You just have to know where to go. We did the dirty work and created a nifty compilation of the best cheap eats in the city, permitting broke, starving students everywhere to feast like kings at pauper prices.
C IS FOR CHICKEN
Snobby epicureans criticize chicken as being boring; it’s reliable, lacks flavor and is too “commercial.” But in my opinion, it’s greatly underappreciated.
The truth is that chicken can be succulent and thus, worthy of recognition, depending on who makes it. And best of all? It’s pretty cheap.
CALIFORNIA CHICKEN CAFÉ
2005 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 446-1933
15601 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 789-8056
6805 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles (323) 935-5877
18445 Nordhoff St., Northridge (818) 700-9977
22333 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills (818) 716-6170
424 Lincoln Blvd., Venice (310) 392-3500
Healthy no-frills chain California Chicken Café serves good, simple food amid a plain yellow-brown ambience representing Golden State cool. Devoid of any cheesy gimmicks, their food is honest and says it all.
Their best, of course, is the delectable rotisserie chicken – juicy and tender, the meat falls right off the bone. You may order it in pieces, half or whole; a half plate ($9.50) can easily feed two people and comes with two sides – recommended are the hearty hot potatoes, cold pastas or the butternut squash.
Watching your figure? The Chinese Chicken Salad ($8.50) is popular for a reason: the portion is huge (cheaper half portions are also available), and it’s delicious (this is coming from a person who doesn’t even enjoy salad.)
17410 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 906-0756
1415 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 289-0392
10319 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 558-3168
Universal City Walk (818) 505-0093
1000 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310) 937-6829
Gratify your Cuban craving with the slow-roasted garlic chicken ($8.95) at vibrant Havana-style eatery Versailles, which comes with warm fried plantains, rice, beans and onions that are enough for two. It’ll be difficult, but save some room for the flan ($3.50).
5065 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (323) 665-7842
1296 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 405-1502
1716 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 444-0550
1001 N. San Fernando Blvd, #100, Burbank (818) 238-0414
And of course, there’s the legendary L.A. institution Zankou Chicken that’s forever immortalized by Beck in the song “Debra.” While the Armenian chain serves some amazingly flavorful rotisserie chicken, it’s the to-die-for garlic spread you’ll gobble up, not caring what your breath will smell like after. (But don’t forget the mints!)
H IS FOR HANGING OUT UNTIL 4 A.M.
Jack in the Box may be open, but resist the urge and hang out at one of these late night cheap eats. After all, food is better with friends and reliving the tomfoolery of the night.
5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood (323) 660-8006
12980 Sherman Way, North Hollywood (818) 764-1180
Join the night crawlers, club kids and ruffians at artfully tacky and blindingly bright Sanamluang Café, who are grubbing on greasy Thai fare like fried shrimp cakes ($7.25) and pad see ew ($5.95) as they desperately try to prevent the inevitable hangover.
DAN SUNG SA
3317 W. 6th St., Koreatown (213) 487-9100
If you’re in Koreatown, sip some soju and eat $1.99 BBQ skewers at inconspicuous Dan Sung Sa, a smoky dark dive bar that will make you feel like your in old school Korea circa 1960. The place is ramshackle cool – wooden walls are filled with graffiti, complementary soup comes in a dented metal pot and the restroom décor is handmade with photos of dreamy K-Pop stars shamelessly torn from magazines.
E IS FOR EATING BEFORE THE BIG GAME
LUCKY BOY DRIVE-IN
640 S. Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena (626) 793-0120
Whether you’re rooting for the Bruins or Trojans, the place to eat at before a football game is Lucky Boy Drive-In. Fill up on delicious sustenance before tailgating so you won’t embarrass yourself by being the first one drunk.
Although the burgers, sandwiches and Mexican fare taste better than the average fast-food joint, it’s the breakfast burrito ($4.85) here that’s legendary, and seriously, you’ve never experienced heaven until you’ve tried one. Consisting of a monster amount of bacon, scrambled eggs, cheese and hash browns with a house special salsa verde, it’s undoubtedly big enough to feed two.
A IS FOR ABBOT’S PIZZA CO.
1407 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (310-396-7334)
Abbot’s Pizza Company is probably the place hardcore East Coast pizza loyalists don’t want to admit they like. With a California twist, their thin crust pies are made of bagel dough to give it that extra chew.
It’s also unabashedly gourmet, offering 25 unique toppings to choose from along with a new spicy sauce to dip your pizza in – yum! Order them whole or by the slice ($4) – they’re huge, trust me.
Unconventional creations such as the Cheeseless Veggie and Popeye’s Chicken (spinach, tequila lime chicken, garlic pesto sauce) are crazy delicious. For all you onion lovers, they offer the Five Onion that comes with leeks, shallots, red, green and yellow onions with three different cheeses and an olive pesto sauce. This place is tiny, so just look for a whimsical palm tree on the front door and you’re there.
