Being a ChowHound on a Tight Budget
I love food. If you're reading this, odds are you love food too. I currently am in law school and am living on student loans. Needless to say, this means that I am on a very tight budget.
One of the things I've really loved about this board is that most of the time, I can find good food recommendations that are in a reasonable middle-class price point. Sometimes, however, I feel like there are two camps here - the average joes who like food that tastes good and the wealthy gourmands who are uncompromising on the level of quality of their food and are unnecessarily condescending to those of us who can't afford the very best. The average joe suggests a decent restaurant and the gourmand says that the food is foul. Average joe suggests mid-range restaurants. Gourmand suggests brunch at the Ritz Carlton.
Certainly, I aspire to one day have the ability to drop $150 on dinner... but for now, spending more than $20-25 at a meal for one person is just *not* doable. Heck, I try to stay under $20 a day.
All ranting aside, I ask all of you - Gourmands included --
What do you think are the best deals in the Los Angeles area (SGV/SFV/OC/SM included)?
Where can you get just AMAZINGLY delicious food while staying on a tight budget?
Woodlands Pure buffet for lunch, friday dosa madness or weekend brunch
Rahel AYCE eat lunch buffet or the hudade combo for dinner
Sabor A Mexico
The Stand's monday hot dog special
Chili My SOul
Yum Cha Cafe
India's Sweets and Spices buffet.
more, I gotta think
I'm with you on this one, RaeRenee. :)
I think the SGV is a great area to get good food without going broke. Endless Chinese (HK, Taiwanese, etc.) choices, as well as some good Vietnamese and Thai places, too. Some of my favorites...
Phoenix Food Boutique
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
A & J Restaurant
1269 E Valley Blvd
208 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
228 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
Savoy Pizza & Pasta
138 E Valley Blvd
Dumpling House Restaurant
5612 Rosemead Blvd
Temple City, CA 91780
Yung Ho Tou Chiang
1045 E Valley Blvd # 105
Banh Mi & Che Cali
8450 Valley Blvd
8450 E. Valley Blvd. #103
Rosemead, CA 91770
46 W Valley Blvd
140 W Valley Blvd # 107
8036 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA 91770
I have to disagree. I don't think anyone here discounts the food simply because the restaurant's not upscale enough. Good food is good food whatever the ambiance or price might be.
That said, here are my recs: Musha, Tacos por Favor, Monte Alban, Malibu Seafood. Although I haven't tried it, I've read good reviews for 10th Street Cafe
I take slight offense to being called out by the OP, as if to say that just because my budget is higher that my tastes are dulled. People here on the board certainly recognize that humble surroundings often belie the treasures within, and it's often up to the individual diner to make that leap of faith.
But frankly anyone who can't find budget eats on the LA Board isn't looking very hard.
Here's a list of places I've eaten at in the past three months with great food that also happens to be at a lower price point.
Sapp Coffee Shop
Tumbras a Tomas
Pho 79 (Alhambra)
Pho So 1
Bun Bo Hue So 1
Banh Mi Cho Cu
Shin Sen Gumi (Hakata Ramen and Yakitori)
Chili My Soul
Fredo's Philly Cheese Steak
101 Noodle Express
That list doesn't include a bunch of SGV and OC places whose names totally escape me due to their totally minimal nature.
Probably not the lowest prices around, but huge-ass portions. Again, past three months:
I haven't been very recently, but these also happen to serve good food at budget prices
Pho Thanh Lich
Beverly Soon Tofu
(It's still hard for me to want to be helpful after being insulted. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Anti-elitism is a form elitism itself.)
I'm with Sauce on this one. I eat at a lot of high end places regularly but that doesn't lessen my appreciation for the cheaper options. Some of my favorites include Sabor a Mexico, Shamshiri, Samosa House, Musha, Guelaguetza, Annapurna, Sakura House and Sunnin.
I enjoy the dollar tacos from the truck by my office every bit as much as I enjoyed the deconstructed lobster taco on the tasting menu at Bastide.
I apologize for offending you. I didn't intend to. I don't believe that because you have a higher budget that you have duller taste. In fact, because you area able to experience a higher quality of food, you likely have a much more sophisticated palate than I do. Heck, I even said that I aspire to be able to join your ranks.
That being said, when I look for sushi recommendations and I see people spending more on a meal than I used to make in two days of work, it shakes me a bit. There's nothing wrong with thinking that omakase's the only way to go, but it's just not something that some of us can do -- but we *want* to, and so it's hard to not feel a little ashamed or sad that we can't.
