SF Weekly’s 92 Cheap Eats That Define This City

Quince, Benu, Spruce — we’re sure you’re wonderful. Saison and Atelier Crenn, same goes for you. But the thing is, we’ve never eaten with you before. Because we’re broke. We have roommates and student loans, and we’re already stealing HBO GO from a friend-of-a-friend just to tread water here.

With all due respect to other Top 100 lists out there, we decided to revive a tradition on our food blog, the SFoodie 92. (Legend has it that it was supposed to be a Top 100, but they counted wrong.) This is by no means a comprehensive roster of San Francisco’s best restaurants — although many are — but the 92 places that best represent the city’s culinary breadth and overall vibe, and which foodies of moderate means can go to without turning out their pockets to let moths fly away.

To compile the list, we looked at brick-and-mortar places in San Francisco proper that have existed for at least a year and primarily serve food. In other words, no bars and no food trucks. Some might not represent an enormous value, but none is pricey in dollar terms. We know we missed a bunch (if only because we argued over several that ultimately didn’t make the cut). If there are any spectacularly glaring omissions, please let us know. But mostly, we wish for you to have an adventure in every neighborhood of this wonderful city.

4505 Burgers & BBQ
705 Divisadero St.
It starts with chicharrones, and it ends with The Presidential (six meats plus all the house sides, including mac-and-cheese with a hot dog in it that’s helpfully called the Frankaroni). Everything in between is still worth your attention, as this is one of only a few wood-fired barbecues around, plus you get to dine outdoors. How was whole-animal butchery ever not de rigeur?
Must-order item: Best Goddamn Cheeseburger

Bissap Baobab/Little Baobab
3372 19th St.
The cocktails are sweet, the dancing is good, and the niebe thies (chicken and black-eyed peas in a Senegalese sauce) are better. West African food is so pitiably hard to come by in this town that even mediocre offerings might get outsized attention, but this one-of-a-kind restaurant and club will always be a staple of Mission nightlife. Bonus points for coming back from a 2013 fire in Little Baobab, the full recovery from which took three years.
Must-order item: Afro wraps

Burma Superstar
309 Clement St.
For almost a quarter-century, this has been the yardstick by which all Burmese food in the Bay Area is measured. From the platha and dip (homemade bread and a coconut-chicken curry) to the lettuce cups to the shan noodles to the basil chili pork belly, Burma Superstar singlehandedly made a once-obscure South Asian cuisine the peer of Thai food.
Must-order item: Tea leaf salad, tossed at the table

Sam’s Pizza
618 Broadway
Also known (colloquially) as Sam’s Burger’s or just Sam’s, this North Beach burger dive is a favorite of one Anthony Bourdain. It’s got fewer pretensions than anybody — and the grill is right there in front, for all to see — and you really shouldn’t think about stopping in during daytime hours. Onion rings? Polish sausage? Fried shrimp with fries? Yes to everything. Sam’s is a masterclass in how to sober up properly.
Must-order item: Double cheeseburger

762 Valencia St.
Now that Minako — which, however delicious, was always one of the weirdest restaurants in town — is gone, there is only one vegan-friendly Japanese restaurant in the Mission. Vegetarian or not, where else can you get $5 nigiri and hosomaki rolls?
Must-order item: Soba salad

Max’s Opera Cafe
601 Van Ness Ave.
To be frank, this place is overpriced and utterly out-of-step with the times. But therein lies its appeal (amplified by the chopped liver, if not the carpeting or the dinner rolls). The servers at this New York-style deli no longer sing, but there’s still a piano player. That patrons dress more for Opera Plaza Cinema than La bohème will not make us love this throwback any less.
Must-order item: Matzo ball soup

farm : table
754 Post St.
As the recipient of one of the first parklets in the city, farm : table punched above its weight from the very beginning. It’s changed hands several times since, but it’s still the size of a micro-unit, with one communal table, serving top-notch pastries, savory and sweet. And that geometric parklet has always been one of our favorites anywhere.
Must-order item: Granola and yogurt

