From hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints to cash-only Vietnamese noodle shops, San Diego is full of legendary dining destinations where you can snag a killer meal without blowing the budget. In honor of these essential cheap eats, Eater rounded up 16 iconic spots which locals and visitors alike have cemented in San Diego's affordable (and delicious) eating hall of fame.Read More
San Diego’s Essential Cheap Eats
From bánh mi and burgers to tacos and tostadas
1. Lourdes Mexican Food
Lourdes and Hector Parra have been serving up their generations-old family chicken soup recipe for over twenty-five years. Known to cure the gravest of maladies, the sopa de pollo comes with rice, chunks of white chicken, fresh onions and cilantro topped with avocado and served with a flour or corn tortilla. It’s a proprietary, in-house family recipe that nobody else knows. A half bowl will set you back a bargain $5.99, and a full bowl $7.29.
While this beloved Japanese joint specializes in classic dishes like yakitori, rice bowls and ramen (not to mention a great late night happy hour from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.), Hinotez also offers a killer breakfast deal. Starting at $3 you’ll get rice, miso soup, chilled tofu, pickled vegetables, green tea, and nori with plenty of optional add-ons for around $1 a piece (steamed gyoza, teriyaki salmon, potato croquettes), and as many tea refills as you can handle.
3. Phuong Trang
The authentic eatery serves up over two hundred dishes, but the phở and wings are its real menu stars. There are eight varieties of delicious homemade beef broth goodness to choose from ranging in price from $4.25 (no meat) to $9.25 (shrimp). While the wings, which come in two varieties: glazed in the house special sauce or garlic butter, cost $6.25 for a half order.
4. Homestyle Hawaiian Restaurant
Enjoy well-priced hearty Hawaiian dishes at this popular homegrown mini-chain, which also boasts locations in Chula Vista and the Sports Arena. Plate lunches start at $7 and include steamed rice and macaroni salad; don't miss the slow-roasted Kalua pig, lava chicken, poke and spam masubi.
5. The Original Sab-E-Lee
Cult favorite Sab-E-Lee opened a larger, still cash-only format shop in Linda Vista in early 2015. Here, people come for the Issan (Northeastern) style Thai curries, noodles soups and famed papaya salad with most dishes ringing in for well under $10. Menu staples include the creamy Pa-nang curry, drunken noodles and salted fish fried rice, but spice levels are HOT so be sure to order wisely.
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6. Minh Ky Restaurant
This one-size-fits-all Chinese restaurant in City Heights is a cheap eats staple in San Diego. The menu is sprawling, with a variety of Chinese specialties that are heavy on Cantonese style, along with Vietnamese options. Soups are numerous here, reminiscent of a Vietnamese or Singaporean noodle soup shop. Portions are generous, prices are low and drier dishes like roasted duck and BBQ pork fried rice are other favorites.
7. A Chau Restaurant
A Chau in City Heights is known for one thing, and mainly one thing: Vietnamese fried egg rolls. At $0.70 a pop, it’s hard to find cheap eats cheaper than this. Pro tips: it’s cash only and A-Chau also serves killer banh mis for $5.
8. Natural Style Chicken
Those in the know come to this casual counter-serve joint in Midway Towne Center for its tender and juicy rotisserie-roasted chicken (and beef dishes too). The perennial favorite, #11, costs $7 and will get you tasty teriyaki chicken on a bed of rice plus a simple green side salad. Portions are more than generous so you’ll be sure to have leftovers.
9. Taste of the Himalayas
Meat-eaters and vegetarians alike love this spot in the Midway district for its authentic Indian and Nepalese dishes, plus daily lunch specials, which include a cup of dal, naan, rice and choice of two entrees for $6.95. Don’t skip the momos.
10. Canada Steak Burger
For inexpensive late-night, full-on meat indulgence, Canada Steak Burger is the destination. Regulars love the gyros, chili cheese fries, Philly cheesesteaks and—yes—the burgers. Why choose just one, though? The gyro-burger combo is another well-loved favorite and the 8 oz. deluxe cheeseburger combo, with fries and a drink, will set you back just $9.49.
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11. Pho Point Loma & Grill
This bustling Vietnamese stop on Midway is open until late for pho, noodle and rice dishes as well as banh mi sandwiches. Menu standouts include the rare steak and meatball pho, and broken rice with barbecue chicken.
12. Lucky's Breakfast
Proprietor/chef Lucky has been cooking and serving breakfast at his iconic North Park greasy spoon for more than 40 years. Cheap and cheerful, a full breakfast will set you back between $3 and $4, while coffee refills are free and plentiful. This North Park institution is filled with a cast of regularly returning locals most days until noon—the only thing to know is not to go if you’re in a rush.
13. It's Raw Poke Shop
For some of the best island-style poke this side of the Pacific Ocean look no further than It’s Raw Poke Shop on Bacon and Newport in Ocean Beach. They sell poke as it should be sold, which is by the pound and with several different dressings. Ahi, salmon, octopus, mussel are usually on offer, and they often sell out before their 6 PM closing time. Plates are also available—word has it the kimchi ahi and furikake salmon are the move.
14. Las Cuatro Milpas
Famous for their handmade tortillas, the Estudillo family sticks to street food basics—rice, beans, pork tacos and tamales, rolled tacos, chorizo with eggs—and does them well. It’s cafeteria-style, cash only with a no frills menu here and there is almost always a line, but fans agree that, for a bite at one the most authentic Mexican joints north of the border, it’s well worth the wait.
15. Tita's Kitchenette
If you’re looking for classic Filipino fare (we’re talking pancit, sinigang, sisig, adobo, halo-halo and barbecue pork on a stick) then head to this no-frills counter-serve spot in National City. Open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, $11 should get you any two-item combo, plus a skewer. Claim To Fame: Jsix executive chef Anthony Sinsay brought Bizarre Foods America host Andrew Zimmern here in 2013.
16. Mariscos German Beyer
This truck serves two things: mariscos and fish tacos, and many think its the best that can be found this side of la frontera. There are raw bar delicacies, aguachile, seafood cocktails, tostadas and battered fried fish tacos, among other kinds, like the spicy shrimp.