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Jul 15, 2009 11:21 PM

Dinner in SF for $20 or under

Having dinner with friend of a friend (college buddy from the U.K.) come visit me in the bay area - going to the city on friday night.

Don't want something super fancy yet - haven't met her and don't know what her budget is. (We're all fresh college graduates)

Want a nice dinner that can be encompassed in $20 (hopefully whole meal (main course + non alcoholc beverage incl tax and tip? if she wants liquor or appetizers, she'll just have to spend more...just have to.)

something.... uniquely san fransciscan... or at least californian, and at the very least - just good.


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  1. Not uniquely San Franciscan but Limon Rotisserie definitely fits in your budget and is a great meal. You can split an entire chicken with two sides for under $20.

    1. you might really enjoy Chow restaurant or even Home.
      Emmys Spaghetti Shack is great too if you order just the spaghetti.

      If you'd prefer (or not mind) a certain ethnic cuisine - you've got SOOO much to choose from. These are just "american" restaurants, but there are really great Thai, Indian, Mexican, Chinese and other types as well.
      let us know if what type specifically you prefer

      215 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

      Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
      18 Virginia Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Home Restaurant
      2100 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

      3 Replies
      1. re: beatricechefinthecity

        I guess I should also include: San Francisco being the diverse city that it is - all ethnic cuisine's are fair game - just please whittle them down to what you think would provide the BEST for food for $20!

        1. re: beatricechefinthecity

          I agree with CHOW, although did their prices go up a bit recently? ... I thought it did
          on my favorite item there, the braised short ribs.

          Also YUMMY YUMMY in the sunset.
          POC CHUC, if you want to go out in the Mission ... might be
          unusual for somebody from the UK (i.e. Indian wont make much sense).

          re: NOPA: come on, NOPA is way more expensive. Just because there is a way to
          get out of there for under $20 doesnt make it a resto anywhere near that price range.

          One of the DUMPLING places?
          For $40 total budget, there are other CHINESE options as well, but some CHINESE is perhaps suboptimal for just 2 people.

          1. re: psb

            Nopa is perfectly fine if you order the burger at $13.
            Several entrees are $18 putting your total closer to $26.
            Your Poc Chuc suggestion is a good one, but they also have $18 entrees if you're going to stay on a budget there, they'll have to order carefully, or do as I did, and stick to the taco side of the menu.

        2. If you are willing to add $8 to the total, RNM has a great prix fixe menu for $28 per person. It's three courses and I think it fits your criteria. It's a nice restaurant that feels like it should be a lot more expensive than it is. Top quality ingredients. I've always thought the food was executed well. It's in the lower haight.

          Standout dishes for me have been the grilled romaine salad, wild mushroom pizza, pork osso bucco, rack of lamb (not on the prix fixe), and the mini burgers. Desserts here are fantastic too.

          RNM Restaurant
          598 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

          3 Replies
          1. re: Shane Greenwood

            OP requested $20 covers food ** + bev + tax + tip **. Say $4 for an iced tea. That's $28 + 4 + $3.2 + 20% and you're out the door for $40. Unless it's really a $28 out the door deal?

            Really - out the door for $20 means $12 entree, $3 drink, $1.5 for tax, $3 tip. Chow might hit that, I can't imagine Home does. NOPA doesn't, for example - cheapest entree at $18.

            Shalimar and the other Tandoorloin restaurants will hit this mark and are tasty like crazy. Search Tandoorloin.

            Little Star pizza. Great atmosphere. A large deep dish sets you back $22, so you're out under $40 for two. Great 'za.

              1. re: bbulkow

                Again, Nopa has a $13 burger, that happens to be one of the best in the city. That's their cheapest entree. It's not $18.

                Likewise, I don't think Poc Chuc is cheap anymore, but you can still order several tacos for around $10. There are cheapie items on the menu still. Just not all the entrees.

                They're going to have to watch their budget anywhere they go, and order smart, but the idea that they have to limit themselves to a menu where everything is affordable, and no entree tops out at $12 doesn't sound like it should be a requirement to me.

            1. Nopa's burger is only $13.
              The lower end of their entrees is $18, so you might push you budget a bit.

              You might also think about pizza from Delfina, Gialina, or try the newly opened Tony's.

              Vietnamese in the Tenderloin - Pagolac isn't too divey at all, and it's cheap eats.

              One kind of goofy idea, that could be fun is Tommy's Joint, where you can get a meal and a drink all well within $20.

              Citrus Club is cheapish for Asian fusion, and it's on Haight.
              The Little Chihuahua is a reasonable place for Mexican that's not a burrito stand.
              Yat's Po' Boys, is cheap and in a dive bar setting.
              Broken Record, has bbq and house made game sausages, also in a dive bar setting.

              4 Replies
              1. re: sugartoof

                Except the food at Tommy's Joynt is mediocre, and the place is full of tourists.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  Sure it's mediocre, but they do use Roberts pastrami and serve fresh turkey off the bone.
                  That said, they also use those stupid packaged sourdough rolls too, and there's no such thing as lettuce or tomato garnish there.... but it's Tommy's Joint!

                2. re: sugartoof

                  The food operation at Broken Record closed, btw.

                  1. re: Senor Popusa

                    They're just trading chefs and should be back open by now or shortly.

                3. My favorite places in that price range, roughly in ascending order of price:

                  Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen (closes at 8pm Fridays)
                  Poc-Chuc (Yucatecan) - no alcohol
                  Thai House Express, Larkin branch (Thai)
                  Angkor Borei (Cambodian)
                  Lers Ros (Thai)
                  Helmand Palace (Afghan)
                  Bodega Bistro (Vietnamese)
                  Maykadeh (Persian)

                  Larkin Express and Poc-Chuc are in a class by themselves as far as cheap. You can eat quite inexpensively at any of the other places; I put Bodega Bistro and Maykadea at the bottom because their menus include both cheap dishes and more expensive temptations that could bust your budget.

                  Angkor-Borei Restaurant
                  3471 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

                  Bodega Bistro
                  607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Maykadeh Persian Cuisine
                  470 Green St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  Thai House Express
                  901 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Helmand Palace
                  2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Poc Chuc
                  2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  Lers Ros Thai
                  730 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Half of the poc chuc entrees are above the line - you can't get a $18 entree and get out the door for $20.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Oops! Last time I ate there the most expensive dish was $12.

                      In that case, Mi Lindo Yucatan might be a better choice.

                      Mi Lindo Yucatan
                      401 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103