NY hound for cheapie SF meals (and a few splurges)
Hi SF hounds!
I will be visiting SF from NY for a film festival next month and staying in San Fran for a week. I'm very unfamiliar with the area but remember some yummy meals when i've visited in the past.
I'm staying on a super cheap budget (think Chinatown prices), but am allowing myself 1 or 2 splurge meals for the week. The only thing I have solidified is a reservation at Chez Panisse cafe for lunch, but otherwise was wondering where else I should visit for 1.) my daily cheapie meals (farmer's market recs? cafes or places under $10-15 per meal etc) and 2) 1 or 2 splurge ideas ("splurge" is relative--would like to spend under $50/pp not including alcohol).
I plan on visiting Vic's & Tartine, but otherwise am pretty clueless about where else to go. I'm a fan of all types of cuisine but lean heavily toward ethnic and lighter, veggie-friendly (love ethiopian, thai, japanese, vietnamese, turkish, italian, seafood, etc.) for those of you familiar w/ NY, i live/eat in the east village all the time, which tells you a bit about what i'm used to in terms of dining. i'll be staying somewhere close to SF downtown/japantown, but am willing to travel a bit for really great meals.
any recs? thanks hounders!
Trader Vic's or Vik's Chaat House?
Bakery Tartine or Bar Tartine and not Cafe Tartine?
Vik's Chaat House
2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110
561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Trader Vic's - Emeryville
9 Anchor Dr., Emeryville, CA 94608
Union Square/Downtown isn't loaded with high quality cheap eats, but you could try: King of Thai Noodle House. It isn't earth shattering, but it will fill you up for cheap. More upscale (and Vietnamese) would be Out the Door which is the cheaper offspring of Slanted Door. For lunch sandwiches and such, there is Sentinel, which is Dennis Leary's take out place. If you can afford it, his dinner place Canteen is very nice as well. The ferry building is full of places you can get food, especially on Tuesday and Saturday when the farmer's market is open. I particularly like Delica-rf, which makes excellent Bento boxes for about $10.
If the film festival you're referring to is based at the Kabuki theater, it might be more convenient to eat in the area. For some reason, getting in and out of Japantown during film festival is a bit of a zoo. We almost always end up barely getting to the theater on time and then have to make do with snacks from Nijiya market. Near Japantown, there is Takara for basic Japanese: bar food, sukiyaki, iron rice pots. Maki is more expensive and serves wappa-meshi. Also SPQR with Roman food, as well as a branch of Boulange, is within walking distance on Fillmore. There are also a bunch of Korean restaurants scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Further afield, there are a slew of cheap places on Larkin, near Ellis: Pagolac (7 courses of beef), Bodega Bistro (Vietnamese-French), Lers Ros Thai, Turtle Tower (north Vietnamese pho). Also Thai House Express, Cafe Zitouna and De Afghanan Kabob.
I've skipped the Mission, which is riddled with excellent places to eat. Most of these places (with the possible exception of Canteen) are within your price range and give you a fighting chance of making it to whatever movie you're trying to see. Good luck.
Thai House Express
901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109
655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Turtle Tower Restaurant
631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109
1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115
1201 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109
1825 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
De Afghanan Kabob House
1303 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109
1 Ferry Bldg, San Francisco, CA
2043 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115
Out the Door
845 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
22 Peace Plz Ste 505, San Francisco, CA 94115
55 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105
King of Thai Noodle
420 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA
Some of the places mentioned here are not in the $10/$15 range. SPQR isn't - single-pasta entrees are $15, but you can't get out the door for $15. Ditto Aziza, Canteen the entrees are $20. I doubt Burma Superstar is quite as cheap - their online menu doesn't have prices.
So - let's talk CHEAP!
You'll want to make friends with the Tandoorloin. My favorite is Pakwan because Shalimar is often too crowded.
You can fill up on very tasty for about $10 out the door.
SF gate has a bargain bites section that's only moderately helpful - some winners like Thai House Express, not sure about all of them.
Search here 'taco trucks' - or any kind of truck, like the cuban sandwich truck.
If you have time, consider a taco crawl of Fruitvale ave in Oakland (Tacos cost between $1.00 and $1.50, so you can get a *lot* of good eating for no money in a crawl. Pick one kind of taco, eat from 5 different vendors, become a tripas expert!) You'll have to spend a bart ticket there and back (what, $6 r/t?), but I think that's much more fun than Vic's, which is hard to get to by public transit and somewhat of a one-trick-pony (depending on how you like bhel puri and other chaat).
Hopefully there will be some chiming in regarding chinatown. I occasionally stop at seedy dumpling shops and get a bellyful, but can't say what's what.
