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The Affordability Issue: Food

As Credited | October 23, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

This story is part of "Live Large, Spend Less," our guide to S.F. for the budget-minded diner, shopper, child raiser, dog minder, and home buyer. Check back every day as more stories become availabe.

The Unaffordability Paradox
How do you afford S.F.?

Tastes Great, Less Money:
Twenty Things Under $10 to Live on for Eternity
—Rebecca Flint Marx

1. Golden Boy’s Clam Slice ($3.75) Between its focaccia-like crust and its generous blitz of clam, garlic, and gooey cheese, it’s a fat square slice of hot aquatic love. 542 Green St. (Near Grant Ave.), 415-982-9738

2. Hawker Fare’s Blistered Green Beans ($8) Nominally vegetables, they’re excellent vehicles for their smoky, spicy, funky cargo of bacon, shrimp, and chili paste. A deeply nuanced dish, this is basically a carnival fun house for your taste buds. 2300 Webster St. (at 23rd St.), Oakland, 510-832-8896

3. St. Vincent’s Pretzel ($5) A pneumatic beauty with a shiny crust and pillowy innards, it’s twisted into a piping-hot Gordian knot that’s solved only by smearing it with butter and mustard and gobbling it up immediately. 1270 Valencia St. (Near 24th St.), 415-285-1200

4. Yo Yo’s Soba ($6.25) This tiny lunch counter is generous in spirit and soba: The latter boasts perfectly cooked buckwheat noodles, cubes of fresh tofu, and a tangle of seaweed, all submerged in an umami-saturated broth. 318 Pacific Ave. (Near Battery St.), 415-296-8273

5. Yemeni’s Falafel Sandwich ($6.95) The falafel is robust in flavor, but the genius detail is the soft-crunchy tortilla that cradles it. Unconven- tional, yes. But you could spread rubber cement on it, and it would still be appetizing. 1098 Sutter St (At Larkin St.), 415-441-8832

6. Bi-rite Creamery’s Afternoon Snack ($8) Roasted banana ice cream. Caramel sauce. Whipped cream. Homemade graham crackers. Definitive proof that ice cream, in the right hands, can be a meal. 3692 18th ST. (Near Dolores St.), 415-626-5600

7. The Golden West’s Smoked Trout Salad ($9.50) It’s the smoked trout salad’s Platonic ideal: a generous heap of fish, shavings of fennel and apple, a springy bed of mesclun, and just enough mayo to lubricate it all without making you feel like a grease bomb. 8 Trinity Pl. (Near Sutter St.), 415-216-6443

8. ABV’s Pimento Cheese Burger ($9) Smaller than a burger, bigger than a slider, it’s a tour de force of umami, buttressed by a sweet potato bun unmatched at absorbing meat juice and blobs of pimento cheese. 3174 16th St. (Near Albion St.), 415-400-4748

9. Los Shucos’ El Shuco Original ($5.95) A mess of Spanish chorizo, avocado, cabbage, mustard, mayo, and sour cream, all wedged into a toasted bun, the Guatemalan hot dog is to a regular wiener what a maserati is to a Ford Focus. 3224 1⁄2 22nd St. (Near Potrero Ave.), 415-366-3868

10. Ark’s Beef Soup with Hand-Pulled noodles ($6.99) Possibly the Bay Area’s best version of Lanzhou-style beef soup, this one comes with fat, silky noodles that lie beneath the surface of a flavorful, long-simmered broth. 1405 Park St. (Near Central Ave.), Alameda, 510-521-6862

11. Devil’s Teeth Baking Company’s Breakfast Sandwich ($6.75) Composed of a buttermilk biscuit, scrambled eggs, bacon, and pepper jack cheese, this gentle giant will lift your soul as it adds 10 pounds to your ass. 3876 Noriega St. (Near 46th Ave.), 415-683-5533

12. Pisto’s Carne Asada Burrito ($7.50) This isn’t one of those bargain-basement behemoths. It’s just a very good burrito, filled with a generous amount of tender meat. 1310 Grant Ave. (Near Vallejo St.), 415-317-4696

13. Tacubaya’s Menudo ($9.25) Available only on weekends, it’s a hangover cure in a bowl: chili-infused beef broth swimming with tripe and hominy. Lusty and comforting, it will warm you from the inside out. 1788 4th St. (At Delaware St.)

14. El Porteño’s Acelga Empanada ($4.50) What happens when buttery, flaky dough is stuffed with Swiss chard, gruyère, and toasted pine nuts? Pure cheapskate ecstasy. Multiple Locations,

15. The Pizza Shop’s Plain Cheese Slice ($3) If you seek wild nettles and lemon zest, keep walking. If you seek a New York slice high on flavor and low on frills, welcome home. 3104 24th St. (Near Folsom St.), 415-824-1840

16. Rumble Fish’s Rumble Fish Salad ($9) Greens tossed with a ginger-ponzu dressing serve as a verdant backdrop for eight pieces of very fresh sashimi. It’s a bright, green, fleshy taste of nirvana. 200 23rd Ave. (at California St.), 415-876-3474

17. 20th Century Café’s Russian Honey Cake ($6) It’s 10 layers, but addition will be the last thing on your mind as you lose yourself in this tower of cake and honey-cream frosting. 198 Gough St. (at Oak St.), 415-621-2380

18. Shalimar’s Bengen Bhujia ($5.95) Fast, hot and pleasantly greasy, this is drunk-food eggplant. Get it with the garlic naan, soft as a roll of Charmin and the diameter of a trash can lid. 1409 Polk St. (Near Pine St.), 415-776-4642

19. Chop Bar’s Eggs à la Cazuela with Grilled Veggie Mojo ($9) For some reason, a cazuela makes everything taste better. Especially these eggs, which bathe in a roasted pepper–tomato sauce that begs to be mopped up with chunks of grilled bread. 247 4th St., Ste. 111 (Near Alice St.), Oakland, 510-834-2467

20. Souley Vegan’s Monster Salad ($6 for a half order) A shaggy pile of falafel, tofu, avocado, greens, and tomatoes is anointed with vegannaise-based dressing. “Half order” is pure semantics: This is a vegan salad that could satisfy a lumberjack. 301 Broadway (At 3rd St.), Oakland, 510-922-1615

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Markup: Fact or Fiction?
The Ferry Plaza says fiction. We’re not so sure.
—Rebecca Flint Marx

The Ferry Plaza Farmers market has a reputation as the best—and priciest— greenmarket in town. But Marcy Coburn, the executive director for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), says the market’s markups are more myth than fact.

