Cool Places to Eat in San Diego County that Won’t Break the Bank


I hear it all the time…San Diego is EXPENSIVE. People say they want to travel here, but they just can’t afford it. I get it…travel can sometimes be pricey. However, I’ve lived in San Diego for over ten years now and I can tell you with certainty that it doesn’t have to be a budget killer.

If you want to enjoy yourself here on a budget, check yourself into an Airbnb rather than one of those swanky hotels (for often less than half the price, too) and then do as the locals do and spend a nice Summer’s day at the beach. The other advantage of staying at an Airbnb is that you can go to the grocery store and stock up on snacks, coffee, breakfast items, sandwich stuff for those days at the beach or on the hiking trails (both free San Diego activities, by the way).

When you’re traveling, you’re going to want to eat out, though, and that’s where things can get a bit pricey. They don’t have to, though! Some cheap thrills that locals love are of course In-N-Out burger as well as our many taco shops, but if you’re looking for some unique places to have a bite, maybe check out one of these places…

Lucha Libre Taco Shop

If you’re looking for deliciously innovative tacos in a unique, wacky environment, this is your spot. They have several locations around San Diego County, including Mission Hills, North Park, and Carlsbad, so you’re covered no matter what area you’re exploring that day. Try out interesting specialties like the famous “TJ” dog: an all beef hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with grilled vegetables, as well as the Queso Taco with its Super Secret Chipotle Sauce, and the Surfin’ California: a burrito with steak, shrimp, avocado, fresh fries, cheese, pico de gallo, and super secret chipotle sauce. The whole place is flamboyantly decorated with luchador memorabilia and they even have a special booth called the gold Champion’s Booth (which must be pre-booked 24 hours in advance if you want to sit there). Sit back, relax, enjoy some interesting Mexican food and watch classic Mexican wrestling matches on the TV’s. This place is definitely worth checking out.

Lourdes Mexican Food

On the surface, this place is just a taco shop like all the other taco shops in town. However, this Cardiff-by-the-sea taco shop has a secret: they serve the BEST chicken soup I’ve ever had, possibly ever. Sure, you could order tacos or enchiladas or any of the other standard Mexican restaurant menu items here, but what you should really come here for is the amazing Caldo de Pollo soup. This chicken soup is absolutely amazing on a chilly day or when you’re feeling under the weather, but it can be enjoyed any time. The soup comes with chunks of chicken, rice, cilantro, onions, and avocado and is served with a side of tortillas. And oh, it’s amazingly good.

Farmer’s Market Street Food

There are Farmer’s Markets and Street Markets happening all over San Diego County almost every day of the week, and they are serving up so much more than just fruit and vegetables. Every farmer’s market has a section where booths are set up serving up hot street food, and the varieties are endlessly interesting, delicious, and affordable. Here are a few of my favorite street markets around town:

Wednesdays: I often head to the Carlsbad Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons in downtown Carlsbad on State Street, where I’m treated to live music as well as delicious treats such as barbecue, Thai food, and amazing tamales.

Thursdays: There’s only one place in San Diego County to be on Thursday nights, and that is the Sunset Market in Oceanside. This massive street market features a dizzying array of foods from around the world as well as live bands and entertainment. In my opinion, this is a must-do when you’re in the area.

Saturdays: The Little Italy Mercato is a great place to spend your Saturday morning or early afternoon, strolling around a large array of booths serving up amazing produce, interesting products, and great food at over 200 booths.

Sundays: Head over to Encinitas for the Leucadia Farmer’s Market where you’ll find delicious items like crepes (including GF crepes), Indian food, Kenyan food, and more.

Check out this link for an even bigger list of farmer’s markets in the area.

Bull Taco

Ok, so you want to experience oceanfront dining while you’re here. I get it. But one look at those expensive fancy menus sends you checking your bank account to make sure the experience won’t lead you to overdraft. If you want oceanfront dining without the blow to your budget, head to Bull Taco in Cardiff-by-the-sea. It is located inside of the beachfront campground, but my advise is to park on the street and walk over because people without reserved campsites can only park for about 20 minutes. This little taco shop by the sea features picnic-style tables overlooking dramatically beautiful ocean cliffs. Sure, it may not be the fine dining experience you’re looking for, but if you want to do San Diego like a local, this is your spot. If you’re feeling like blowing your calorie budget for the day, try their carne asada tater tots, a unique specialty. If you’re feeling like being a little healthier, they have plenty of grilled fish tacos and salads to satisfy your urge, and everything in between.

VG’s Donuts and Bakery

I couldn’t write a list about fun, interesting cheap eats in San Diego County without giving a shout-out to VG’s Donuts in Cardiff-by-the-sea. Yeah, it’s just a donut shop and bakery, but they have some seriously good cookies, cakes, and donuts, including specialties like cronuts on the weekends (but you have to get there early before they sell out of them). The place often has a line out the door, so you know it’s good. They also feature gluten free cookies as well as a few other gluten free pastries at any given time, making celiacs like myself rejoice when the group decides to head to the donut shop. Head over here for a delightfully indulgent (and very inexpensive) breakfast, or just pop in for an afternoon treat while you’re in town.

This is by NO means an exhaustive list. There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of amazing, inexpensive places to eat all over San Diego County, so whatever you’re craving, you’ll definitely be able to find it here without breaking the bank.

If you’re a local or if you’ve visited San Diego County, I would love to hear  YOUR suggestions for great, inexpensive places to grab a bite!


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