Maybe you’ve been trying to cut back on spending recently, or you’re just not in the mood to spend half a car payment’s worth on dinner tonight. Either way, you don’t have to settle for scrambling that three-month-old egg you found wedged in the back of your fridge and calling it a well-balanced meal. Fortunately, there are still lots of great options for affordable takeout and delivery in San Francisco and the East Bay. At these 23 spots, you can get lunch or dinner - all for less than $20.
After finally paying off ten months of MUNI citations, we’re - how do we say this - learning to live frugally. But despite the hundreds of dollars that were just removed from our bank account, we can still enjoy one of the best sandwiches in the city. The subs at this family-run Richmond cafe cost around $10, and are made with everything from hot pastrami brisket to meatballs covered in house-made marinara. But we like the turkey cranberry - a hoagie that comes with a generous swath of their house-made garlic aioli. It’s $9.40, and deserves its own holiday. All three locations of Lou’s (they also have outposts on the Embarcadero and the Outer Sunset) are available for takeout and delivery.
The Vietnamese banh mi spot is a Tenderloin institution. The French rolls are ridiculously soft, and the ones filled with sardines soaked in a spicy, rich tomato sauce should be on the shortlist of every self-respecting sandwich enthusiast. Especially since each sub costs $4, which is less than two hours of parking on Chestnut St. Maybe we should have led with that? Saigon Sandwich is cash-only and available for takeout. Call 415-474-5698 or pick-up in store.
Three Star Restaurant
Three Star Restaurant in the Outer Sunset makes our favorite bao in the city - both the barbecue pork bun, and the sweet, creamy egg custard bun are fantastic - and 90 cents each. And even if you’re this close to starting a shrinky dink shop on Etsy as a new source of income, stock your fridge with a few bags of them ($2.70 for three buns) to warm up later. And heads-up, this place is cash-only. Call 415-566-7177 to order ahead for pick-up.
You spent an ungodly amount of money to have your Nintendo Switch expedited so you can play Animal Crossing, but you’re craving pasta and don’t want to max out your credit line (again). Order from The Italian Homemade Company, our go-to spot for meaty bolognese. They’re selling it - and all of their pasta dishes - for around $13. You can also get fresh pasta and tubs of sauces to make at home ($10.50 for 16 ounces). They’re open at all of their locations (North Beach, Cow Hollow, Hayes Valley, Berkeley) for pick-up and delivery. Order online.
This casual Japanese restaurant has everything from udon to potato croquette sandwiches - but you’re here for the curries. For $11, you’ll get a massive plate of white rice paired with a protein of your choice, like chicken katsu, onion-ginger pork, or fried oysters. You’ll also get an Olympic pool-sized container of their gravy-like curry sauce - a.k.a. exactly the kind of soul-saving food you want while mulling over deep quarantine questions: “Did I really need to order that hotel-quality bathrobe?” and “How would one break into the feet pictures business, hypothetically?” Volcano Curry is available for takeout and delivery. Call 415-752-7671 to order.
If you like garlic noodles and have $12 to spare, then it’s time to order from Perilla. Even if you don’t like garlic noodles or have $12 to spare, then sell some non-essential belongings (perhaps the Nintendo Wii you bought on impulse?) because you need to order from here. This small Vietnamese restaurant in the Inner Sunset combines fresh, chewy egg noodles with a holy mixture of butter, garlic, and oyster sauce, and serves them with five-spice chicken, charbroiled pork chops, and deep-fried Imperial rolls. All three of Perilla’s locations (they’re also in Hayes Valley and Union Square) are available for takeout and delivery.
Panchita's Pupuseria Restaurant #2
We always have a hard time choosing which type of pupusa to order from this Mission pupuseria, because all of the fillings are great. So allow us to make your decision easier - get a loroco, a revuelta, and one plain cheese, all for $11. Call 415-431-4232 to place an order.
The Yellow Submarine
This Inner Sunset sandwich shop has been around since the ’70s, and is where we go to get giant Boston-style hoagies. Specifically, a steak and cheese sub. Less of a submarine and more of a full-blown tank, this gigantic sandwich comes with shredded beef, grilled onions, bell peppers, and melted cheese on a freshly-baked sourdough roll. It’s $10.59 for a large, which is probably as close to larceny without, you know, breaking the law. Yellow Submarine is cash-only and open for takeout. Call 415-681-5652 to place an order.
Rooster & Rice
This casual Thai restaurant is easily one of the best lunch spots in the city. And that’s because, much like trying to cut your own bangs in quarantine, Rooster & Rice is laser-focused on one thing: making incredible khao mun gai. For $12, you’ll get a bowl loaded with poached white chicken, cucumbers, and cilantro, drizzled in a fresh chili-ginger sauce and served over jasmine rice, plus a little cup of chicken broth on the side. All five Rooster & Rice locations are available for takeout and delivery.
So, it happened. You accidentally spent a not-insignificant part of your paycheck on Cameos from Hairspray actress Nikki Blonsky. And while there’s no use beating yourself up about it now (mostly because Cameo doesn’t offer refunds), you can at least make sure your next meal won’t leave you overdrafted by placing an order at Underdogs. Nothing at this Inner Sunset spot costs more than $16, like the carne asada quesadillas, elotes con queso, and huge, Mission-style burritos. Call 415-566-8700 or order online.