“We’ve done quite a lot of analysis internally and contracted out to do it externally, and we’re extremely in line with the other markets in San Francisco,” Coburn says. “The exception is when farmers bring specialty products like alpine strawberries. But across the board, prices for regular stuff like kale or lettuce are comparable to the other markets.”

In our experience, the reality is a bit more complicated: Though we’ve found that prices throughout CUESA’s network of markets are indeed comparable, the best values we’ve seen are at the Alemany and Heart of the City farmers’ markets. At the latter, which is independently operated, you’ll find $1.50 bunches of organic kale and carrots at 75 cents a pound. And the city-run Alemany abounds with 50-cent fennel bulbs and $2-per- pound Japanese cucumbers. So while the Ferry Plaza market can claim top quality, the bottom line is that your bottom line will fare better elsewhere.

Hacking the Mill's $4 Toast:
The math
—Rebecca Flint Marx

1 loaf of Josey Baker Country Bread ($6)

1 stick of Lucerne butter ($1.37)

1 jar of Bonne Maman's Strawberry Preserves ($4.99)

Total: $12.36

Divided by 10 slices = $1.24 per Serving

The $42 Chicken for $23
How to make Tosca's infamous half chicken at half the cost.
—Scott Lucas

Tosca’s roast half chicken is delicious and magical, but it is in no way affordable. When Bon Appétit published the recipe online, we decided to run the numbers to get a sense of what the restaurant’s markup is. (We looked at the cost of ingredients only, not labor or rent.) Using Instacart, an online grocery delivery service, we found all of the ingredients at Bi-Rite (with the exception of the sherry, which came from Whole Foods). Our discovery? Tosca’s chicken is affordable—if you make it yourself.


Half a 4-pound chicken $7.98 (mary’s Chickens organic $3.99/pound)

8 sage leaves $0.98 ($1.99 for 1 bunch)

1⁄4 cup pine nuts $4 (for 1⁄4 cup)

3⁄4 cup ricotta $1.87 ($4.99 for 16 ounces)

About 1 lemon $1.05 (for 1 organic lemon)

2 tablespoons olive oil $0.83 ($13.99 for 16.9-ounce bottle Bariani)

4 tablespoons butter $1.06 ($8.49 for 16 ounces Strauss butter)

4 inches of a sourdough baguette $0.83 ($2.49 for 1 Acme baguette)

3⁄4 cup dry marsala $2.36 ($9.99 for 750 milliliters 365 dry sherry)

1⁄2 cup heavy cream $0.99 ($3.99 for 1 pint Clover organic cream)

1⁄2 cup chicken broth $0.87 ($6.99 for 32 ounces chicken broth)

1⁄4 cup arugula $0.40 ($3.60 for 1 bag)

Salt—a lot of it Negligible


Extra-Value Meals
Restaurants where prix fixe menus will bust your belt, but not your wallet.
—Rebecca Flint Marx

At Contigo, the beloved Noe Valley Spanish and Catalan restaurant’s $35 Tuesday Tasting Menu will get you paella and four dishes, served family style. 1320 Castro St. (Near 24th St.), 415-285-0250

The monthly Eat Like a Chef, Drink Like a Somm series at Stones Throw features multicourse dinners cooked by local all-stars and costs $75, tax and gratuity included ($50 for wine pairings); all proceeds go to the SF-Marin Food Bank. 1896 Hyde St. (Near Green St.),

In addition to its à la carte menu, the very French Urchin Bistrot offers an eminently reasonable five- course prix fixe for $50, with wine pairings for an extra $38. 584 Valencia St. (Near 17th St.), 415-861-1844

The three-course $40 Sunday Supper menu at Homestead features beautifully prepared but suitably homey grub like roasted chicken and an apple brown Betty served with huckleberry swirl ice cream. 4029 Piedmont Ave. (At Glen Ave.), Oakland, 510-420-6962

Each Thursday at Cassava, $33 will buy you four courses of the Outer Richmond restaurant’s low-key but superb seasonal California cooking. 3519 Balboa St. (Near 36th Ave.), 415-640-8990

Put a Cork in California
As far as your wine budget is concerned, local isn’t always synonymous with sustainable.
—Scott Lucas

For overachieving, underpriced bottles of wine, stifle your local pride and look beyond the state’s borders—way beyond. Decades of (largely well-earned) hype and the homogenizing effects of a $23-billion-a-year business mean that it can be difficult to find a California wine that boasts its own distinct character but doesn’t cost more than a 20 spot.

“California is tough,” says Steven Sherman, owner of William Cross Wine merchants in Russian Hill. “Fun and small producers are coming out with wine, but you have to catch them” before glowing press causes their prices to explode. You’d fare better with the old World, where table wines tend to be less overripe and manipulated. For simple wines made well, look to northern Italian regions like Trentino and Piedmont, parts of France like Beaujolais, or northern Spain.

Sellers like William Cross, Biondivino, and the online Somm Select all make an effort to stock affordable European wines.

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco magazine

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