San Francisco's best Indian eats for under $20

The Chinese food in the Richmond. The Thai in the Mission The Sushi in Japantown. No one can claim that there’s anything even close to a shortage of top-notch Asian food in San Francisco. But Indian is one cuisine that seems to be sorely underappreciated. Filling, flavorful, spicy, and appealing to almost any dietary restriction, Indian also makes for some of the best bang for the buck meals you can find in San Francisco. So we present you with some of our top picks for Indian feasts—all under $20.

BYOB and have a feast at Alhamra
Located amid the bustling blocks around the 16th Street BART station, Alhamra is the perfect place to duck into for an after-work feast—preferably after grabbing a few cans of your favorite beer. The decor is minimal, the service friendly, and the food plentiful. For less than $20, you can feast on a main dish, naan, and mint and tamarind chutney. Order the Tandoori chicken and have the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Viva Goa brings you the best of Indian seafood for a song
With its combination of white tablecloths and casual atmosphere, this Lombard Street spot is a good bet for a weekday dinner out. It’s also the only restaurant in San Francisco that specializes in Portuguese-influenced Goan cuisine; the coastal Goa region of western India is known for its seafood, so you can’t go wrong when you order the mussels, prawns, calamari, or fish—or just get the whole seafood platter. We’re also big fans of their malai kofta, a North Indian vegetarian dish is made with deep-fried paneer, potato, and vegetable balls in a creamy, mild curry sauce.

Bollywood films and two dollar samosas? Check out Darbar
Pay a visit to Darbar on Polk Street and there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter the owner himself—either behind the cash register or as your server. This charming hole-in-the-wall serves up delicious Indian and Pakistani cuisine for incredibly low prices—think enormous vegetarian, beef, or lamb samosas (two of each for less than $4), gingery and garlicky gobi aloo ($7.50), and freshly baked garlic naan ($2.50). Skip the lunch buffet and go straight for dinner. As a bonus, there are always Bollywood movies playing behind the register, too.

Pakwan—a simple and satisfying BYOB stop
With four locations in the Bay Area—two in the city, one in Fremont, and one in Hayward—Pakwan has been a cheap and popular Indian go-to for years. Their 16th Street location is fairly “no frills”—come with a group of friends, order at the counter, take a seat, and they’ll bring your food out in almost as little time as it takes you to open your beer (the BYOB policy is alive and well). Order the chicken tikka boti and chow down on perfectly seared kebabs that are never too dry.

Curry Boyzz offers unbeatable late-night delivery
This Castro spot is colorful and family-friendly with great service, but the real crowd-pleaser—for those of you who live in the Castro or Noe Valley, that is—is their after-midnight delivery service for a mere $20 minimum. What could be better than a hot dish of spicy chicken vindaloo showing up at your door at 2 a.m.? Whether you’re dining in or ordering out, don’t forget to order a masala chai or lassi to go with your meal.

Make a break with tradition and like it at Preet Palace
Indian food… and pizza? Sounds crazy, but hold on. This Fillmore Street spot might not be winning a James Beard Award anytime soon, but they sure do comfort food (with a twist) damn well. Serving up everything from biryani to curries to chicken tikka masala pizza—and open until 11 p.m.—Preet Palace is an ideal stop after a Friday night show at the Fillmore.

Bring the party to Shalimar
At their Tendernob location, Shalimar is a go-to spot for easy and fast Indian and Pakistani food, where $15 will fill you up and $20 will send you home with two days worth of leftovers. Come with a big group, bring your own booze, and order tons of tandoori and tikka masala. You’ll see it all being grilled right in front of you in the open kitchen. Vegetarian? Order the bengen bhujia, like a warm, Indian baba ganoush. Make sure to get at least one order of garlic naan per person, too.

Eat in or take out, Mehfil is always authentic
Head to Mehfil’s downtown location for a tasty work lunch, stop by their Pacific Heights restaurant for dinner and drinks from the full bar, or just make a quick call for delivery—any way you go, order a full meal with rice and you’re still coming in at under $15. From the classic chicken tikka masala to the aloo kulcha to the rogan josh, everything has just the right amount of flavor and spice, making this one of our favorite, most authentic spots in the Bay Area.

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