Mike Ciriaco and Michelle McCarthy
You may be on a tight budget, but you still need to eat! Los Angeles has a plethora of great dining options that won’t empty your wallet, whether you’re on your own, planning a dinner date or hitting the town with a group of friends.
They make these little appetizers all over South America—think of them as Latin Hot Pockets, except not trashy. These happen to be of the Argentine persuasion. Empanadas are the perfect quick fix for hunger, whether you’re on the go or have time to eat in. At Empanada’s Place, you can choose from the meat or vegetable menu and only hand over $2.99 for each one. Meats include beef, chicken, spicy beef, spicy chicken, ham and cheese, cheesy spicy beef and pepperoni; veggie options include potato, cheese and onions, potato and cheese, corn and spinach. 3811 Sawtelle Blvd., Culver City. empanadasplace.com
Nick’s is a diner to its core. They offer some of the best down-and-dirty breakfast you’ll find, with offerings like biscuits and gravy and eggs or chorizo burritos—we’re talking astronomical portions here—but their calling card is the ham and eggs plate (two large pieces of ham, toast, eggs and potatoes). You won’t leave this place hungry. Choose to sit outside or at the long, wraparound counter. Chances are you’ll sit by a police officer or city worker (they’re regulars). Check in on your smartphone and receive 20 percent off your entrée. Plus, there’s free coffee served on weekends. Cash only. 1300 N. Spring St., L.A., nickscafela.com
A burger and french fries make up America’s dynamic duo, but for some, fries are the true stars. (We consume more than four tons of them in the U.S. annually.) Potato Corner provides the perfect way to cut directly to the chase, with its flavored french fries. You can get them curly or straight-cut in a variety of flavors, including BBQ, cheddar, sour cream and onion and chili BBQ. They even have criss-cut sweet potato fries for the health-conscious, homemade gourmet potato chips and tater tots for your little tots. An order of fries will cost you around $5. 689 Americana Way, Glendale. potatocornerusa.com
Don’t tell the hardcore gang at CrossFit about your late-night trips to this Downtown dessert spot. You’ll be doing burpees and kettlebell swings till ice cream comes out of your eyeballs. Syrup does desserts decadently—and what other way is there? The menu lists sent-from-heaven items like raspberry grilled cheese, hazelnut latte, blackberry jasmine ice cream, dulce de leche waffles and the sweet Italy crepe (blueberries, strawberries, a large scoop of ice cream and whipped cream). Desserts run about $5 each. You can play board games in the upstairs area while you slurp down your Oreo sundae, or use the free Wi-Fi. Open till midnight. 611 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A.
While Hamburger Mary's hogs most of the attention, the best burger in WeHo is right across Santa Monica at a little shack called Irv's. Since the 1950s this simple burger stand has catered to celebrities including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Linda Ronstadt. Irv's is currently operated by a personable Korean-American family—Sonia, Sean and Mamma Hong—who offer a variety of burgers, breakfast sandwiches and hot or cold deli selections. Most adorably, when taking orders, the Hongs don't ask your name, but instead labels each order with a cartoon sketch of the customer on their paper plate. 8289 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo. irvsburgersla.com
This winner of the “Start Up Business of the Year” Award from WeHo’s Chamber of Commerce offers a swath of queer-themed flavors—including Milk My Harvey Chocolate, I'm Comin' Out Cake Batter and Cookies-n-Cream Queen—that can be adorned with a multitude of decadent toppings, like fruit, candy bar miniatures and red velvet cake crumble courtesy of nearby Cake & Art. Co-founders Misti Cooper and Marta Knittel said they "had the idea that in addition to being a tasty, healthful treat, enjoying frozen yogurt in a lively, social atmosphere with friends, family and neighbors would be the way to be unique." 8803 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo. yogurtstop.net
Pizza Al Forno
Any East Coast transplant can tell you, decent pizza in L.A. is few and far between. While not quite Manhattan caliber, Pizza Al Forno compensates with generous portions and inexpensive prices. Each slice constitutes a quarter of a pie. In addition to pizza, Al Forno whips up quality calzones, sandwiches and pasta. A must-try is their fettuccini alfredo with baby shrimp, at just under $9. Located in the heart of Hollywood, it’s a great place to duck in and grab a slice before hitting up a comedy show at nearby Second City L.A. or IO West. 6541 Hollywood Blvd. #101, Hlywd.
