clock menu more-arrow no yes

San Diego's Essential Cheap Eats

From bánh mi and bibimbap to tacos and tostadas

View as Map

From hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints to cash-only cafés, 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 tasty) eating hall of fame.

Did your favorite affordable filling stop not make the list? Let us know in the comments.

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

1. Las Cuatro Milpas

Copy Link
1875 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 234-4460

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 the most authentic Mexican joint north of the border, it’s well worth the wait.

2. The Original Sab-E-Lee

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

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.

http://originalsab-e-lee.webs.com

3. TJ Oyster Bar

Copy Link
4246 Bonita Rd
Bonita, CA 91902
(619) 267-4577
Visit Website

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, TJ’s is one of the few places in San Diego to offer delicious 99-cent tacos all day, every day. While this popular, and highly affordable, hole-in-the-wall serves up traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican fare, including oysters, shrimp and whole fish too, it's the tacos that people line up for.

4. Homestyle Hawaiian

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

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 and spam masubi.

5. Lucky's Golden Phenix

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

Proprietor/chef Lucky has been cooking and serving breakfast at his iconic North Park ‘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.

6. Pho Point Loma

Copy Link
2788 Midway Dr
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 226-6502
Visit Website

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.

7. Phuong Trang

Copy Link
4170 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 568-6750
Visit Website

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.

8. Natural Style Chicken

Copy Link
3944 W Point Loma Blvd Ste J
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 223-9887
Visit Website

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. Hodad's

Copy Link
5010 Newport Ave
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 224-4623
Visit Website

Tourists and San Diegans alike line up on Newport for the juicy burgers, towering baskets of "frings" (onion rings and fries) and creamy milkshakes at this iconic sticker-covered dining room. Prices range from $4.25 for a mini hamburger to $14.75 for the popular bacon double cheeseburger.

10. Saigon Sandwiches

Copy Link
4133 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105
(619) 284-3034
Visit Website

In addition to doubling as a grocery store for Vietnamese cooking items this mom-and-pop shop is up there with the best banh mi in San Diego. Saigon’s sandwiches run around $4.50 with the barbecue pork being a top seller. Parking can be tough so phone ahead for pick up. Bonus Fact: buy two banh mi get one free!

11. V.G. Donut & Bakery

Copy Link
106 Aberdeen Dr
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007
(760) 753-2400
Visit Website

A purveyor of fine baked goods since 1969, locals flock to this Cardiff institution for the “very good” cookies, cakes and pastries within but it’s the donuts that really keep lines out the door. The from-scratch creations (85 – 95 cents) are fresh, delicious and highly addictive. Look out for seasonal flavors (red velvet, pumpkin) or try a ‘doissant’ aka a donut-croissant hybrid in the ‘cronut’ style.

12. Lourdes Mexican Food

Copy Link
615 W El Norte Pkwy
Escondido, CA 92026
(760) 746-1389
Visit Website

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 this abuelita–approved ‘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. A half bowl will set you back a bargain $5.99, and a full bowl $7.29.

13. Tita's Kitchenette

Copy Link
2720 E Plaza Blvd
National City, CA 91950
(619) 472-5801
Visit Website

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.

14. Embargo Grill

Copy Link
3960 W Point Loma Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 786-7522
Visit Website

If Caribbean food is your jam – we’re talking classic Cubano sandwich, Ropa Vieja Dip and Creole picadillo with chimichurri sauce for under $8 – head to this Midway Towne Center gem. For dessert, don’t miss the Maduras Foster – caramelized plantains, vanilla ice cream and rum sauce with toasted coconut. Enjoy reduce priced appetizers during happy hour too, every Monday through Friday between 3 - 5 p.m.

15. Hinotez

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

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.

16. Taste of The Himalayas

Copy Link
3185 Midway Dr
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 866-6922
Visit Website

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.

