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Dining on $15 a Day

Okay. I am sooo excited to return to San Francisco Bay area next week! But, I'm on a shoe string budget, so I intend to make the best of my visit by eating whatever (relatively healthful) meals I can get my hand on for the equivalent of fifteen bucks per day. I've resigned myself to the fact that this will involve a little grocery shopping and cooking or sandwich-making in my hotel room, so long as I don't exceed my budget. Since I'll be in a hotel room somewhere in Alameda, I'll be dining between there and SF. I love ethnic food and vegetables, and I can get along just fine with many preparations of tofu. I don't mind heavy-duty beverages or meal-replacement shakes, either. My palette is flexible! Any suggestions?

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  1. Your best bet may be Asian, Mexican and Indian buffet. All you may find in Alameda. You may want to focus on lunch and go light on dinner.

    1. I would call $15/day, after tax, a shoe *leather* budget.

      You should acquaint yourself with the take-away burrito. The benefit of take-away is to avoid the tip. And taco trucks. Search the fruitvale taco trucks.

      How you get from SF to Alameda will determine what's "on the way". If you're taking the ferry, nothing's on the way. If you're driving, there are many choices. For cheap, I like the wonton noodle soups at New Gold Medal downtown oakland - I think they're about $6 and a pretty hearty meal.

      A meal that I *used* to love is the soup at La Pinata #3 in Alameda. There was a chipotle soup that contained two breasts of chicken, a full avocado, about half a potato, a full quart of savory broth, all for under $10 - with a really nice spice mixture. And limes and tortillas - lunch for two days. Last time I went, it wasn't as good. Worth a shot though. It's really buried on the menu - and get the spicy kind.

      New Gold Medal
      389 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

      La Pinata
      904 Rose St, Hayward, CA 94541

      1 Reply
      1. A big bowl of Pozole at Taco Grill near Fruitvale BART in Oakland is under $10. They also use quality meat, which is hard to get when you're on a budget.

        There's great ice cream next door at Nieves Cinco de Mayo. A mere $1.50 per scoop for hand made artisanal ice cream in a variety of traditional and exotic flavors.

        Bahn Mi is a great option. Tasty and mostly under $3. You'll find them in SF and in Oakland without working too hard. I like Cam Huong on Webster in Oakland, just before the Tube to Alameda. The curry chicken is my favorite, though they have a lot of options.

        Shanghai restaurant (also on Webster) is dirt cheap and has many good options. If you bring a friend you can do the 3 dishes for $18 (pretty sure that's the current price).

        A few blocks away on 12th St. Shan Dong has chewy knife cut noodles that are worth a try. They also have giant, filling pork and veg buns for under a dollar.

        For a special treat go to Adesso on Piedmont Ave. in Oakland at 5:00 PM or 10:30 PM when they do a free aperitivo bar. Buy yourself a beer for $4, munch on the freebies, and then maybe splurge on one of their big plates of veg for $7. Or have two beers and stick with the freebies.

        While in the Piedmont Ave. area, consider picking up take away from Geta. Super cheap, authentic Japanese. An order of oyakodon with miso soup is under $5.

        You'll save a lot of money with cereal, paper bowls, and disposable spoons in your hotel room. Best if you have a fridge for milk, but you can probably purchase a small carton each morning if need be.

        If your hotel is not already booked, email me (address in my profile) for tips for cheap hotel rooms in the area.

        Cam Huong Cafe
        920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

        Taco Grill
        3340 E 12th St, Oakland, CA 94601

        4395 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

        1 Reply
        1. re: lexdevil

          I'm sad to report Shanghai's been going downhill over the last few months. I've had three mediocre meals in a row - for the first, I was trying new dishes I hadn't had before, but the more recent ones were dishes I've had and enjoyed in the past, and I've been less impressed. Rice cake dishes are gummier, red sauces less balanced, and I've heard from other friends that they switched to an inferior noodle (and I never thought the noodles they used originally were on par with the ones you can buy just a few doors down at Yuen Hop).

          The steamed pork and vegetable buns at Shan Dong have got to be the best deal in the East Bay - 2 make a filling lunch.

          Oh, the jook at Delicious Food Co is good and cheap.

          Yuen Hop
          824 Webster St, Oakland, CA

        2. If you find yourself in the castro, Red Jade (chinese) has a lunch special that can't be beat.
          For $7, including tax and tip, you get a bowl of soup (changes daily but usually hot&sour or corn flower), a main course with rice, two cookies, water and tea.
          They kept me alive a couple years back...

          Red Jade
          245 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

          1. Tommy's Joynt!!!!

            Tommy's Joynt
            1101 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94109

            1. Most Chinese restaurants and some Vietnamese and Korean have lunch specials.

              Yamo has delicious Burmese food in the Mission, nothing more than $5.25 a plate including at dinner time.

              Absolutely agree about bahn mi and tacos.

              More and more bakeries are having happy hour (end of day) specials. Miette has macarons for $1 between 5 and 7.

              Save money on breakfast--pick up or pack tea or coffee and pick up cereal, milk, and fruit.

              3406 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              1. YouI can get breakfast at McDonald's or Burger King for $3.00 by ordering from their dollar menus. If you're a Senior, coffee is half price. OK, that takes care of breakfast.

                Now, for lunch, go to Trader Joe's. They have lots of interesting things already made up - sushi, salads, etc. for under $5.00 (and no tipping)

                Now, you have enough left over for dinner -- get a semi-feast at a Mexican or Chinese Place or hofbrau (I second the motion for Tommy's Joynt).

                1. Will you have anyone to dine with, or a microwave in your hotel room?

                  My husband is loving D&A Cafe on Clement and 5th Avenue in the Inner Richmond. Ignore this post if you're not familiar with the buses or don't have a car. It's not particularly convenient to downtown and I wouldn't call it destination dining, but the food is solid and for $20 we had enough food for two people for lunch and dinner. I would classify it as Hong Kong cafe fare, simply prepared and light on the grease/salt.

                  They have a 3 dish for $20 special and over 100 dishes to choose from. I think part of the game is knowing what to order, but we got:

                  -1/2 a steamed chicken in scallion ginger sauce, the biggest bargain of the meal.
                  -seafood tofu pot. It was mostly tofu, but I counted at least 2 each of shrimp, cuttlefish, and fish filets.
                  -spinach with eggs. This must have been at least 3 large bunches of spinach before it was cooked down with chicken eggs, duck eggs, and thousand year eggs.

                  During certain times of the day (11-3?) there are also specials like $1 pork porridge or $4.50 for a choice of rice plates: hainan chicken, curry chicken, or braised tripe, for example, with a huge bowl of rice.

                  Closer to downtown, you can wander up and down Grant Avenue in Chinatown and just get to-go food. There are a lot of places that sell $3 containers of porridge with pork and other things in it, 50 cent pork dumplings, $3 roasted cornish hens, chow mein and fried rice by the pound.