10 Best Cheap Eats in Los Angeles
Hot dogs and tater tots at Fab's Hot Dogs
10. Best Hot Dogs: Fab Hot Dogs
Nestled in the San Fernando Valley in Reseda is Fab Hot Dogs, a joint with a menu as big as the U.S. map that hangs in your third-grade classroom. Indeed, you can get your own geography lesson just by scanning Fab's menu: There are the self-explanatory Philly Cheese Steak and Carolina Slaw dogs, a Boston dog with BBQ baked beans and a Texas Burrito Dog topped, appropriately enough, with Fritos. What Fab might be best known for, though, is the Ripper, which comes straight from the northern part of the Garden State: a hot dog thrown into the deep fryer until the casing explodes. For hot dog aficionados on this side of the Jersey shore, this Ripper alone is worth the drive to Reseda: It's a juicy, crisp, lovely frank unlike most anything else you've had. Because tater tots are to hot dogs as french fries are to hamburgers, the tots here should be ordered and consumed — as you did in your elementary school cafeteria — with equal parts ketchup and glee. 19417 Victory Blvd., Reseda. (818) 344-4336, fabhotdogs.com. —Tien Nguyen
Banh mi at Bánh Mì My Tho
9. Best Bánh Mì: Bánh Mì My Tho
Bánh mì shops are to the San Gabriel Valley as ramen joints are to the South Bay: You can barely go a block without driving past at least one. That said, the one worth driving several blocks down Valley Boulevard for is Bánh Mì My Tho, a small shop with barely enough space for a counter, a few refrigerated cases and a handful of shelves crammed with Vietnamese treats. For less than the price of a gallon of gas, you can pick up a bánh mì trúng op la, an egg sandwich that may very well be the Angeleno's answer to the New Yorker's egg and cheese on a roll. For lunch, the ac biet is for the meat lover, with a variety of Vietnamese cold cuts — or try the sandwich stuffed with juicy chunks of charbroiled pork (thit nuong). If you're worried about the language barrier, don't be: As it says on the website, they speak English, and Mandarin and Cantonese, too. After all, the language of the bánh mì is universal. 304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 289-4160, banhmimytho.com. —Tien Nguyen
8. Best Shawarma: Ta-eem Grill
At Ta-eem Grill, a late-night Israeli joint on Melrose, where a dripping shawarma spit turns seductively in the window, you choose a style of bread and build your sandwich by choosing toppings à la Subway: a dab of baba ghanoush and crushed garlic-chile sauce, a bit of Israeli salad or a handful of green olives. Once you've assembled the perfect shawarma vehicle, thin strips of moist chicken are shaved off and piled on. The meat is indecently juicy, lightly seared and saturated with lashings of turmeric and cumin. If only someone managed to sneak in a couple packets of Zankou's garlic sauce, all would be right with the world. 7422 Melrose Ave., Fairfax District. (323) 944-0013. —Garrett Snyder
Bay Cities mac 'n' cheese
7. Best Macaroni and Cheese: Bay Cities Italian Deli
If you were unimpressed by the mac 'n' cheese you tried at Bay Cities Italian Deli, then you must have tried its other mac 'n' cheese. There are two distinct macs served at the Santa Monica Italian deli: one in the traditional saucy yellow, and the other a sprezzaturic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dish. The latter could never disappoint. The macaroni swells with eight of the most flavorful cheeses in the house; hunks of leftover bread lap up the residual oils. Bay Cities' mac is enough to give heartburn to an 8-year-old — and good enough for him to know it's worth it. Call ahead if you can and ask for the casserole-style in the hot case. The lunch line could go through an entire tray long before you get to order. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 395-8279, baycitiesitaliandeli.com.
