5 places to get kick-ass ethnic food on the cheap in San Francisco


San Francisco may be known as a playground for the rich, with endless fine dining options and Michelin starred restaurants and ridiculous $20 valet parking and $10 beers. But never fear, there are also places to eat for the proletariat class, too. Some of my favorite eateries in the city are ethnic, and offer amazing, flavorful food for under $15 per person.

Oasis Grill - Financial District
If you like some spice in your life, check out the chicken shawarma at Oasis. I've ordered this delicious wrap many a time, and usually end up with a trail of sauce and juice down the front of my jacket. A spicy shawarma is swathed in red sauce, then stuffed inside a lavash wrap with lettuce, tomato and an amazing house garlic sauce. I think this wrap is heaven, but I also hear the falafel is extraordinary.

Pakwan - Mission
Pakwan is where you go if you don't mind a crowd and love some cheap Indian food. Every time I've been to this bustling little restaurant, I wait in a long line to order then fight for a table. But trust me: it's worth it. I'm in love with the vegetarian fare here. Every dish is flavorful and kicks the pants off most high-end restaurants and their teeny tiny servings. Try the Saag Dal, a delectable mix of spinach and lentils, the Chana Masala, which is chickpeas in a spicy sauce, or Mirch Salan, roast pepper curry with a little tamarind. An added bonus? This joint is BYOB so sip on whatever cheap beer you want while waiting for your order.

Nara Sushi - Polk Street
I couldn't believe my eyes when I first strolled into this nondescript sushi place on busy Polk street, lured in by the happy hour sign. $1 nigiri and $2 sake seemed too good to be true, but I was impressed with the quality of the fish and the friendliness of the staff. If you want to spend a little more at Nara, the Swamp Roll and Rainbow Roll are two of my favorites. I love finding affordable, delicious sushi in the city!

Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen - Tenderloin
At first, I was skeptical to try this Ethiopian joint in a sketchy part of town in San Francisco, but I was pleasantly surprised. The tiny spot only has a few tables, and is run by a cheerful Ethiopian family. I also love the vegetarian food here at Tadu. Try the Alicha Tikil Gomen, which is fresh cabbage, potatoes and carrots cooked with onion, turmeric and garlic. The Vegetable Melody (also kick-ass) includes mushrooms or eggplant stir-fried with peppers, jalapeno and berbere. My taste buds were totally blown away and I can't wait to go back.

Lucca Deli - Marina
The line at Lucca sucked, let me tell you, but in the end, I was soothed by my incredible sandwich. I had the Caggiano, a mouth-watering combination of house baked ham with Swiss cheese, mayo, honey mustard and cole slaw on an Acme Ciabatta. I asked for the hot pepper sauce, which took it up a notch further. Yes, the cramped quarters can get annoying, as can Chestnut street, but this sandwich is everything.

I'm glad I've found these small spots in San Francisco that let me enjoy the amazing food this city has to offer without breaking the bank. With a little digging, you could also come up with some sumptuous treats.

Kristin Hanes is a writer and frugal adventurer who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. She's frequently published in SF Gate. Follow her on Twitter @KristinHanes