Our 99 Essential Restaurants issue came out last week. In celebration, we're highlighting some of the spots for their special attributes. Today: Cheap eats!!
In many cities, the best food is also the most expensive. That is certainly not the case in Los Angeles, where you're just as likely to find food nirvana on a street corner as you are in an upscale restaurant. For this year's 99 Essential Restaurants list, there are plenty of spots highlighted that aren't much of a financial commitment at all - in fact, you ought to be able to get in, get out, and get fed for under $10. Here are ten of those spots.
10. Bánh Mì My-Tho
Until we're all lucky enough to have neighborhood bánh mì
shops the way we have neighborhood taquerias and neighborhood cafés, Bánh Mì My-Tho will have to serve as our collective neighborhood Vietnamese sandwich shop, a tiny, standing room-only place where you'll find fantastic, crusty bánh mì
. Here the sandwiches are layered with pickled carrots and daikon, mayo, sprigs of cilantro and your pick of meat, like, say, grilled pork (thit nuong) or the ever-popular đac biet
(cold cuts), which comes with that critical shmear of pâté. Regardless of what you order, you always could top off your sandwich with a fried egg and have yourself the best morning sandwich in L.A. Banh Mi My-Tho has served the breakfast and lunchtime crowd for a remarkable 20 years; even more remarkable - almost criminal, in fact - is that, even after all that time, most every bánh mì
here is $3 or less. If there were any justice in the world, a sandwich here would cost at least as much as almost any other sandwich in L.A. But who's complaining? Sandwiches, $2.50-$3. 304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 289-4160.
9. Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita
There are times when you want not just a sandwich but a very particular type of sandwich: something less intense than the #19 at Langer's, say, but with a bit more bite than a torta. In which case, you're likely craving a cemita
, the sandwich from Puebla, Mexico, that's the specialty of Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita in Boyle Heights. The cemita
will have slices of brilliantly green avocado, a web of hand-pulled string cheese called quesillo
, terrific smoky chipotle chiles and your pick of meat, though everyone seems to pick the milanesa
, a piece of veal that's been pounded thin, breaded and perfectly fried. Everything will be improbably crammed into a toasted seeded roll that's softer than its crunchy exterior would suggest. The sandwich is filling on its own, but you may also want to grab a taco arabe
, filled with shredded pork rolled in a soft tortilla, for good measure. In any case, your craving will be supremely satisfied. Sandwiches, $2.50-$6.50. 3010 E. First St., Boyle Heights; (323) 881-0428.
8. Colonia Taco Lounge
At Colonia Taco Lounge, Ricardo Diaz of Guisados fame brings together two factions that have long been destined to share an intimate relationship: very good tacos and very good beer. Located on a somewhat desolate stretch of Valley Boulevard in La Puente, Colonia is brightly designed and feels almost upscale once you're inside. Order from the blackboard menu on the wall, then sit and wait for your tacos to arrive. The guisados
, or stewed meats, are just as warming and hearty as you might imagine if you've ever worshipped at the temple of Diaz's landmark restaurants, but there are a few completely original surprises here. The cauliflower taco takes the award for best vegetarian taco in town, with fried cauliflower florets that pop like shrimp. Then there's the actual shrimp taco: Served on an outstanding warm flour tortilla from Mexicali, the shrimp, sautéed in aji
, burst with freshness. What sets this taco apart is the base of creamy, coconut rice smeared between the tortilla and the shrimp. The rice is so comforting, so sweet, so full of flavor, it makes for a taco that engages you both emotionally and physically. That alone is worth the drive to La Puente. Tacos, $3-$5. 13030 E. Valley Blvd., La Puente; (626) 363-4691.
7. Golden Deli
Golden Deli is now just over three decades young, or, to put in perspective, the same age as a Millennial. That it has not only survived but thrived, in a part of town that sees restaurants open and close with alarming regularity, is testament to its dependability, which rivals that of your old Civic. No matter what your age, the bowls of pho
here are always comforting, as is the chicken curry served with bánh mì
or steamed rice. And, of course, those egg rolls: search for #chagio on Instagram, and you'll very likely pull up at least one photo of the restaurant's amber, cigar-sized egg rolls. With the possible exception of the ones your family makes at home, these are the best you'll find in L.A. County. More recently, the restaurant introduced cupcakes - yes, cupcakes - to its menu; as is the style these days, these are sometimes topped with things like Fruity Pebbles. Will you Instagram them, too? Probably. But not before posting a photo of that egg roll. Hashtag: best. Entrees, $5-$10. 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel; (626) 308-0803.