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San Francisco’s Top 10 Classic Cheap Eats

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This article originally appeared on Lonely Planet

A few years when GQ Magazine said that San Francisco was experiencing the nation’s most exciting food movement, it just solidified what most people already knew: San Francisco is a food lover’s paradise. In a city that supposedly has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the US, it’s no surprise that cuisine options are nearly as varied as they are abundant. But let’s face it, most people can’t afford to eat at Gary Danko or Boulevard very often (if ever!) especially budget travelers. Luckily The City has some pretty incredible cheap eats. From classic greasy spoon diners to Burmese food to burritos the following are San Francisco staples that have been keeping it’s broke-asses fed for years.

Tu-Lan: Don’t let the drug deals going on outside the restaurant dissuade you from entering. And don’t let the greasy menus and walls fool you. Tu-Lan is sublime. Nothing on the menu at this Vietnamese restaurant costs more than $7.75, in fact few things even cost that much, and everything there is delicious. Make sure to get their imperial rolls. Magical is not quite the word, but it’s close.

El Farrolito: Rumor has it that the burrito was invented in the Mission District. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen, but what is true is that El Farolito makes a killer one. Whether you’re a vegetarian or a carnivore, this is the go to taqueria at nearly any hour of the day. On weekends El Farolito (sometimes called El Fart-a-lot-o) stays open until 3am, thus allowing all those pouring out of the bars to get soak up their booze with some Mexican food.

Yamo: There might only be seven or eight seats in this tiny Burmese restaurant, and they are coveted ones! That’s because the ladies who work there throw down some seriously excellent eats. Nothing on the menu costs more than $6 and you can wash down your mango chicken with a whole fresh coconut for an additional $3.50. Sounds like a winning combination for fighting a hangover.

Golden Coffee: A typical greasy spoon diner that truly gives you the most bang for your buck. You can get eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast all for just $4.50. They also generally have a few copies of the San Francisco Chronicle lying around, so it’s a good place to leisurely start your day. One word of advice: this food will most likely run right through you. Don’t stray too far from a bathroom.

Saigon Sandwiches: While the neighborhood is less than desirable (to say the least), the sandwiches are the jam! And at $3.75 for a big, yummy bahn mi it’s hard to resist. The Tenderloin may be dodgy, but not dodgy enough to keep people from lining up to get their Vietnamese food itch scratched.

Red’s Java House: Open since 1912 Red’s Java House has served everyone from sailors to soldiers to stevedores to Anthony Bourdain. Amongst Red’s many admirable qualities is it’s back patio. There aren’t a lot of places in the world where business men, bikers and tourists can all hang out in harmony, munching on burgers in the sun on a deck on the bay. Plus it’s crawling distance from the ball park for before or after a Giants game. Oh, and those burgers? You can get one with a beer for around $7. Thanks Red!

Kingdom of Dumpling: Nothing pairs better with a trip to the ocean than some incredible dumplings. Even if you’re not heading to the beach (because honestly, it’s always SO cold) Kingdom of Dumpling, it’s certainly worth the trek to the Outer sunset. Dumplings come in orders of 12, the most expensive ones being only $6.95. Bring a couple friends and have yourself a dumpling orgy. It’s was less weird than it sounds.

Naan – N – Curry: With locations scattered throughout the city and across the bay, Naan – N – Curry has come a long way since being a single, tiny restaurant in the Tenderloin. A good part of this success is probably due to their fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala. Sure it’s Whitey’s favorite Indian dish, but who cares, it’s delectable. You can get a plate of it and a naan for $8 and it is plenty of food. Alternatively you can stop into the Union Square location and hit up the buffet for $7.99 at lunch and $9.99 at dinner. And the best part? The Union Square spot is open until 4am.

Orphan Andy’s: It’s not an article about San Francisco unless the Castro is included and it’s not a list of SF’s classic cheap eats without Orphan Andy’s. This great diner has been open 24/7 since the 1970’s (well they probably closed a couple times) and nearly everyone who has been in The City for awhile has an Orphan Andy’s story. The chicken fried steak with gravy is absolutely out of this world and is the remedy for both being too or too hungover. And when your waiter has a beard to his chest and is wearing a utility kilt, you know you’re in San Francisco.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.