clock menu more-arrow no yes
Tahini

15 Essential Spots for Affordable Eats in San Diego

Find everything from bánh mi and shawarma to tacos and vegan eats

View as Map

It might sound counterintuitive, but San Diego is full of restaurants, cafés, and take-out counters where you can get a meal (and tip your server) without overspending. From North County to the South Bay, we’ve rounded up 15 iconic and under-the-radar spots for affordable eats in San Diego.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

Note: entries on this map are listed geographically.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Pho Truc Xanh

Copy Link
503 W Mission Ave
Escondido, CA 92025
(760) 489-8201
Visit Website

At this Escondido spot where people come for brothy phở, they’re delightfully surprised by the complementary cup of egg drop soup and return for friendly service. The sprawling menu combines Vietnamese specialities like bánh mì sandwiches, with Chinese dishes like lo mein noodles and crispy ginger chicken. Max out the spice factor for an additional $1.50 per order. Most entrees run $13 to $15.

Bowl of beef broth pho.
Pho Truc Xanh
Yelp

2. Sipz Clairemont

Copy Link
5501 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 279-3747
Visit Website

With locations in Clairemont, La Jolla, and North Park, this go-to spot offers up vegetarian and vegan Asian-inspired dishes like drunken noodles or pad thai with the choice of meatless proteins like tofu, “chicken,” and “shrimp.” They also offer a range of vegan desserts from brownies and cookies in flavors like ube and pandan, to Thai sweet rice with mango. Its Clairemont and North Park locations also serve a vegan sushi menu.

3. Tahini

Copy Link
9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite H
San Diego, CA 92123
(858) 779-3272
Visit Website

Tahini’s built-to-order offerings span hefty bowls, sandwiches, and salads that for some double as next day’s lunch. The Middle Eastern street food, fast casual spot in Kearny Mesa carves same day spit-roasted shawarma, made-to-order falafel, and pita bread that’s baked every hour.

Shawarma bowl with fried halloumi and dipping sauces. Tahini

4. Hinotez

Copy Link
7947 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 565-4244
Visit Website

Classic Japanese dishes like yakitori, ramen, udon, and rice dishes grace the menu at this Kearny Mesa restaurant. Currently open for dinner and late night dining (‘til midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m, all other days) seven days a week, Hinotez accommodates large parties and accepts reservations. Dine-in parties order from tablets, and the restaurant also fields online orders.

5. Phuong Trang

Copy Link
4170 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 565-6750
Visit Website

Though Phuong Trang serves up more than two hundred dishes (from noodles, soups, and rice dishes), its eight styles of beef broth-based phở stand out. Go meatless for $7.95, add steak or beef meatballs for $10.95, or for $12.50 opt for shrimp. Vegetarians might order the tofu with lemongrass and hot peppers, or the vermicelli noodle bowl with vegetarian egg rolls served with fresh mint.

6. Homestyle Hawaiian Restaurant

Copy Link
7524 Mesa College Dr
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 571-5828
Visit Website

Classic island-style dishes are well-priced at this mini-chain. From its numerous locations, including in Oceanside, Tierrasanta, and Pacific Beach, find plate lunches from $8.95 that all come with a side of steamed rice and macaroni (or green) salad. Try the Kalua pig, lava chicken, or seared ahi sandwich with alfalfa sprouts. For something sweet: Pineapple Dole whip.

7. Ali Baba Family Restaurant

Copy Link
421 E Main St
El Cajon, CA 92020
(619) 442-3622
Visit Website

El Cajon is home to one of the largest Middle Eastern communities in the county, and the area benefits from no shortage of restaurants like Ali Baba. The restaurant has served halal food since 2002, from Iraqi dishes and more such as lamb Tashreeb, eggplant-based baba ghanouj, and masgouf, a grilled fish dish. Its family feasts serve up to ten people and include various numbers of kebabs, salad, rice, and hummus.

8. The Original Sab-E-Lee

Copy Link
6925 Linda Vista Rd B
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 650-6868
Visit Website

This ever-popular Thai restaurant has locations in Linda Vista, Rancho Peñasquitos, and Santee. Here, people zero in on (Northeastern) style Thai curries and papaya salad with most dishes, from larb to noodles and fried rice dishes under $15. A cash-only establishment for years, Sab-E-Lee now accepts Visa and Mastercard.