Tommy’s Joynt
1101 Geary Blvd.
Want to enter a meat coma after midnight? This is the place. Open late but bustling early, Tommy’s Joynt serves lamb shank, braised oxtail, bratwurst, and buffalo chili, along with other heart-attacks-on-a-plate, and it’s arguably the institution to put all other institutions to shame because you will never find a cheaper pastrami sandwich of this caliber. And kudos to Tommy’s for figuring out good SEO decades before anyone thought in those terms.
Must-order item: BBQ brisket sandwich

Ananda Fuara
1298 Market St.
For all the hue and cry over Mid-Market’s restaurant resurgence, there has been one consistently terrific spot quietly plugging along on the northeast corner of Market and Larkin streets for years. Vegetarian destination Ananda Fuara serves deceptively simple lunches, like a vegetarian B.L.T. or a mozzarella-and-pesto sandwich with a side of dal. Brunch steps it up, with a wild mushroom Benedict and an orange blossom French toast. Whatever you do, don’t skip the lhassi.
Must-order item: Neatloaf

3583 16th St.
New American
It wasn’t long ago that the restaurant scene in the Castro felt like Frances, some overpriced Thai joints, an erotic bakery, and a ton of crap. Starbelly, the stylish home of California comfort food with sidewalk seating and a heated patio, has always been the prime rebuttal to that accusation. Be it chilaquiles, a house-made chorizo pizza, or just some sangria, this will always be our favorite spot in the neighborhood.
Must-order item: Fish tacos

Mi Lindo Perú
3226 Mission St.
It goes without saying that the Mission has superlative Mexican food in spades, but Peruvian food is very thinly distributed around the city. La Lengua’s Mi Lindo Perú, a choice spot for lomo saltado, milanesa de pool, and — of course — Inca Kola, is our favorite, a mom-and-pop spot with spicy salsa where the decor never changes.
Must-order item: Gambas al ajo

Wise Sons Deli
3150 24th St.
Along with its newer bakery and bagelry on Fillmore and its presence in the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Wise Sons brought delicatessen back in style when it seemed to be vanishing. (Moshe’s Pippic, we still miss you!) And co-owners Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman do it with a sense of humor: In addition to smoking their own pastrami, baking their own challah, and making their own celery soda, they serve a Semite sandwich, a matzo ball soup they concede isn’t as good as bubbe’s, and a Chinese chicken salad. Wise Sons is where the answer to the question, “What am I, chopped liver?” is a resounding yes.
Must-order item: The Big Macher, a pastrami burger on challah

Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St.
For all the office supplies we routinely chuck at one another, SF Weekly staffers have always agreed on one thing: Waiting in line for commonly available foods is one of the weirder affectations of modern San Francisco. People seem to queue — gleefully — for three hours to get a bowl of ramen. We can’t get behind that, but we’ll always happily sign our names to the clipboard at Brenda’s, however long the wait for brunch might stretch. Along with its newer sister, Brenda’s Meat and Three on Divisadero, this restaurant puts out such generous portions at affordable prices that we look askance at all other chicken dishes. In spite of its California Gold Rush roots, this NOLA-to-the-core eatery makes the best hangtown fry we’ve ever had. And Chef Brenda Buenviaje’s annual Bounce Brunch with Big Freedia at Outside Lands is another annual tradition we can’t get enough of.
Must-order item: Beignet flight

Comstock Saloon
155 Columbus Ave.
New American
Including Comstock might appear to stretch the boundaries of cheap eats a bit, but only if you’ve never had the free lunch on Fridays. (It’s free with the purchase of two adult beverages, that is.) While most restaurants in North Beach are either super-high-end or fatally touristy, this beautifully decorated gastropub is pitch-perfect, a fantastic spot for oysters, wings, and a burger that comes with pimento cheese. Bonus points for the historic preservation of the trough along the bar; may it never be used for its original purpose again.
Must-order item: Balsamic-glazed beef ribs

Aria Korean Snack Bar
932 Larkin St.
The holiest hole-in-the-wall, this two-table Tenderloin spot is run by a kindly late-middle-aged couple, able exponents of the best form of fried chicken there is. It’s technologically sophisticated as such places go, the record collection is almost mystifyingly good, and the bulgogi and bibimbop are better.
Must-order item: Dukbooki (Korean rice cakes)

Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous
699 22nd St.
Ice cream
Look, the hours are just terrible. (Closing at 6 p.m. is, shall we say, frustrating for non-Dogpatch dwellers.) And this husband-and-wife operation closes randomly sometimes, too. (Are they nocturnal crime-fighters? Their chosen moniker would suggest something like that.) But damn if this ice cream shop isn’t the most consistently inventive, delicious spot around, with flavors like orange chipotle, black lychee tea, and the creme-de-almond-heavy pink squirrel. Miscellany is no longer synonymous with randomness.
Must-order item: Peanut butter maltballs

DNA Pizza
317 11th St.
917B Folsom St.
Look, we know there are better pizzas in this town. Cheaper ones, too. But there are also plenty that are worse, and virtually nowhere else you can get a slice at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday. Are you talking down a friend who got too high at the club? Flirting with someone who missed the last BART? Just sobering the hell up? Everyone’s had an experience at DNA.
Must-order item: A two-topping pie and a pitcher of beer is only about $30

Dynamo Donut
2760 24th St.
110 Yacht Road
With all due respect to the doughnut shops that also serve Chinese food, we will go for Dynamo every time. Whether it’s the passion fruit milk chocolate, the Bitter Queen, or just a cup of coffee on a sunny patio, we’re as happy there in the morning as for the occasional steep discount at the end of the afternoon. And “I’m Not a Gluten Chocolate with Raspberry Black Pepper Glaze” is the spiritual antidote to a long-gone vegan cafe a few blocks away, where ordering “I Am Vivacious” was the norm.
Must-order item: Maple bacon doughnut

Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack
3230 Mission St.
The colored-marker menu looks like something you’d doodle in social studies, but we loved this hipster red-sauce hangout in its old Bernal Heights location and love it even more in its new one across the street in La Lengua. Emmy’s spaghetti and meatballs and a PBR tall boy is the cheapest date that will still get you laid.
Must-order item: Garlic bread

Good Mong Kok Bakery
1039 Stockton St.
Dim sum
Some dim sum places are all about chicken feet and lazy Susans and endless pots of tea. Not Good Mong Kok bakery, which has no seating at all. Here, har gow and siu mai are $2.10 for three, and yes, we will gladly burn through most of our lunch hour waiting behind a line of aunties to get them. Owing to construction, this might be the unloveliest block in Chinatown, but we do not care.
Must-order item: Char siu bao

The Ice Cream Bar
815 Cole St.
Ice cream
Granted, you can get a tuna melt or a BLT at this Cole Valley replica of a 1940s soda fountain. But if you spoil your appetite for ice cream, you’ll regret it. The scoops are delicious, but we invariably gravitate toward the back counter for the tinctures and phosphates that seem more like an edible chemistry set than a treat. In their bowties and wedge caps, we never met such jerks.
Must-order item: New Orleans Hangover

Bob’s Donuts
1621 Polk St.
It isn’t a scene from an Edward Hopper painting, but it’s close: Bob’s Donuts is San Francisco at its most noirish. While we don’t otherwise endorse spending time on Polk Street between midnight and 3 a.m. unless you’re totally wasted, Bob’s fries a fresh batch around then, so it’s a good bet for a late-night snack — and if your inhibitions are lowered enough, maybe you can get talked into attempting the 5-pound challenge. (Eat one in under three minutes and you get a T-shirt and your $8 back, plus your name gets listed in their Hall of Fame.) Any doughnut shop with a terrazzo entrance and its name inlaid in cursive script is where we want to be.
Must-order item: Apple fritter

It’s Tops Coffee Shop
1801 Market St.
It’s been there for 80 years, which means it pre-dates the construction of Highway 101, which makes its unusual shape all the more inexplicable. In a town where diners are rare, It’s Tops tickles all our erogenous zones: a hungry-man-style breakfast called the Fumble, weird hours — open until 3 a.m., but closed from 3-8 p.m. — and cute menu verbiage all its own. We truly respect that in this era of food sensitivities, there are no substitutions here.
Must-order item: Stuffed waffles

La Taqueria
2889 Mission St.
Rice-free burritos made with flour tortillas and guacamole that is 100 percent avocado (because the salsa already has tomato, cilantro, and lime). La Taqueria does it differently from everyone, and while it got a little internet-famous for a second there, we will always rate it among the very best restaurants of any kind in the city.
Must-order item: Carnitas burrito