I've gotten a ton of great recommendations for this board, and I have done searches for cheap eats. I seriously appreciate the list that you made, and am looking forward to trying some of those places.
Your gracious apology is humbly accepted, especially after a disappointing night at Mori Sushi that was only cleansed after going to FuRaiBo for fried chicken.
A lot of recommendations get thrown out and about, and especially here in the LA Board where we tend to be a vocal (and opinionated) bunch. If you find people who consistently recommend places within your budget, I highly suggest seeking them out and emailing them and adding them to your profile's reading list. Many posters have contact info (or blogs) on their profiles and of course all 'Hounds love to go and meet new people over food.
By the way, I'm sooo done with omakase these days. If the fish quality sucked, it shouldn't be in stock, and by ordering myself a la carte at the bar, I can control the pacing.
The service has always been spotty on FuRaiBo on the really busy nights, but because it was a weeknight (Wednesday), me and two other guests had no problem. If given the choice, sit in the main hall, as it's hard to flag someone down from the tatami room.
Also, with regard to Mori, a lot of people say it's THE PLACE, but then a lot of people also say that Zo is THE PLACE. Me, I opt for neither and prefer Sushi Ike.
This thread on hole-in-the-wall michelin-style may help:
Most ethnic cuisine are fairly low priced. I go to both high priced and low priced restaurants. I don't really care about the service or decor, but some expensive ingredients are only available at higher end restaurants.
The best deal, but still out of your budget is the lunch 5 course omakase at Abe's Bluefin in Newport Beach. It's $35.
My favorite cheap eats:
- Sam Woo
- Elite (not cheap, but still under $20 for one
)- Tops (American food and cheap especially if you split side orders)
- Taco Nazo (chained fish taco joint)
- Boiling Crab ($ depends on what you order, can get expensive if you go for a 3 lb crab)
- 101 Noodle Express (only get the beef roll)
- Sabor A Mexico
- Earthen (Hacienda Heights, best onion pancakes)
- Luscious Dumplings
- any Pho places, or Vietnames sandwiches
Los Angeles is so full of wonderful ethnic dives that you can thrive even on a limited budget. Lots of good advice here so far. May I recommend Bandini's website, http://www.tacohunt.blogspot.com/, as a source for finding wonderful, cheap, Mexican food. This blog, http://noodlewhore.blogspot.com/, while infrequently updated, has a number of great, inexpensive Asian noodle recommendations. Good luck, study hard, and eat well.
I'm also a law student but work full time so I'm not quite in the same boat as you are! Time is probably more of an issue for me than money. You may want to save money by not driving too far for your grub! I work in the WLA area and my favorite cheap eats are:
Chabuya (slightly more expensive than Asahi but worth it and still within budget)
Orris (small plates Japanese style- bring some of your law school friends and split a bunch of plates)
Canary Cafe (Persian food- great lunch specials on kabobs, though I'm not crazy about their rice)
Sansai Japanese Grill (chain)- there is one in Brentwood and one in El Segundo that I know of (Japanese style food- they offer a lot of food for not much money)
California Roll Factory- others may disagree but I really like this place for a roll fix- pretty much everything is under $10 and most are closer to $7. Most are also really big and enough for a meal.
Sakura House- this is in Marina del Rey, serves skewers that range from $3 and up. 2 people can get comfortably full (including a bottle of sake) for less than $70 total.
I recently ended a long low-budget phase, so I know how you feel. Agree that ethnic food is a good way to go when you're on a budget. Monte Alban has great Oaxacan Mexican food. Gueleguetza is also good, although I prefer Monte Alban. There are a lot of other great Mexican places that would be in your budget...search this board for suggestions. You can look into different Indian restaurants...Shershah in Marina del Rey has a champagne brunch that is a good deal. I also like Akbar down in Hermosa. In Artesia, I like The India Restaurant. Musha has great Japanese...it's small plates, so you could easily go over or stay under your budget depending on what you order. Best value for nigiri sushi is Hide...sushi will always be a stretch on a budget, but this is your best bet. Best take-out creative sushi rolls is Kai in Manhattan beach (my fav is the hot night roll). For Japanese comfort food, you can get great Japanese-style spaghetti at Spoon House in Gardena. There's Javan for Persian food...and a lot of other middle eastern restaurants in/near Westwood (search this board). And you can also search this board for Thai and Chinese suggestions in your budget. Another strategy is to go to pricey restaurants for lunch or brunch, rather than dinner. Eating at great restaurants can be surprisingly affordable this way. My favorite value brunch/lunch is Joe's in Venice...the lunch and brunch entrees include an appetizer, and run around $16. Yes, you can eat a 2-course meal at Joe's for $16. Next door, Lily's cafe has a great lunch special that also includes a first course for only $10! So look online for lunch menus for restaurants you'd like to try but are too pricey for dinner. Good luck!