9. Ben & Esther's Vegan Jewish Deli

Copy Link
6663 El Cajon Blvd suite q
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 467-7825
Visit Website

The once omnivorous turned completely vegan deli serves bagels (gluten-free options too), bagel and deli sandwiches on marble rye bread, and rotating soup specials from its newish outpost in the College area. Or stock up on by the pound items including whitefish made from hearts of palm, chicken salad, and stuffed knishes and potato latkes sold per piece. The Reuben sandwich and potato salad are fan favorites. 

10. Minh Ky Restaurant

Copy Link
4644 El Cajon Blvd #101
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 283-4180
Visit Website

Generous portions and accessible prices make this City Heights staple a reliable place for affordable eats. Braised duck, crispy egg noodles with mixed vegetables, and barbecue pork lo mein are among the most popular items here. Chinese specialties skew Cantonese style, though you’ll also find Vietnamese options.

11. A Chau Restaurant

Copy Link
4644 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115
(619) 281-4066

The Vietnamese fried egg rolls from A Chau have achieved cult-like status amongst those in the know. They sell for about $1 per roll. Note: It’s cash only.

12. Lucky's Breakfast

Copy Link
3804 Grim Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 297-2760

Remember to bring cash for a full breakfast ($6 to $9) and free coffee refills at this iconic North Park diner where proprietor “Lucky” has been cooking and serving breakfast most days of week for more than 40 years.

13. Las Cuatro Milpas

Copy Link
1857 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 234-4460

Line up (an inevitable activity here) on any given day for well-loved housemade tortillas and Mexican street food staples — think pork tacos and tamales, rolled tacos, chorizo with eggs, and rice and beans. Bring cash, and an appetite.

14. El Carrito Restaurant

Copy Link
2154 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 501-0095
Visit Website

Find at least five different styles of chilaquiles in this former 1930s cable car turned go-to breakfast spot in Barrio Logan. Most plates are priced under $12 and come with potatoes and refried beans. Pancakes, molletes, tortas, burritos and sopes also make the menu. Don’t forget a cup of spiced, citrusy café de olla. 

15. Spiro’s Greek Café

Copy Link
1201 1st St
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 435-1225
Visit Website

Coronado-based Greek restaurant Spiro’s serves Mediterranean options from platters to salads and family-style meals. For example, a salmon platter will run $23 and comes with a choice of rice pilaf or fries, a side Greek salad, pita and tzatziki. Family-style meals feed four people, come with sides, and range from $44 to $55; choose the lamb and beef, or chicken gyro; or beef, lamb, or chicken kabobs. The family-run restaurant also welcomed a La Jolla location in Fall 2020.

1. Pho Truc Xanh

503 W Mission Ave, Escondido, CA 92025
Bowl of beef broth pho.
Pho Truc Xanh
Yelp

At this Escondido spot where people come for brothy phở, they’re delightfully surprised by the complementary cup of egg drop soup and return for friendly service. The sprawling menu combines Vietnamese specialities like bánh mì sandwiches, with Chinese dishes like lo mein noodles and crispy ginger chicken. Max out the spice factor for an additional $1.50 per order. Most entrees run $13 to $15.

503 W Mission Ave
Escondido, CA 92025

2. Sipz Clairemont

5501 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117

With locations in Clairemont, La Jolla, and North Park, this go-to spot offers up vegetarian and vegan Asian-inspired dishes like drunken noodles or pad thai with the choice of meatless proteins like tofu, “chicken,” and “shrimp.” They also offer a range of vegan desserts from brownies and cookies in flavors like ube and pandan, to Thai sweet rice with mango. Its Clairemont and North Park locations also serve a vegan sushi menu.

5501 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117

3. Tahini

9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite H, San Diego, CA 92123
Shawarma bowl with fried halloumi and dipping sauces. Tahini

Tahini’s built-to-order offerings span hefty bowls, sandwiches, and salads that for some double as next day’s lunch. The Middle Eastern street food, fast casual spot in Kearny Mesa carves same day spit-roasted shawarma, made-to-order falafel, and pita bread that’s baked every hour.

9119 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite H
San Diego, CA 92123

4. Hinotez

7947 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

Classic Japanese dishes like yakitori, ramen, udon, and rice dishes grace the menu at this Kearny Mesa restaurant. Currently open for dinner and late night dining (‘til midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m, all other days) seven days a week, Hinotez accommodates large parties and accepts reservations. Dine-in parties order from tablets, and the restaurant also fields online orders.