La Palma Mexicatessen
2884 24th St.
Just as every other restaurant seems to source its interior from Restoration Hardware, La Palma Mexicatessen is the wholesaler for a hell of a lot of people’s tortillas. Presumably, a “mexicatessen” is a combination grocery store and taqueria, which means you can get a carnitas super burrito then walk out with queso fresco to go. Burritos, tacos, chilaquiles: anything made from masa is worth getting. And a house party with a taco bar from La Palma is sure to be a rager.
Must-order item: The Taconaso, basically a giant taco on a 10-inch corn tortilla.

Mama Ji’s
4416 18th St.
Dim sum
If you want good dim sum, you have two areas to choose from: Chinatown and the Avenues. Then there’s this approachable spot a few blocks uphill from the commercial part of the Castro. While Mama Ji’s may not be the spot for killer xiaolongbao, wonderful dishes abound: shrimp-stuffed eggplant, spicy cucumber salad, and even humble turnip cakes. It’s not just good for the Castro; it’s good, period.
Must-order item: Shrimp-and-chive dumplings

Bacon Bacon
207A Frederick St.
737 Third St.
Breakfast and lunch
Some trends — cupcakes, Korean tacos — eventually fade away, but like bourbon, we hope that bacon is forever. Bacon Bacon, with locations in Cole Valley and near AT&T Park, knows the versatility of salted pork. And like a scrappy Off-Off-Broadway play that goes to Broadway, we have to recognize the food trucks that have made the leap to brick-and-mortar territory — especially with an “Almost Veggie” sandwich.
Must-order item: Porky fries

Taqueria Vallarta
3033 24th St.
2022 Mission St.
4697 Mission St.
Yes, the 24th Street location had a pigeon problem at one point, but we’re way beyond that now. This trio of taquerias, which feature surprisingly hard-to-find tacos al vapor and plenty of cuts of offal — like buche, cabeza, or tripita — might be our favorite of them all. And while Taqueria Vallarta’s prices have ticked up by a quarter a taco here and there over the years, they’re still a steal at $2.50. Q: Can you ever have too many murals? A: No, it is great to put football murals on a drop ceiling.
Must-order item: Tacos al pastor, with grilled onions

Tú Lan
8 Sixth St.
The conventional wisdom about Tú Lan — that it’s dirty and gross but Julia Child loved it — is at best half-right. After a hiatus of several years, the plucky Vietnamese eatery next to Happy Donuts came back, and its imperial rolls are as good as ever. We like to end on a note saying that we love everything we’ve tasted. It’s technically true, but in all honesty, with the exception of the occasional bowl of pho, we pretty much always get No. 17: Pork kebab, imperial roll, and rice noodles.
Must-order item: Pork kebab, imperial roll, and rice noodles!

Silver Crest Donut Shop
340 Bayshore Blvd.
We shan’t mince words: This place is creepy AF. A 24-7 house of Formica that seems staffed by the same three people, day and night, it’s worth patronizing on a dare alone. It’s like the set of a David Lynch film, a diner where the doughnuts might be the least appealing thing on the menu (if you can see them in their case, behind the fake plants) but which has a perfect health score. But if you hang out long enough, you might get a shot of free ouzo, and the juke box might play something labeled solely as “Greek Record.”
Must-order item: The tomato-and-lettuce sandwich. It’s $5.95. Go ahead, order it.
Wicked Grounds
289 Eighth St.
This fetish cafe in SoMa hosts events for erotic hypnotists, rope enthusiasts, trans kinksters who feel unwelcome in dungeon playspaces, and the shy community, plus it serves waffles all day and has a respectable Waldorf salad. And Wicked Grounds has a shrewd VIP membership system in place to keep it going. Don’t you wish this place had existed in your hometown instead of that Central Perk knockoff where the Monopoly set was missing half the tokens? (Moot point, maybe, since you have to be 18 to get in the door.)
Must-order item: Whatever the day’s Black-and-Blue Plate special is.

