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Where to Find Cheap Eats in Downtown San Francisco

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Tempura shrimp getting a delicious dipping at Tenmatsu on Kearny btw Pine & Bush. Image from Chowhound 

Following an article I wrote headlined, “Are There Any Affordable Places Left to Eat in Downtown SF?,” many of you gentle readers kindly took the bait and offered up helpful recommendations of where to go on the cheap. Thank you!

Just to clarify: My point was that if you are one of the thousands of people who work in the Financial District and do not pull down something like $200K a year or more, your options are severely limited in terms of not breaking the bank. It appears not all of you read the actual story and jumped in with your favorite frugal food from all over, including the Tenderloin, Civic Center and Polk Street (you people are killing me!). If you work at California and Front or Montgomery and Bush, chances are you are not going to schlep down to Market and Sixth or over to 24th and Folsom for lunch.

But hey, it’s always good to have a running list of tasty and affordable meal options, so I was happy to hear from you and pleasantly surprised at all of the input. One person even mentioned, and while I’ve never used it and cannot vouch for nor criticize it, an article on Business Insider brings up some points to consider. I still must insist, however, that finding anything inexpensive and decent after 9 p.m. in the FiDi is a bit of a treasure hunt.

Back to our show. In case you didn’t follow the threads or don’t use Facebook, here’s a roundup of suggestions (please note that spelling and grammatical errors are from the original commenter):

Yo-Yo’s at 318 Pacific Ave. has cheap udon and soba noodles as well as sushi, teriyaki and other Japanese cuisine. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

Scott Ling: “Yo Yo’s on Pacific between Battery & Sansome. Around $5 for an order of Udon or Soba noodles.” (Oh right! No wonder there’s a line out the door every day!)

Mrs. Moe: “Eatsa can be under $10, especially when they have their $5 bowl offers. And while this can be a little sad, Walgreens often has some decent stuff in their food section. Target too. It’s basically like bringing in stuff from home, but without having to plan ahead or lug stuff in.” (Eatsa has outlets at 1 California St. and 121 Spear St., Target is at Bush and Sansome and Metreon, and Walgreens is ubiquitous, of course. I also asked Mrs. Moe which specific items she’d recommend from Walgreens and Target…)

Mrs. Moe: I don’t know the names of things off the top of my head, but they have a pretty extensive “deli” section in the front fridges at the Sansome/Bush Walgreens. They also have some frozen meals. The Target kitty-corner from that has an even more extensive produce and prepared foods section right as you enter. And they have several isle of frozen foods and easily prepared items like soups and PB&J, etc. It’d be worth taking a trip by both and checking them out for yourself. (Good to know!)

Mrs. Moe: Oh! Also, Lite Bite has a 3-item plate that usually runs about $7-8 bucks and their food is both healthy and really good. (There’s one at 220 Bush St. in the FiDi and at Union and Octavia.)

Brian Lucas: There’s a few chinese buffets that are around 8 bucks a meal, also a meal size soup at Whole foods hot bar is 6.50 (True! The buffets! Kirsten Kruse and Clinton Karr also mention Lee’s Deli buffets. For a simple salad bar with just a couple of hot choices, I like Café Insalata at 209 Jackson St.)

Tracy Mazza: I like China Fun Express on Kearny for pay by weight buffet. Also The Fountain Cafe in the Galleria has some good cheap eats. Also Lees is still pretty affordable… (Another vote for Lee’s! Maybe I’m missing out here.)

Lee’s Deli (280 Battery St., pictured, and other locations) is just one example of some of the more extensive and affordable buffets throughout the FiDi. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

Emma Lynn McNairy: There are some good options in the food court in Westfield mall. Otherwise, Off the Grid in downtown locations have some good options depending on what trucks are there. (The food truck fare I’ve tried costs a pretty penny, but I haven’t been to all of them; maybe it’s worth another look!)

Mark Shoffner: Trader Joe’s wraps $3.99 (if you don’t brown bag it) (Hey, this is an excellent one—the Trader Joe’s on Fourth and Market is a veritable cheap take-out nirvana! I also failed to mention that the Safeway on Jackson and Davis is a popular stop for lunchgoers; they have sandwiches for less than $10 and an array of hot and cold deli food.)

LS Kafka: miss tomato on market and i think 2nd? towards embarcadero. not too bad. breakfast burritos are good. (It’s at 388 Market St. near Pine/Davis, right outside a BART/Muni entrance.)

Reader LS Kafka recommends Miss Tomato at 388 Market St. for a place that’s inexpensive and “not too bad.” Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

Ben Feuer (posted on my personal page): “Mendocino Farms on California and Montgomery is good and not too bad, also Sid Sahni has a cart called Full Skoop which is great and not expensive.” (Visit Full Skoop online for locations.)

playerzero: good luck cafe & deli on kearny and commercial! big honkin’ deli sandwiches in the $6~8ish range, run by an older couple who are awesome and somehow still in business. closes at mayberry-o’clock like the rest of the area* but that’s to be expected.

* i specifically mean “financial district and environs”, but you can safely read this as “the city and county of san francisco” if you’d like. sadly true either way.

playerzero: also noteworthy: two bento places that drop prices after 2pm (aka late-night)

– tenmatsu (kearny btw pine + bush) – 20% off after 2

– mybento (sutter + kearny) – 50% off after (so like, $3 for a lunch)

Cafe Insalata, 209 Jackson St., offers a small but clean salad bar, a few hot dishes, sandwiches, pastries and coffee. Photo credit: Geri Koeppel

And here are some non-FiDi places to get cheap grub:

Earvin Gotti: “Saigon Sandwich – $4-5 Bahn Mi’s” (560 Larkin St.)

John Tinloy: Cordon bleu Vietnamese, California/Polk.

Gina Bobina: The corner store on 24th and Folsom has $3 veggie bagel. Not bad.

Michele Simmerer: Argentum Project on 6th between Market, Mission. Best damn souvlaki sandwiches, 10 dollars! And spanakopita, other savory/sweet Greek pastries… salads… Their coffee, frozen Greek yogurt( less sugar than most) is really good too!!!

Michele Simmerer: Also, Dosa Allee on Market/6th. Big ass dosa w/ sides, 11 dollars!

Becke Reber Aller: bi-rite cafe near city hall has $7 egg& cheese sando, and $7 avo toast. grill chiken $12. too far for fidi, but okay for govt ees. but truth! no good cheap eats in sf! we used to meetup at chaya for affordable eats after work.

Claudia Miller: Henry’s Hunan right off 2nd between Mission and Howard has excellent affordable food. Two people can easily share a dish for $11.50.

Tico S. Francisco: Tony Gemignani’s Slice House by the ballpark on 2nd – $5 slices of cheese or pepperoni, huge and delicious. (Drooooolll.)


Thanks for playing, everyone! If we’re missing any good ones leave them in the comments.

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Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel

Geri Koeppel is a journalist, hedonist, gadfly and gal-about-town. She loves animals, despises hypocrites, and will do almost anything for good pierogis.