best cheap eats in san diego, ca

This post is written as a part of ShopMoxie’s Best of the US Series!

San Diego is filled to the brim with fancy places here and there. As a local, you’ll rarely find me eating out Downtown or in the touristy parts of San Diego (I’m looking at you, Old Town). Instead, I like checking out the little hole in the walls for some really awesomely good and awesomely cheap eats.

1) El Comal in North Park
3946 Illinois Street, San Diego, CA 92104

One of my favorite places to haunt is a Mexican restaurant in North Park called El Comal.


Everything at El Comal is made by hand and made fresh – from their house chips and salsas, to their tacos and tortillas and all items in between.


The Sampler Platter ($16.50) is the thing to get if you’re unsure of what you want. You get a little bit of everything here, including 2 mini quesadillas, 2 mini gorditas, 2 mini sopes, 2 roll tacos & guacamole. It is marketed as “for two people” but seriously, you could split this amongst a larger group. Jake and I were stuffed after eating this and a few baskets of chips and salsa.

2) Carnitas Michoacanas in Rolando
6503 University Avenue, San Diego, CA

Let’s keep the Mexican food train passing on for just a tad longer, okay? Another really awesome place for some cheap Mexican food is a place called Carnitas Michoacanas. It’s not really located near any tourist traps of any kind and is tucked away into one of the older neighborhoods of San Diego in a run down looking shopping center.


It is so worth it! They give you this “sampler” tacos first with just the tortillas and meat. After quickly consuming one, you’ll want more, trust me. You order the carnitas by the pound (we usually get a mixture of belly and the rest of the pig) and it includes rice, beans, salsa and a stack of tortillas for $11 a pound.


The delicious and tender meat is simply wrapped up in paper and you make your own little tacos.


YUM. Easily feeds three to four people. So cheap, so good. Cash only.

3) Mandarin Chinese in Chula Vista
945-A Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista, CA 91913

I know that Chula Vista is probably the part of town you’re thinking should have all the great Mexican food (and it does!) but my favorite thing in Chula Vista is Chinese food!

If you go for lunch (between 11am-3pm), then you’ll be rewarded with dinner sized portions at lunch time prices. It’s quite a steal and you can easily feed yourself for a few days with just a few items.


The “it’s like crack” salted pepper chicken wings are the best in town, in my opinion. Crunchy, flavorful, delicious and not good for you in any way. This isn’t a healthy list, okay, people?

House Special Noodles

The House Noodles are also cheap and really tasty with a mixture of beef, pork and shrimp. You will not leave hungry and you will have leftovers unless you brought your mother, father, sister, brother, significant other and maybe one of your cousins along. PS – Get an order of egg rolls. Trust me.

4) Charley’s Famous Hamburgers in Lemon Grove
8213 Broadway, Lemon Grove, CA 91945

This little stand has been in Lemon Grove for over 40 years, serving up really simple food. Sandwiches, burgers, fries, and kabob sandwiches.


Me? I like the bacon cheeseburger, mostly for the bacon. This will only set you back $3.29 so you’re not breaking the bank at all. You can definitely splurge and get some fries and possibly one of their apple turnover milkshakes.


They put these deep fried pieces of goodness…


into that! You really just can’t go wrong with that, folks.

5) Tobey’s 19th Hole in Golden Hills
2600 Golf Course Dr San Diego, CA 92102

Truly the best little gem in town is Tobey’s 19th Hole on the golf course at Balboa Park. Everything is made from scratch and nothing costs over $10. Breakfast is cheap, sandwiches are cheap, and it’s all really, really good.


But best of all, you get this gorgeous view. On a clear day you can see down to the bayside and even across to Point Loma!


My favorite item is the Chicken Fried Steak with eggs, potatoes and toast for $9. Clearly I subbed for their deliciously crunchy tater tots instead, but no matter. Most other breakfast items and sandwiches are in the $5-$7 range. The Biscuits and Gravy ($5) is another favorite when I don’t quite want Chicken Fried Steak, made with house made sausage gravy and freshly made biscuits. No matter what you order, try and snag a table on the patio for the view.

6 thoughts on “best cheap eats in san diego, ca

  1. Great post Mary! I totally want to go to all of those places (Mandarin’s Wings we’ve been to already), especially Charley’s (want that deep fried apple turnover) and Tobey’s (chicken fried steak, here I come)!

  2. yeah this is a great list of new places for me to try. Its too bad its out of my way for regular rotation, but, leaving work I can definitely try a couple of these places, I love seeing charleys hamburger place on here again. I had driven by this place once, but it was too rainy!
    great post!

    1. Hope you get to try them all out eventually! It’s good stuff! I think hole in the walls are my favorite places to try, it seems more adventurous.

  3. Mary,

    Having a list like this is soooo helpful. It’s wonderful to have some reliable recs from an knowledgeable local to help out when you are (desperately) hungry and passing through unfamiliar neighborhoods.


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