Cheap Eats in San Diego

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We all know that if you’re eating on a budget, fast food value menus are a cheap convenient way to get the job done. But after living in San Diego for more than 15 years I have come to realize that settling for fast food value menus is a travesty given all the city has to offer.

Through my research consisting of personal experience, suggestions from friends and online recommendations, I have compiled a list of good cheap eats for San Diegans.

Naturally it would be impossible for me to limit the list based on one type of food, or a geographic location, so instead I categorized the list based on three different food categories: Asian(Chinese/Japanese/Thai), Café/Deli, and Mexican.

Asian Restaurants

Photo from 'nickchick' via Flickr

Photo from 'nickchick' via Flickr

There are hundreds of Asian restaurants in San Diego, but few stand out above the rest with unbeatable quality, food, and prices. Golden Chopsticks in National City is one of the most popular Chinese restaurants around. Famous for its Salted Pepper Chicken Wings and other diet devastating menu options, Golden Chopsticks is a good bet if you’re short on cash.

If you’re more in the mood for Thai, be sure to check out Sab-E-Lee in Linda Vista. Known as a diamond in the rough in terms of location, Sab-E-Lee is praised for having some of the best, most authentic Thai food in San Diego.

It is difficult to go out to sushi if you’re trying to watch your budget, but Umi Sushi on Shelter Island gives fresh, big portions at reasonable prices. Their Chargers Rolls are absolutely delicious and they alone make this restaurant worth checking out.

More on Café food and Mexican restaurants after the jump.

Cafés and Delis

Photo from roboppy via flickr

Photo from roboppy via flickr

Sandwiches are always a good cheap way to fill up. The Hillcrest Sandwich Co. in Hillcrest has quickly become one of the best known sandwich shops in San Diego. Revered for fast, friendly service and tasty, filling sandwiches at only about $5-$7 the Hillcrest Sandwich Co. is without a doubt one of the best cheap eats in San Diego.

Antonelli’s Deli in El Cajon is another Sandwich shop with a large fan base in San Diego. Antonelli’s is known for its large freshly made sandwiches and appetizing bread which will be sure to fill you up for about $6.

If you’re looking for a little change of pace from your standard sandwich, Devine Pastabilities in Midway just may be the unique variation you’ve been looking for. If you can handle the carb-filled meal, they serve their pasta in a bread roll. With such options as vegan meatball and creamy pesto & sun dried tomato with chicken Devine Pastabilities is definitely a good chap eat.

Mexican Restaurants

Carne Asada Fries and California Burrito (Photo from 'permanently scatterbrained' via Flickr)

Carne Asada Fries and California Burrito (Photo from 'permanently scatterbrained' via Flickr)

And now comes the great debate in San Diego, which Mexican food place is best. Before reading on I must remind you that this list is defined by price as well as food and is merely a list of suggestions.

Being an institution in San Diego for many years El Zarape in University Heights is renowned for having good food at good prices. El Zarape is unique to most Mexican food joints as it is primarily a Mexican seafood restaurant, so if you have yet to try Mexican seafood, El Zarape is the place to go.

If you’re willing to try a twist on traditional Mexican food I strongly recommend trying La Torta in SDSU. La Torta is a Mexcian Deli that serves over 30 different types of tortas and the best shrip quesadilla you will ever have. For $8 a torta is enough to feed two people and it is worth every penny.

And last but not least is my absolute favorite place to eat. Alberto’s, or what is affectionately known to locals as “The Barn” in Poway, has the best Mexican food for my money. Their Carne Asada Burritos and California Burritos are enough to feed two people for around $5. Their Carne Asada Fries are enough to feed four people for about $6 and are the best I have ever tried.

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