4001 Judah St.
Brunch (and dinner)
If brunch is an art, then Outerlands has elevated it to the sublime. From simple preparations like levain toast with plum jam or potatoes with chile, garlic, and aioli to smoked trout or beef tongue with charred mirepoix, jalapeño, and crisp tortilla, this Outer Sunset brunch-atorium — which also serves dinner! — is easily the equal to anything in the brunch-obsessed Mission. You have two choices, though: Reserve a table ahead of time or be prepared to huddle for warmth in eternal fog four blocks from the ocean.
Must-order item: Eggs-in-jail or a Dutch pancake baked in a cast-iron pan (tie)

Radio Africa & Kitchen
3800 Third St.
Ethiopian-New American
Chef Eskender Aseged’s 4-year-old Ethiopian restaurant in the Bayview reflects his upbringing in East Africa in equal proportion with his tenure under kitchen masters like Joyce Goldstein, Daniel Patterson, and Jeremiah Tower (plus a noticeable amount of Japanese techniques). Beyond being closed on Saturdays and Sundays, Rad io Africa is unique, and holy damn, is it affordable: On Community Tuesdays, you can get a two-course prix fixe for $10. And there may be Delta blues and jazz on top of it.
Must-order item: Chicken jambalaya

Red’s Java House
Pier 30, The Embarcadero
It’s not as though the food at Red’s is all that incredible, really. But this 80-year-old longshoreman’s haunt with lunch all day is unique: A breakfast sandwich at 7 a.m. while watching the sun hit the Bay Bridge will change your perspective forever. Also, this is a great place to host a party.
Must-order item: The double cheeseburger, fries, and Lagunitas IPA combo

Sightglass Coffee
270 Seventh St.
3014 20th St.
Once upon a time — early 2011, say — this was but a tiny coffee stand in SoMa, where Blue Bottle reigned supreme. Then brothers Justin and Jerad Morrison revealed the two-story industrial barn that was to be their roastery, and the original cafe’s footprint became the foyer. They opened a second location in the Mission, and the first location opened an affogato bar upstairs. It’s pretty tech-centric — we saw more than a couple Glassholes there before those face-computers mercifully went away — but Sightglass remains our Third Wave Coffee spot of choice.
Must-order item: Cold-brew coffee float with Salt & Straw ice cream

381 South Van Ness Ave.
Schroeder’s, Suppenküche, Biergarten, Schmidt’s — San Francisco does not want for German restaurants. But the one dearest to us is the borderline-hideous Walzwerk, on a stretch of South Van Ness that almost looks like it’s behind the Iron Curtain. It’s not about passing around a glass boot full of beer; it’s about putting away mounds of sauerbraten, matjes herring, and apple strudel under the watchful glower of Marx und Engels. Hey, vegetarians, groaning over Mitteleurope’s tendency to ignore you completely! There’s plenty for you here, as you leave the American Sector.
Must-order item: Hühnerbrust gefüllt mit äpfeln und speck (chicken breast stuffed with apples and bacon)

3406 18th St.
Seating for fewer than 10. Gruff, surly women behind the counter who might yell at you to eat faster. Surfaces occasionally sticky with smoky grease. Who cares? Mission Burmese joint Yamo is one of the best holes-in-the-wall anywhere.
Must-order item: Cold noodles

Zante Pizza & Indian Cuisine
3489 Mission St.
There are some restaurants where you want to eat your way through the entire menu over multiple visits, while with others, you could order the same two or three things again and again and leave knowing you got the true experience. The concept of Indian pizza has certainly become less revolutionary over time, but Zante remains S.F.’s original master. This one comes with eggplant, cauliflower, ginger, garlic, green onions, cilantro, lamb, tandoori chicken, and prawns, and a slightly oily naan crust that holds up under all that weight. There are vegetarian and vegan versions, too.
Must-order item: Any Indian pizza, depending on your zest for animal products

Mission Chinese Food
2234 Mission St.
Hipster Chinese
Its heyday has come and gone — remember when Danny Bowien was the face of UNIQLO? — and yet the restaurant with the world’s worst lighting retains a hold on our hearts. From the boiled vinegar peanuts to the Kung Pao burrito to the salt cod fried rice, the more it changes, the more Mission Chinese Food’s menu feels familiar. If New York gives MCF a hard time again, we will always be there for them, because this restaurant is an anchor tenant of our foodie renaissance, and that’s that.
Must-order item: Thrice-cooked bacon and rice cakes

