Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Aug 18, 2008 08:01 PM

Cheap Eats/Dives/Landmarks/etc. to see over 1wk


I'll be visiting SF for the first time in October, and I'm wondering what restaurants I should visit. I know SF has a ton of trendy, innovative restaurants, but that's not necessarily what I'm going for. While I would like to go to maybe one nice restaurant while I'm out there, I am looking for something a bit more unusual.

Not sure exactly how I would describe it, but if I were taking a visitor around NYC, places such as Katz's, Di Fara, Russ & Daughters, Shake Shack, etc. would be the focus, rather than a Babbo or EMP. Not sure if there is a SF equivalent to a Village Voice or NY Mag's Cheap Eats that might have some good reading on the subject.

Sorry, I'm sure there are at least a few threads along these lines, but I'm not really positive what I'm looking for exactly.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hey Chet,
    7x7 (which is San Francisco's local magazine) just did a great cover story on "31 Flavors: 1 Month's Worth of Delicious and Cheap Eats". It's also on their website at --- I thought that the suggestions overall were good ones. I would just add Burma Superstar (Excellent Burmese food -- get the rainbow salad). Hope this helps!

    7 Replies
    1. re: skim99

      That's a great article!

      Yes, I've actually read about Burma Superstar over on the NY board (homesick SF ex-pat). Never tried Burmese before, and definitely looking to experience some foods that are less common on the East coast.

      1. re: chet steadman

        To offer a counterpoint, I don't think Burma SuperStar is that good. A one-hit wonder. If you must go there because of the hype, get the samusa soup.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I wouldn't say I must go there, but I am reasonably interested in checking it out. I heard that one of the salads was actually their signature, though.

          1. re: chet steadman

            The problem with BSS is that the cooking is watered down to appeal to people who would be turned off by the taste of Burmese or Southeast Asian food. Garlic, pungent fish sauce, chilis, fermented shrimp . . . all missing in action . . . but that's what their customers prefer and BSS is very popular.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I only went to Burma Superstar once, and I didn't feel that way about it. Some of the items were better than others - the tea leaf salad was my favorite - but I didn't feel it was watered down either. However, I ate here before ever eating at Larkin Express Deli, which I like better overall.

              Here's a link to my BurmaSuper post:

              And here's a link to my top 25 eats from 2007. The majority of the things I ate fit the OP's budget and request. I also like the Pastores and El Delfin suggestions.


              1. re: Dave MP

                Thanks for including the link to your post. The discussion thread goes into the reasons the version at Burma Super Star has been labeled "tea leaf lite". (g)

                I would point toward Larkin Express Deli as well, if the OP wants Burmese.

                Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
                452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                I don't think the Burmese dishes at Burma Superstar are all that different from those at Larkin Express, but the latter's definitely better.

                Some of the Indian and Chinese dishes that fill out the menu at Burma Superstar are really lame, so if you order at random, you could have a really mediocre meal.

      2. I thought the 7X7 article was pretty perceptive for a slick Gen-X kind of publication, and was delighted that they put Five Happiness in there (it usually flies under the radar, but it's a hoary place with good cheap eats). I'd've put Shanghai Dumpling King in place of Shanghai House; It's a bit more of a dive but has better xiaolong bao (soup dumplings to you) but you can't go wrong with either. For real lowbrow institutions, I'd add Red's Java House (cheeseburger and a long-neck Bud, please), Tommy's Joint, Lefty O'Douls, and Sam Wo.

        Odd that NY is deprived of Burmese restaurants; there's been at least three Burmese festivals/bazaars in NY this summer so far, with lots of tasty-looking food documented by Dave Cook.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Xiao Yang

          I think this is a link to a part of the article:

          And I highly recomend Pastores (mentioned in the article) for something not too readily available in NYC. El Delfin as well.

          El Delfin
          3066 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Pastores Restaurant
          3486 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. re: Calvinist

            Pastores sounds like my kind of place for sure. Thanks

        2. I don't recall who said it here on the SF CH board but the mission burrito is basically your slice of pizza in NYC. Great line because the similarities are there...inexpensive, ethnic, accessible palette, basically street food, everyone eats them.

          I'd get some burritos.

          Like pizza in NY, you'll get many opinions on favorites. The usual suspects are: El Faralito, Taqueria San Jose, Taqueria Cancun, La Taqueria. You might take a look at this site:

          1 Reply
          1. The Guardian and the Weekly are two local free weeklies that cover food, and it seems to me they periodically publish articles about cheap places to eat. You might search their websites for suggestions. and

            Just how divey are you looking to get? Tu Lan is one of the diviest places I know (both the neighborhood and the restaurant itself) that serves quality food.