The burritos at this Mission taqueria are longer and thinner than most of the burritos in the city. But we’re not complaining as they’re exceptional. Order a grilled chicken or carnitas super burrito to-go. The meat is perfectly cooked every time, and they come with a generous heap of guacamole and sour cream. This is the Mission-style burrito of your dreams. Call 415-641-7209 to place an order.
We may not be able to see our friends, or say we have a cavity-free mouth (don’t ask), but at least we can order from Golden Boy Pizza. After a brief closure, the prodigal son of North Beach is now offering all of their signature Sicilian-style slices that are part doughy focaccia and part gooey cheese topped pepperoni, sausage, and clam and garlic sauce. These are some of the best pies in town, and at $4-ish a slice (or $50 for a sheet of 12), it’s also one of the best deals in the city. Call 415-982-9738 to order.
The Square Pie Guys have started making Nashville-style fried chicken sandwiches out of their SoMa pizza place. So if you’re craving crispy, juicy fried things (for us, that craving is all the time), order the Calabria sandwich ($14) from Hetchy’s Hots. It’s topped with pickles, peppers, and a lemon aioli we’d happily drink out of a glass. Order online for pick-up or delivery.
We thought we’d use this time to pocket the money we’d usually spend on going out, but unfortunately, we can’t resist the pull of online shopping (we really needed all those tie-dye sweatshirts and handcrafted ceramic sets). In other words, our dinner budget may be overdrawn. Don’t resign yourself to throwing taco seasoning on top of a near-moldy tortilla and calling it dinner yet. Cholita Linda’s baja fish tacos are huge, filling, and will run you $3.50 each. But their lechon sandwich is Cholita’s dark horse - stuffed with juicy pulled pork, a thick slab of roasted sweet potato, and slathered in a house aioli. It’s $10.65 and a must-order every time. Call 510-594-7610 to place an order for pick-up, or use the apps for delivery.
One of our favorite sushi spots in Oakland has always been a serious takeout operation, and they’re continuing to serve excellent sushi, karaage, and seaweed salad to-go for lunch (11-2pm) and dinner (5-8pm). And if you’re willing to go over your $20 budget, get the sashimi Chef’s Special - it’s 10 pieces for $23. Place an order by calling 510-653-4643.
We did the calculations, and according to our very accurate, very scientific formula, we found that having a massive bowl of Monster Pho’s beef pho is just as effective as therapy - and cheaper, too. So order one and contemplate what going through your ex’s Twitter likes really says about you over tender brisket and broth. Or order their chewy, sweet green pandan waffle topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream - we hear it can help analyze the subtext behind your ex’s tweet about “finally feeling free.” They’re open at both of their locations (Oakland and Emeryville) for pick-up and delivery.
This Vietnamese cafe in Oakland Chinatown is one of our go-to spots for flavorful, fresh grilled pork banh mi. And they’re still offering our favorite deal in town: four banh mi for the price of three ($15). We did the math (we know, it’s been a while, but we can still do it), and that means you’ll be left with extra cash for that electric head massager that’s been popping up on your Instagram feed for months. You win this round, targeted ads. Call 510-465-3522 to order.
If breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, then let us gently encourage you to put down that brown banana (please, just end its misery and throw it in the green bin already - or at least make it into banana bread), and order Beauty’s Montreal-style everything bagels - they’re chewy, crispy, and basically perfect. You can get half a dozen for $11.50, and an 8 oz. tub of cream cheese for $5.50. If you want a more complete breakfast spread, get a quarter-pound of lox for $11. Order online for pick-up on Saturdays.
High Peaks Kitchen
Maybe you just ordered a large potted fern named Samantha to keep yourself company. Or you caved and bought a Le Creuset so your sourdough loaf might actually rise for once. First, congrats. And second, if you’re still trying to order some great takeout without having to dip into your 401k savings, order from High Peaks on College Ave. in Oakland. The chicken korma and curries are rich and packed with flavor, the garlic naan is fluffy, and we’d take a bath in their yellow daal if we could. Order online for pick-up or delivery.
If you’re looking for a smarter way to spend $10, cancel your Tinder Plus subscription and get the dragon roll from Manpuku. It’s our favorite roll there, and comes stuffed with shrimp tempura and crab, and topped with avocado and super-soft unagi. Call 510-848-2536 to place an order for pick-up.
If you want to do one thing right today (besides recreating Girl with a Pearl Earring in your living room), order the fried chicken with the garlic miso dry seasoning from Aburaya. For $9, you get four big pieces, rice, cabbage, and miso ranch dressing. And because nothing beats fried things, throw in a side of tater tots for $5 - it comes topped with barbecue sauce, aioli, katsuo bushi, and nori.
Tacos El Novillo
In our pre-quarantine days, Tacos El Novillo was the late-night spot for crispy carnitas burritos after a night of bar-hopping in Uptown Oakland on a First Friday. And since we can no longer spend those evenings counting quarters at Emporium before ending up at this Fruitvale truck at 2am, we’ll settle for picking up their huge $10 burrito and having it with a handle of tequila alone on the couch.
We always used to make time to grab lunch or dinner at Al-Maida, the excellent Pakistani restaurant inside a North Oakland corner store. Their vegetable samosas (two for $2.50) are perfectly crispy every time, and each fluffy garlic naan is bigger than your face (one order is $2, and comes with four naan). They also make some of the best palak paneer ($7.99) in the city. You’ll be planning your next takeout order before you pick-up this one.