Get your spare change ready: The 10 best cheap eats in L.A.
There are countless affordable taco trucks in L.A.—hell, that’s pretty much what we live on—but the $2.50 al pastor at Leo’s is the budget taco at its best. The small tortillas come with pork carved straight off the trompo along with a sliver of pineapple, and if you stop by the trucks after dark, you’ll also be getting dinner and a show for that price, while the taqueros slice and toss pork and pineapple into their tortilla-packed palms. One tacos won’t be enough, but you’ll have change to spare. $2.50.
Retro is king at Buddy’s, the casual all-day, ’70s-inspired burger and stoner-food spot from the Bernadette’s team. The prices aren’t 1970s-level cheap, but in today’s economy, they feel like they are: Just about everything on the menu is under $10, including combo meals. Our favorite? The classic bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich—here available all day long—served on a Martin’s potato roll and oozing yolk. It’s only $5, but what really makes it a steal is that you can add a cup of Birch Coffee for only a dollar more. Breakfast for dinner never tasted so good. $5, or $6 with coffee.
“Budget-friendly” describes every item at chef Vivian Ku’s Highland Park staple, where Taiwanese noodle bowls, scallion-bread sandwiches and wontons all ring in at around $7 apiece. It’s impossible to go wrong with anything here, but the thousand-layer sandwich is undeniably one of the restaurant’s best—and at $8 for the works, it’s a deal. Egg, cheese and purple basil mingle with hot sauce at the center, while a warm thousand-layer pancake folds around them for a handheld lunch or dinner that’s filling, nostalgic and totally unique. $5 for plain pancake; $7 with egg only; $6 with cheese only; $8 with egg, cheese, basil and hot sauce.
Ramen usually starts as an inexpensive dish, but when the egg, extra soup, wontons and chashu get added, the price can climb well above $10. At Shin-Sen-Gumi, the Hakata ramen starts at $7.75 and comes with chashu, green onions, sesame and red ginger in a rich pork broth, enough for a complete meal on its own, even as a half order. Add-ons start at $1.50, so even if you tack on extra noodles, you’ll still come out under 10 bucks. $7.75 per half order, $9.50 per full order.
It’s not called famous for nothing: This dish is a bona fide steal for those craving finger-licking poultry. A half plate of chicken arrives with two massive, charbroiled pieces of meat along with your choice of two sides: We’re partial to the fresh-cut fries and beans, but other options include slaw, rice, salad and tortillas. You’ll need plenty of napkins, but it’s worth getting messy for. $7.95–$8.75, depending on sides choice.
Cofax bills itself as a coffee shop, which is true—you can get great brew from Stumptown here, along with doughnuts and pastries overseen by award-winner baker Nicole Rucker (whose bakery, Fiona, down the block, is also worth a visit). But the main draw at this Fairfax stalwart might just be its breakfast burrito, particularly the veggie option: Onions, peppers, cheese, eggs and perfectly smoked potatoes are stuffed inside a freshly grilled tortilla, accompanied by tangy red and green sauces for a hefty breakfast that’ll have you rolling out the door—no regrets. $8.25.
Where else can you eat some of L.A.’s freshest seafood with a view of the ocean for under $10? A local icon since its launch in 1972, Malibu Seafood is one of PCH’s top meal meccas for locals and visitors alike. Half market, half restaurant, the tiny shack serves steamed, grilled and deep-fried shellfish, salmon, squid and more, and you can always expect stellar quality (it is owned by commercial fishemen, after all). You can snag fried oyster, shrimp or fish sandwiches for only $6.95, but our order will always be the crispy, rectangular battered-and-fried white fish on a bed of thick fries, with a seat on the top deck for the best view in the house. $8.50 for a one-piece meal.
Sometimes you have to pick a side, but when it comes to all-around cost efficiency, we have to give it to Philippe’s over Cole’s in the French dip war. The iconic sandwich shop has been selling beautiful, meaty French dips at its current location since 1951, where you can still snag the iconic roast beef served on a French roll dipped in au jus. Add your choice of cheese or a side of pickled egg and your meal still makes the under-$10 cut. Of course we wouldn’t fault you for going over budget with a slice of their famous pie, either. $8.50.
Tucked into an East Hollywood strip mall, Sapp Coffee Shop offers no-frills dining with some seriously good Thai-style eats. The jade noodles are a cult favorite: a soupless bowl (though you can also order it with soup) filled with BBQ pork, roast duck, crab meat and thick noodles that never seem to end. Want a nice kick? Order it medium spicy. $9.95, cash only.
There’s a smattering of kebabs to choose from at this Glendale staple—all drool-inducing in their own right, and a few under $10—but the chicken shish kebab is a serious star. Did we mention that it’s huge? The hearty dish features thick, juicy cuts of marinated chicken, a mound of pilaf rice, onion slivers, a blistered tomato and a poblano pepper. $9.99.
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