            Tu Lan
            8 6th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

            6 Replies
            1. re: weem

              not sure if i would do this in an unfamiliar metro area, but i'll go to places that serve food through bullet-proof glass around here.

              that said, it's not a requisite.. the goal is to see the authentic, family-run, time-warp type of places. some of them may be dives, but many are not.

              1. re: chet steadman

                You should read the reports attached to that link tp Tu Lan. I guess I'm in total disagreement but I think the food reporting on the Guardian and SF Weekly are dreadful (RL excepted). I'm sorry but one of the reviewers on the Weekly is a disgrace to food writers.

                Anyway, you might scroll through the SF Chow Digest which has some of the best of the board. It does cover the entire bay area so you need to scroll through and look for SF suggestions.

                The Chronicle's Bargain Bites section pretty good

                I hope you will be stopping by the Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmers market.

                For some reason, SF has a lot of Yucatan restaurants

                Of those, Poc-Chuc is one of the better choices. Yucatasia is ineresting. I haven't been there in a while and heard they dropped the 'asia' part which was Vietnamese. Comida Yucatan y City Pizza is in one of the worse spots in SF. I keep wanting to try some of the different tamales there.

                The Sentinel is a little take-out place that has been getting raves and has the same owner as Canteen ... a place you might consider for one of your nicer bites.

                Speakin of a place to consider for your nice dinner take a look at Aziza.

                Back to the more humble spots ...

                In North Beach Liguria Bakery makes one thing and one thing only, foccacia. The only change to the shop since it opened in the early 20th century is the family members and register. Get there early. A block or two away is XOX chocolates which make some killer truffles. The owner or assistant is always there, chatting with locals as they make their chocolates.

                Also in North Beach in a more medium price range are The House and Da Flora.

                You might click in the Places link at the top of the page for San Fraancisco and plug in either of the following to pic up some more ideas
                SF Inexpensive
                SF Moderate

                You can further narrow it down by Neighborhood
                SF Inexpensive Mission

                Looking for Landmarks, Tadich is a good one. It is the oldest restaurant in SF. Order the sand dabs or cioppino. Speaking of landmarks, if you go to the Sentinel, stop by the Palace Hotel next door and check out the restauarant ... you don't want to eat there, but it is lovely. The food isn't bad, it's just not exceptional.

                1. re: rworange

                  I'm fond of El Maya Yucatan for Yucatecan food.

                  El Maya Yucatan
                  2022 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. re: rworange

                    I'm no longer writing for the Weekly. (The gig was too fattening.)

                    1. re: rworange

                      Immediately after posting my post, I stumbled upon the Tu Lan thread and thought, "Oh, great, here come the criticisms." LOL. For the record, I am not one of those people who thinks Tu Lan has the best Vietnamese food in the City. Nor would I recommend it to the average tourist, or a tourist only in town for one day. But he'll be here a week, and he seemed to be actively seeking such places. I don't personally consider it a destination either. But when I find myself in that neighborhood (and when seeing a concert at the Warfield or a play at the Golden Gate, you are only a block or two away), I think it's a perfectly acceptable option for dinner.

                      As for the Guardian and the Weekly, I don't really read their food critics, so I apologize if my comment came across as a ringing endorsement. I just know they are popular local papers with restaurant coverage, that they are free, and that they cater to something of a more counter-culture mentality, which Mr. Steadman seems to be projecting. It seemed like having a broader scope of opinions, such as an alternative set of cheap eats lists, would help him make a more informed choice.

                      1. re: weem

                        I can't argue that Tu Lan has a legendary status ... whatever anyone thinks of the food ... worth a stop for the take out menu with the bad drawing of Julia Child on it. Have you tried the new Miss Saigan nearby on 6th?

                        Unfortunately for the Guardian the counter-culture mentality extends to the restaurant review just mentioning the name of the restaurant. If you are lucky the last line has to do with the food. In this one the very last words of the article ... after we learn all about the writers day and what else was eaten at home ... there is a mention that "fish fillet with tender greens" was ordered. Not how it was ... good or bad ... the info in quotes is literally the only thing about food in that two page 'review'. It's too bad. Long, long ago the reviews were both irreverant and had actually something to do with food.

                        Looking at the Weekly, the reviews seem to have improved lately, but I just stumble on way too many where I think "Why am I wasting my time reading this"

                        Thinking of landmark places, if the OP goes to Aziza, he might consider stopping by for a drink at Cliff House ... or just drink in the view. The food is over-priced and geared to tourist, but the Cliff House has been there in one form or another for a long, long time.

                        Then up the street is Seal Rock Inn which has a decent breakfast for the area and where Hunter S. Thomas wrote "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

                2. I would also like to add Yamo burmese in the Mission. The link below to the chronicle's cheap eats section has other good tips as well.