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Bánh Mì Mỹ Dung
Photograph: Time Out/Stephanie Breijo

The 15 best cheap eats under $15 in Los Angeles

Ball on a budget with these 15 excellent dishes under $15 from our favorite L.A. restaurants.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Edited by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Stephanie Breijo
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Rents may be sky high, but Los Angeles remains a city where you can find great food without breaking the bank, and we’re not just talking about a Double-Double at In-N-Out. While every dollar counts for cash-strapped customers and small businesses alike, we’ve seen consumer inflation drive prices at many of our favorite cheap eat spots over this guide’s longtime $10 target, particularly after factoring in sales tax and tip—so we’ve decided to update our maximum price to reflect that. 

$15 might unfortunately be the new $10, but L.A’s best budget-friendly dishes are still as delicious as ever. From bowls of piping hot ramen to our favorite street foods, including the best al pastor taco citywide (ordered three to six at a time), here are our top 15 L.A. dishes under $15.  

A quick note: You may find that some of these dishes are anywhere from a few cents to a couple of dollars more expensive on popular delivery apps than the prices we’ve listed below. To help keep all of these dishes affordable (and to better support restaurants), we’ve included as many links as possible that allow you to order directly from each spot.

The best under $15 eats in L.A.

  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Boyle Heights
  • price 1 of 4

One of the long-standing heroes of the old-school taco trucks (a.k.a. loncheros), Mariscos Jalisco has earned a deservedly loyal and devoted following. Their signature tacos dorado de camarón, or shrimp tacos ($2.50), are far from a secret, but they live up to the hype with flavorful and fresh shrimp folded into a corn tortilla that is then fried to a golden brown and topped with thick slices of avocado and a vibrant and complex salsa roja. Other dishes, such as the towering, seafood-packed Poseidon tostada ($9.50), are also worth an order, but who can resist filling up on those crispy shrimp beauties? Note: These trucks are cash-only.

  • Restaurants
  • Vegan
  • Lincoln Heights
  • price 1 of 4

Forget the myth that vegan food is bland. At Cena Vegan, generational recipes for salsas and marinades—the kinds of marinades normally reserved for meats—make this entirely plant-based Mexican-food spot home to some of the most flavorful tacos, burritos and nachos around, and they’re all incredibly priced and massively portioned. Vegan food can be pricey at times in L.A., but Cena’s big vegan burrito is $10 and probably wider than your arm. You’ll get your choice of plant-based protein (we’re crazy about the seitan al pastor) and enjoy it wrapped up with rice, refried beans, marinated red onions, chipotle cashew crema, pico de gallo and other salsas. Go even bigger and add guac for $2 because hey, life is short. Looking for another steal? The bean and rice burrito is also gargantuan and only $6.

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  • Restaurants
  • South Asian
  • Hawthorne
  • price 1 of 4
With tax and tip, this dish sends you just over the $15 mark, but the huge portions and flavorful blend of spices, meat and basmati rice at Zam Zam Market in Hawthorne earn this family-run Pakistani eatery’s fiery chicken biryani a top spot on our best of the best cheap eats list. One order can easily feed two or three people, and comes peppered with whole spices and bone-in pieces of chicken (caution: eat with care). Each dish also contains a large piece of boiled potato—an ingredient distinctive to Karachi and India’s Lucknow and Hyderabad. After a few bites, you might feel like your mouth is on fire—so make sure you use some of the tangy cilantro and mint-inflected raita that comes on the side.

 

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

It’s easy to get caught up in the flashier new restaurants and pop-ups in Chinatown, but the neighborhood is rife with decades-old classics—many of which offer affordable and delicious meals at all hours. My Dung is one such spot, a Vietnamese sandwich shop at the intersection of Broadway and Ord with crates of also-affordable fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors to supplement their bánh mì in a range of options. The sandwiches are sizable and only $4.25 apiece, with fillings such as grilled pork (sausage), chicken, pâté, or pork with skin, and they all involve cilantro, jalapeño, shredded carrot and pickled radish on a crusty French loaf. Make it a meal by adding a bottle of fresh locally made soy milk ($1.25) or some fresh fruit and you’ll still find yourself below $10. Just note: This spot is cash-only.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Beverly
  • price 1 of 4

Pull up a tray because you’re going to want a little bit of everything at Marugame Udon, the cafeteria-style Japanese udon emporium that’s popping up all over L.A., including DTLA, Sawtelle and Glendale. The fresh noodles get pulled to order and made before your very eyes, then slid into your choice of broth. Regular portions start as low as $5.50, and even the large sizes of most flavors stay under $15, but the real gems here are the fried tempura bites hovering around the dollar amount, with a half-dozen or so options hitting the fryer at any given time. Pick your noodle bowl, then add à la carte tempura, eggs, meats and chilled accoutrements to build your perfect meal.