Home attempts to make you feel as though you’ve never left yours. Enjoy their home-cooked meals in a comfy booth indoors or on the outdoor patio complete with fish-filled mini ponds (and dogs are welcome). This is the perfect place to meet friends for Sunday brunch—huevos rancheros ($9.95); two eggs, two pancakes and choice of bacon or sausage ($7.95); veggie burrito ($9.95). But lunch is tasty and affordable as well—burgers, Cobb salad, blackened ahi tuna sandwich (all for less than $13). If you’re really looking for a deal, come by for their happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. They have a full bar, with valet parking in back. 2500 Riverside Dr., Silver Lake. homesilverlake.com
You’re too polite to say it, but your food is always either over- or undercooked. At this Japanese hotspot, you’re given the reins and encouraged to be your own grill master. That’s right—you order up your meat and veggies, they bring it out to you and you cook it up on the BBQ located in the middle of the table. What better way to bond with a group than over BBQ stories and mild burns? Regular menu items are reasonably priced ($7.95 for ahi tuna, $7.95 for New York steak), but also check out their website for happy hours and assorted deals. 163 N. La Cienega Blvd., Bev. Hills. gyu-kaku.com
Casa Bianca Pizza Pie
This family-run business opened up in Eagle Rock in 1955. They serve pasta, salads and sandwiches (everything is made from scratch on the premises), but it’s all about the pizza here. They keep the menu simple—choose cheese, sausage or Hawaiian, and then customize it from a long list of standard additions (pepperoni, mushrooms, anchovies, eggplant, meatballs, etc.). You can get an extra-large pizza pie—that’s with 16 slices—for less than $20. It’s a great place to get your group on. Casa Bianca Pizza Pie opens at 4 p.m. They take cash only, but there’s an ATM in the restaurant. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. casabiancapizza.com
It’s best to think of Mission Cantina as a tequila bar that serves great, inexpensive Mexican food. The inviting patio is a perfect meet-up location for a group of friends looking for hard drinks and cheap eats. Order guacamole and chips for the table, then move on to the house specialty—tacos. Pairs of tacos come in several flavors, including carne asada, smoked pork and chorizo. Or just get a couple taco samplers, with your choice of any five tacos, and let the table grab what they want. Also take advantage of daily drink specials. 5946 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. themissioncantina.com
Sai Sai Noodle Bar
Located at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Sai Sai has all your noodle needs covered. Standouts include the galbi, kimchee and lobster miso ramen, the shishito peppers and the spicy tuna dip (spicy tuna mixed with avocado, wasabizuke, red onions, tomatoes and wonton chips). They also serve Bubbies Mochi ice cream flown in from Hawaii. Stop in for happy hour with some friends, slurp up some slippery noodles and sample from their vast beer selection, all for only $2 each. Free Wi-Fi and an array of 55-inch flatscreens so you can catch the game. 501 S. Olive St., Downtown L.A., saisairestaurant.com
The best place to bring a group of friends for a crazy, boozy night of sushi is up in NoHo. Tokyo Delve’s is less sushi restaurant and more sushi party—think Japanese Big Wangs. You and your posse are going to want to take advantage of the sake bombs. When it comes to food, it’s best to stick with the basics here. Start with edamame, shrimp tempura and sesame chicken. For the main course, order a sushi plate for the table, maybe the Spicy Sushi plate. Each platter comes with an array of options, so there's something for everyone. 5239 Lankershim Blvd., NoHo. tokyodelvessushibar.com
Guuuuuurl, Mary’s is the gay community’s Cheers—where everybody knows your name, whether you like it or not. And some have ‘special’ names for you. There’s bingo, there’s Mary-oke, there are dragtastic performances. It’s like a dolled-up clubhouse with delicious snacks. But it’s not all pomp and circumstance—Mary has her finger on the pulse of our civil rights struggle. She’s adding her voice to the increasing number of campaigns to counter Chick-Fil-A’s yellow-bellied COO Dan Cathy and his hate-filled, anti-marriage-equality squawking by serving a Southern-style chicken sandwich as her Burger of the Month in August. Wouldn’t you like to get away? 8288 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo, hamburgermarysweho.com; 740 E. Broadway, Long Beach, hamburgermarysLB.com
Galanga's back patio is a perfect place for you and a group of your friends to enjoy a warm summer evening indulging in Thai fusion cuisine. The vibe is laid-back, and the food is satisfying. For appetizers, start with the chicken satay, shrimp rolls and dumplings. For your main course, try the traditional Pad Thai, Spicy Basil Duck or Spicy Asparagus. Galanga never charges a corkage fee, so grab a couple bottles of Two-Buck Chuck and kick back with your dinner dates. 7440 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo. galangathaifusion.weebly.com