I 2nd the taco truck idea. Good, tasty, cheap. I like the El Tonayense trucks, especially the one by 19th & Harrison. But I'm sure there are opionions all over the map. Plus, from my truck you can walk over to El Cachanilla and comapre.
And if taco's aren't you thing, check out tortas. I like both Totas El Primo and Toras Los Picudos -- but if you in the E Bay, I really like the tortas (chorizo con papas) at Los Cantaros -- and everything else there too.
Tortas Los Picudos
2969 24th St, San Francisco, CA
Tortas El Primo Deli & Market
3242 22nd St, San Francisco, CA
2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA
Los Cantaros Restaurant
4115 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608
2948 21st St, San Francisco, CA 94110
thanks, everyone! these are fantastic ideas. i can't wait to try them all. i appreciate all the cheap and not-so-cheap options...chances are i'll be doing both. the taco truck idea sounds excellent--as i'm sure you know ,good, fresh mexican food out here in NYC is all but non-existent. how about breakfast/brunch?
OK, Bay Area 'hounds -- someone with a good memory or search skills needs to help here. I recall two very long threads about very cheap, tasty places for lunch, just off Market or in the Financial District. The main reviewer is a woman, and she loves good sandwiches, little ethnic places, or even burgers and coffeeshops -- a lot of the lunches were barely over $5, and most came in at under $10. I remember at least two long posts, with entries updated with new finds every few weeks or month. The suggestions were incredibly helpful, including directions on how to find some of the hidden gems, what items to order, and specific prices and atmospheres.
Thanks Nosh. Always glad to know this is a helpful thread. I have a few new spots to add.
But it comes with a warning: don't eat downtown if you don't have to! I wouldn't. Get a MUNI pass so you can get out around the city. Unfortunately the area around the Kabuki isn't much better for bargains.
Financial District lunches are generally expensive and mediocre. The only bargains on that thread at the lunch specials at New Hong Kong (under $5 with soup and dessert) and the kim bop at John's Deli ($3.25, made while you wait by John's mother).
Much better cheap eats (under $10):
Yamo - Burmese
Lime Tree - Singaporean
the taco window next to El Cachanilla
Poc Chuc - Yucatecan
Pastores - home cooked Mexican, great chilequiles
Pagolac - Vietnamese
Udupi Palace - South Indian vegetarian
Sultan lunch buffet - Indian
Brenda's - upscale soul food - breakfast and lunch only
YATS- New Orleans style po boys
Lee Hou- Cantonese
Shin Toe Bul Yi-Korean fried chicken + bargain lunch specials
I second almost all of these.
I didn't think Udupi was very good when I went. I really like Vik's in Berkeley both for the food and overall vibe, so I'd still choose this for S. Indian, even though I've heard some say that their dosas are only OK. I think they are pretty good.
Places I'd add:
Larkin Express Deli (Burmese)
Cordon Bleu (Vietnamese Chicken)
Taqueria Vallarta (tacos)
Park Chow for Thai style noodles with chicken, bruschetta (if in season), and terrific chocolate cake. I prefer the chocolate cake but other people will tell you the ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream is better. My husband and I have tried both and think their chocolate cake is superior and is one of the best desserts we've ever found. (Most entrees are under $10. Two of us can eat all the food I decribed for about $30 before tip.)
Little Star has great Chicago style pizza with a cornmeal crust. We drive an hour from San Jose just to eat there. Believe it or not the plain cheese is our favorite ($12 for a small).
Eric's has my favorite Chinese food. They use white meat chicken, and I think no MSG. Their Shanghai chicken, Sesame Beef, and Portobello Chicken are standouts.
Just discovered the salsa at Papalote over the weekend. It was so good we bought the fresh stuff to take home. The tacos were good but not as good as other places.
Splurge worthy: the $25 sea bass at asian-fusiony restaurant, The House.
Little Star Pizza
846 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Little Star Pizza Valencia
400 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103
1230 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
1238 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
1500 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131
Papalote? I see now that there are quite a few fans of this place, here and elsewhere. But I totally fail to see why. For me they are a travesty. Nice salsa. Check. But the burritos? Ewww. No accounting for tastes, I guess.
If you want a white-person-friendly burrito with green tortillas, prawns, black beans... built to oh-so picky specifications, head to La Corneta. No matter how far you stray from a straight-up burrito, it will still taste like a real burrito. (Vegan? can't help you there.) If you want a cheap burrito to go, head to El Torro. But if you want my personal burrito touchstone, head to Puerto Allegre and order the super carne asada. It is a sit-down, wet style burrito that is either super or regular. This is not something wrapped in foil that you eat standing up. This is dinner. Order the nachos and be sure to get one or more of Willie's margheritas. If you have an uncontrollable need to special order something, call for whatever tequilla you want. That is a special order they can handle. The rest of their menu is pretty sturdy too.
