(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

San Francisco has a way of grabbing hold of its visitors and taking them for an incredible ride, whether they're dangling off the side of a cable car or maneuvering the steep hillside curves of Lombard Street.

But that doesn't mean they want to feel as though they've been flimflammed every time they get a restaurant check. Unfortunately, the stratospheric price of dining here is nearly as well-known as the city's iconic bridges.
FOR THE RECORD:
San Francisco dining: An Oct. 31 article on inexpensive dining in San Francisco identified Cowgirl Creamery, an artisanal cheese maker that has a location in San Francisco's Ferry Building, as Cowboy Creamery. —



So we went to the people who know San Francisco's 3,500 restaurants best — its residents — and asked for suggestions on how to eat well on a budget.

Our local experts include Gavin Newsom, the city's mayor; Jan Newberry, food and wine editor for San Francisco magazine; Patricia Unterman, restaurant critic and author; and Tannis Reinhertz, chair of the culinary arts program at City College of San Francisco.

Their advice helped us develop this list of 20 great San Francisco meals for under $20, our fifth in an occasional series on getting the best value for your vacation dining dollar.

Bon appétit.

1. Ferry Building Marketplace

Prices: varies

The fog had lifted, giving way to a bright blue sky; the wonderful picture postcard that is San Francisco beckoned. So why hide out inside a restaurant and waste this beautiful day?

We didn't. Instead, we hopscotched our way through the Ferry Building, a historic structure at the foot of Market Street packed with shops that celebrate food. We stopped at every stall that played a siren song: The Farm, where we bought heirloom tomatoes and grapes ($7); the fragrant Acme Bread shop for a sourdough round and olive rolls ($3.30); the Cowboy Creamery for a cheese platter ($12); and the Wine Merchant for a bottle of La Closerie des Lys ($9).


FOR THE RECORD:
San Francisco dining: An article in the Oct. 31 Travel section on inexpensive dining in San Francisco identified Cowgirl Creamery, an artisanal cheese maker that has a location in San Francisco's Ferry Building, as Cowboy Creamery. —



We ate our picnic lunch outside, with views of Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge — postcard perfect.

We loved: the variety and location.

We didn't love: scoring a place to park.

Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building; , http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

2. Il Cane Rosso