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Where to stay for cheap eats weekend in LA?

My wife and I are planning a trip to LA later this year just for the food. Where would be a good place to base ourselves for access to inexpensive Asian places, esp. Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese? A cheap hotel within walking distance of some good places would be ideal, but we would also be willing to use public transportation to get to other interesting areas, like Mexican taco trucks or anything else cheap and good.

Where would you stay and eat if you had three days in LA and a limited budget? Even just a general area in which to base ourselves would be helpful. Thanks!

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  1. Just to clarify, we're not limited to LA, a suburb would be fine too. This is purely a pleasure trip, and solely for the food. We won't be doing any sightseeing.

    1. The San Gabriel Valley will saturate your visit in almost nothing but food, and most of it very reasonable in price.

      1. If asian is your focus, definitely the SGV, there is a hilton hotel in the heart of valley that would be accessible to everything, the only downside is that it is a hilton and probably not the cheapest option and would go against your wanting to save money. At the same time, if you are coming to la, you should just accept that you are going to drive everywhere. I'd probably stay in pasadena, many decent hotels, not too far from valley blvd and accessible to the freeways going to the westside.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chezwhitey

          There's a Best Western around Colorado & Rosemead in East Pasadena which would probably be adequate and it's not too far from Sea Harbour or Fu-Shing for that matter.

          -----
          Fu-Shing Chinese Restaurant
          2960 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107

          sea harbour
          3939 Rosemead Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

        2. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. San Gabriel Valley sounds perfect for what we want.

          Do Little Tokyo and Chinatown live up to their names? I just found a Japanese hotel (Little Tokyo Hotel) in the area for $40 a night if I can talk my wife into the shared bathroom/shower concept, though I think she'd prefer the Hilton chezwhitney suggested.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Hombre

            Chinatown is more of a historical relic of the Chinese community in LA. Today, it has only a small fraction of the number of Chinese residents as the SGV. If you want the best Chinese food in the LA area, go to the SGV. Parking is easier. And there are plenty of things to do besides eat.

            1. re: Hombre

              If you stay in the SGV, and assuming you have a car, you can always go south on Atlantic Blvd just past the 60 freeway and take the Gold Line (free parking structure) into LT and Chinatown. With no traffic or parking worries once you're there. The LT and Chinatown stations are a short walk to the main sections of those two areas.

              1. re: reality check

                Thanks, I'm beginning to think we will drive (from AZ) to have more flexibility, so this is beginning to sound like the right option.

            2. Downtown would be the best bet for getting a good variety of food and great take off point via metro as all lines converge downtown.
              Depending on when your stay is Downtown has a great variety of food.
              Little Tokyo for Japanese, Grand Central Market , Olvera street for some for some Latin, various happy hours can be a great deal if your here during the week.
              As far as a hotel check out Possibly the Hotel Metro also downtown.
              L.A. is huge, you may want a car one day.

              -----
              Grand Central Market
              317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

              Little Tokyo Restaurant
              150 E Bonita Ave, San Dimas, CA 91773

              1. Thanks again. So we're thinking we're going to drive to L.A. (from AZ) and most likely stay in San Gabriel Valley. Any suggestions on the following, even if it means driving a bit?

                1. Ramen. Gotta have it.

                2. Xiao long bao. Ditto. Had it in Vancouver, best bite of my life.

                3. Dim sum in general.

                4. Fresh tofu.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Hombre

                  ramen - ramen yamamdaya in gardena. kakuni tonkotsu kotteri. just had it last weekend and it's my favorite right now.

                  xlb- din tai fung or mei long village

                  dim sum- elite or sea harbour

                  not sure about fresh tofu.

                  -----
                  sea harbour
                  3939 Rosemead Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

                  1. re: Hombre

                    Having a car will make life simple for you. Check this thread (with recommendations) for a tourist who was going to bus from downtown to the SGV.