El Toro Taqueria
598 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
La Corneta Taqueria
2834 Diamond St, San Francisco, CA 94131
Puerto Alegre Restaurant
546 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
I suspect that thread exists. I'm a devotee of Tommy's Mexican Restaurant & Bar on Geary. For years, they were the only place to go for a great selection of tequilas & fresh ingredients.
But in the last few years, a number of upscale places have opened - Mexico DF & Tres Agaves, for example - that also do nice margaritas. Also, more and more "fresh, local ingredients" places have been extending that philosophy to their bars so good margaritas are easier to find now.
Plus, "artisan" bars like Alambic and Bourbon & Branch are doing a great job as well.
A while back, we did two margarita surveys - "Best margarita within walking distance of Haight/Fillmore" (my neighborhood) and "Best margarita in the Mission" because hauling all the way out to Tommy's was beginning to wear on us. Alas, the results were depressing
- in the Lower Haight, we had to go all the way to the Orbit Room & 2223 Market to get a drinkable margarita in an acceptable atmosphere.
- in the Mission there wasn't one "dive" bar or Mexican joint that used fresh lime, the only places that made a quality margarita were those upscale or hipster places.
FYI - when I order a margarita in a new place I ask what their well tequila is and how they make their margarita. I may ask a follow up question or two but if I can tell up front its going to be a bad margarita, I'll have the tequila up or order a batanga or paloma both of which are harder to mess up.
I only recommended the salsa at Papalote, BernalKC.
For good Indian food I third the Vik's nomination (don't miss the chicken kathi kabob only available on the weekends).
Molinari's Deli for a great Italian sandwich and step back in time. (Note: one table outside and that's it for seating.)
If you're in the South Bay, you must visit Zeni for the best Ethiopian food you'll ever try.
Vik's Chaat House
2390 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant
1320 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129
373 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
I've been going to Vik's Chaat in Berkeley for over 9 years, but I think some of you are missing the point of 'Chinatown prices' super cheap budget. Chinatown super cheap budget to me means tasty, quick, and what I call a great calorie-per-dollar ratio.
Vik's is tasty and quick, but the prices have moved upwards in the past few years, and isn't a place that fills the tummy on the cheap.
Here's what I'd do:
Taqueria Cancun for the Veggie or Al Pastor Burrito. I adore this place, and would rather go there than a lot of places costing more than twice the amount. Like $5.50.
1003 Market St, San Francisco
2288 Mission St, San Francisco
Saigon Sandwich 560 Larkin St. Vietnamese sandwiches. $2.75?
Speakeasy Beers on Fridays. Friday's 4-8pm. www.goodbeer.com under "what's on tap". It's a real brewery with strong ales, and on Fridays it's open for tastings. You're just drinking fresh beer in their cold warehouse for cheap, with makeshift walls of beer cases so you don't wander around. You can get full for under $10...
Goat Hill Pizza Mondays. www.goathill.com All-u-can-eat neighborhood nite. it's busy. It's good sourdough crust. Servers come to your table with fresh pizzas to sample until you stop them, so you never even have to get up. $10.95.
I think the all-you-can-eat night at Goat Hill is OK, but I certainly wouldn't suggest that a visitor from NY go there.
Saigon Sandwich and Cancun are good suggestions though. Depending on what you order, Vik's can be super cheap and filling - certainly a filling meal is less than 10 dollars.
re: Dave MP
re: Dave MP
Goat Hill's AYCE, well, it's fun to get slices from a variety of pizzas instead of just one or two, but their pizza's nothing special. For the same money I can get more pizza than I can eat at places with better pizza.
Pauline's and Pizzaiolo are the only pizza places that would make sense to me for a visitor from NY. Maybe a slice of the porcini at L'Osteria.
re: Robert Lauriston
Robert, love your experience and insight. I agree with your point -- recommending Bay Area pizza to a New Yorker is like telling someone from the Mission where to go in NYC for a loaded burrito. So I understand your choices. And I know it is in Berkeley, but to see what they do with pizza out there, I'd throw in the Cheeseboard. Maybe even Zachary's, though that adds a Chicago element (not really) and may not be what it was two decades ago.
Cheese Board Pizza and its Arizmendi clones are a good addition to the local-pizza-styles short list.
Maybe Golden Boy in North Beach as well.
Zachary's tries to do Chicago-style but I don't think it's any better than the stuff NYers can get from their local Uno's branches. R.I.P. Larry Goldberg.