7947 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111

5. Phuong Trang

4170 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

Though Phuong Trang serves up more than two hundred dishes (from noodles, soups, and rice dishes), its eight styles of beef broth-based phở stand out. Go meatless for $7.95, add steak or beef meatballs for $10.95, or for $12.50 opt for shrimp. Vegetarians might order the tofu with lemongrass and hot peppers, or the vermicelli noodle bowl with vegetarian egg rolls served with fresh mint.

4170 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111

6. Homestyle Hawaiian Restaurant

7524 Mesa College Dr, San Diego, CA 92111

Classic island-style dishes are well-priced at this mini-chain. From its numerous locations, including in Oceanside, Tierrasanta, and Pacific Beach, find plate lunches from $8.95 that all come with a side of steamed rice and macaroni (or green) salad. Try the Kalua pig, lava chicken, or seared ahi sandwich with alfalfa sprouts. For something sweet: Pineapple Dole whip.

7524 Mesa College Dr
San Diego, CA 92111

7. Ali Baba Family Restaurant

421 E Main St, El Cajon, CA 92020

El Cajon is home to one of the largest Middle Eastern communities in the county, and the area benefits from no shortage of restaurants like Ali Baba. The restaurant has served halal food since 2002, from Iraqi dishes and more such as lamb Tashreeb, eggplant-based baba ghanouj, and masgouf, a grilled fish dish. Its family feasts serve up to ten people and include various numbers of kebabs, salad, rice, and hummus.

421 E Main St
El Cajon, CA 92020

8. The Original Sab-E-Lee

6925 Linda Vista Rd B, San Diego, CA 92111

This ever-popular Thai restaurant has locations in Linda Vista, Rancho Peñasquitos, and Santee. Here, people zero in on (Northeastern) style Thai curries and papaya salad with most dishes, from larb to noodles and fried rice dishes under $15. A cash-only establishment for years, Sab-E-Lee now accepts Visa and Mastercard.

6925 Linda Vista Rd B
San Diego, CA 92111

9. Ben & Esther's Vegan Jewish Deli

6663 El Cajon Blvd suite q, San Diego, CA 92115

The once omnivorous turned completely vegan deli serves bagels (gluten-free options too), bagel and deli sandwiches on marble rye bread, and rotating soup specials from its newish outpost in the College area. Or stock up on by the pound items including whitefish made from hearts of palm, chicken salad, and stuffed knishes and potato latkes sold per piece. The Reuben sandwich and potato salad are fan favorites. 

6663 El Cajon Blvd suite q
San Diego, CA 92115

10. Minh Ky Restaurant

4644 El Cajon Blvd #101, San Diego, CA 92115

Generous portions and accessible prices make this City Heights staple a reliable place for affordable eats. Braised duck, crispy egg noodles with mixed vegetables, and barbecue pork lo mein are among the most popular items here. Chinese specialties skew Cantonese style, though you’ll also find Vietnamese options.

4644 El Cajon Blvd #101
San Diego, CA 92115

11. A Chau Restaurant

4644 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

The Vietnamese fried egg rolls from A Chau have achieved cult-like status amongst those in the know. They sell for about $1 per roll. Note: It’s cash only.

4644 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115

12. Lucky's Breakfast

3804 Grim Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

Remember to bring cash for a full breakfast ($6 to $9) and free coffee refills at this iconic North Park diner where proprietor “Lucky” has been cooking and serving breakfast most days of week for more than 40 years.

3804 Grim Ave
San Diego, CA 92104

13. Las Cuatro Milpas

1857 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

Line up (an inevitable activity here) on any given day for well-loved housemade tortillas and Mexican street food staples — think pork tacos and tamales, rolled tacos, chorizo with eggs, and rice and beans. Bring cash, and an appetite.

1857 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113

14. El Carrito Restaurant

2154 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

Find at least five different styles of chilaquiles in this former 1930s cable car turned go-to breakfast spot in Barrio Logan. Most plates are priced under $12 and come with potatoes and refried beans. Pancakes, molletes, tortas, burritos and sopes also make the menu. Don’t forget a cup of spiced, citrusy café de olla. 

2154 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113

15. Spiro’s Greek Café

1201 1st St, Coronado, CA 92118

Coronado-based Greek restaurant Spiro’s serves Mediterranean options from platters to salads and family-style meals. For example, a salmon platter will run $23 and comes with a choice of rice pilaf or fries, a side Greek salad, pita and tzatziki. Family-style meals feed four people, come with sides, and range from $44 to $55; choose the lamb and beef, or chicken gyro; or beef, lamb, or chicken kabobs. The family-run restaurant also welcomed a La Jolla location in Fall 2020.

1201 1st St
Coronado, CA 92118

Related Maps