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/774989

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      I must admit, I'm a little intimidated about driving in LA, which is why we were originally going to rely on public transportation. Watch out for the dude in the beat up Civic with AZ plates going 15 mph in mid-July. :)

                    2. re: Hombre

                      Ramen: If you're staying in the SGV, I can't rec ramen there as I usually stick to the Chinese eateries. There may be some ramen joints with good reputations - Hakata/Shin Sen Gumi, Ton Chan and Daikokuya - but I've never tried them. I can tell you that the largest cluster of well-respected Japanese eateries are in the South Bay area (mainly Torrance, Lomita, Gardena). Santouka, Yamada-ya, Asa, Mottainai and Eboshi are our regular stops, and Ramen California is a respected ramen joint with a hybrid angle on ramen.

                      But noodles are a very Chinese thing. You will find plenty of noodle options that will dwarf the number of good ramen shops around SoCal. I've been on a dan dan mian kick lately, and what ramen is to the Japanese, dan dan mian is similar in passion and in the belly to Sichuan. Chuan Yu, Lucky Noodle King, New Chong Qing and Chung King are places that do this and other great Sichuan dishes - you'd appreciate the heat being from AZ - and sharing a bowl of dan dan mian with say a plate of spicy fried chicken or spicy lamb chops would be memorable. You also have artisan noodles that are hand-pulled, knife-cut, or hand made and very accessible.

                      Xiao long bao - everyone has their favorites. Din Tai Fung is kinda like the college of xlb, but Mei Long Village, Jin Jian and Happy Kitchen are all in the same shopping center and do wonderful versions. Dean Sin World is a little tiny speck of a place run by a couple of sweet ladies - if you go here, you ought to pick up a few frozen bags of xlb and any other dumpling/bao-type things and dry ice them back to AZ. They're wonderful.

                      Dim sum is primarily divided into two categories now. Cart-style and order-off-menu. Most will agree that dim sum at the latter is of higher quality and of more varied/unique selections. If this is your course, head to Sea Harbour and Elite. If you want the carts, go to 888, NBC or gigantic Ocean Star. Lunasia is worth considering as well for menu-type experience, but I always seem to gravitate back to the first two that I mention.

                      Fresh tofu can be had at VP Tofu in Monterey park - that's fresh tofu made on the premises. This is an actual shop - not an eatery - and they have great soft tofu pudding (try the pandan for something different) and tofu milks as well - get the black sesame if it's in stock.

                      -----
                      Din Tai Fung Restaurant
                      1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007

                      Daikokuya
                      327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                      Chung King Restaurant
                      1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                      Mei Long Village
                      301 W Valley Blvd Ste 112, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                      Santouka
                      3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                      Dean Sin World
                      306 N Garfield Ave # 2, Monterey Park, CA

                      Happy Kitchen
                      301 W. Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA

                      Ramen California
                      24231 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505

                      New Chong Qing
                      120 N San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91775

                      Lucky Noodle King
                      534 E Valley Blvd #10, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        I'm willing to drive for Ramen. Daikokuya sounds like a good option and a chance to explore Little Tokyo.

                        I must admit, I love pho and ramen, but am not familiar with Chinese noodles outside of the lo mein in American-Chinese joints. We'll definitely put Chinese noodles on the list.

                        1. re: Hombre

                          If you decide to stay a week instead of a weekend, doing a ramen crawl in the South Bay would be something to consider. You and your wife could share and sample a small bowl of ramen from a number of places. Mottainai has a very unique ramen on their menu that would be worthy of a trip alone. I think it's called the Sapporo Miso Lover on the menu, but whatever the case, the Sapporo miso kogashi ramen is the one to try. It's a stand out dish.

                      2. re: Hombre

                        I usually get my tofu from this place:

                        VK Tofu
                        9210 E. Valley Blvd., Rosemead, Ca 91770
                        626-288-1001

                        The doufu hua is amazing. Aside from that, the prices are dirt cheap.

                        If you get tired of Chinese food, there are also some great choices for Vietnamese restaurants: Golden Deli, Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa, and a number of Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) places. If you want an even greater selection, it's a 45 minute drive south to Garden Grove for the possibly the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam.

                        -----
                        Golden Deli
                        815 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                        Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa
                        9016 Mission Dr, Rosemead, CA 91770

                        1. re: raytamsgv

                          My fav cheap thrill is to go to Saigon Bakery for Banh Mi, then walk to the Supermarket behind it (San Gabriel Superstore) and get filled pancakes from the gal who mans a grill right outside the store. So good!