1. Las Cuatro Milpas

1875 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

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 the most authentic Mexican joint north of the border, it’s well worth the wait.

1875 Logan Ave
San Diego, CA 92113

2. The Original Sab-E-Lee

6925 Linda Vista Rd Ste B, San Diego, CA 92111
http://originalsab-e-lee.webs.com

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.

6925 Linda Vista Rd Ste B
San Diego, CA 92111

3. TJ Oyster Bar

4246 Bonita Rd, Bonita, CA 91902

Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, TJ’s is one of the few places in San Diego to offer delicious 99-cent tacos all day, every day. While this popular, and highly affordable, hole-in-the-wall serves up traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican fare, including oysters, shrimp and whole fish too, it's the tacos that people line up for.

4246 Bonita Rd
Bonita, CA 91902

4. Homestyle Hawaiian

7524 Mesa College Dr, San Diego, CA 92111

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 and spam masubi.

7524 Mesa College Dr
San Diego, CA 92111

5. Lucky's Golden Phenix

3804 Grim Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

Proprietor/chef Lucky has been cooking and serving breakfast at his iconic North Park ‘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.

3804 Grim Ave
San Diego, CA 92104

6. Pho Point Loma

2788 Midway Dr, San Diego, CA 92110

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.

2788 Midway Dr
San Diego, CA 92110

7. Phuong Trang

4170 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

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.

4170 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111

8. Natural Style Chicken

3944 W Point Loma Blvd Ste J, San Diego, CA 92110

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.

3944 W Point Loma Blvd Ste J
San Diego, CA 92110

9. Hodad's

5010 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107

Tourists and San Diegans alike line up on Newport for the juicy burgers, towering baskets of "frings" (onion rings and fries) and creamy milkshakes at this iconic sticker-covered dining room. Prices range from $4.25 for a mini hamburger to $14.75 for the popular bacon double cheeseburger.

5010 Newport Ave
San Diego, CA 92107

10. Saigon Sandwiches

4133 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92105

In addition to doubling as a grocery store for Vietnamese cooking items this mom-and-pop shop is up there with the best banh mi in San Diego. Saigon’s sandwiches run around $4.50 with the barbecue pork being a top seller. Parking can be tough so phone ahead for pick up. Bonus Fact: buy two banh mi get one free!

4133 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92105

11. V.G. Donut & Bakery

106 Aberdeen Dr, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007

A purveyor of fine baked goods since 1969, locals flock to this Cardiff institution for the “very good” cookies, cakes and pastries within but it’s the donuts that really keep lines out the door. The from-scratch creations (85 – 95 cents) are fresh, delicious and highly addictive. Look out for seasonal flavors (red velvet, pumpkin) or try a ‘doissant’ aka a donut-croissant hybrid in the ‘cronut’ style.

106 Aberdeen Dr
Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007

12. Lourdes Mexican Food

615 W El Norte Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92026

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 this abuelita–approved ‘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. A half bowl will set you back a bargain $5.99, and a full bowl $7.29.

615 W El Norte Pkwy
Escondido, CA 92026

13. Tita's Kitchenette

2720 E Plaza Blvd, National City, CA 91950

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.

2720 E Plaza Blvd
National City, CA 91950

14. Embargo Grill

3960 W Point Loma Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110

If Caribbean food is your jam – we’re talking classic Cubano sandwich, Ropa Vieja Dip and Creole picadillo with chimichurri sauce for under $8 – head to this Midway Towne Center gem. For dessert, don’t miss the Maduras Foster – caramelized plantains, vanilla ice cream and rum sauce with toasted coconut. Enjoy reduce priced appetizers during happy hour too, every Monday through Friday between 3 - 5 p.m.

3960 W Point Loma Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110

15. Hinotez

7947 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

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.

7947 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111

Related Maps

16. Taste of The Himalayas

3185 Midway Dr, San Diego, CA 92110

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.

3185 Midway Dr
San Diego, CA 92110

Related Maps