More Bang for that Buck: Best Value Restaurants in San Francisco

Photo courtesy of used in book.
Photo courtesy of used in book.
Photo courtesy of used in book.
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

Besides saving money, getting the most value out of a dining experience also includes that other important resource: time.

By taking some time right now to plan your dining experience, you'll insure that you get the most value out of that experience by considering our "Expert Tips" on each specific restaurant. Once you've narrowed down your choices, never forget that time is on your side in San Francisco: there are many, many restaurants vying for your business. Doing a little prep beforehand of what's really out there will leave you extra time to walk the lovely neighborhoods of San Francisco and let that one special restaurant grab you. There's nothing more important during a trip than that one memorable, signature meal.

To start you off, let us introduce you to a few of our favorites, such as Chapeau! and Mama's on Washington Square. They're low in expenditures and high in appeal. If you want the highest rate of return for your dinner dollar, be sure to check out the restaurants on our list.

10. Saigon Sandwich Shop
Photo courtesy of fotopedia

Although dimsum will always reign as the classic San Francisco takeout food, The Vietnamese sandwich has gotten more and more popular in recent years. And no one puts together these sandwiches like the Saigon Sandwich shop, which is no more than a hole in the wall in San Francisco's Tenderloin area, a great place to grab food and go. The trip is worth it for the signature sandwich, the Banh mi, the Vietnamese term for bread which is then filled with your choice of pork, sausage, or chicken and dressed with cucumber, cilantro and pickled carrots. If you're looking for authentic fast food at a reasonable price, grab a Saigon Sandwich today.

9. Delfina
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Simplicity and authenticity reign at this small, popular restaurant. Zinc tabletops and exotic hardwoods bear this out, as does the incomparable Italian fare with its top-notch ingredients. Treat yourself with grilled calamari salad, braised rabbit, steak frites, roasted chicken, or salmon with fresh vegetables. Although Delfina has garnered much acclaim since it premiered, the trattoria still delights with casual ambience, friendly service and satisfyingly reasonable prices – all boons to dining aficionados. Delfina is one of the more expensive of the "budget" restaurants on this list, but their attention to quality will insure that even the most penny-pinching guest feels like he got his money's worth.

8. Kabuto Sushi

This spirited Japanese sushi bar thrives on the quality of its fish and the variety offered to customers. Affordable maki, nigiri, and sashimi are beautifully prepared and presented, as much a visual delight as a gustatory one. Guests are also encouraged to try nasu dengaku, a delicious baked eggplant. With more than 90 sushi selections on the menu, it's easy to find a wealth of appetizing options. And Kabuchi is a great example of a budget minded restaurant not skimping on quality or inventiveness, offering dishes such as the Hamachi Pear, Yellowtail sushi topped with sliced pear and kabuto fruity mustard sauce. Full dinners are available.

7. Dottie's True Blue Café

A little homey, a little kitschy and a lot of good. If you crave homemade breakfast foods and substantial portions, Dottie's is definitely the place to go. In the morning, wonderful pancakes, French toast, frittatas and baked goods bring satisfied grins to hungry, appreciative patrons. As noontime rolls around, sandwiches, salads and hamburgers take center stage. Dottie's used to be in the Tenderloin, an interesting but somewhat seedy area, so the new location in the always trendy Mission neighborhood makes Dotty even more accessible by public transportation. And there's no better way to start off a full day in the Mission than a big, reasonably-priced breakfast at Dottie's.

6. Chapeau!
Photo courtesy of used in book.

This charming bistro, happily ensconced in its small, friendly neighborhood, always issues a warm welcome. Its comfortably upscale dining room is busy but romantic, and patrons delight in Chapeau!'s well-executed French country fare. Classics like steak au poivre, roast chicken, cassoulet and duck a l'orange are served a la carte, but multi-course prix fixe menus and the early bird special are incredible deals. Crowning everything is a fabulous wine list that features more than 300 selections. And take advantage of Chapeau's location on Clement Street, an eclectic but often overlooked area of San Francisco that includes the city's beloved bookstore, Green Apple Books.

5. Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Photo courtesy of used in book.

Within this small, bright eatery, you'll find some of the city's best sausages. Choose from kielbasa, knockwurst, Italian, chicken or weisswurst, or live boldly by sampling wild boar with chutney or smoked duck with figs. The variety is impressive and – served on French rolls with toppings like sauerkraut, spicy peppers and grilled onions – the dogs are incredible. Sodas and chips also find a place on the menu, and since the grill is small, most people place to-go orders or even take their selections next door to the Toronado Pub, which stocks great microbrews. On Tuesday, Rosamunde makes awesome juicy cheeseburgers as well.

4. Arinell Pizza
Photo courtesy of idreamofpizza

For those who like their pizza with thin crusts and simply made, Arinell's is the place. Their flagship spot in the Mission, beloved by locals, is small and not fancy, but the time they saved in creating atmosphere they put into making simple, delicious pizza. If you're in the Mission and need something other than a burrito, slip into Arinell's and grab a slice (or two or three). You'll get a taste of Italy and some needed energy for your big night out in the Mission. (Also a great spot to swing by after your big night out in the Mission.)

3. Yamo
Photo courtesy of Facebook

First-time visitors to the Mission District of San Francisco will certainly be overwhelmed by all the restaurant choices. Traditionally known as the premier spot for Latino fare, the Mission has been ground central for the tech boom in the Bay Area. That extra cash has created so many estaurants so quickly that even longtime residents of San Francisco may feel like first-time visitors to the Mission. Through all this upheaval, one thing has remained constant: the enticing aroma of Chinese and Burmese food wafting out of the small, dark doorway of Yamo on the corner of 18th and Mission Street. What's also remained constant is the long line and impossibly tight quarters inside, so get there early and get takeout.

2. Pica Pica
Photo courtesy of Pica Pica Maize Kitchen

One of three locations, the Valencia Street restaurant in the Mission District is where the magic that is Pica Pica first happened in 2010. Fitting in perfectly with its surroundings full of Latin flair, this Maize Kitchen is open for lunch, dinner and dessert. Most popular on the menu is the arepa (pocket composed of grilled corn and stuffed with vegetables, plantains, beans, cheese or meats. . .your choice). Also sample the ceviche or yuca fries as a starter. Don't leave without having a glass of sangria and a taste of dessert (yuca beignets or coconut quesillo). Bringing pure food, fantastic flavors and environmental awareness, all take-out containers are completely biodegradable.

1. HRD Coffee Shop
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If you value food over atmosphere in your dining experience, then HRD Coffee Shop might be the place for you. The location itself is as imaginative as its name, but the food is a daring and delightful mix of Chinese, American, Korean and Mexican favorites. You can try everything from Korean Loco Moco to Mongolian Cheesesteak, all under one old, unimpressive roof. But with all of San Francisco's Soma district waiting outside, from the cheers at AT&T Ballpark to a beautiful stroll along the bay, why would anyone want to be inside anyway? Order that Firecracker Shrimp for the road!