Possibly the most popular of L.A.'s Thai restaurants, Palm's is known for its extensive menu, great service (there are almost as many servers and busboys inside as customers) and Thai Elvis, himself an L.A. institution. Inside the restaurant you'll find a stage, often in use by acoustic guitar performers or the aforementioned Elvis impersonator. Best of all, the food is delicious—and cheap to boot! Head to Palm's with a huge group of friends, order for the table family-style and don't stress about dropping your monthly salary. Some standouts are the Tom Ka (coconut milk) soup and the Chinese Broccoli with Crispy Pork Belly. 5900 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. palmsthai.com
There are more popular hot dog stands in Hollywood, but you won’t find a better-tasting hot dog than at Skooby’s. It’s a bold statement but the truth. They’ve got an aioli dog (peppers and onions), blue dog (bacon, blue cheese, peppers and onions), L.A.’s Famous Street Dog (bacon-wrapped, peppers and onions, mayo, mustard and ketchup) or even a Philly cheesesteak, but Skooby’s Original Dog is the perfect place to start off. Chasing it with an order of Skooby’s fries (served with the best damn aioli) and a glass of their lemonade is a must. 6654 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. skoobys.com
Philippe The Original
My aunt Mabel always said, “If a restaurant has sawdust on the floor, you know you’re in for a tasty treat.” Philippe is an institution in the City of Angels. While they serve breakfast, salads and soups, you’d be remiss if you didn’t make a beeline for one (or three) of their legendary French dip sandwiches. Holy mother of au jus, they are killer. The beef, pork, ham and turkey dips are only $6.50; the lamb dip is $8. Add on some spicy mustard, and you’re good to go. It’s cash only, but there’s an ATM inside. 1001 N. Alameda St., Downtown L.A., philippes.com
Sing it: “I love Tito’s Tacos. You love Tito’s, too. I love Tito’s Tacos. What else can you do?” So their jingle may be maddening, but the food makes up for it. Serving mouthwatering Mexican food since 1959, Tito’s proves that you don’t always get what you pay for. This place is ridiculously cheap—you could try every item on the menu and not break the bank. The most expensive entrée is the all-beef burrito with rice and cheese: $5.90. But you can get a bean burrito for $2.75, a taco with cheese for $2.35, a chicken tamale for $2.90 or a cheese enchilada for $2.30. 11222 Washington Place, Culver City. titostacos.com
Located at the epicenter of the 3rd Street strip, Doughboys is the ideal place for an affordable dinner or lunch date. The copious portions really stretch every dollar to its fullest, and you and your date are guaranteed to leave with a full belly. Doughboys doles out comfort food, with their signature Beefy Mac 'n Cheese on the tippy-top of the recommendations list. Be sure to leave some room for dessert. Doughboys is famous for baking literally the best red velvet cake in L.A., possibly the world. 8136 W. 3rd St., L.A. doughboyscafe.com
Authentic, quality Italian cuisine is rare in SoCal, but you’ll find it Downtown at Colori Kitchen. This traditional trattoria is located in a petite storefront along DTLA's Historic District. Founded by chef Barducci Contessi with his wife and sister-in-law, Colori offers homemade pasta in dishes like taglietelle alla bolognese, spaghetti carbonara and cappellini puttanesca. It's Italian food at affordable prices, adding warmth to your dining experience that only a real Italian family can offer. 429 W. 8th St., Downtown L.A. colorikitchen.com
If you’re looking for comfort food in a casual environment, look no further than Bite, found right in the heart of Boystown, perfect for a dinner date on the town or takeout in front of the TV with that special someone. Indulge in delicious pastas, risottos, salads and amazing weekend brunch options. For those who need them, gluten-free options are also available. Best of all, with Bite’s new French owners, the restaurant’s name takes on a naughty new meaning. (Look it up.) 8807 Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo.
With so many sushi options in L.A., a Japanese restaurant needs an edge to qualify as an ideal date locale. Westwood's Yamato is housed in a domed, Neo-Classical structure juxtaposed with modern décor. While visually comparable to competitors like Geisha House and Katsuya, the prices are way more affordable when it comes to a dinner for two. Start your night with the garlic edamame, followed by the orange dragon roll, lobster roll and spicy tuna on fried rice. The drinks are equally inexpensive, and an added bonus is the throng of cute UCLA students that use the place as a neighborhood hangout. 1099 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. yamatorestaurants.com
The shining star at Zankou is the juicy, crispy-skin rotisserie chicken with garlic sauce. But you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at this Mediterranean shop (this is the OG location). The chicken tarna, falafel, shawarma and kabobs are all killer. They pack your plate with hummus, pita and pickled turnips (the latter may sound gross, but they’re delish)—and all for around $10. The area isn’t exactly charming, and you’ll have to park at a meter on the street. One bite of the chicken, though, and this will all be forgotten. 5065 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. zankouchicken.com