In San Francisco, spending $5 or less on lunch is a perfect goal for the budget traveler; a challenge with a delicious, and attainable, conclusion where the hunt can be as rewarding as the meal. There are many options for a cheap meal in SF, if you know where to look. So many, in fact, that picking just one spot to recommend is an impossible task. You’re here for (Nile)guidance, though, and that you shall receive. These three tiny neighborhoods within neighborhoods offer delicious midday dining on the cheap, and exploring the ethnic niches to find your own favorite is all part of the fun.
1. Little Saigon – This three block area within the Tenderloin district downtown is packed full of delicious Pho shops, a Vietnamese noodle dish that usually comes in at right around $5. Turtle Tower and Pho 2000 both have loyal locals who swear by them. But another even cheaper option in Little Saigon, and one that you can grab to go, is a Vietnamese “bahn mi” sandwich. The spice from the meat, usually beef or pork, and coolness of the cabbage and cilantro are a perfect compliment. There are literally dozens of places nearby to get bahn mi, including Saigon Sandwich and Little Saigon Cafe, where a sizeable bahn mi costs just $2.75!
2. Mission taco trucks – We’ve covered taco trucks before. But it bears repeating; a great place to get a cheap lunch in San Francisco is from these mobile restaurants that congregate on the wider or quieter streets of the Mission district, especially Harrison, Folsom and South Van Ness and Treat, Shotwell and Capp. Tacos off the truck regularly cash out at $1.50 a piece. Three tacos is enough to fill up a large man before a night of drinking at the Mission’s dives or swank nightclubs. So order two and a Mexican Coke, with real sugar, for about $5.
3. San Francisco’s “other Chinatown” – This neighborhood, informally headquartered at Sunset Supermarket on 25th Avenue and Irving Street in the Sunset district, features some of San Francisco’s best options for cheap lunch buffets, American and Asian deli sandwiches. The neighborhood is a real Pan-Asian experience, with Pho shops next door to Korean barbecues, Cambodian restaurants across the street from Japanese and Dim Sumtake out places. TC Pastry on Irving between 23rd and 24th has Dim Sum offerings starting at $1.90! Plus, the ample supply of Asian supermarkets, including the epic Sunset Super (check out the live fish section… gooey-ducks galore!) makes picking up an exotic (or familiar) picnic to take into nearby Golden Gate Park all too tempting.
Visitors, San Franciscans, friendly and honest restaurateurs! Want to give away your secret cheap lunch spot, in one of the above neighborhoods or elsewhere? Comment below!