One of my favorite meals is the Chicken Chipotle Pasta from 26 Beach (Venice/MDR area). It's enormous (enough for 2 meals), $18, and comes with bread and a salad. I also love going there and just relaxing, it's quite a nice place, especially the patio area, and all the service I've had there has been great.
There are also a lot of exceptional Chow-ish burgers in LA that are completely filling and also worth every penny in terms of quality. All the great ones I've come across (non-chain) are $6 to $14. Search "burger" and tons of threads will come up for you. One particularly intriguing recent post was about a great burger at the Santa Monica Library's Bookmark Cafe. My own current favorites are Arnie Morton's Downtown ($14-lunch only, and you can't beat their service), Father's Office ($11), The Bowery ($9), and Apple Pan ($6.20).
And if you like fish & chips - Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica has some of the best for under $10. Fun bar area there too.
Actually fish 'n chips at the King's Head is up to $15.95 for 2 pieces, $12.95 for one piece. But it's worth it.
It's a little cheaper at the Kitchen in Silver Lake or the Redwood downtown, but not quite as good.
Also, lots of good Chinese places have been mentioned, but one of the cheapest and best dinners I've had was at Macau Street, where we ordered tons of stuff and it came out to $11 each.
One of my personal missions is to exploit happy hour food deals. Places like McCormick's don't offer the best food on their happy hour menu, but getting a pretty good burger and fries for $2 is sometimes tough to pass up. I suppose I'd fit into some form of subculture of Chowhound...
Some places that I hit when looking for a good cheap meal (these are going to be skewed towards downtown and northern OC)
Taco Nazo (I totally second this, notmartha)
Grand Central Market
Counterintuitive as it may seem, your first step should be to join KCRW at the $50/year level to get the Fringe Benefits card. If you use it right, that sucker will pay for itself many times over (plus you get a free CD or t-shirt or other gizmo, and are eligible for ticket giveaways and the like). There are a lot of great restaurants in LA and OC that give anywhere from 10-20% off (many even including booze!) with the card.
Even though I'm not wealthy by any means, I will readily admit that I tend toward patronizing the more expensive places. I just like to be able to relax among good atmosphere and service when I go out. Plus, I am an enormous stickler for reservations (never leave home without 'em) and cheaper places don't usually take them.
But to give you a couple of specific recommendations: the Pita Kitchen on Ventura and Van Nuys has fantastic (and fantastically cheap) middle eastern wraps/salads/etc.; any of the Ethiopian places on Fairfax will stuff you full of incredible food for a bargain; and for breakfast (who doesn't love a great, cheap breakfast!) S&W Diner in Culver City and Overland Cafe nearby in Palms are great inexpensive spots. (The latter takes the KCRW card, and I hyperbolize not when I say that over the past three years, that card has easily saved me a few hundred dollars at that place alone.)
Ha! When I was reading OP's post I was remembering how my food budget for the week with my ex during law school was $40 for both of us! And this was only four years ago! Needless to say, pretty much the only times I ate out during law school was when a firm was footing the bill. If I would have had any extra money, this thread would have been helpful:
For me, some of the tastiest and even not so unhealthful cheap food is at or from good taquerias. I thoroughly agree your best reference is Bandini's "The Great Taco Hunt." My favorite was his best of 2006 -- the branch of Carnitas Michaocan on No. Broadway at 19th, above Chinatown near where the 5 intersects and close to the 110. Good carne asada, and even better al pastor sliced from a rotisserie spit. But the highlight there is their salsa roja -- relatively thin, brickred, smoky complex spicy wonderfulness. I get one burrito al pastor, no beans, extra hot sauce for there, and then another for later. And as many little thimbles of salsa roja as they'll give me and I'll buy a small cup to take home, too.
Hope that's convenient for you -- I notice a lot of your posts concern threads discussing Pasadena or Glendale. Don't have much familiarity there -- I used to like Burger Continental for huge portions and value but I understand the rumor that the fire there helped solve the rodent problem for the neighborhood. Whereabouts do you go to law school?