P IS FOR PORTO’S CUBAN SANDWICHES AND CONFECTIONS
315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale (818) 956-5996
3614 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank (818) 846-9100
Going to Porto’s is a treat in itself – the scent of freshly baked bread permeates the entire store, and instantly noticeable is the vast selection of every dessert imaginable in the glass display case right when you walk in. While known for elaborate cakes and delectable sweets like Guava and Cheese Strudels (refugiado), this bustling Cuban bakery is also a popular lunch spot.
Food fiends can’t get enough of the Cuban sandwiches, especially the Medianoche ($3.35) – slow-roasted pork, ham, swiss, cheese, butter and mustard all on a sweet roll, or the Cubano ($3.75), the same sandwich but with Cuban bread that’s freshly baked on the premises. Also get the amazing meat-filled potato balls (81 cents each) – bet you can’t eat just one.
Not only staking the claim as one of the best eats in our city, what’s even better? The ridiculously cheap prices that you almost feel guilty about.
E IS FOR EFFICIENT
8474 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles (323) 653-3959
2222A Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 481-9954
15030 Ventura Blvd., Ste 21, Sherman Oaks (818) 986-6450
So you want food and you want it cheap and fast, sushi from a conveyor belt at Sushi Mac is as cheap as sushi gets. Let’s be honest – it ain’t Nobu, but the sushi here is actually pretty good and is made at the speed of light. Seriously, my fastest sit down meal took place here in seven minutes.
At only $2.75 a plate, you can order lots of plates that include four to eight sushi rolls, depending on the order. Look around and you’ll notice most patrons order the spicy shrimp tempura sushi and deep fried California rolls.
The spicy dynamite mac roll is tasty; heated with their special spicy mayo sauce, it forms a neat crispy gooey shell on top. Speaking of, the spicy mayo sauce is so good. I’m convinced that even a toe smothered in it would taste awesome.
A IS FOR EATING LIKE AN ANIMAL
While I’m guilty of counting calories at times, I get in touch with my inner piggy once in a while. Live life a little and indulge in some savory, greasy, carnivorous decadence. Get a little meat on your bones and shake what ya momma gave ya.
1 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 282-0140
491 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena (626) 449-1844
Fast food chain the Hat has been serving the best Pastrami Dip ($6.49) since 1951, and the Chili Cheese Fries ($4.19) are enormous and can feed up to four people.
1010 Broxton Ave., Westwood (310) 443-9895
117 N. Victory Blvd., Burbank (818) 563-2211
Even hardcore Philadelphians approve of the Philly Cheesesteaks ($6.75) from South Street that consist of thinly sliced beef smothered in provolone cheese and sautéed onions. Owners Mitch and Smitty are from the city of Brotherly Love, and their bread is flown in from Philadelphia’s Amoroso’s Bakery, so you know it’s authentic.
2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock (323) 255-6465
At a place called the Oinkster, don’t be scared to look like a pig. Slow roasted meat is the specialty at this ’50s style diner.
Yummy carnivore sandwiches under $10, like the popular BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($6.50) with caramelized onions and Carolina BBQ sauce. Splurge and go for the Belgian fries ($2.50), too.
T IS FOR TAPAS. THE JAPANESE KIND
2068 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 444-1432
368 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles (213) 613-1854
An eclectic mix of L.A. hipsters and Japanese speaking their native tongue gather in front of FuRaiBo on weekend nights to congregate in the brown wood and paper-lantern-clad joint for some profuse drinking, good conversation and indulging in unofficial Japanese tapas. But you can’t come here and not order the teba-saki wings ($3.80), which are a must – the very dish the establishment is known for, they’re crispy fritters of comfort coated with spices and light carmelized sugar.
The seabass with wasabi mayo ($6.95) and Tori Piri Kara ($5.25), sweet and spicy fried chicken cutlets, are also standouts, as are the yakitori skewers ($3.80) and agedashi tofu ($3.95). Most of the plates are under $5, but it’s best if you go with a group of friends to keep the prices down and sample a little bit of a lot.
S IS FOR SOUL FOOD
11288 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (818) 980-8450
Those of us not blessed with an obaasan (Japanese grandmother) are forced to go to Daichan, but happily so. Japanese food is rarely considered “soul food,” but this is what the cozy spot is known for – comforting sushi and sashimi bowls, seafood plates, udon and the array of tempura appetizers at sensible prices from their menu so exhaustive it will bewilder you.
The quaint restaurant is adorned with Japanese kitsch, from miniature shoji screens to random sentimental artifacts that resemble a Japanese home. While they serve the quintessential sushi and teriyaki fare you can find everywhere, go for the homestyle comfort food.
Start off with purple potato tempura ($3.75) and stuffed pumpkin tempura ($6) with chicken and sweet ginger sauce – both are lightly crisped and warm on the outside, soft on the inside. The poki bowls may seem a bit pricey ($11.95), but the portions are big and you can choose between tuna, salmon, albacore, snapper and yellowtail.
Finish off with a choice from their tea assortment; the persimmon tea is light, aromatic and divine. Home, sweet home.