                          Just don't go on the weekend, it will be PACKED.

                          1. re: raytamsgv

                            Thanks, VK Tofu goes to the top of the list! We have decent Vietnamese in PHX, but of course you always hear that there's no comparison to the LA scene, so we'll do Vietnamese at least once.

                            I love the sound of those pancakes. Our original plan was to arrive early Thurs, but now we're considering making a full week of it since our list of "must tries" is already longer than four days will allow for.

                            1. re: Hombre

                              Hombre - I looked at the list below - you two will be busy! And happy.

                              If you do have a spare moment (or are in the neighborhood) here's a link from the fabulous bloggers Wandering Chopsticks. Click it and scroll to the bottom and you'll see pics of the pancakes being made. Crispy, fluffy, not too sweet, and addicting.

                              1. re: happybaker

                                You've convinced me. Gotta have 'em. And it's not far from where we're staying. :)

                            2. re: raytamsgv

                              VK is where my family gets it's tofu too. I'm not a big fan of soy milk but sure like there's!

                            3. re: Hombre

                              The San Gabriel Valley rules as far as cheap eats...

                              Xiao long bao - the big debate here is whether one prefers thicker or thinner wrapping. I'll second Dean Sin World.

                              Tofu - VP Tofu has ridiculously fresh tofu. If you don't mind fried, the tofu with wild fungus is outstanding. And cheap too!

                              -----
                              Dean Sin World
                              306 N Garfield Ave # 2, Monterey Park, CA

                              1. re: JThur01

                                In that case, I'll have to try both thick and thin XLB.

                            4. Thank you so much for the great information! My wife is very excited about the prospect of fresh tofu, and I'm going to rewatch Tampopo for the 43rd time to get my Ramen juices flowing. Great idea to take home some frozen XLB.

                              We've settled on an inexpensive hotel (Rodeway Inn) in Rosemead. We're going in mid July, and I'll report back on our experience. Thanks again.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Hombre

                                Keep in mind too that vietnamese places typically specialize in one type of dish for instance pho. But there are other places that have specialties of their own which are equally tasty and will open your eyes with dishes like bun bo hue, hu tieu and bahn cuon. I'd search around the old threads for recs on those places.

                                If you end up going to mei long which I highly recommend, make sure you also get the pork pump. don't be afraid of the skin and fat, that's where they put the crack. Also, try JYTH for their hand shaved noodles if you have a meal to spare, great stuff! Is it just the two of you? if you have friends in l.a., invite them out so you can go all out and order family style. Hope you have a fun trip!

                                p.s. I would say skip the frozen xlb, once you've had the fresh onces, the frozen ones won't compare. they typically break and lose the juice and are pretty flaccid by comparison.

                                1. re: chezwhitey

                                  Thanks, chezwhitey. In Phoenix I stick to pho since other dishes I've tried have often been disappointing (at least in comparison to pho). I'll take your advice and try something new. And so Mei Long is now on the list -- and pork fat is right up my alley.

                                  It's just my wife and me, but I'm sure we'll order family style anyways.

                                2. re: Hombre

                                  The beef rolls at 101 Noodles on Valley by New is good too. Along with the XLB from Mama Lu on Garvey by Garfield. Taiwanese breakfast at Huge Tree on Atlantic by the 10 freeway for their sticky rice roll and beef shao bing and wash it down with some warm soy milk if you dont' want to have dim sum anymore.

                                3. Our tentative list so far.

                                  Mei Long Village - XLB
                                  Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant - dim sum
                                  VK Tofu
                                  Noodle King - dan dan mian
                                  Santouka - ramen [nix Daikokuya]
                                  Nha Tran - pho/bun bo hue
                                  Rajdhani - thali
                                  Bhanu Indian Grocery & Cuisine
                                  Kobawoo House - Korean, bossam
                                  Golden Triangle - Burmese
                                  San Gabriel Superstore - Vietnamese pancakes

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Hombre

                                    I really think you need to substitute a different ramen place for Daikokuya. If you look at this recent (long) ramen thread http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/752510 you'll see several other places that are going to do you substantially better than Daikokuya. I am sold on Santouka (either the Shio or the Miso with extra pork) for ramen...

