I lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and the city taught me a thing or three about Cheap Eats. When I was a long haired 19 year old college student at USC, poking around Figueroa and 30th street for a cheap lunch, I stumbled across three culinary firsts that would become life long sources of comfort and inspiration: al Pastor, Jonathan Gold and Mulitas. The place was La Taquiza, and that’s where I popped my Al Pastor and Mulita cherry whilst reading the words of LA food prophet Jonathan Gold via a framed review he had penned. That lunch would become the first of many ethnic eats revelations I would have in my 20 year tenure in the city of Angels. It wasn’t immediate, but eventually I learned the oh so valuable lesson that great food does not have to break the bank. While my new city of Austin has an amazing food scene, and in the past year I have explored 7 cities on the search for Cheap Eats, I do look back so fondly on LA, where a new find is always lurking around the corner and your back up is an old favorite. Here are five of mine:
8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles CA 90069
Formerly known as Ink Sack (and I could care less to ask why the need for a name change), Sack might seem a controversial entry because $7.25 for a rather smallish Bahn Mi seems silly, especially for a sandwich that is known for being notoriously cheap. But for me, Cheap Eats is as much about quality as it is price. And unlike some versions that go for well under half, the version at Sack shows off how good cold pork paired with Asian pickled vegetables can be, when supervised by a high caliber chef like Michael Voltaggio. The beauty of the Bahn Mi at Sack is that you are simultaneously reminded that Los Angeles has world class cuisine that is inspired by the world. And bacon on a sandwich never hurts. Ever.
Marty’s Hamburger Stand
10558 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90064
Los Angeles is many things, but one thing it is not, is a town known for tube steaks, or “hot dogs” for the uninitiated. People line up for Pink’s, which is downright baffling, when they could just head over to West LA and waltz into Marty’s for an unabashedly simple Vienna Beef dog for $3.75, or $4 if you add the kraut(which you should). Going for a hot dog in LA may seem off if you are coming from Chicago or New York, but Marty’s delivers a proper hot dog stand experience: fast, cheap, reliable and cause for your cardioligist’s concern – because it is downright habit forming.
El Ostion Mariscos Truck
NW corner of Union and Washington Blvd (in the vacant parking lot)
Los Angeles CA 90015
One thing Los Angeles taught me about Cheap Eats is that you will be well rewarded if you embrace a mantra to “eat fearlessly”. It didn’t take long for me to realize great LA food moments happen while standing at a bus stop. But hitting up a Mariscos Truck and rolling the dice on almost raw seafood? Yeah, that took me a minute or two to muster the courage for that first bite. But once I took that bite . . . I was hooked, pardon the pun. El Ostion parks it just west of downtown in Pico-Union, and they serve up serious seafood during the daylight hours of their run. The mixed seafood tostada will run you $7.50 but rest assured there is enough octopus, shrimp, clams and crab to easily share with a hungry friend.
Roast To Go
Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
It is downright silly to try and pick one taco spot in LA for a Cheap Eats round up but I feel very confident in giving the nod to Roast To Go because they do something few tacos stand can: fill me up on one damn taco! Their salsa has serious kick too, slowing down even the most determined of eating machines. Notice the third tortilla in the upper left corner, now keep that handy – because the amount of Asada that is served up per order will bring in the need for some back up masa. $3 for a single taco may seem steep for LA standards, but technically you are getting three tacos(they give you enough meat to fill three single tortillas), with the only downside being you will have come back to try the rest of the menu, as this taco is a real deal one and done.
2056 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles CA 90027
With a blog named Bang for your Burger Buck, you knew I had to stick a burger in there. Not surprisingly one of the best burgers in LA shares the griddle with Carne Asada and tortillas, which speaks volumes to the heart of Los Angeles’ culinary identity. Much of the food that comes out of this James Beard award winning shack in Los Feliz has loyal followers for sure, but their burgers are downright remarkable. Hard to believe that in just three years this burger went from $2.75 to $4.25, but I guess we must bear the burden of internet fame and accolades from the food world. Still the memory of this burger lingers: the seasoning is as pronounced as a Steak au Poirve, and the sight of Socorro Herrera smiling when, post burger, I walk up to shamelessly ask for a Cochinita Pibil taco for dessert, is practically priceless.