap meal can be found at this wondrous Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall. For a mere $7 and some change you too can enjoy the magic of a number 5 which consists of 1/4 of a their famous 5 Spice Chicken, grilled barbecue pork, an imperial roll, some rice with sauce, and "country salad". The whole combo is delicious, ultra-filling (I've never finished the whole thing)

          The Pork Store Cafe - Haight
          Cheap, filling, and scrumdilly-umptious pancackes, fancy omlettes, and breakfast staples in this loud and lively packed restaurant. You can fill up on an artery-clogging Pork Store Special (for a mere $6.95), you get not one, but two pork chops, not one, but two eggs, not one, but two biscuits and a pile killer hash browns.

          Yokoso Nippon (No Name Sushi) - Best for the buck
          The Bottom Line Good sushi at a fraction of the price. A local gem, in the rough of the Castro. I discovered this gem with some friends of mine from Berkeley. You probably won't find it unless you have a friend who knows where is. It doesn't have a sign, beyond an 8 1/2x11 piece of paper in the window, hence the regular label, "No Name." The first thing that surprised me about this place is the fact that they don't have a liquor license. Saporo is a regular drink for ma at any sushi joint. But they are happy to have folks bring their own. Just drop by the corner store to pick up a Saporo, Kirin or Asahi, place it in the supplied brown bag and you are in business. The second thing that surprised me about this place is the line. You will probably have to wait to eat here. I have never waited over 20 minutes, though large groups may have to wait more. For a place with no public advertising, word of mouth keeps this place busy thanks to many local regulars. The Third thing that surprised me about this place is the price. They have pretty good quality sushi for a fraction of the price of many SF eateries. A group of 6 can expect a bill of about $50. The decor is nothing to talk about, pretty sparse, but what to expect from a hole in the wall gem. They don't have a phone so you can't call in orders, or make reservations, but in the end it is all worth it. The fish is fresh. Most Nigiri orders come with four pieces in stead of the traditional 2 and the rolls usually come in 12 pieces in stead of the traditional 8. Add to this that the prices are considerably lower than the traditional and you can't lose. I recommend the Unagi Nigiri, the classic BBQ eel. Also the Spicy Tuna rolls are very good. I have not sampled any of their sashimi offerings.
          You can find it at 314 Church St. between 14th and 15th. All I can say is that if you try it, you won't be disappointed.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Lightsuprooms

            Since your last visit there was a rash of complaints that Rosamunde switched to unacceptable buns.


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              I dont think that is a serious complaint.
              "I liked the old buns better" != "The burgers suck now".

              For $5.50, it's a good deal. The controlling issue is do you
              want to potentially wait an hour for a hamburger.

              1. re: psb

                A stale bun that falls apart seems like a serious complaint to me. Read the linked topic.

            2. re: Lightsuprooms

              I have to disagree with these recommendations:

              The Pork Store Cafe - is a grease bomb diner that is no different than you can find in any town in America. I would never recommend a visitor waste one of their few meals in SF eating at the pork store.

              Rosamunde Sausage Grill - here's my warning about the Tuesday burger. First, its gone downhill and the price went up but its still a nice burger if you're in the area and have time. It is a locals thing, other than a few occasionals, the same people come every week. The line starts about 20 minutes before they open, they take many orders but if you're not in that first group of people, it can be an hour before you get your burger during the lunch "rush". Its true. We live on the block, my husband works from home, he generally goes over around Noon and orders, gets a time estimate (usually 45min-1hours) goes back home and then returns to pick it up. So if you want to have a relaxing lunch and beers at Toronado, go enjoy the Tuesday burger. But I get my burgers from Memphis Minnie's - they're available every day, and I can get it with pimiento cheese and a side of fries, I don't have to wait an hour and I can still take it to Toronado if I want.

              Yokoso Nippon (No Name Sushi) - This place is acceptable only as an intro to sushi for beginners. Yes, its cheap, but you get what you pay for. And the selection is pitiful and the knife-work of the "chefs" is embarrassingly bad, they are true HACKS - if you're used to quality sushi, this place will definitely disappoint. But if you're poor and this is all the sushi you can afford...

              1. re: larochelle

                Agree about Pork Store. I don't get why people line up for this place .Go to Magnolia's on Haigh/Masonic for brunch instead - much better and less crowded.

                1. re: Maya

                  first off, ti couz is horrible

                  zazi's in cole valley is an awesome brunch place. excellent food, but expect a wait. there's also a really good french bakery nearby whose name i cant recall. way better than pork store if youre not into greasy spoons (which i am, on occasion, but whatever).

                  for indian pizza, i'd try star india, on geary and arguello in the inner richmond. i just like it better than zante's for some reason i cant articulate very well.

                  taqueria can-cun is alright, but my favorite pork al pastor in the city can be found at el castillito taqueria, on church street near market. my favorite carnitas is taqueria san francisco, on 24th street and york, though there is also a really excellent carnitas on valencia and 18th, sabor something.

                  burma superstar is a bit overrated, i think.

                  1. re: rigel

                    Ti Couz gets far more positive reports on this board than negative.

                    1. re: rigel

                      every single thing at ti couz is horrible?
                      wow. it's not like they do much to the basic ingredients
                      when it comes to some of the preps.

                      1. re: rigel

                        What don't you like about Ti Couz? To me, the buckwheat crepes are exactly like in France.

                        The French bakery on Cole is part of the small Bay Bread chain, you can get the same stuff in various other neighborhoods:


                2. For a nice dinner, try Restaurant Jeanne d'Arc at the Cornell Hotel (Bush St. near Powell). Four course prix fix dinner for $30.