  • Restaurants
  • Taiwanese
  • Highland Park
  • price 1 of 4

“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 $8 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. It starts at $5 for plain, but you can add cheese at $6, and at $7 you can fill it with egg. For $8 it comes fully loaded with egg, cheese and purple basil, which 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • East Hollywood
  • price 1 of 4

Everything—truly everything—is flavor-filled and worth an order at Thai Town's Northern Thai Food Club, but the restaurant’s khao soi is the platonic ideal of this curry noodle dish, and at only $9.99 with all the bells and whistles, it’s a great deal. Choose between chicken drumstick or beef (the latter for $1.50 more), then slurp your way through a creamy coconut curry soup laden with flat, perfectly chewy egg noodles. Dress it up with the side of lime wedge, sour mustard, shallots and crispy noodles to add acidity and even more texture. While you’re there, don’t neglect the Northern Thai spicy pork sausage—also priced at $9.99—brimming with fresh herbs.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Little Tokyo
  • price 2 of 4
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Though it can easily break the $15 threshold with toppings, we still think Shin-Sen-Gumi’s original noodle bowl belongs on our list. Ramen often starts as an inexpensive dish, but when the usual egg and chashu get added, plus extra noodles the price can climb well toward $20. At Shin-Sen-Gumi, the Hakata ramen starts at $10.50 and already includes the best accoutrements: chashu, green onions, sesame and red ginger in a rich pork broth, enough for a complete meal on its own. Add-ons start at $1.75, so even if you tack on extra noodles, some corn or some wakame, you still won’t break the bank.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Monterey Park

When you want tasty handmade and inexpensive dumplings, Mama Lu’s Dumpling House is the go-to. The Shanghainese restaurant with Taiwanese influence is beloved for its pan-fried dumplings and its beef rolls, but the most prized option of them all is the xiaolongbao, or soup dumpling. Here you can get 10 plump, meaty dumplings for $9.99; with skin tender but sturdy enough to contain the ground pork and broth, it’s a solid example of the style and a delicious and filling deal. If you’d like to stay under $10, the eight-piece pan fried dumplings are a steal at $7.99.

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

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. The roast beef is the classic, but for $9.65 you could also have your pick of roast pork, turkey or ham. (If you want to splurge, the lamb or the pastrami will run you $10.95.) Adding your choice of cheese only costs somewhere between 45 and 80 cents, pick depending, but your meal still makes the under $10 cut if you’re going classic. Of course we wouldn’t fault you for going over budget with a slice of their famous pie, either, and we definitely recommend bringing home a bottle of their famous spicy mustard ($5.50).

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Central LA
  • price 1 of 4

It’s not called famous for nothing: This dish is a bona fide steal for those craving actual finger lickin’ good 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, and prices vary slightly depending on which you pick. Regardless of your side choice, you’ll need plenty of napkins—but it’s all worth getting messy for.

  • Restaurants
  • Trucks
  • Mid City
  • price 1 of 4

There are countless affordable taco trucks in L.A.—hell, that’s pretty much what we live on—but $1.75 al pastor taco at Leo’s is a classic budget meal 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 won’t be enough, but even with three or four tacos, you won’t break $15—and with seven truck locations to choose from, chances are there’s a Leo’s near you.

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  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • Venice

Try as you might, there’s no arguing with a $3.95 burger—especially when it’s this good. Neon-lit and full of chic clientele, American Beauty is a full steakhouse that offers farmers’ market sides and cool-kid vibes in Venice, but its casual daytime walk-up, the Win-Dow, is a sunny—and affordable—taste of the restaurant with three locations: the original Win-Dow outside the Rose Avenue restaurant, a location on the Venice Boardwalk and a newly opened Silver Lake outpost. It also happens to serve one of the best smashburgers in town for only $3.95: At that cost you can snag a straightforward, wholly satisfying single patty with American cheese, house sauce and grilled onions on a potato bun just a few blocks from the beach. Really hungry? The double will only set you back $6.25.

  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • Westwood
  • price 1 of 4

Adored by Westwood students for its late hours and 50-cent cookies (or three for $1.25), Diddy Riese’s customizable ice cream sandwiches have been budget-friendly, sweet and delicious since 1983. Choose from 12 delicious ice cream flavors and 10 cookie flavors—we recommend mixing and matching chocolate chip and peanut butter with rocky road. Looking for other cheap eats in the area for a meal under $15? Nearby, the wowshis at Bella Pita on Gayley run from $7 to $9.50 and come filled with basturma, falafel, chicken and more.

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  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Malibu
  • price 2 of 4

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 fishermen, after all). You can snag fried oyster, shrimp or fish sandwiches for only $7.95, but our order will always be the crispy, rectangular battered-and-fried white fish on a bed of thick fries—at $9.95 for a one-piece meal and $14.95 for two pieces—with a seat on the top deck for the best view in the house.

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