Saigon Sandwich
560 Larkin St.
As crazes go, banh mi has definitely peaked. But it got big for a reason, and that reason is Saigon Sandwich, the one-table Tenderloin hole-in-the-wall that serves “fanci pork.” At $3.75, it might be the cheapest lunch out there, and not for lack of quality, either; these baguettes are legit. You likely won’t get service wit=h a smile, but don’t forget the addictive shrimp chips.
Must-order item: Splurge on a special combination banh mi for $4.25

Arizmendi Bakery
1331 Ninth Ave.
1268 Valencia St.

2845 Geary Blvd.

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St.
Ice Cream

b. patisserie
2821 California St.

CatHead’s BBQ
1665 Folsom St.

Central Kitchen and Salumeria
3000 20th St.
New American-Deli

The Chairman
670 Larkin St.

Cha Cha Cha
1801 Haight St.
2327 Mission St.

4120 Third St.

Craftmsan and Wolves
1643 Pacific Ave.
746 Valencia St.

2175 Chestnut St.
37 Yerba Buena Lane

Delfina/Pizzeria Delfina
3621 18th St.
2406 California St.

1700 Fillmore St.
995 Valencia St.

Dottie’s True Blue Cafe
28 Sixth St.
Breakfast and lunch

El Farolito
2779 Mission St.
2950 24th St.

El Metate
2406 Bryant St.

Four Barrel Coffee
375 Valencia St.
2 Burrows St.

Helmand Palace
2424 Van Ness Ave.

Hooker’s Sweet Treats
442 Hyde St.
Chocolates, pastry

Humphry Slocombe
2790 Harrison St.
Ferry Building
Ice Cream

Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar
348 Columbus Ave.

Lers Ros Thai
730 Larkin St.
3189 16th St.
307 Hayes St.

Little Nepal
925 Cortland Ave.

Marla Bakery
3619 Balboa St.
Ferry Building

Mission Rock Resort
817 Terry A. Francois Blvd.
New American

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
1042 Larkin St.

Namu Gaji
499 Dolores St.

1224 Ninth Ave.
306 Broderick St.

Nourish Cafe
189 Sixth Ave.

The Old Clam House
299 Bayshore Blvd.

Papalote Mexican Grill
3409 24th St.
1777 Fulton St.

Patxi’s Pizza
511 Hayes St.
822 Irving St.
3318 Fillmore St.
4042 24th St.

Philz Coffee
12 locations citywide

1299 18th St.
New American

The Ramp
855 Terry A. Francois Blvd.
New American

Ritual Coffee Roasters
1026 Valencia St.
432B Octavia St.
1634 Jerrold Ave.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
2832 Mission St.
545 Hayes St.

San Tung and San Tung 2
1031 and 1033 Irving St.

Shanghai Dumpling King
696 Monterey Blvd.
3319 Balboa St.
Dim sum

Smitten Ice Cream
2268 Chestnut St.
2404 California St.
432 Octavia St.
Ice Cream

SoMa StrEat Food Park
428 11th St.
Food trucks

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.

Super Duper Burgers
Six locations citywide

The Taco Shop at Underdogs
1824 Irving St.

Taqueria Can-Cun
1003 Market St.
2288 Mission St.
3311 Mission St.

Tartine Bakery & Cafe
600 Guerrero St.

Terra Cotta Warrior
2555 Judah St.

Three Twins Ice Cream
234 Fillmore St.
79 Jefferson St.
Ice cream

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant
5929 Geary Blvd.

Udupi Palace
1097 Valencia St.

Wing Wings
422 Haight St.

Yank Sing
101 Spear St.
49 Stevenson St.
Dim sum

To round things up to an even 100, and because life is worth living, here are the eight pricier, oh-so-San-Francisco places that all discount foodies should patronize at least once no matter how broke you are. Hey, you have to splurge sometimes, right?

Zuni Cafe
House of Prime Rib
Cliff House
Foreign Cinema
Tosca Cafe
Tadich Grill

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