EAT LIKE A LOCAL

San Francisco

All you need is $15 and this list

The quest begins at the Mission's Casa Sanchez (2778 24th St., 415/282-2400, $4), famous for a onetime promotion that rewarded people who got a tattoo of the Casa Sanchez logo with free lunch for life. Unfortunately for them, these burritos, while tasty, are tame, too heavy on the beans, and not as good as the homemade chips and salsa.

On to a perennial favorite in the burrito wars, Taqueria Cancún (2288 Mission St., 415/252-9560, $3), where huge slices of creamy avocado are tucked in each veggie burrito and the slightly crisp tortillas are warmed on the grill rather than steamed. But we also discover the occasional bits of gristle, enough to keep this one from perfection.

The burrito chaser's next stop is, surprisingly, in the gentrified grounds of the Upper Haight at Taqueria El Balazo (1654 Haight St., 415/864-2140, $6). The juicy grilled meat stuffed in the carne asada burrito, plus the selection of salsas and lime wedges that allow you to precisely adjust for taste, are exceptional. But we pay twice as much as at Taqueria Cancún, so we must resume the hunt.

Back to the Mission District, where the search began. The carne asada burritos at La Taqueria (2889 Mission St., 415/285-7117, $4.50) are slightly smaller than a foil-wrapped doorstop: Unlike the others, they contain no rice, and the unimpeded power of the meltingly tender and flavorful grilled beef--and lots of it--makes these, for price and palatability, the pick of the litter.

The hippest haunts of the nouveau poor

Now that there are fewer people who can charge hundred-dollar meals on their corporate cards, formerly lofty restaurants have jumped on the budget bandwagon, charging common rates for high-power fare.

At the height of the dot-com gold rush, diners reserved ahead for dramatic plates of Asian-French food at Azie (826 Folsom St., 415/538-0918). The soaring interior of this former warehouse is still glamorous, but now entrées like five-spice pork tenderloin go for $15 to $20 instead of $25 to $30, and the lines have disappeared.

When the sleek and dimly lit JohnFrank struggled serving California cuisine, it cut prices in half, renamed itself Home (2100 Market St., 415/503-0333), and coddled diners with comfort food like macaroni and cheese and roasted chicken ($7.95 to $13.95). Drink specials are an unheard-of $3; make reservations or face a long wait.

At Eos Restaurant: (901 Cole St., 415/566-3063), chef Arnold Eric Wong's creative Pan-Asian cuisine has been the talk of the town since 1995. Full meals still cost a fortune, but you can hit the adjoining wine bar for small plates, such as the signature shiitake dumplings ($10) or prawn and lemongrass risotto ($12).

Stylish: Mission residents sip cocktails at Butterfly Lounge (1710 Mission St., 415/864-5585). Instead of swanky Pacific Rim fusion food, it's now about Vietnamese-inspired small plates such as green-papaya salad and grilled snapper with caramelized onions. Feeling rich yet?

The perfect burrito

Chicago flaunts its pizza and Philadelphia its cheese steaks, but in San Francisco, the quintessential quick dinner is the burrito. We set out to find the best one, risking the wrath of locals whose favorite taqueria didn't make the cut.

The quest begins at the Mission's Casa Sanchez (2778 24th St., 415/282-2400, $4), famous for a onetime promotion that rewarded people who got a tattoo of the Casa Sanchez logo with free lunch for life. Unfortunately for them, these burritos, while tasty, are tame, too heavy on the beans, and not as good as the homemade chips and salsa.

On to a perennial favorite in the burrito wars, Taqueria Cancún (2288 Mission St., 415/252-9560, $3), where huge slices of creamy avocado are tucked in each veggie burrito and the slightly crisp tortillas are warmed on the grill rather than steamed. But we also discover the occasional bits of gristle, enough to keep this one from perfection.

The burrito chaser's next stop is, surprisingly, in the gentrified grounds of the Upper Haight at Taqueria El Balazo (1654 Haight St., 415/864-2140, $6). The juicy grilled meat stuffed in the carne asada burrito, plus the selection of salsas and lime wedges that allow you to precisely adjust for taste, are exceptional. But we pay twice as much as at Taqueria Cancún, so we must resume the hunt.

Back to the Mission District, where the search began. The carne asada burritos at La Taqueria (2889 Mission St., 415/285-7117, $4.50) are slightly smaller than a foil-wrapped doorstop: Unlike the others, they contain no rice, and the unimpeded power of the meltingly tender and flavorful grilled beef--and lots of it--makes these, for price and palatability, the pick of the litter.

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