You don’t have to resort to burgers, tacos or pizza if you want to eat well on a budget in San Francisco—quite the opposite, in fact. These seven picks offer out-of-the-ordinary eats for extraordinarily affordable prices.
Chef James Moisey whips up comfort food favorites at Eat Americana, formerly known as Americana Grill, located in the Outer Richmond. Bargain dishes include biscuits, sausage gravy and eggs, and green chile mac and cheese. Another indulgence? The pulled pork waffle fries: crunchy potato gaufrettes topped with pulled pork and smothered in spicy Buffalo and house-made cheese sauces, then finished with crunchy scallions.
The Italian Homemade Company is where homesick Italians eat. The specialties here are the piadina, a folded flatbread sandwich from the Adriatic coast, and cassone, the $10 sealed version of the piadina. Fillings include Italian sausage, bacon, potatoes and mozzarella, and each creation is served with a side of sauce for dipping. Grilled to order and served hot, these sandwiches are crisp on the outside and filled with gut-busting goodness on the inside—just as Nonna would want.
Most ramen in San Francisco costs about $20 a bowl, but not at Marufuku Ramen, located upstairs in the Japantown Center. Here, the two top ramen dishes cost $10.99 apiece, and they’re so large you’ll likely need a doggie bag. Don’t miss the chicken paitan ramen, a rich white broth loaded with thin noodles, chicken, a soft-boiled egg, green onions, kikurage mushrooms and bean sprouts.
Pupusas are Salvadorean masa patties stuffed with gooey cheese and cooked on a griddle. There are several spots that offer them in the Mission, but Panchitas #2 (there’s another in Excelsior) offers 11 fillings, including chicken, beans or loroco, a flowering vine common in El Salvador. Top them with hot sauce and curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw. At $3 a pop, they’re cheap enough you can order several and even have some dough left for a glass of passion fruit juice or an alfajor, a soft, buttery sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche.
The braised duck leg soup with wontons and egg noodles—which, at $9, is the most expensive thing on the menu—is the specialty at this bustling noodle shop. Be sure to plan ahead; the Little Saigon joint, a favorite among chefs like Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s, is cash only and closes daily at 6 p.m.
This spot has been a go-to favorite in the Bayview district for almost 10 years, thanks to down-home cooking and affordable prices. For $11, you get two pieces of your choice of crunchy and well-seasoned fried chicken (wing, leg, thigh or tenders) with a fluffy-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside Belgian-style waffle. Another top pick among those in the know is the seasoned-cornmeal fried fish with fries or grits, which costs $10.
Momos, plump and juicy steamed Nepalese dumplings, are similar to Chinese pot stickers, but seasoned with ginger, cilantro and red onions, and served with achar, a dipping sauce made from chiles, tomatoes and sesame seeds. At Red Chilli in the Tenderloin, a huge platter of 10 vegetable or chicken momos costs $9 or $10, respectively.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, recipe developer and cookbook author who never says no to a warm doughnut. Follow her culinary escapades on Instagram at @cookingwithamy.
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