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Cheap or Inexpensive Restaurants in San Francisco?

My girlfriend and I are visiting San Francisco January 19-21 from LA. We'll probably be staying somewhere toward the center of the city but will be around Fisherman's wharf and the like most of our trip. Neither of us can really afford that much, so I'm wondering if anyone can recommend good places that would be less than $50 for the two of us for a whole meal (with tip and tax). We don't mind walking/taking the bus/BART to get somewhere, so anywhere in San Francisco would be fine. In terms of food, we'd probably prefer seafood (especially local) and the only meat we eat is chicken, but we do eat just about every cuisine around and will have no major preference. We also usually don't order appetizers or desserts (and almost never wine) so that $50 can be mostly for the entrees (unless there's some great appetizers/desserts). That number is also not fixed - if it can be lower, great, but if some place is absolutely amazing but it will cost $60, its not the end of the world. We also don't care that much about ambiance or the like - we'd rather spend the money on better food.


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  1. These are inexpensive and fun.

    From FW walk up Columbus to Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store

    A few more blocks to Chinatown for Sam Woh.
    813 Washington St, San Francisco 94108
    Btwn Grant Ave & Waverly Pl

    17 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      A few downhill reports on Mario's --- have you been there recently?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Sometime last summer after Chuckles warning I took my daughter and had no problems with service or the meal. Turkey for me and veggie without cheese for vegan. Must have been my day as I got the parking space on the Union Street side

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          it's nothing insanely special, but they use really good local focaccio.
          i much prefer momma's on the other side of the park for a casual lunch/brunch or moose's for something a little more formal (although the new revamping sounds like a zoo).

          Some other sugestions might be Gialina's for pizza in Glen Park, which is accessible by Bart.

          Delfina's for pizza is another option, though your best bet is at lunch when it's less crowded. Right at the corner is Tartine for desserts, coffee, pastries, and other goodies. You can also visit Bi Rite market for some local gourmet items, and a bit of window shopping while on your way to their ice cream shop. All of those are within a block of each other, and fit well within your budget, so that stretch of food is a no brainer suggestion. Also, walk another block to Valencia and you're not far from Lucca Raviola, which is an old Italian specialty market. Not far from there is Ritual Coffee, where they roast their own beans in the back, and you can get mini cupcakes with soy icing for a buck. If the crowds too young or arty for you, keep walking and you'll be near indian ice cream (not as good as Mashti Malones, but still...) and lots of great Mexican food in the Mission. There's also Bar Tartine or crepes and cider at Ti Couz on 16th at Valencia.

            1. re: wolfe

              Why is that? You aren't confusing it with the Washbag, are you (also once owned by Ed Moose)?

                1. re: wolfe

                  Moose's has a new chef, new decor, and new owners .... so it's very possible that it's not an option anymore since they might as well change the name at this point. It's still there though.

            2. re: sugartoof

              I've been wanting to try Bar Tartine myself as it is highly recommended by this board. How is their pricing since you only recommended the bakery and not the restaurant (lunch/dinner)? I have never been to the Indian ice cream place but have to chuckle at your Mashti Malones comment because I heard SOO much about it on the L.A. board but only to be disappointed when I finally tried the ginger rosewater:-) Not that it was bad, just not great. I just tried the pistachio ice cream at Milk, yum. Perhaps another flavor at Mashti's?

              1. re: ceekskat

                It is so frustrating that Bar Tartine does not have a stand alone website from the bakery (and therefore no menu for the restaurant). If you go here http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/res... and click on on screen menu, you can see a menu of theirs, but I'm not sure what the date is on that menu. The prices there are in the high teens to mid 20s for entrees, and I haven't been there for dinner recently, so I'm not sure how accurate that is. I can highly recommend brunch, though, and there the entrees are around $7 to $14.

                1. re: ceekskat

                  Oh I wouldn't defend Mashti's, I just know the LA folks aren't going to be too impressed by the Valencia place in comparison. Truthfully, I suspect they get their stuff imported from Mashti's or somewhere else anyway. The Cardomon, and Safron flavors are usually the best. Rosewater can taste like soap, I think. They're now selling pints of Mashtis' at Molly Stone's, but it didn't live up to my memory of it.

                  I haven't tried Bar Tartine yet, but I love the bakery, and it's perfect when paired with Delfina.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Do they actually sell cigars, and, if so, can they be smoked in there?
                (Im guessing "no" on both counts.)

                1. re: Anonimo

                  the sale of cigars have not been sold there since California's anti-smoking law was enacted in 1998

                  1. re: Lori SF

                    Were cigars for sale there before '98? I really just remember coffee, and then some pre-made grilled vegetable sandwiches sitting on the bar.... but I only went during the day.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      They may of had some behind the counter forsale as well as cigs before 1998.. I think the cigar smoking predate 1971 when Mario Crismani bought the place...It was a men's card club at the turn of the century (no woman allowed) a place where they smoked cigars, played cards and play a few games.

              3. re: wolfe

                Try Caffe Sport on Green St. in North Beach. It has been there forever and is really very good. Certainly within your price range. Really good seafood. Or go half a block down the street to Golden Boy pizza and get a couple of slices of pizza and a beer for a super cheap meal.

                I agree with wolfe on Mario's, but I must say that I have had way too many disappointing meals at Sam Wo's to recommend it.

                1. re: paellaguy

                  How could you be disappointed? I never expected it to be great just cheap and filling. I did like the raw fish salad.

                  1. re: paellaguy

                    "way too many disappointing meals"

                    How many does it take to learn not to go back, or to lower one's expectations?

