Charlie Villyard

Proof it can be done. 

Jenna Scatena
February 03, 2016

Lately, for travelers and residents alike, it seems like the price of everything in San Francisco is going up—from rent to hotel rooms. Luckily, there are still ways to enjoy the city affordably, and when it comes to dining out, there are still restaurants where you can savor a great meal without breaking the bank—if you know where to look. Here are our picks for the best meals in the city where two people can eat for less than $50.

Aatxe

San Francisco newcomer Aatxe opened its doors last year to national praise for their progressive Basque-meets-Nor Cal menu. Modern light fixtures and marble tables give the urban space a romantic feel, and $50 can score you a sampling of their coveted tapas, like succulent Persimmon pork belly montaditos, octopus pipirrana, black trumpet croquetas, and a platter of three artisanal Spanish cheeses.

Burma Superstar

The line queues early at Inner Richmond eatery Burma Superstar, so plan accordingly. Once you’re seated, ideally beneath the heat lamps in the cozy succulent-strewn interior courtyard, start by sharing the signature Burmese tea leaf salad and rice noodle catfish chowder. Finish with other hits, like the braised Burmese lamb curry or spicy Shan noodles.

Cala

One of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, Cala finally opened its doors—and it was worth the wait. The industrial-sleek space features concrete walls and white linen table service that jibes with the upscale Mexican menu by prominent Mexico City chef Gabriela Camara. Start with a couple of briny miyagi oysters, then move on to the squid and ling cod frito mixto. Finish with sweet potato and bone marrow salsa negra.

Mason Pacific

If Mason Pacific were in, say, the Mission, it would have a line out the door every night. Instead this recent addition to a residential part of ritzy Nob Hill is a quiet destination bistro worth seeking out. Take the Powell-Mason cable car from downtown, which drops you at the entrance to this intimate 24-seat restaurant. While some entrees go upwards of $35, the Mason Pacific burger ($15) gets the same attention to detail from the chef as the pricey diver scallops. Swap starters for a carafe of food-friendly Copain Wines, designed specifically for the menu.

M.Y. China

Though it feels like it could be on the top floor of a Hong Kong high rise, M.Y. China serves refined Chinese food just a stone’s throw from Union Square. At Iron Chef Martin Yan’s restaurant, an 1,800-pound monastery bell imported from China welcome patrons to this posh eatery. Fifty dollars gets you the coveted spicy seafood dumpling, two tea-smoked pork belly sliders, wild boar lettuce cups, and shareable Hong Kong crispy noodles with house-made XO sauce. Cleanse your palette with one of their refreshing desserts, like lychee panna cotta or oolong ice cream.

Pizzeria Delfina

Transport to Italy at Pizzeria Delfina, a restaurant that consistently earns rank nationally. The Pacific Heights location tends to be less crammed than its Guerrero Street counterpart, and thus a bit more romantic. Though the focus here is pizza, don’t neglect other items like the warm citrus olives and chilled tripe with chili oil. Then gear up for Neapolitan pies like the salsiccia, made with homemade fennel sausage. Save room for the gelato sandwich of espresso gelato spread between two chocolate cookies—no need to fight, you’ll have enough to order two.

Tacolicious

Tacolicious doesn’t serve the traditional taqueria-style tacos you’ll find on Mission Street—and that’s the point. Their three San Francisco locations serve Mexican fare with an inspired California twist. Appetizers like wild crimini and oyster mushroom empanadas, and the Marina girl salad with avocado and pumpkin seeds, are local favorites. For entrees, order a plate of four tacos, like chicken en mile colorado or nopales and oaxaca cheese, and pair it with a tequila flight.

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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