                                    -----
                                    Daikokuya
                                    327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                                    Santouka
                                    3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      Thanks for the tip, Servog. Bulavinaka also suggested a Ramen crawl in South Bay which would be fun if we get enough time off.

                                    2. re: Hombre

                                      If you're going to SG Superstore, maybe add JYTH to your list for noodles?

                                      1. re: Hombre

                                        Hombe, welcome to our city. Seeink inexpensive lodging will not be that tough in SGV. Many inexpensive spots to stay. Dont worry about that now..Jonathon Gold like this version of Dan Dan Mian http://www.laweekly.com/2010-11-04/ea...

                                        1. re: Hombre

                                          I'm a little conflicted, while I love ML Village, I actually think J&J 3 doors down is a bit better, especially their crab and pork xlb. As much as I'd hate to recommend Din Tai Fung, I might have to do that here for these reasons. Their xlb are a little bit more consistent and it's one of those places out of towners love. They have a looking glass window that you can watch the guys make the xlb while you wait entirely too long for your table. Also, DTF's xlb are 1/2 the size but 1.5x the price of the other places. If you eat here for lunch, you'll have plenty of room for dinner and probably be able to reclaim your appetite at a reasonable dinner service hour. Having said that, you can certainly do no wrong going to ML or J&J. If you are doing xlb for dinner, I'd say go to ML or J&J and get the pork pump and shanghai style rice cakes.

                                          btw, is this your first trip to l.a.? I ask because I think LA(and its food) is best experienced by visiting the different ethnic enclaves which will require driving. I think you'll get bored very quickly if you are really just trying to hang around the sgv. So if you want korean, go visit k town, if you want vietnamese, visit westminister etc.

                                          -----
                                          Din Tai Fung Restaurant
                                          1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007

                                          1. re: chezwhitey

                                            "So if you want korean, go visit k town....

                                            I can not agree more that you need to visit Koreatown and Park's BBQ. Truly one of LA's best.
                                            http://www.parksbbq.com/

                                            -----
                                            Park's BBQ
                                            955 S. Vermont Ave, Suite G, Los Angeles, CA 90006

                                          2. re: Hombre

                                            i've found the XLB at mei long village to be very inconsistent. sometimes it's great and sometimes it's sucks. if you have a one shot deal, i'd recommend going to din tai fung. people love to hate din tai fung because it's popular, expensive and crowded. but it's popular, expensive, and crowded for a reason. it's also one of the most popular XLB restaurants in shanghai and taiwan, which is saying something.

                                            i'd also highly recommend getting the beef rolls at 101 noodle express. it's quite possibly my favorite food in all of SGV. i have friends who drive over an hour to eat the stuff. read jonathan gold's review on it and you'll be sold.

                                            when you go to kobawoo house, be sure to order their seafood pancake, too. if you're able to take the metro, kobawoo is right off the red line.

                                            this sounds like a fantastic trip. the restaurants are not in the nicest areas to walk in so if you want to walk some of that food off (to build up your appetite, of course), you can walk around at the pasadena huntington library and gardens, venice beach (when you go to santouka), etc.

                                            1. re: greengelato

                                              Yes...The beef rolls at 101 Noodle Express!

                                              -----
                                              101 Noodle Express
                                              1408 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801

                                               
                                          3. While I'm sure there are many places to keep you busy in the San Gabriel Valley, if you want to expand your eating options, maybe you should stay in the SGV for a couple nights and move on to another location, like Koreatown. The best places around Koreatown are also drinking joints and you can eat late into the night, so you'll have more fun if you stay nearby. Koreatown is also close to Thai town, and Little Tokyo, so it might be a good alternative to SGV the entire time you're in LA. Maybe even spread your wings to the Southbay (Torrance/Gardena) if you want to check out a bunch of Japanese places or visit Long Beach nearby for some Cambodian food. Or maybe take a night around Little Saigon (Garden Grove/Westminster/Anaheim).

                                            1. San Gabriel Valley seems a pretty long haul from LAX if you don't have a car.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: HaroldandMaude

                                                Sounds like the OP is driving in from AZ.