                2. Pauline's Pizza or Litttle Star would be fun

                  Pauline's Pizza
                  260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  Little Star Pizza Valencia
                  400 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1. And Osteria Del Forno in North Beach

                    L'Osteria del Forno
                    519 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    Pauline's Pizza
                    260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    Little Star Pizza Valencia
                    400 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Calvinist

                      I second all three places.

                      You can also get an excellent meal at one of these charming spots-

                      Go to SPQR on Fillmore at Pine. You could order the ANTIPASTI
                      and have their housemade pasta for under that amout.

                      Pesce - on Polk at Green, good Italian seafood and pasta dishes.

                    2. Pasta Pomodoro is a small chain of Italian restaurants in the Bay Area. There are 5 locations in San Francisco. You can have lunch there for under $10 and dinner for well under $20 person, without wine. The portions are good-sized and I have always found the food there to be pretty darn good (and I eat a lot of Italian food!).

                      Locations are: 3611 California St, 816 Irving St, 2304 Market St, 655 Union St, 1875 Union St.

                      1. Try Angkor Borei: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/404792. It's really good and cheap enough that you'll be able to afford another more expensive place. There are a lot of good places near 16th and Valencia, too. Cheapish.

                        1. There are a number of great value pre fixe dinners in the City.
                          We always love the $ 14.50 dinner at Baker Street Bistro off Lombard.
                          Check for other places.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bruce in SLO

                            I agree with the prix-fix option.

                            In terms of seafood, the prices at Fisherman's Wharf are jacked up and the quality is not there. If you must eat there, Scoma's has a three-course lunch prix-fixe that lasts until 3:30 and is about $22. The fish is stellar-fresh (stay with the fresh fish option) but the rest is only average.

                            I'm surprised no one mentioned Tadich's for seafood which is as San Franciscan as you can get and this is the time of the year for their cioppino. If sand dabs are available they have them. The sourdough at Tadich's is just the best in the city ... period. No one currently is even close.

                            Another great prix-fix is Town's End Restaurant & Bakery where there are three courses for $19.95 and a great bread basket from their bakery. If you get the correct table there is even a little bay view. It is on the Embarcadero about mid-way between the ball park and Ferry Building. On top of it much of it is organic.

                            The choice is any appetizer or soup/ any entree / and any dessert. They make a great lemon meringue pie. From the current menu a nice app/entree might be ...
                            -Grilled mesquite-smoked prawns, organic greens, portabella mushrooms, pesto
                            vinaigrette, fresh mozzarella, polenta croutons
                            -Eden natural Kurobuta Berkshire Pork Chop, grilled & served with smoked tomato-maple-rum sauce,mashed organic red garnet yams & organic vegetables

                            They also have very good breakfasts and there's a $10 lunch special - Cup of soup or house salad, ½ of any sandwich, any beverage, any cookie ... they have an excellent house-made lemonade and I like their coffee a lot.

                            Hope you will report back on where you ate and how you liked it.

                          2. It would be a shlep, but I can't believe what a bargain Lime Tree is. Food is great, and my partner and I ate there a few nights ago -- two apps, two mains for under $20.

                            1. We got back last night and I wanted to let people know what we thought of where we went

                              Delfino's Pizza: We ate here around 1 PM on Sunday - the wait was maybe 15-20 minutes. For appetizers we had batter-dipped and friend mozzarella (I believe they were called frita) as well as their soup (it was a chicken broth with vegetables and mozzarella). Both were OK, but nothing revolutionary. Same with the pizza (we ordered the Margherita variety). Everything was made well but didn't make any amazing impression on us. The center of pizza was too soggy for our tastes, but the crust, cheese, and sauce were all very good. Service was also good, but slightly rushed.

                              Tartine Bakery: We got a lemon creme tart and a coconut creme tart here. Both were good, but again they didn't impress us much. The hot chocolate they made is one of the few hot chocolates I've ever liked that I haven't made myself (though a lot more expensive).

                              L'Osteria del Forno: We actually went here for dinner both nights - a big one on Saturday and a light dinner on Sunday. Both times we were impressed and this is definitely a place to come back to for us. We had a total of four appetizers - the roasted red peppers, the tomatoes with mozzarella and olives, the tomatoes with feta, and the breaded, roasted tomatoes. We were very pleased with all but the last one (which we thought needed some cheese). For the main course, the first night we split their homemade ricotta ravioli (slightly bland but the ravioli literally tasted like it had just been made) and the foccacia sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. Both were excellent. The second night we had their pesto pizza which we liked much more than the one we had at Delfino's. The crust was slightly drier (this allowed one to transfer a slice to a plate without losing all the cheese) and the sauce and cheese were as good if not better than at Delfino's. Finally, the first night we had Tiramasu and the Ricotta cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake was alright but not to our tastes. However, the Tiramasu was amazing.and I'd recommend it to everyone. The service the first night was great (our waitress was friendly and fast) but the second night our waitress (a different one) seemed to be bitter and wasn't as helpful. Still not a bad experience. We'll be coming back here when we're in San Francisco again.

                              Sam Wo: We originally weren't going to go here, but two people we met at L'Osteria told us it was worth it just for the experience. Since we were wandering around Chinatown, we stopped in and had lunch. Luckily we got the correct orders and everything was calm, and I do have to say that it was good food (for americanized Chinese food) and definitely the right price ($17 w/ tip for wonton soup and an entree for each of us).

                              Golden Gate Bakery: We actually discovered this place when we were in San Francisco for a day last March and its still as good as then.

                              We didn't make it to Town's End (they're closed Sunday and Monday, which we didn't discover until we got there on the muni) or Baker's Bistro (too far away) but maybe next time.

                              Thanks again for everyone's help.