Noe Valley is home to some of the city’s best high-end eating (think La Ciccia and Incanto), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of places to grub on the cheap. From burritos to sushi, this mellow neighborhood has something for every brand of discerning taste bud, even when on a budget.
1. The Matt Cain at Subs Inc.
Subs Inc. may have a generic storefront, but the subs they serve up inside are anything but. Honorable mention goes to the Turkey Bacon Avocado Melt, but for our money, the Matt Cain is the menu’s big winner (admittedly, the name may have something to do with it – Go Giants!). This sammie comes with thinly sliced mortadella, salami, turkey, and ham piled high on your choice of roll. While all the breads are sturdy and tasty, the Dutch Crunch is my pick -- its crispy exterior is a hint sweet and the perfect foil to the salty meat. Ordering with “everything” (lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard, provolone and Italian herb sauce) highly recommended. $7.75, 1300 Castro St @ 24th.
2. Al Pastor Burrito at The Little Chihuahua
At Little Chihuahua, traditional Mexican fare gets that San Francisco dash of fresh-and-sustainable without sacrificing flavor. The Al Pastor Burrito is insanely satiating but also manages to leave you free of that sour-cream-guacamole full that lasts into tomorrow. The (tender, savory) pieces of spit-roasted al pastor pork are wrapped up with rice, black beans, and a litany of other goodies: jack cheese, poblano peppers, chile sauce, grilled onions, pico de gallo, cilantro, raw onion, and that something special: a grilled pineapple salsa that gives every bite sublime balance. Oh, and it comes with chips and access to Chihuahua’s extensive salsa bar. $9.95, 4123 24th St @ Castro.
3. Arctic Char and Avocado Roll at Tataki South
Tataki South is generally an excellent choice because of its sustainable seafood philosophy (they have Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Pocket Guide at every table), and the Arctic Char and Avocado Roll is simple and beautiful, like all sushi should be. No bells and whistles and fried bits on this roll -- just nori, sushi rice, fresh fish (arctic char is salmon colored, milder in flavor, and better for the earth) and avocado compacted into the perfect bite. It's offered during happy hour from 5-7 p.m. everyday for $5, and is also on the regular menu for $6. 1740 Church St @ Day.
4. Warm Summer Salad at Caskhouse
Caskhouse is a newish addition to Noe, and brings a touch of hip to its understated block of 24th. With its warm lighting, accessible beer and wine list, and small sandwiches that range from $10-$12 (the Smoked Salmon is a solid pick, as is the Porchetta), it’s the perfect wander-in spot. When you get there, don’t overlook the Warm Summer Salad because you’re distracted by pretzel bites and chips (also awesome). It’s a gorgeous medley of sautéed corn, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and basil, but it’s the generous portion of fried breadcrumbs on top that makes it a standout. $6, 3853 24th St @ Vicksburg.
5. BLTA at Griddle Fresh
Griddle Fresh is Noe’s hottest lunch and breakfast spot (hours are 8 am-3 pm everyday) offering up egg dishes, pancakes, and sandwiches like the BLTA. That’s Bacon Lettuce Tomato and Avocado – aw yeah. Sandwich bread is toasted to a crispy golden color and then a layer of Gruyere cheese is melted onto one piece. Decidedly un-stingy portions of bacon and avocado (oh, and lettuce and tomato) make up the middle, and the bacon is as it should be: cooked extra crispy, so that when you take your first big bite you don’t drag an entire slab out of the sandwich. Your choice of a fries or salad comes with, and while I’m sure the salad is tasty, I can say for sure that the fries are an excellent way to go. $10, 4007 24th St @ Noe.
Photo courtesy of Sean K./Yelp
6. Dumplings at Henry’s Hunan
At Henry's Hunan, the staff is sweet and the food is bold (though manageable for most palates). But of their dishes under $10, which is basically everything that's not in the "Seafood" section, the dumplings get my nod. They come out piping hot, six to an order, with a warm, soy-based sauce and a sprinkling of chopped green onion. The noodle is just right -- it fights back just enough when you bite in, but not so much that you embarrass yourself trying to eat it. The ground pork inside is succulent, well seasoned and plentiful. And the very best part? They're $5.50. 1708 Church St @ 29th.
7. Spinach Pie at Peasant Pies
This one goes out to the vegetarian readers, because of all the handheld savory pies in all of Noe, this one is my favorite. It’s a simple treat – a sealed crust filled with a concoction of spinach, feta, goat cheese, herbs and egg. The feta-spinach combo lends it a distinctly Greek vibe, and the filling is pleasingly gooey against the dense pastry. Peasant Pies tagline is “The Hand-Held Meal,” and while this may be a meal for the lighter eaters out there, the good news for the rest of us is you can get a second (and almost a third) for under $10 – a Beef and Potato or Garbanzo Bean Curry, for example. Or you can supplement with a salad, soup, or a sweet pie for dessert. $3.35, 4108 24th St @ Castro.
8. Mediterranean Salad or Fattoush Salad at Fattoush
Fattoush’s Middle Eastern offerings are delicious at any price, but for something light, satisfying, and $10 flat, go with one of the joint’s two salads. The Mediterranean Salad includes lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, red onions, grilled eggplant and creamy feta. The Fattoush (the place’s namesake, and a wildly popular dish in places like Lebanon and Syria) has similar veggies, but features crispy Pita croutons that are the salad’s signature ingredient. Both come with exceptionally tasty dressings: Sumac Wine Vinegar and Pomegranate Lemon Vinaigrette, respectively. 1361 Church St @ Clipper.
9. Peanut Butter Cup Cupcake at Noe Valley Bakery
Walking into Noe Valley Bakery makes me feel like a kid in a … bakery. Éclair? Lemon tart? Mom, can I have two? Here’s a tip: Skip the drama and go straight for the cupcakes, and in particular, the Peanut Butter Cup Cupcake. The chocolate icing is topped with a tiny peanut butter cup, so that must be where it gets its name, right? Nope. Cut it in half and you’ll have the awe-inducing realization that it’s less a pastry and more a giant peanut butter cup in and of itself. Pretty sinful stuff, and totally worth it. The bakery’s cupcakes also come in mini versions, so you can try them all – can’t go wrong with the Lemon Drop or Carrot Cake. $3.35, 4073 24th St @ Castro.
10. Pad Kee Mao With Shrimp at Regent Thai
Regent Thai is so affordable, I’m going to recommend a dish with a markup that still qualifies for this column. The Pad Kee Mao is $6.95 with beef, chicken, or pork, but add shrimp and it works its way up to $7.95. I say splurge. The wide, flat rice noodles, veggies, and tail-on shrimp are sautéed with chili, garlic and basil, and the final product is a delightful blend of sweet, savory, and hot – though if you can handle it, ask for a little more heat. But don’t let me limit you: The above logic on shrimp and heat can be applied to any of Regent’s noodle dishes (Pad Thai, Guay Tiew Gai Kua, Pad Se-Eiw) with equal success. 1700 Church St @ 29th.