SFGuide

The Best Meals For Under $15 In SF

From salmon and avocado rolls to thick, cheesy pupusas, here are 15 great meals you can get for under $15.
A spread of chirashi, sashimi, and rolls at Hokkaido Sashimi Marketplace

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

Living in SF is f*cking expensive. A single latte can easily cost $10. We once saw a $26 box of grated parmesan at Bi-Rite. And when the first of the month comes around, so does a rent-induced cry. The spots on this guide are here to help. They’re the rare places where you can get a great meal for under $15—so whether you want to fill up on gooey pupusas, excellent sushi rolls, or big ass sandwiches, this is where to go. 

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Melissa Zink

Vietnamese

Tenderloin

$$$$Perfect For:LunchSerious Take-Out Operation

The cash-only Vietnamese spot in Little Saigon is a Tenderloin institution serving the best bánh mì in the entire city. The french rolls are ridiculously soft, and the ones filled with xiu mai that falls apart with a poke should be on the shortlist of every self-respecting sandwich enthusiast. Especially since each costs around $5, which is less than two hours of parking on Chestnut St. Maybe we should have led with that?

photo credit: Susie Lacocque

This dim sum counter in the Outer Sunset makes some of our favorite steamed bao in the city—both the barbecue pork bun and the sweet, creamy egg custard bun are pillowy stunners—and they'll run you $3.40 for three. And even if you’re this close to starting a shrinky dink shop on Etsy as another source of income, you should still stock your fridge with a few bags of these to warm up later. Heads-up, it's cash-only.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastLunchQuick Eats

The big subs from Lou’s Cafe deserve their own national holiday. And while we probably won’t have time off to honor Tuna Melt With A Generous Swath Of Garlic Aioli Day any time soon, we'll settle for heading to this takeout spot in the Richmond weekly. For something this big and this delicious, $12.50 for one is a steal. They also have tons of other options, from an excellent turkey cranberry to meatballs doused in housemade marinara. Go dutch crunch, always.

photo credit: Erin Ng

$$$$Perfect For:LunchBreakfast

This tiny, cash-only Vietnamese spot in the Tenderloin is a hot spot for a quick breakfast or lunch—they close at 4pm, so you’ll have to swing by during daylight hours for your bún riêu (which rings in at exactly $15, but can easily feed two). But the best value lies in the $6 bánh mì. They’re made on plump rolls that soak up the mayo and pâté without getting the least bit soggy, and will easily power you through your inevitable midday slump.

Yamo is a tiny, cash-only Burmese spot in the Mission (and one of the best in the city). You're sliding up to the counter for their excellent noodles that are wok-tossed with copious amounts of fried garlic and meat. They also have a solid tea leaf salad worth your time, plus other stir-fried dishes like mango chicken and black bean tofu. At $8 per entree, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal in the neighborhood, much less the whole of SF.

Everything on the menu at this Parkside Chinese restaurant is under $10.95, so if you just lost an inordinate amount of money to that oil change you’ve been putting off for months, get here for dinner. They have a ton of filling entrées like hand-pulled noodles or chicken skewers, all of which cost less than a couple gallons of gas. If you need more convincing to get to this casual cash-only spot, go for their beef roll pancake—it’s a knockout with thin slices of beef, a generous swath of hoisin, and scallions, all swaddled in a thick pancake.  

This casual Japanese restaurant has everything from udon to potato croquette sandwiches—but you’re here for the Japanese curry. For $10.50, you get a heaping plate of white rice and curry (you can also add proteins like pork katsu or chicken karaage for a few dollars more). Or you can opt for the mini sandwiches, which come out to $3.50 apiece and as are adorable as they are cost-efficient. Our go-to is the spam katsu, which is a crispy-salty flavor bomb that fits right in the palm of your hand.

One fantastic breakfast sandwich that unfailingly gets us out of bed an hour earlier than usual is the BEC from Newkirk’s. The sandwich is simplicity at its finest. Perfect Applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese, and an over-medium egg are layered between a squishy poppy seed roll. Plus, it’ll only set you back $9.95, which is less than you could spend on half a mimosa. Be sure to grab a side of their bright orange housemade habanero hot sauce.

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

It’s easy to get distracted from your affordable lunch mission when you come to Hokkaido Sashimi Marketplace. The Richmond spot is a convenience store that also doubles as a sushi takeout spot in the back, so the aisles are lined with Pocky, Turtle Chips, and Hi-Chews. Focus—you’re here for the rolls, all of which are under $15 and available from the ready-to-go fridges or made to order. We love the pudgy inari, but for something more filling, go with a salmon avocado or spicy tuna roll. 

Panchita's is home to some of the city's best pupusas, and it's been that way ever since this spot opened in the Mission over three decades ago. The Salvadoran counter-service spot serves pupusas packed with beef, chicken, or pork, each oozing with cheese that forms crispy edges around the griddled masa. Their two-pupusa deal includes a pair of your choosing, plus fresh curtido and salsa—the ideal lunch that's hearty without being overly filling.

photo credit: Melissa Zink

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastBrunch

You’ve made it to Good Mong Kok in Chinatown when you see the line down the street. The tiny, takeout-only dim sum spot is where we go to load up on siu mai, sesame balls, sticky rice, and char siu bao the size of a newborn baby’s head. The best part is that you can get all that for less than the $10 bill you just rescued from the back of your washing machine. Order everything in your line of sight and eat it all in the sun at nearby Portsmouth Square. 

Ask a group of people about their favorite burrito in the city, and you'll get at least seven different answers. Ask us, and we'll tell you to beeline to Taqueria El Farolito in the Mission. The cash-only spot is home to huge, Mission-style burritos that always include perfectly-crisped-up meat and all the gooey fixings. The order: a super burrito with carne asada ($9.25), which also leaves room in the budget for a side of chips.

Next time you find a $10 bill in an old pair of jeans and want to spend it on something worthwhile, order from Golden Boy Pizza. The prodigal son of North Beach has excellent signature Sicilian-style slices that are part doughy focaccia and part gooey cheese topped pepperoni, sausage, and clam and garlic sauce. These are some of the best pizzas in town, and at $4-ish a slice, they're the best value, too.

If a $7.50 tray of buttery salmon poke bathed in a spicy mayo sauce sounds enticing to you, stop reading this and head straight to Basa Seafood Express. The counter-service spot in the Mission has simple poke, sashimi, and sushi available for takeout, and it's all just as good as what you'd get at a fancy sushi spot across town. Plus, you'll be in and out for less than what you probably spend on coffee in a week.

photo credit: Julia Chen

$$$$Perfect For:LunchCheap Eats

A sandwich the size of a tank only costs $7 at this Bayview deli, which is the same amount you might spend on three bites of an “artisan hoagie” across town. There’s usually a midday rush for the hefty paper-wrapped sandwiches, which are stacked high with your choice of protein like turkey, tuna, or roast beef. But the line snakes through the aisles of sodas and chips quickly, so you’ll be on your way quickly with enough sustenance to last you until dinner.

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