Experience has taught us that there's no such thing as a free lunch -- and the almost free, cheap eats version often verges on inedible. However, in L.A.'s Thai town and Hollywood's eastern edge you can find some lunch plates that defy economics and satisfy for as low as $4.99 for a combo platter.
"After working in an office, I wanted to offer an affordable lunch with more choices," explains Wat Dong Moon Lek's co-owner Jenny Seetathaworn, who along with her husband chef Billy Jalanugraha, created a $6.99 value-priced lunch set combo that's available everyday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Turn the page to find out more about what's on the menu during these three lunchtime deals, from low to the (relatively) highest priced.
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3. Thai Patio: In a former coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard (the original Palm's Thai location), at a recession-busting $4.99 per plate, Thai Patio's deal equals a choice of seven basic entrees (for instance, BBQ chicken or a protein stir-fried with spicy basil) plus small sides of white rice, salad and a fried wonton. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., 323/466-3894. (no website)
2. Red Corner Asia: In the same crowded Thai Town mini-mall as Thai Patio, Red Corner Asia's weekday lunch special of $5.95 keeps the brightly lit restaurant hopping. Combine a protein--beef, chicken, tofu or pork--with a proletarian mix of veggies. (It's $2 more for shrimp.) Start with either an iceberg lettuce and carrot salad or a daily soup (a hot and sour spicy broth with mushrooms for instance). No surprise: no substitutions. Best choice are the noodles, all entrees come with fatty fried won tons.
1. Wat Dong Moon Lek: Selection is varied here for the $6.99 Thai version of plat-du-jour --and there's no extra charge brown or the egg-speckled fried rice. Choose two sides and a main--tofu comes fried or steamed--a welcome healthful alternative. Among the main dish mix-ins available are spicy basil eggplant, cashew nuts and spicy basil green beans. Add in sole filet for $2. While the portions are smaller than the restaurant's standard entrees--teamsters and linebackers take note--they're popular with the hospital staffers that frequent the storefront eatery at lunchtime.
Wat Doong Moon Lek's co-owners lived in Thailand before opening the restaurant, studying the street food vendors and training at a famed Bangkok noodle spot, hence the restaurant's addictive and flavorful noodle dishes. Fresh squeezed fruit juice smoothies and Thai iced tea are super refreshing but inch up the lunch tab. The storefront eatery will soon expand into the space next door, adding a juice bar and more seating. Seetathaworn is putting in another oven so she can return to daily dessert and pastry making; those will be value-priced, she promises.