I go to Southwestern Law School which is located in Koreatown. I've lived in NoHo, Pasadena, Glendale, and now Burbank, so those are the areas I know as far as food goes. I'm always happy to drive to get good food though, so long as it doesn't take more than an hour or so. I'll have to check out Carnitas Michaocan. I'm meeting a friend who works in that area on Friday. Hopefully she'll agree to try it out! :)
Note that Carnitas Michaocan up on No. Broadway is an order at one window, pick up at another, with a large covered patio with picnic table seating. Parking in the back. Weather is getting better, but it wouldn't be comfortable to eat in on a cold, windy day.
Have you tried the crazy chicken special at Dino's? On the N/W corner of Pico and Berendo, a couple of blocks west of Vermont. (There is a sister Dino's up on Main, I think, sorta east of Chinatown. They may offer chicken too, but at the Pico location, almost everyone is eating or taking away boxes of the chicken. Mostly burgers at the one north of downtown.)
There is a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place I used to go for a cheap lunch when I was stuck at the courthouse near there. It is on the west side of Hoover, just south of Wilshire, in a minimall that has a Winchell's on the south side, a bigger Mexican restaurant, and a laundromat and mart. Never remembered the name (three short words? maybe began with a "W"?) Anyway, good portions of individually cooked entrees (I liked the chicken chop suey and the Mongolian beef ordered spicy) served with nondescript fried rice, a thin egg roll, and a cup of a thin but flavorful chicken broth with egg drop. Not steam table food, but amazingly inexpensive prices.
Two of the most highly-rated and inexpensive taquerias in town are relatively closeby: El Taurino on the east side of Hoover down towards Pico, and La Parian on Pico near Hoover. For Thai, I like Palm Thai on Hollywood towards Western, yes the one with the Thai Elvis at night. They offer a simple chicken with cashew at lunch -- I like spicy, I usually add hot chili oil to my Chinese food, but this really woke me up! Would have liked to eat more at Jitlada, but their old menu did not offer lunch specials and that really helps dining solo.
Good luck. What year? Old adage: first year, scare you to death, 2L, work you to death, final year, bore you to death.
walk across the street (7th) with some classmates/friends and induldge in tong dak (fried chicken) at ob bear. their spicy chicken wings (kinda like buffalo wings ) is very good. overall, the food is good, service so-so and will set you back less than $20 with a beer if you eat family style.
There's no shame in being a starving student. Delayed gratification now, but the payoff will be huge (after the student loans are paid off!). I survived undergrad and grad school by frequenting happy hours. There are plenty of restaurants in Burbank (albeit chains) that offer happy hour "meals." Gordon Biersch in Pasadena offers a decent one, perhaps the GB in Burbank does the same? Closer to Southwestern, there's Patathai on Wilshire and Commonwealth. Lunch for under $10 and pretty good Thai food at that. There's an Indian place on Vermont, on the west side of the street, near 4th Street. They offer an AYCE lunch buffet that costs around $10. The Wilshire Royale on Wilshire and Rampart is a hipster bar located within a converted condo complex. The deep fried baby back ribs are the bomb. And closer to home, Ikea has those yummy Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce. Buy a kid's meal, and you'll get fries and a drink to boot!
re: Waverly SGV
I <3 Pata! There is a waiter there named William who my boyfriend teases me about because he knows my name and doesn't even ask my order anymore. Totally got me through 2nd year. I haven't checked out the Indian place on Vermont though. I should.
Very awesome suggestions. Thanks so much!
In the SGV, you will usually get great deals on Vietnamese sandwich places. At Bahn Mi Che Cali you can get three large sandwiches for less than $5. Also try the Cantonese noodle places (they usually have roast duck hanging near the front). Usually, you can get a decent plate of chow mein or rice for about $6. Here is my collection of mini-reviews of restaurants in the SGV:
I try to make it a point to eat at the cheaper places, so you might find this useful
I can think of a ton of places where you can eat for $25 (for 2 people!). Ethnic food is usually a good choice. Mexican, El Salvadorian, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Since I like Vietnamese food, I will recommend a couple of top-notch and CHEAP places.
A personal favorite Vietnamese place is Nem Nuong Kanh Hoa on Valley Blvd. in Rosemead. You can get a platter of spring rolls (enough food for 2 people) for $12.95! The owners are the nicest people in the world and I eat there at least once a week.
