Noe Valley Voice June 1998

Bargain Bites to Eat in and Around Noe Valley

By Erin O'Briant

We all want to have our cake (or pasta) and eat it, too. But while just about every restaurant in Noe Valley has good food, some require a pretty big outlay of cash for your grub. For those of you not rolling in dough, don't despair -- there are some places that offer excellent eats for a moderate amount of money (and some where the food is downright cheap!).

The neighborhood's hands-down favo-rite seems to be the early-evening special at Little Italy on 24th above Castro. If you take a friend to dinner between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. (Monday through Thursday), you get the less expensive of your entrees for free. "With that deal you can eat a much better-quality meal than what you'd usually get for that price," says one 24th Street employee who dines out a lot in the neighborhood.

Another beloved standby is Eric's, the Chinese restaurant on the corner of Church and 27th streets. Most of Eric's lunch specials are only $3.95. Even the higher-priced ones are a steal at $4.50. You get the entree, a heaping mound of steamed rice, soup, and of course a fortune cookie along with some fresh orange slices. I hear the medium-spicy Kung Pao Chicken for $3.95 is an excellent choice.

If you're there for dinner, try Eric's Spicy Eggplant for $7.50. This dish has shrimp and chicken in addition to eggplant and red peppers. But watch out -- I'm told it's addictive.

The 24th Street hot spot of the moment-- it's also a good deal and even has healthy food -- is Savor Restaurant. A large spinach and fontina-cheese crepe, with salad and rosemary potatoes, goes for $7.25.

Several locals also directed me to Tien Fu on 24th Street near Noe, saying the big portions of honey-glazed prawns with walnuts for $7.95 are worth every penny. My favorite dish at Tien Fu is the Mongolian beef for $6.50, delivered to my home on those nights when even frozen dinners seem too difficult.

Speaking of ordering out, one neighbor told me her secret: if you order the angel-hair pasta with chicken and artichokes for delivery from Noe Valley Pizza, the restaurant will give you enough pasta to serve "a family of six or two gluttonous pigs." Save this tip for a really lazy night.

If you're on 24th Street and it's Mexican food you're craving, you'll want to stop by La Casona Taqueria. Like most taquerias, La Casona has good, inexpensive fare. I think the vegetarian tacos for $2 or the meat tacos for $2.50 are delicious and filling -- and even when I'm low on cash, I can usually scrape up that $2.

For dessert, Shufat's Grocery on 24th Street near Church has a to-die-for chocolate cake for $1.45 per slice. It's the same quality as the desserts from a fancy patisserie, for about a third of the price.

If chocolate seems too decadent, hike up 24th to Miss Millie's (above Castro). The cafe's melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon roll for $3.50 counts as breakfast, lunch, or dessert. It's not cheap, but it's the real thing (big too) and -- who knows? -- maybe you'll get a booth.

Searching for a late afternoon pick-me-up, I recently ordered a low-fat, currant-orange scone at the Diamond Corner Cafe for $1.65. I was surprised to find that it was delicious and huge -- about the size of the average dessert plate, certainly enough for two people to snack on.

For folks living in the eastern part of Noe Valley, it's just a short trek down to Valencia Street, where the prices generally drop but the food is still tasty. I love Valencia Pasta and Pizza on the corner of 19th Street for a traditional brunch. The place serves up two eggs, home fries or hash browns, and wheat or white toast for $3.25. Or sometimes I get the three fluffy pancakes for $3.50.

My editor suggests you might also want to walk south to Hungry Joe's on Church near Day. Her favorite '50s nostalgia breakfast -- two pancakes with powdered sugar, egg-over-easy, and two strips of bacon or sausage links -- costs $3.35.

Toddling home after eating pancakes can be a challenge, she says, but you won't deserve this meal unless you scale a few hills to get to it.

For dinner, Ponte Vecchio on Valencia near 23rd Street has lots of informal charm, and a cheesy meat lasagna that sticks to your ribs for just $5.95. My favorite part is the silver goblets they serve the chianti in -- you'll feel like you're drinking out of the Holy Grail.

Fair Oaks Street resident Madeleine Santos tells me she loves the Valencia Street Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Saigon -- and she thinks their green-lip mussels for $3.75 are the best deal around.

If you're feeling really adventurous (or really broke), do what I do when my budget is extra tight and my stomach is grumbling loudly: hike over to the Taqueria Can-Cún on Mission Street (where it intersects with Valencia).

Taqueria Can-Cún has some of the biggest and best burritos in the city for $2.75 (including chips and salsa), and you can choose vegetarian or a variety of meats. The store is tidy and bright, and it's fun to sit inside and watch the people pass by on Mission Street.

Even if you are filthy rich, you may still want to try out these bargains. After all, why spend a lot when you don't have to? Bon appétit!

The Voice would love to print your suggestions for inexpensive bites to eat in Noe Valley. Send your tips to our office at 1021 Sanchez St., San Francisco, CA 94114. Or e-mail