New to the area and poor, so poor
So just when I thought I'd fully mapped the toasty underbelly of Boston food-lovin', I manage to convince myself to give up my job, give up my pay, give up my hard-won magical restaurant list, and come to LA and be a grad student.
Which means, I'm adrift from my stand-bys, lost, and practically destitute.
So: eating secrets for the earning-impaired? I'm based in Hollywood, but I'm willing to drive. My tastes are broad - happiness is a balanced burger, a deep vindaloo, a tamale, a gnocchi, a bul go gi, anything... The challenge is economy - what are the happinesses for under $10, what are the earth-shattering glories for under $20?
On my own, I found Zankou's.
Welcome to LA. I am sure you will have a great time here and the odds are that you will be staying here after you graduate.
For great cheap eats,check out the following restaurants. El Pollo Inka is a small chain of Peruvian restaurants with great roast chicken and seafood. El Pollo Inka are mainly located in the South Bay area but there is one in West LA on Wilshire. Versailles is Cuban restaurant famous for its garlic roast chicken and garlic roast pork. Versailles also has a large selection of seafood but I haven't sampled them because I can't resist their chicken and roast pork. If you love garlic, you will love this place. Versailles has restaurants on Venice Blvd. and La Cienaga Blvd. The one I go to most is on Sepulveda Blvd in Manhattan Beach because it is the newest one and usually has no line. Alejo's is a good inexpensive Italian restaurant and is on Lincoln Blvd in Westchester.
Fret not...Although not new to the area, I'm new to the world of graduate studies, and suffer from similar financial constraints. Fortunately LA doesn't have the abundance of in-your-face temptations of fabulousness that centralized cities like NYC and SF have (I don't include Boston in this category, sorry). So just sift through older Chowhound postings for recs and be willing to travel a bit. I have another friend who just relocated from Boston too for educational purposes and isn't having a problem adjusting to the food landscape, and in fact loves it. My challenge is finding things in the Westwood/LA area, thank goodness Little Tehran isn't far, although I haven't strayed from campus much... If you're at USC you should be stoked about the delights available on your route between home and school. Beware of Zankou sodium level burn-out.
If you like Chinese food Chinatown is the obvious choice. Many restaurants have $3.45 lunch specials which are very good. My favorite is Sam Woo Seafood at 724 N. Hill St. upstairs. For the truly indigent, the best food bargain in town is #A BBQ Dimsum at 638 N. Broadway. While you see $1 a plate Chinese fast food all over town, this is really good stuff and you get a whole plate of some items for $1. Slightly more expensive are the lunch specials in the Chinese restaurants of the San Gabriel valley, where the going rate is $3.95 to $4.95. However, the variety and quality of these lunch specials is truly amazing and so many restaurants have these specials you can go forever without trying the same dish twice. Also, some of these places serve lunch specials until 5 PM, so you can have a cheap, early dinner.
Having eaten Chinese food all over the USA, I have concluded that the Los Angeles has both the BEST and the MOST ECONOMICAL Chinese food in the country. Happy eating!
My friend, you will be happy to hear that LA is the bastion of cheap, fantastic ethnic food (outside of Asia itself). Some personal favorites (from a fellow starving grad student) are
1) Shau May in San Gabriel on Valley and Garfield.
The best authentic Taiwanese fare and shaved ice. The soup noodles are fantastic. $3-5
2) Sam Woo Barbeque--mentioned earlier, but there's also one in Van Nuys off the Victory exit of 405--right next to 99 Ranch for convenience. They have the most succulent soy sauce chicken, duck, and cha shu. Take out prices are nearly the same as buying the meat raw at a grocery store. $4-8
3) Pho Hoa--a small chain of really great Vietnamese fastfood restaurants. Of note: pho, and pork chop rice. I go to the one on Marine Ave in Gardena, but there may be one closer to you. $4-5
4) Cafe Brazil in Venice (?) on Venice. Very fresh fish and great Brazilian drinks. Try the Red snapper or the salmon. Cool patio seating too. Fish- $12.
5) Noodle Planet in Westwood (on Westwood Blvd). Campy decor, but a very wide selection of noodles and rice dishes. The owner is Thai-american, so the Thai and vietnamese dishes are the most authentic. The Japanese dishes are nothing special. $5-6
6) Taiko in Brentwood (on San Vicente) they hand make their noodles, and despite Jonathon Gold's testament otherwise, I do not believe Udon is a poor sister to the Soba noodle, but either way you'll get your fill here. $5-7
7) Relaxtation in Santa Monica on Olympic Blvd. Not a restaurant, but a nice tea and coffee and boba place that has all the buzz of a trendy Taipei coffee house. They also have good sesame dumpling soup and warm peanut soup (both desserts). $2-4
No one can study on an empty stomach.