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San Diego's Essential Cheap Eats

From bánh mi and bibimbap to tacos and tostadas

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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.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Las Cuatro Milpas

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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.

The Original Sab-E-Lee

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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

TJ Oyster Bar

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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.

Homestyle Hawaiian

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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.

Lucky's Golden Phenix

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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.

Pho Point Loma

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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.

Phuong Trang

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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.

Natural Style Chicken

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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.

Hodad's

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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.

Saigon Sandwiches

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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!

V.G. Donut & Bakery

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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.

Lourdes Mexican Food

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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.

Tita's Kitchenette

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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.

Embargo Grill

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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.

Hinotez

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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.

Taste of The Himalayas

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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.

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

The Original Sab-E-Lee

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.

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

TJ Oyster Bar

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.

Homestyle Hawaiian

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.

Lucky's Golden Phenix

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.

Pho Point Loma

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.

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.

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.

Hodad's

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.

Saigon Sandwiches

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!

V.G. Donut & Bakery

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.

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 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.

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.

Embargo Grill

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.

Hinotez

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.