Cheap Eats: San Diego

Budget-conscious dining doesn't have to mean settling for Carl's Jr. or Costco free samples--even if your bank account is down to double digits. Here are some of our favorite San Diego spots where a $10 bill will get you a delicious meal and, in some cases, a few dollars back. (Photo courtesy of Teri Cafe)

Updated: January 19, 2010

Central -- Inland

Phil's BBQ

3750 Sports Arena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110

Napkins, wet naps, bibs, hand wash stations--no, it's not a day care but visits here can sure get messy. For less than $7, you can get a BBQ chicken dinner, a pulled pork sandwich, or a cheeseburger topped with an onion ring and BBQ sauce.

Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop

1810 W. Washington St, San Diego, CA 92103

Its vibrant decor of pink walls, glittery booths, and Mexican wrestling gear make it clear that the restaurant is no run-of-the-mill taco shop. Despite the frills, $1.50 TJ-style hot dogs and $2.25 tacos create a smackdown of a meal that won't leave your wallet in pain.

Tender Greens

2400 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92101

About $10 will get you a simple salad and a dinner plate of ultra-creamy mashed potatoes served with your choice of a grilled entree: angus flank steak, chicken, albacore tuna, or veggies. The hot stuff is flavorful and well-seasoned, making this one of our favorite places in the city for comfort food.


3731 India St, San Diego, CA 92103

Many come here for the flavorful thai grilled chicken, but it's also an excellent choice for standard curry and noodle dishes. For a quick and healthy lunch, pick up a box of chicken or tofu salad rolls for less than $6.

Las Cuatros Milpas

1857 Logan Avenue, San Diego, CA 92113

Everyone has their favorite hole-in-the-wall taco shop, but this Mexican joint in Barrio Logan brings people from around the county for the fresh tortillas, rolled tacos, chorizo and tamales. Be sure to stop at an ATM first--it's cash only.

Devine Pastabilities

3545 Midway Dr, San Diego, CA 92110

First-timers are often skeptical about the concept of a Torpasta, a crusty garlic roll stuffed with spaghetti and meatballs. While the Torpasta will never be South Beach Diet friendly, it's well worth the carbo-load. For $6, we recommend you give it a shot.

Kebab Shop

630 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

They bill it as "California Mediterranean with a Euro-Turkish influence," but all we know is that it's cheap, quick, and delicious. For about $7, have your choice of spiced lamb or marinated chicken wrapped in flatbread with garlic yogurt sauce.

Asmara Eritrean Restaurant

4155 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92105

In City Heights, find a family-owned East African restaurant offering injera (a fluffy pancake-like bread), sambusas (pastries stuffed with veggies or meat), lamb, vegetables, and lentils.

Saigon Restaurant

4455 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

Feast on egg rolls, beef short ribs, giant bowls of pho and more than a hundred other menu items at this Vietnamese spot in City Heights.

Sushi Deli 1

228 W Washington St, San Diego, CA 92103

There's almost always a wait but with rolls at $4 or $5 a pop and miso soup for $1, this sushi spot's value is tough to beat.


3843 Richmond St, San Diego, CA 92103

Go 11am-3pm for the lunch special ($5-$8) that includes an entree, salad, egg roll, and soup of the day. Red curry, panang curry, drunken noodles, and pad thai are among the highlights.

Basic Urban Kitchen & Bar

410 10th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

With reasonably priced pizza and a decent selection of beer and wine, this is a great place to go for a pre-Padres game meal or an inexpensive dinner with friends downtown. Special toppings include mashed potatoes, fried eggplant, and roasted red peppers.

Central -- Coastal

Rocky's Crown Pub

3786 Ingraham St, San Diego, CA 92109

Juicy burgers, toasted buns, beer on tap, and football on the LCDs. For the bros of Pacific Beach--and for anyone craving a burger and a Bud--it's pretty much heaven on earth.

El Pescador Fish Market

627 Pearl St, La Jolla, CA 92037

La Jolla may be known for its Benzes and Beemers, but that doesn't mean you can't find a cheap meal. The standouts at this seafood spot are the fish sandwiches: for $8-$9, order snapper, swordfish, halibut, or other varieties of fresh fish grilled with lemon butter, teriyaki sauce, or the house marinade. You'll also find some of the best clam chowder in the city.

OB Noodle House & Sake Bar

2218 Cable St, San Diego, CA 92107

Grilled shrimp teriyaki, bowls of pho, and pan seared noodle dishes served in a relaxed OB joint. Speaking of joints, the staff elicit smiles from patrons by capturing the haze of this beach community with shirts that say "pho 20".

Ranchos Cocina

1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, CA 92107

Featuring soy chorizo quesadillas, eggplant tortas, and tofu enchiladas, Rancho's is as veg-friendly as a Mexican restaurant can get. But with giant combo platters at $8 or $9 a pop, it's also a friend to your budget.

North County

Board & Brew

1212 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014

It's surprising that more SoCal delis don't have a Turkado on the menu. Maybe it's because they can't beat the ones served in Del Mar--the fresh turkey is piled high with a hearty spread of avocado, jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on sourdough bread.

Teri Cafe

7305 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111

Find sushi rolls, udon noodle soups, and plates of chicken teriyaki at this family-owned restaurant in Oceanside. Be sure to ask about the $6.25 daily lunch specials.

Philly Franks Steaks

151 S Rancho Santa Fe Rd, San Marcos, CA 92078

Some of the best Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks, chicken sandwiches and hoagies served on authentic Amoroso Rolls. And if you have a friend or coworker from Philly, bring back a few Tastykakes to get a smile--guaranteed.

Delhi Kitchen

11975 Carmel Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92128

For about $7, order up a combo plate of entrees such as chicken tikka masala and saag paneer (curried spinach with cheese) served with rice, naan, and salad. Finish with a $1.75 bowl of rice pudding.

Chinex Grill

1580 S Melrose Dr, Vista, CA 92081

Plates of sesame chicken, black pepper beef, and walnut shrimp at fast food prices make this North County Chinese spot a take-out favorite.