SAN FRANCISCO – Known as a culinary-rich region, the recession has even impacted restaurateurs in the Bay Area, according to the Zagat 2011 San Francisco Restaurant Survey. According to the Zagat guide, the average meal cost in San Francisco saw an unprecedented decline of 1.6%, from $39.40 in 2009, to $38.78 this year. And the average cost of dining at the 20 most expensive restaurants has dropped 4.4% since the recession started. Zagat’s survey, which was released Sept. 21, includes 1,373 restaurants in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

When asked how the economy is affecting their dining habits, 43% of survey respondents report eating out less; 39% are more attentive to prices; 36% are picking less expensive places; and 16% to 21% have cut back on alcohol, appetizers and desserts. Also, 10% say they're less likely to try new places. Locals report dining out 2.8 times per week on average, down from 3.2 pre-recession and below Zagat's current 3.2 national average.

However, since the economic downturn, 50% of surveyors report finding better deals, 40% feel their patronage is more appreciated and 36% say it's easier to get a table. While 59% of surveyors cite poor service as their top irritant when dining out, the decrease from 66% pre-recession suggests an improvement in the front-of-house.

"The down economy has made dining out more affordable, and diners have plenty of options to choose from," said Tim Zagat, chief executive officer and co-founder of Zagat Survey. "However, the good news for consumers may be bad news for restaurateurs as dining spending has declined. Fortunately, 51% of surveyors are confident that fine-dining out will bounce back with the economy."

This year's Best Bang for the Buck is El Tonayense, a traveling taco-truck fleet (with a brick-and-mortar offshoot). It even bested In-N-Out Burger, as well as last year's best buy, Saigon Sandwiches (now No. 2 and No. 3, respectively). More mobile eateries can be found on, including RoliRoti, Spencer on the Go! and hot dog purveyor Let's Be Frank, and farmer's market stands like 4505 Meats, Cal-Korean Namu and Tacolicious.