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The 8 Best Cheap Eats in San Diego

SmarterTravel

When it comes to cheap eats in San Diego, the options center mostly around Mexican, seafood, pizza, and beer—and that’s just fine. Prices may be low, but the best cheap eats in San Diego earn high marks for authenticity, creativity, and freshness. These are some of the best food stands, diners, and shops in San Diego for inexpensive snacks and meals.

Top San Diego Cheap Eats

Here are nine places to get a delicious meal in the sunny SoCal city without breaking the bank.

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Salud!

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Salud! is a former food truck that got so popular it’s now a busy and fun restaurant in Barrio Logan, the city’s oldest Mexican-American neighborhood. When you’re looking for cheap eats in San Diego, head to Salud! for its daily taco specials and affordable micheladas. Locals line up for carne asada, carnitas, and street-style tacos, as well as beer, vegetarian options, and Mexican street corn. When you’re short on change but big on hunger, order the giant al pastor taco with shredded pork—this super-filling snack is also super affordable.

Las Cuatros Milpas

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If you’re craving authentic Mexican food but can only afford to eat at the cheap restaurants in San Diego, Las Cuatro Milpas fits the bill. There’s always a long line of locals at this iconic Barrio Logan eatery—but these mouthwatering tamales and burritos are worth the wait. Plus, the line moves quickly, thanks to employees who are both efficient and extremely nice. Every tortilla served here is freshly made, and the rolled tacos are juicy and meaty.

Blind Lady Ale House

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Blind Lady Ale House is a festive pub in Normal Heights. Its seasonal farm-to-table menu features creative full-sized pizzas, like the one with bacon and eggs. Quirky and down to earth with lots of craft beer—San Diego’s specialty—“BLAH” is a cool, casual, and family-friendly place to grab an affordable meal. For dessert, do a Batch root beer float.

The Crack Shack

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For good cheap eats in San Diego, head over to one of the Crack Shack’s two locations—the main one in Little Italy, or the second spot in Encinitas. Both are egg-and-chicken-themed festive lunch spots serving chef Richard Blais’s inventive and affordable dishes like the senor croque sandwich, a fried chicken with pickled fresno chiles on brioche; and Mexican poutine, featuring schmaltz fries, pollo asado, and jalapeño cheese wiz. This is a casual indoor-outdoor eatery, and you can sit by the heater if you get chilly. There’s also a full bar.

Carnitas’ Snack Shack

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Carnitas’ Snack Shack is a local favorite with an affordable and mostly meaty menu featuring items with pulled pork, pork belly, pork links, ham, and bacon. There are plenty of non-pork options as well, including beet terrine with goat cheese, crispy chicken, burgers, and a rib-eye steak sandwich.

Hodad’s

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This throwback-style hamburger stand with a sense of humor (“Under 99 billion sold!”) is a great place to get cheap eats in San Diego. Hodad’s specializes in giant-but-affordable burgers, including the “Guido burger” inspired by Guy Fieri—it overflows with pastrami, ketchup, pickles, cheese, and more. Hodad’s has three busy but laid-back locations in San Diego: one downtown; one at Petco Park; and the original Ocean Beach spot, where it’s fun to sit and people watch. Besides the traditional beef burgers, there’s a good veggie burger, a giant serving of onion rings, and grilled cheese. 

Phil’s BBQ

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Down-home, family-owned, and community-oriented, Phil’s BBQ doles out huge portions from its four San Diego locations, including an always-busy spot in Point Loma. These heavenly baby back ribs come with onion rings, coleslaw, and fries. Phil’s also sells a variety of meaty sandwiches, a cheeseburger po’boy, and even a veggie burger.

Nomad Donuts

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These are doughnuts like you’ve never seen—or tasted. The gourmet options at one-of-a-kind Nomad Donut change regularly, but you can expect specialty pastries featuring unique flavors from all over the world, like the dirty chai doughnut and the black currant harissa. The vegan options here are just as delicious and fluffy. Pro tip: Get here early for crullers.

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—Original reporting by Avital Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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