The world is coming back, and a historic summer is officially upon us. But re-entering society in such a big way comes at a cost. Literally. And if you’re trying to cut back on spending and want to have a chill night at home because this is still all a bit much, we have some ideas. Here are 19 spots where you can get an excellent lunch or dinner to go right now - all for less than $15.
The cash-only Vietnamese banh mi spot, located just outside Little Saigon, is a Tenderloin institution. The French rolls are ridiculously soft, and the ones filled with sardines soaked in a spicy, rich tomato sauce 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?
After finally paying off ten months of MUNI citations, we’re - how do we say this - learning to live frugally. But despite the hundreds of dollars that were just removed from our bank account, we can still enjoy one of the best sandwiches in the city. The subs at this family-run Richmond cafe cost around $10, and are made with everything from hot pastrami brisket to meatballs covered in house-made marinara. But we like the turkey cranberry - a hoagie that comes with a generous swath of their house-made garlic aioli. It’s $9.40, and deserves its own holiday. All three locations of Lou’s (they also have outposts on the Embarcadero and the Outer Sunset) are open.
Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen
When you don’t have enough in your fridge to pull together a respectable meal, just call Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen instead. They have a pretty extensive menu, with everything from sambussas and chicken tibs to our favorite, the veggie combo. The tender beets, garlicky lentils, collard greens, and stewed cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are soft and colorful, and have a lovely aromatic smell we want to bottle up and spritz all around our apartment. And the soft, tangy rolls of injera soak everything up perfectly.
Three Star Restaurant in the Outer Sunset makes some of our favorite bao in the city - both the barbecue pork bun, and the sweet, creamy egg custard bun are fantastic - and 90 cents each. And even if you’re this close to starting a shrinky dink shop on Etsy as a new source of income, you should still stock your fridge with a few bags of them to warm up later. And heads-up, they’re cash-only.
You spent an ungodly amount of money to have some minimalist ceramic bowls expedited, but now you’re in the mood for pasta and don’t want to max out your credit line (again). Order from The Italian Homemade Company, one of our go-to spots for meaty bolognese and fresh pasta. It’s a sort of build-your-own situation here - you pick your pasta shape and type of sauce, and it’ll all come out to around $13.
Yamo is a tiny, cash-only Chinese-influenced Burmese spot in the Mission (and one of the best in the city). They’re known for their excellent noodle dishes, like cold chili spinach noodles served with hot tofu or house noodles that are wok-tossed with fried garlic and meat. And at $6.50 per entree, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal in SF.
This casual Japanese restaurant has everything from udon to potato croquette sandwiches - but you’re here for the curries. For about $11, you’ll get a massive plate of white rice paired with a protein of your choice, like pork katsu, chicken karaage, or fried fish. You’ll also get an Olympic pool-sized container of their gravy-like curry sauce - a.k.a. exactly the kind of soul-saving food you want while mulling over deep questions like “Did I really need to order that hotel-quality bathrobe?” and “How would one break into the feet pictures business, hypothetically?”
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, made with perfect Applewood-smoked bacon, American cheese, and an over-medium egg, all layered between a squishy poppy seed roll. Plus, it’ll only set you back $7.50. Be sure to grab a side of their bright orange house-made habanero hot sauce.
The sandwiches from Lucinda’s are in a class of their own. Stuffed with neat layers of meat, veggies, and spreads and made with fresh, crispy baguettes, they’re always our go-to when we’re craving a sandwich. We regularly consider clearing our schedules for the afternoon and heading over to the NoPa spot for the spicy tuna melt or BLTA, and eating one in the grass at Alamo Square. Be sure to grab extra napkins - things can get messy.
If you like garlic noodles and have $12 to spare, then it’s time to order from Perilla. Even if you don’t like garlic noodles or have $12 to spare, then sell some non-essential belongings (perhaps the Le Creuset spoon rest you bought on impulse?) and just trust us. This small Vietnamese restaurant in the Inner Sunset combines fresh, chewy egg noodles with a holy mixture of butter, garlic, and oyster sauce, and serves them with five-spice chicken, charbroiled pork chops, and deep-fried Imperial rolls - and a big plate of it all is guaranteed to make your night better by at least 75%.
Panchita's Pupuseria Restaurant #2
We always have a hard time choosing which type of pupusa to order from this Mission pupuseria, because all of the fillings are great. But we always inevitably end up going with the three for $11 deal, and leaving happy with a loroco, a revuelta, and one plain cheese.
The Yellow Submarine
This Inner Sunset sandwich shop has been around since the ’70s, and is where we go to get giant Boston-style hoagies. Specifically, a steak and cheese sub. Less of a submarine and more of a full-blown tank, this gigantic sandwich comes with shredded beef, grilled onions, bell peppers, and melted cheese on a freshly-baked sourdough roll. It’s $12.85 for a large, which is probably as close to larceny as you can get without, you know, breaking the law. Yellow Submarine is cash-only and open for takeout.
Rooster & Rice
This casual Thai restaurant is easily one of the best lunch spots in the city. And that’s because, much like us cutting our own bangs, Rooster & Rice is laser-focused on one thing: making incredible khao mun gai. For $12.95, you’ll get a bowl loaded with poached white chicken, cucumbers, and cilantro, drizzled in a fresh chili-ginger sauce and served over jasmine rice, plus a little cup of chicken broth on the side. All five Rooster & Rice locations around the city are available for takeout and delivery.
Two things that keep us coming back to this lunch-only spot in NoPa: their fantastic poke bowls, and the fact that practically every flat surface is covered with adorable corgi-themed decor. You build your own here, and choose from super-fresh proteins like tuna, hamachi, and salmon. They also have Japanese curry with chicken katsu or mixed vegetables, and sushi burritos, all for under $14.
So, it happened. You spent a not-insignificant part of your paycheck on a Cameo from Hairspray actress Nikki Blonsky. And while there’s no use beating yourself up about it now (mostly because Cameo doesn’t offer refunds), you can at least make sure your next meal won’t leave you overdrafted by placing an order at Underdogs Tres (formerly known as The Taco Shop At Underdogs, and now in a new location on 9th Ave). Nothing at this Inner Sunset spot costs more than $15, like the carne asada quesadillas, elotes con queso, and huge, Mission-style burritos.
Quik Dog, the new concept from the team behind Trick Dog, is a takeout-friendly spot in the Mission - and a great place to hit up for those moments when you suddenly remember that hot dogs exist, and subsequently start craving them 24/7. They nail every element of a hot dog: a perfectly-toasted bun, juicy, flavorful meat (they have an all-beef hot dog, a burger-like blend of chuck and brisket, and fried chicken), and great toppings. Grab a side of fries with their house ‘doggie’ sauce and you’re all set.
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 pies in town, and at $4-ish a slice, it’s also one of the best deals in the city.
Square Pie Guys also makes Nashville-style fried chicken sandwiches out of their SoMa pizza place. So if you’re craving crispy, juicy fried things (for us, that craving is all the time), order the Calabria sandwich ($14) from Hetchy’s Hots. It’s topped with pickles, peppers, and a lemon aioli we’d happily drink out of a glass. Order online for pick-up or delivery.
If a $7 tray of buttery salmon poke bathed in a spicy mayo sauce sounds enticing to you, stop reading this, put on your shoes and some real pants and head straight to Basa Seafood Express. The counter-serve spot in the Mission has simple, delicious poke, sashimi, and sushi available for takeout, all for less than you probably spend on coffee in a week.