The Best Meals For Under $15 In SF
photo credit: Susie Lacocque
Whether you recently planned a trip or just somehow paid $9 for your morning latte, you might be looking to give your wallet a break. Which can be hard these days, given that gas prices, much like our full-blown obsession with Zendaya, continue to skyrocket. This guide has tagliatelle bolognese, gooey pupusas, and perfect focaccia pizza slices, all of which are under $15. So when you don't feel like spending a ton and want something delicious to eat, just use it as your roadmap.
The cash-only Vietnamese banh mi spot located right 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.
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. The soft, tangy rolls of injera soak everything up perfectly.
The roast turkey sandwich from Arguello Market is the most beloved sandwich in SF. That’s because the Richmond grocery store and deli keeps it simple: just lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, red onion, and tender turkey from the spit behind the glass case. Getting the sandwich on dutch crunch roll is non-negotiable. It’ll run you $11.99, and is practically two servings—but grab some chips or pasta salad for a more well-rounded meal.
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 another source of income, you should still stock your fridge with a few bags of them to warm up later. Heads-up, cash-only.
Ordering from The Italian Homemade Company is always a good idea, but it's especially tempting when you want quality pasta for an affordable price. The North Beach spot is one of our go-tos for meaty bolognese and fresh pasta. It’s a 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 $8 per entree, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal in town.
This casual Japanese restaurant has everything from udon to potato croquette sandwiches—but you’re here for the curries. For about $13, you’ll get a plate of white rice paired with a protein of your choice, like pork katsu, chicken karaage, or fried fish (it's $9.50 for just the curry and rice). 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. 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 $8.95. Be sure to grab a side of their bright orange housemade habanero hot sauce.
Huge portions for the price and fantastic quesabirria tacos are two draws of this family-run spot with the sky blue walls in the Richmond. Another is the friendly service that always makes us feel better than when we came in. Order a massive spread of Guanajuato-style enchiladas, quesabirria tacos, and tortas that are so big they could function as a doorstop, and you can’t go wrong.
If you like garlic noodles and have $12 to spare, then order from Perilla. This small Vietnamese restaurant in the Inner Sunset combines fresh, chewy egg noodles with butter, garlic, and oyster sauce, and serves them with five-spice chicken, charbroiled pork chops, and deep-fried Imperial rolls. A big plate of it all is guaranteed to make your night better by at least 75%.
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 $12 deal, and leaving happy with a loroco, a revuelta, and one plain cheese.
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.
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 about $14.
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-cooked meat and all the fixings. If you're feeling especially hungry, go for the quesadilla suiza with pastor, which is messy and decadent in the best ways.
This bakery in the Richmond is home to pastries and sandwiches that are photogenic and delicious. Case in point is the kaya toast, thick milk bread done up with creamy squiggles of sweet coconut pandan jam, and the egg salad bunwich with lightly battered kakiage poking out like candles on a birthday cake. Come here when you want a midday power-up that’s a little more exciting than your usual handful of Goldfish. There’s a sunny parklet out front to enjoy it all on.
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 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.
If a $7 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, all for less than what you probably spend on coffee in a week.
Fried chicken sandwiches are about as common as San Francisco’s four-way stops, but this North Beach spot stands out for its versions that are as flawless as an Olivia Rodrigo bridge. The original is simple (and our go-to). It comes with well-fried chicken breast, house sauce, pickles, and lettuce on a squishy bun. Each unbelievably juicy bite tastes even better when paired with some macaroni salad on the side.
Señor Sisig’s brick-and-mortar in the Mission is where you’ll find Filipino burritos stuffed to overflowing with tocino and adobo garlic rice, or well-seasoned pork and a generous helping of french fries. The portions here are so big you’ll probably need a nap immediately after, but we don’t mind—just grab an agua fresca or ube horchata to wash everything down, and kick back on their patio to enjoy it all.