Jim Dandy Fried Chicken
6. Best Fried Chicken: Jim Dandy
A great plate of fried chicken can be high art these days — Farmshop, Bouchon and Cube Marketplace all serve spectacular, if pricey, versions. Deep down, though, you know that a few crunchy wings and thighs shouldn't come with valet parking. That's why there is Jim Dandy in South Central, one of two remaining outposts of a fried chicken chain that in the 1970s sprawled from Mississippi to Massachusetts. The zesty, seasoned crust might be the crispiest in town, and the meat practically bursts with schmaltz. Equally famous are the little corn fritters, which come dusted with powdered sugar like tiny beignets. It's no stretch to describe this small takeout stand (ensconced in bulletproof glass, naturally) as a cultural relic, but even after a couple decades of hard-core frying, its chicken still flies with the best of them. 11328 S. Vermont Ave., South Central. (323) 779-5567 (no website). —Garrett Snyder
Pa-Ord boat noodles
5. Best Boat Noodles: Pa-Ord Noodle
As much as we love the version at Sapp Coffee Shop, the boat noodles at Pa-Ord Noodle are graduate-level stuff — the Bitches Brew of Bangkok cuisine. You're headed to a specialist of extra-murky boat noodles, or kuay tiew rua, one of Thailand's most beloved street foods. The broth is dark, wildly intense and funky as a Parliament track. Thickened with pork blood and perfumed with star anise. Unrelentingly spicy, with zaps of sweet and sour nipping the edges of your tongue. The bowl is filled with scraps of offal you might not be able to identify: perforated squares of tripe, a slice of liver or spleen, a handful of crushed-up chicharron and a fish ball or two bobbing in the soup like pale apples. A bit of chopped scallion, cilantro and some young bok choy leaves are tossed in. There are some slippery rice noodles, too, wide or thin, based on your preference. But really, it's all about that broth: If you ever wondered what those cartoon witches were stirring in their bubbling cauldrons, this might be the best guess. 5301 W. Sunset Blvd., Ste. 8, E. Hlywd. (323) 461-3945, paordnoodle.menutoeat.com. —Garrett Snyder
4. Best Pho: Pho Filet
The star of Pho Filet, as you may guess, is its filet mignon, which comes as standard in most of the restaurant's bowls of pho. The filet mignon's immensely popular co-star is the pho bac; it's a distinctly gingered affair, with pronounced hits of cloves in each slurp. It is absolutely delicious, although because it is rather strong, a purist may prefer the lighter version over at Pho Huynh's. Good thing, then, that Pho Filet's Southern-style pho is equally superb. Try the pho tai (pho with thin slices of filet mignon) and ask for the meat on the side so you can leisurely add it into your scalding hot, slightly sweet, deeply flavorful broth to cook as you please. It will be a soul-satisfying meal. 9463 E. Garvey Ave., Ste. A, South El Monte. (626) 453-8911 (no website).
La Azteca Tortilleria
3. Best Burrito: La Azteca Tortilleria
La Azteca Tortilleria, an old-school tortilleria in East Los Angeles that's been open for 65 years, has a small menu for customers who can't wait to go home to eat their freshly assembled tortillas. Consequently, it makes the best burrito in town: one made with profoundly awesome flour tortillas, obviously, but also embellished by a meringue-battered whole chile relleno, expert refried beans and a simple chopped pico de gallo salsa Mexicana. Maybe this is because the subtle sweetness of the roasted poblano chile defies the usual salt-on-salt burrito paradigm? Hint, hint to other burrito places in town. 4538 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East L.A. (323) 262-5977.
ramen at Tsujita L.A.
2. Best Ramen: Tsujita L.A.
Since opening last August, Little Osaka's Tsujita L.A. has quickly become the most serious purveyor of Hakata tonkotsu in town, a fact validated by the noodle-loving crowds waiting outside the building around opening time. Though it serves its ramen only during an abbreviated lunch hour — out of concern that the dish's popularity would overshadow the dinnertime kaiseki menu — the lengthy wait list for a table can rival something out of the UCLA admissions department. The hard-cooked noodles float in broth made from long-simmered chicken, fish and marrow-laden Kurobuta-pork bones, which combine for the ideal balance of porcine funk and buttery intensity. There are thick slices of char siu, too, in case things weren't already porky enough; a sauce-saturated, soft-boiled egg that bursts its orange yolk when pierced with a chopstick; and little containers of red pickled ginger and spicy mustard leaf condiment, which provide sharp and acidic counterbalances to the rich-as-crushed-velvet soup. 2057 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 231-7373, tsujita-la.com. —Garrett Snyder
1. Best Tacos: Guisados
The most difficult thing you will encounter at Guisados is the menu. There are so many guisados — stewed meats and vegetables — and only so much room in your stomach. So, unless you're really set on a particular filling, your best bet is to order the sampler plate, which offers six mini-tacos, each filled with a fantastic meat or vegetable housed in a deliciously chewy, handmade tortilla. These tacos are the reason Guisados tied for first place (along with Mariscos Jalisco) in L.A. Taco's Taco Madness 2012 — and we wholeheartedly agree with the vote. After you finish those six samplers, you might still have room for at least one full-size taco, which will bring you full-circle to your original dilemma of so many flavors, so very rapidly decreasing stomach capacity. You'll have to choose wisely now, but rest assured that you can never choose incorrectly. And don't forget the tamales. 2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 264-7201, guisados.co. —Tien Nguyen
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