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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!

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  1. Here's A, B and C:

    5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

    Burma Superstar Restaurant
    309 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

    Taqueria Cancun
    2288 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    1. Questions?
      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

      Tartine Bakery
      600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Bar Tartine
      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Trader Vic's - Emeryville
      9 Anchor Dr., Emeryville, CA 94608

      5 Replies
      1. re: wolfe

        ooh. hmm. vik's chaat house, definitely. it was a big garage place with phenomenal indian food?

        and i'm not sure which tartine it is. i'm supposing the bakery? what's the difference?

        1. re: emilia

          Tartine Bakery is a bakery in the Mission.
          Bar Tartine is a restaurant in the Mission owned by the Tartine Bakery people.
          Tartine Cafe Francais is a small cafe in Hayes Valley not owned by the Mission folk.

          Tartine Cafe Francais
          244 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. re: larochelle

            ah. then it's tartine bakery that i've been recommended to go to.

            any other suggestions for cheap meals in union square / downtown area?

            1. re: emilia

              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

              Nijiya Market
              1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

              Cafe Zitouna
              1201 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

              Maki Restaurant
              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

              La Boulange
              2043 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

              Out the Door
              845 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              Takara Restaurant
              22 Peace Plz Ste 505, San Francisco, CA 94115

              The Sentinel
              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

              1. re: sfbing

                The burger at the O Izakaya Lounge has been reported to be very good, 1/2 pound about $13.

                O Izakaya Lounge
                1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

      2. 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.

        3 Replies
        1. re: bbulkow

          Actually, if you're going to go to Vik's, do so on the weekend, preferably with friends. There is definitely more variety then. If you don't want to go all the way to Berkeley, you could check out Udupi Palace in the Mission.

          1. re: bbulkow

            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

            El Tonayense
            2598 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA

            Los Cantaros Restaurant
            4115 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608

            El Cachanilla
            2948 21st St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            1. re: bbulkow

              Unless they've raised their prices dramatically, Burma Superstar is cheap enough for college students to line up.

              Larkin Express Deli is cheaper and the Burmese dishes are as good or better, but they close early.

              Yamo is cheaper, not as good, but the funky atmosphere is fun.

            2. 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?

              1 Reply
              1. re: emilia

                good, fresh Mexican food in NY is non-existent?? get thee to Queens, young lady.

              2. 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.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: cvhound

                    Thank you -- love that thread. And she links her previous one. I'll have to try to remember the OP by the old Association song.

                  2. re: nosh

                    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

                    1. re: Windy

                      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)

                  3. 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

                    The House
                    1230 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    Park Chow
                    1238 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

                    Papalote Mexican Grill
                    3409 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                    1500 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: katya

                      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

                      1. re: BernalKC

                        We love Puerto Alegre for brunch. Their chilaquiles are wonderful but the last time I had a margarita there (about a year ago), it was criminally awful. Places that serve Rosie's lime & other sickeningly sweet mixers instead of fresh lime juice are a travesty.

                        1. re: larochelle

                          Cool. I have much to learn on the mixology front. Where should I go in search of a better margarita? Or is that fodder for another thread?

                          1. re: BernalKC

                            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.

                          1. re: BernalKC

                            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

                            Molinari Delicatessen
                            373 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        2. 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.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Jumbo_Jack

                            Lamb roti is one of the more expensive dishes at Vik's and I think it's only $6.

                            I spend more at Shanghai, which is the cheapest Chinatown restaurant I go to.

                            1. re: Jumbo_Jack

                              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.

                              1. re: Dave MP

                                You're right. Goat Hill is good for AYCE and as a little neighborhood place but not a visitor stop. Even on AYCE night, if you're not ready to fully grub or it's not worthy.

                                1. 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.

                                  1. 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.

                                    1. re: nosh

                                      Or Arizmendi for that matter. Totally different direction that might make their head explode. But it tastes so good...

                                      Arizmendi Bakery & Pizzeria
                                      4301 San Pablo Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608

                                      1. re: nosh

                                        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.

                                2. all,
                                  these are wonderful suggestions! just arrived in SF a few hours ago. we're staying in union square by all the touristy stuff, but Will Travel For Food.

                                  will report as i chow!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: emilia

                                    Welcome, we ordered a lovely day for you , enjoy.