The 8 Best Cheap Eats in San Francisco

Red’s Java House at Pier 30 is a local institution
Red’s Java House at Pier 30 is a local institution | © Hoberman Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of K Santos
2 July 2019

Although San Francisco is considered one of the most expensive destinations for traveling, cheap eats don’t have to be difficult to find. From quick dim sum in the Richmond District to $2 slices of pizza on Haight Street that rival New York City’s, discover dining options in San Francisco that don’t break the bank.

Taqueria Cancún, 2288 Mission Street

Restaurant, Mexican
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No “cheap eats” list would be complete without featuring one of the various tasty taco and burrito spots in the Mission District. Open late and painted in bright yellow murals, Taqueria Cancún in the Mission (one of three in the city) stands out above the rest with a menu that features massive burritos, a wide choice of tacos and affordable Mexican beer. After closing for six months in 2018 for a seismic retrofit, the beloved taco place is back up and running, serving bar hoppers, thrifters and foodies alike.

Bus Stop Pizza

Pizzeria, Italian, American, $$$
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New York City may be famous for its by-the-slice, hole-in-the-wall pizza parlors, but the Big Apple can’t always rival the long list of toppings found at San Francisco’s own Bus Stop Pizza. Open daily until 11pm (11:30pm on weekends), Bus Stop Pizza is especially popular for the night-time bar crowd that enjoys the eatery’s long list of choices. Toppings on the menu include clams, bay shrimp, bacon and sweet corn as well as staples such as anchovies and pepperoni. Bus Stop Pizza also lives up to its name as it’s on the corner of Divisadero Street and Haight Street, a convenient place to catch the bus.

Tommy’s Joynt, San Francisco

Restaurant, American
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Tommy's Joynt Diner, San Francisco, California, USA.
Tommy’s Joynt is well known for its cheap food and drink | © Hoberman Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Things are always changing in a rapidly developing San Francisco, but Tommy’s Joynt is a constant. The ever-affordable sandwich joint is revered by San Franciscans as a go-to for cheap drinks and cheap eats. Fancifully decorated with a good number of regular customers stopping by at all open hours, Tommy’s Joynt claims to be the most affordable bar in the city with a menu that features $4 cocktails and $6 scotch. Still, the decades-old restaurant’s biggest draw is the food menu that includes slow-roasted pork, braised oxtails and old-style German sausage sandwiches.

Hamburger Haven

Diner, American
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Open since 1957, Hamburger Haven is a classic American diner that hasn’t changed much since the ’50s. Lined with photographs of the diner’s most famous visitors (including the late Robin Williams), the restaurant has a small-town feel. A place where the waitstaff knows the regulars by name, the diner really is a haven in a bustling part of the city. Come for the massive breakfast plates, stay for the welcoming atmosphere and free coffee refills.

Red’s Java House

Cafe, American
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Red's Java House, a local attraction in San Francisco, California, USA.
Red’s Java House has been offering beer and burgers for about a century | © Tim Fleming / Alamy Stock Photo
An unassuming shack located on the waterfront, Red’s Java House has been a pit stop for sailors, dockworkers and tourists since the beginning of the 20th century (the restaurant opened either in 1930 or 1912, depending on who you ask). When the diner opened almost a century ago, the menu’s specialty was beer and burgers. Although the current menu offers more choices – including french fries, which weren’t introduced until the early 2000s – the staples are still the same and their beer and burgers remain a popular lunch item for visitors.

Good Mong Kok Bakery

Restaurant, Bakery, Chinese
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France has baguettes. New York has bagels. San Francisco has Good Mong Kok Bakery. The bakery, located in bustling Chinatown, has a wide-ranging menu that includes pork buns and various dumplings. For hungry Chinatown visitors who want to explore a wide range of foods, the Good Mong Kok Bakery is ideal. Although the small shop gets busy during lunch hours, the place is known for quick service. It is important to remember that the bakery – like many affordable eateries in San Francisco – is a cash-only spot. The upside? You won’t need much cash for a hearty snack.

Shanghai Dumpling King

Restaurant, Chinese
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San Francisco may be the location of California’s most expensive restaurant, but it’s also home to dozens of hole-in-the-wall joints that offer everything from pizza and sausages to tacos. However, the Outer Richmond spot Shanghai Dumpling King offers something else altogether: an atmospheric sit-down Chinese dinner spot at a great price. The restaurant’s large menu includes spicy soups, pastries and, of course, Chinese dumplings.

Proper Food

Restaurant, Canteen, American
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Dana and Howard Bloom are bringing gourmet dishes to the grab-and-go sector. From seared raw tuna to sustainably sourced octopus, Proper Food aims to bring fine-dining meals to an audience looking for more convenience, affordability and speed. They offer the option for customers to take the food ready to go as is or have their meals warmed up in the store if preferred. The ingredients at Proper Food are locally sourced and in-season and follow sustainable practices. Proper Food prepares every meal fresh each day and donates anything not sold that day to Rescuing Leftovers Cuisine – in fact, no food remains in the shop for more than 14 hours. The business is expanding, and it now has numerous locations in San Francisco as well as a few stores opened in early 2019 in New York City.

This is an updated version of an article created by Eve Hill.

These recommendations were updated on July 2, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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