For this week's Ask the Foodinista, we're responding to a great question from commentor Miles Long. Got any burning food-related questions? Send your questions to [email protected], with "Foodinista" in the subject line.
From Miles: "What are a few of the best restaurants to go for two with drinks for under $50?"
A great question, and an important one in this increasingly expensive city of ours. Thinking about more reasonable dining options feels particularly relevant after the holidays — I don't know about you, but I basically felt like I was bleeding money this year.
Obviously, there's cheap food to be found in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area; that's what taquerias and sandwich shops are for. But when it comes to a "nicer" meal, drinks included, keeping things under $50 can get very, very hard.
Start by referring to the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list for the Bay Area — these (supposedly) all make it doable to have two courses and a glass of wine for under $40. I find that questionable in the case of some of their picks, and when they did these calculations they were doing them for one person, not two.
Also: There's SFist's list of the 25 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Restaurants, which includes places like Nopalito, Bar Tartine (for the chop salad alone!), and Trick Dog the latter of which is currently doing Chinese menu-style combo deals, like four Tecates and four shots of tequila with a plate of Manimal-style fries to share all for $35.
When it comes to the under $50 mark, I'd aim for places, and cuisines, where sharing is both encouraged and satisfying.
Some that stand out for me? Anchor Oyster Bar at the top of the list served massive portions of clams, mussels and cioppino; good luck getting through one of these guys with two people, let alone by yourself. Starbelly, Flour + Water, and Zero Zero all sling excellent pizza pies — sharing one of those with a starter or two makes for a great meal, and a reasonably cost-conscious one. Kin Khao and Dosa absolutely call for sharing, so you can try as much as possible, as do the large number of Chinese restaurants mentioned (Z&Y is a personal favorite; their portions are generous and all kinds of spicy).
Keeping sharing in mind, you mainly need to tread lightly when it comes to the drinks portion of the evening. Wine adds up fast — going for the beer list (or limiting yourselves to one drink each) is a good rule of thumb.
While dinner is doable, eating well at lunchtime for less tends to be even easier. You're likely more inclined to drink less anyway (well, sometimes), and often, menus are cheaper.
I'd be interested to hear from our readers on their picks for high quality, low cost. And, there is always the option of sticking with the truly cheap options in the interest of saving up for a true dining-out splurge.