You could also go to Vietnam Restaurant and order the 7 Courses of Beef. Two people can get out of there for less than $20. You could go to Banh Mi Che Cali where if you order 2 sandwiches, you get 1 free!
Depends on what you are in the mood for:
Here are my recommendations:
Oinksters in Eagle Rock for their burgers and fries
Angelina's on Main Street in Alhambra for their chicken and waffles
Santouka Ramen for Ramen in Torrance or Costa Mesa
Pho Pasteur in Rosemead for their Pho and Broken Rice Plates
Zankou's for Rotisserie style chicken (ask for the garlic spread)
Taco Nazo for their fish tacos
And of course In N Out for their burgers as well
I hope this helps, there are tons of other places but I forgot the names... sorry :)
Govindas in Culver City has an all you can eat vegetarian buffet for $7. It's part of the hare krishna temple but it's ran like a regular restaurant. seating is outside and no hassle. the food has also been blessed! (:
Also, Green Leaves Vegan in Los Feliz has great Thai food and is under $20 for a great feast. My hubby is not vegetarian but he is greatly satisfied with the dishes there.
If you have any favorites, let me know too! I'm always looking for great food at a reasonable price! (:
If you're in the Orange County area here are a few cheap but good spots:
Baja Fish Tacos (mostly around South OC) - It's actually a four-location chain, but don't let that deter you. Almost everything on the menu tastes bright, fresh, and flavorful. My recommendations are the blackened shrimp tacos combo plate with rice and your choice of beans. *Make sure you get the rice and beans!* You might also want to try their carne asada, spicy chicken, and even nachos. Their fish tacos, surprisingly enough, are not their strongest menu-item despite their restaurant name... You can get a combo + beer for roughly $10-$12.
Dragon Phoenix (in Little Saigon, Bolsa and Magnolia) - Very cheap dim sum restaurant, always packed with a line going out the door on weekends. Service is shotty, but if you want good dimsum for a very decent price, this place is not bad. It has the typical dimsum fare, so you'll find most of the things you're looking for. A weekend dimsum brunch for two will probably cost you somewhere between $20-30 tax&tip included. *Tip: Grab a ticket, and walk around Asian garden mall if you don't want to wait around.
Pho Bac Ky (several locations around Irvine/Tustin) - Offers good Pho and Bun - You can always ask for extras and they come very cheap. I like to get their combo Bun (dry vermicelli noodle) and a little extra fish sauce. Their Pho is pretty good, a friend of mine says that the soup base at the Tustin location doesn't contain as much grease as the others. Menu items range between $5 to $12, but you can easily have a meal for under $10. Tustin - 5 Fwy exit Redhill, South Redhill, RT into Stater Bros shopping plaza.
Golden China (Tustin - 5 South exit Newport, South Newport, corner of Newport and Walnut) - They have Korean-Chinese food, so you can have that rare blend of food (I guess not so rare in Koreatown). You should definitely try their Jjamppong (spicy, hot seafood soup) and Pork Tang-soo-yook (battered and fried pork or beef in a sweet and sour glaze). I'm not very sensitive to MSG, so i never really care, but my friend told me that they use a good amount here. But prices are decent, but it's definitely something you might want to eat family-style and share. The menu prices range from $6 to $30(for market-price seafood) but they have the fast and friendly service.
But there are definitely too many places to list, there's always good food for little out of your pocket. You just need to have an adventurous tongue and catch the restaurant before they get too famous or too greedy and start forfeiting good ingredients or hiking up prices.
the birds are singing my song: "cheap! cheap! cheap!" Here are the best deals I know of -- except for the breakfast places, I usually get takeout...
Elena's Greek and Armenian food -(Glendale)
me and my SO used to split one dish (to go) for about $8 and have food (okay, rice) left.
Pollo a la Brasa (Koreatown) 1/2 chicken + fries+ salad ~$8.50
La Playita (taco stand on Lincoln Ave., Santa Monica) (great burritos, esp. chicken ones [$3.50 or $4.00, don't remember] and shrimp ones [$4.50], and other good things)
Zankou chicken (many locations)
Rodeo Grill isn't a bad deal either (Echo Park)
Bombay Grill (West Hollywood) like most Indian places, not super cheap, but again, me and my ex used to split one of their complete dinners when we craved Indian food.
Taste of India (I think that's the name) -- in a strip mall at the SW corner of Motor and Venice Blvd, in Culver City. Some would see this as a greasy spoon, but I find it to be decent and reasonable.
