The cost of living has been steadily rising in San Francisco with the tech boom and as such restaurants have gotten more and more expensive with the increasing rents. With that said, as a local, I try to look for the best ways to maximize my budget while eating affordably and well.
These are some of my favorite places for delicious and cheap eats!
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I love perusing farmers’ markets for fresh groceries and produce, however it is also one of the best places to find prepared foods that are ready to eat at great prices!
The Embarcadero Ferry Building and Market is one of my favorite places to go in the city because I love the selection here. The Ferry Building itself is open daily with various shops selling food and housewares.
My favorite stalls are Blue Bottle Coffee Company, Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream, Acme Bread Company, Cowgirl Creamery, and Hog Island Oyster Company. Amazing sandwiches can be found at affordable prices daily at Cowgirl Creamery and on weekends between 11am and 2pm at Acme Bread Company. Acme bakes their bread in-house so it’s super fresh as well!
On a Tuesdays (10am-2pm), Thursdays (10am-2pm), and Saturdays (8am-2pm) year-round, an outdoor farmers’ market is set up outside of the ferry building where you can find cooked foods and fresh produce. I have seen the Roli Roti stall here as well as stalls selling fresh fish and flowers.
This market and the Ferry Building are easily accessible via BART/Muni streetcar (Embarcadero station) and Muni bus.
Heart of the City Farmers’ Market is another one of my favorite markets because of their amazing deals. The market is open Sundays (7am-5pm) and Wednesdays (7am-5:30pm) throughout the year, with stalls selling prepared food, fresh fish, and produce.
The best prices can be had about ½ hour before the market officially closes when all the stalls are trying to sell their produce. I’ve scored bags of vegetables and tomatoes for $1 each!
On Wednesdays, they even have a mini food court area to feed the hunger.
If you’re heading to City Hall or the Asian Art Museum, this farmers’ market is easily walkable from those sights as well as the BART/Muni streetcar (Civic Center station) and various Muni bus stops.
HH is the best because you can get great food and drinks at cheap prices. Plus, happy hour is also a great time to get some snacks in your system after an intense day of sightseeing.
These are some of the best spots for happy hour that also happen to be on The Embarcadero so they’re also easily accessible via public transportation.
Palomino used to have all day happy hour but now their menu has been relegated to everyday only from 3pm ‘til closing. But I love their HH offerings so much I’ve decided to forgive them! My favorites here include their crab & artichoke dip, calamari fritti, and potatoes gorgonzola. During happy hour, all of their drafts are only $1. Happy hour is only available at the bar and as outdoor seating.
I love the food at La Mar Cebecheria Peruana; however, their food isn’t exactly the most budget-friendly. But their happy hour menu is much cheaper than their typical lunch or dinner menu.
Their happy hour offerings include discounted ceviche, empanadas, and $4 beers. You can’t go to a cebicheria without ordering their ceviche! The menu is available daily between 3pm and 6pm.
Waterbar is also another fancier restaurant that offers a decent happy hour for oyster lovers. They have a featured oyster of the day for $1.05/each, Monday through Friday between 11:30am and 5:30pm. While these oysters used to be only $1, the extra 5 cents these days is donated to charity.
If you go between 2pm and 5:30pm, there are also drink specials available. Do note that this menu is only available in the bar area and limited to 24 oysters per table at a time.
These happy hour spots are close to the Embarcadero station accessible by BART/Muni streetcar.
For 2 weeks every January, when the restaurants are facing the post-holiday lull, Restaurant Week is put on by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association to encourage customers to visit local restaurants. Specific dates are different and announced each year though it tends to be held mid-to-late January.
Typically 2+ course lunches are offered with $15 and $25 menus and 3+ course dinners are available for $40 or $65 prix fixe menus.
While the cost has risen over the years, I usually use this opportunity to treat myself to some finer dining. If your budget and trip timing allows, this is the best way to get great deals on some nice restaurants. The restaurants that participate in this program are vary every year with places being added and removed from the list.
My favorite Restaurant Week spots include the following Chou Chou (French), Spruce (American), La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Peruvian), Roka Akor (Steakhouse), Cafe Claude (French), and Isa (Asian-French fusion).
The restaurant list and menus are released a few weeks before Restaurant Week begins and reservations can be made on OpenTable.
I hope these recommendations are useful to you as you plan your delicious eats in San Francisco. For a 2-3 day weekend itinerary, feel free to check out A Weekend Away: San Francisco, for recommendations from a local’s point of view. Enjoy your trip!
Constance is a graphic/web designer and blogger living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where technology rules the world. She and her boyfriend, Jimmy, are always in a state of wanderlust, looking forward to their next adventure eating their way around the world. Follow them on their blog, The Adventures of Panda Bear.