The Tenderloin. People in SF avoid talking about it. And when they do, they say, “You want to avoid that area.” or “Be careful when you walk through it.” I admit that I am one of those people, but the past 5 years in the city have given me a new perspective. Yes it’s shady and it’s probably not safe to walk alone at night. But it is also home to some of the best food places that won’t break your bank. I’m talking about <$20 or even <$10 for dinner which is almost unheard of in SF. They’re all no frills, hole in the wall places that make your taste buds sing. These are my pick for the best Tenderloin restaurants.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love this place. Hands down the best, most authentic pho place in the city. It is also approved by the harshest Vietnamese food critic: my mom. I took her here for the first time a few years ago, and when she had the noodles she said: “It’s pretty good.” In mom terms, that means it’s the bomb. They have so many different variations of pho, but my favorite order is #5. Pho with tripe, thinly sliced steak, and beef tendons. It’s the perfect combo of noodles, fatty beef, and veggie toppings. Other dishes I would recommend here are the Bun Bo Hue (the best Bun Bo Hue in the city) and Bun Rieu. They also have vegetarian pho if you don’t eat meat.
Around the corner from Pho 2000 is Hai Ky Noodles. This is a restaurant that is very under the radar. They serve Chinese Vietnamese noodles, most of which have a clear broth. For almost every noodle dish, you can choose the type of noodles you want from egg noodles to vermicelli noodles. My favorite order is the Hu Tieu Sa Te which is a thick beef, satay, and peanut noodle soup. It’s soooo rich and yummy, and something I loved eating growing up.
I come here way more than I like to admit. It’s really small and really easy to miss when you’re walking by, but the food is absolutely outstanding. In the mornings, they serve amazing breakfast sandwiches like the Brekkie or the Deviant. The Deviant is my favorite. It is made with a chicken sausage patty, fried egg, arugula, and a yummy sauce. Literally the best $7 I’ll ever spend. They also have solid offerings at night with one of the best burgers in town. And no matter what you do, DO NOT forget to order tater tots. They have the best tater tots I’ve ever had in my life. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I’ve gotten to know the owner Matt pretty well since they opened, and he tells me they focus on using the best ingredients. That dedication really comes through in their food. The only downside is there is not much seating which is fine since most people get food to go.
#4 Rusty’s Southern: Yummy fried chicken
It isn’t really hard to find good fried chicken in the city, but Rusty’s is just the best in my humble opinion. They get everything right from the well-seasoned crispy skin to the juicy, yummy meat on the inside. There’s really nothing like it! If you’re not in the mood for chicken or you don’t eat meat, they have loads of other Southern dishes you can try. Like the most kickass mac & cheese or the best grits!
This is seriously one of the best Tenderloin restaurants. I am not sure what authentic Ethiopian food tastes like, but all I know is this place is damn good. I always get their lamb tibs which is minced lamb meat seasoned with spices and served with a variety of veggies. It comes with some of their Ethiopian bread which is used to grab and eat the lamb tibs. Yes you eat with your hands here but they also offer forks if you need them. They have solid vegetarian offerings here as well. And to top it all off, the people who work here are the best. The owner is usually the one who serves you, and he’s so kind and attentive with his customers. The downside to this place is the limited seating. I think there are may be 10-15 seats available, so order to go if you can.