Grand Central Market (downtown)
For breakfast/brunch (I wouldn't call the following amazingly delicious food, but they are decent and inexpensive)
Rodeo Grill (breakfast served until 1pm) (Echo Park)
Phillipe's the Original (Chinatown, before 10:30am only, so it's breakfast and not brunch. I like their French toast)
Armon's (Eagle Rock) (served until early afternoon)
Los Feliz Cafe (Los Feliz/Atwater Village line; breakfast served until afternoon closing. Occasionally spotty service, not necessarily tons of food, but very pleasant setting next to the little Loz Feliz golf course makes it worthwhile on nice days.)
Good point. I think that most of the time, Rodeo Grill (and its sister restaurant down the block Happy Tom's, in which most items are 50 cents cheaper than at RG) have weekday specials -- they usually have 2 lunch/dinner items and one breakfast item which are on special M-F. At least Happy Tom's does. The items involved rotate.
No one mentioned the various Shau Mei's in SGV?
3 item combo bento for $4.35 tax-included? Includes nearly half a pound of rice, a bowl of soup and (at certain locale) a free drink. Granted EVERYTHING is from the steam tables but when/if you get there during peak dining hrs, food is relatively fresh. Typical night includes fried belt fish, braised tilapia, pork hock, scallion chicken, 3-cup chicken, really garlicky eggplant, soy sauce duck, braised pork short ribs, stewed daikon beef, various tofu / veggie stir fries, etc.
While pho / banh mi may be cheap and filling, the pure amount of volume physically occupied by carb + water / soup always leaves me hungry after a short while.
Beyond Shau May, Dino's Burger has to be the best protein value in LA...
And when I was a starving student (not that long ago) I used to eat at a Thai place in the valley on Parthenia, east of Nordhoff, that had a tasty $3.50 lunch special (choice of a few entrees) which included thai tea. I don't know if the price has gone up or if the place is even still there, but I bet other hounds know the place I'm talking about.
I'm in a similar situation re: being a poor student but in need of quality sustenance. Over the past month, while studying, we went to a variety of inexpensive places to get food in between studying for finals. Some of these might have already been mentioned, but the thread is getting too long for me to bother to carefully scrutinize...
-Sanamulang for Thai in Thai Town
-Vegan Glory for Vegan Thai in Hollywood (v. cheap and filling lunch special)
-Le Pain Quotidien (depending on the size of the location, you can study here)
-Sabor a Mexico - Culver City
-Wyland's Brewery - Downtown - Burger and a beer
-En Sushi in WLA - Happy Hour runs on weekends, so you can sit at the bar and eat small plates
-Chabuya in Little Osaka for ramen
-Caffe Etc. - A little bit pricey for sandwiches, but good quality food [best value is the Breakfast quesadilla which is served all day; as a note you can hole up and study here]
-Shamshiri Grill - WLA - Persian food
-Shaherzad - WLA - Persian food
-Jeff's Gourmet Sausage Factory - WLA - Deli / Sandwiches
-A-Won Japanese Restaurant - K-Town (Vermont) - Japanese/Korean
-Luna Park - Mid-Wilshire - go for the Pizza which isn't as expensive as many of the mains.
-Hugo's - WeHo - Brunch / Lunch
-Library Alehouse - SM - v. good burgers, esp. their Seared Tuna sandwich.
-Mama's Hot Tamales Cafe - Downtown - Cheap and delicious tamales [usu. about 7 varieties daily]
-Original Pantry Cafe - Downtown - Breakfast grease fix
-Rodeo Grill - Downtown [might be other locations]
-California Roll Factory - WLA - Inexpensive fun sushi rolls
Good luck with the hunt!
Mama's Hot Tamales is a great suggestion. Have you noticed those ladies who sell a variety of tamales from carts (usually on the weekends) on the south side of MacArthur Park? Mama's tamales are made by these ladies, who prepare their tamales from various Latin American regions in the restaurant's communal kitchen. Tamales from the carts used to sell at a fraction of the restaurant price, with profits going directly to the ladies. Not sure if this is still the case.
the very best deals i've come across are:
the ayce deal offered by hungry pocket on monday and wednesday afternoons/evening for falafal sandwiches (on pico in sm across the st from smc)
taqueria sanchez on centinela for mexican food, especially mexican seafood) be careful because they close early
the $8 combination plate at samosa house for vegetarian indian food.