Hey, not everyone can be a movie star and dine at Spago every night. (Yeah, we're pretty sure they're not there every night, but they must be somewhere.) Some of us need to make those nickels count and, lucky for us, L.A. is the cheap eats capital of America. Here are nine of the best deals around.
? Let's Be Frank in Culver City, Silver Lake and Pasadena
You may have gone to the Helms Bakery Complex for more pricey fare, like Father's Office and Bucato, but on weekends, don't sleep on the Frank Dog ($6) at Sue Moore and Larry Bain's parking lot Let's Be Frank cart. These grass-fed dogs are sustainably sourced and free of nitrates, nitrites, hormones and antibiotics, so you can finally stop feeling bad about your addiction. Hot diggity dog!
? Joe's Falafel in Studio City
The Cahuenga Pass isn't the most heavily traveled road in L.A., but for lovers of the fluffiest, freshest falafel in the city, it's a vital thoroughfare. The Vegetarian Combo ($8.50) gets you two pieces of falafel, plus hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, two kinds of cabbage salad, super eggplant moussaka and dolmas. Add their transcendent made-to-order lafa (a flatbread that gets baked on the side of a tandoori-like oven and puts regular old pita to shame) for a dollar and fifty cents and you can easily feed two on ten bucks.
? Honey's Kettle in Culver City
The 2 Piece Lunch is deceptively simple: two pieces of fried chicken, an order of fries, a biscuit, and a tiny cup of bread & butter pickles for $9.25. The sum, however, is greater than its parts. Honey's Kettle produces magnificent fried chicken, coated with a thick, crispy, golden crust that's neither greasy nor dry. The biscuit could easily compete for best biscuit in L.A. and when everything on your plate gets mixed with hot sauce and honey, you'll find yourself wondering why you don't come here every day.
? Ruen Pair in Hollywood
Thai lunch specials are nothing new, but what about a salad that will blow your mind for less than $7? You can eat papaya salad all over Southeast Asia and the version served at Ruen Pair can easily hold its own against anything on the other side of the Pacific. Unripe shredded papaya gets mixed with green beans, tomatoes, dried shrimp, ground peanuts and lime juice for the classic salty/sour/spicy/sweet flavor combo that defines the region. At $6.95, this is a salad worth seeking out.
? 800 Degrees in Westwood, Santa Monica and LAX
Most pizzerias offer pizza by the slice for a few bucks, but 800 Degrees offers a steal of an entire pie for $5.85 The Neapolitan(ish) Bianca pizza comes stacked with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic, oregano and olive oil. Balance out that white space with some green: Add a simple salad dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan for $4.
? Tsujita LA in Sawtelle
We're in the middle of something of a ramen renaissance in L.A., but the gold standard (no, not that Gold) will always be Tsujita. The tonkotsu ramen's noodles are thin and perfectly chewy. The tonkotsu broth, which takes two and a half days to make, is pure Kurobuta pork in liquid form. And for $8.95, there is the feeling that you'll never be hungry again.
? Chego! in Chinatown
Roy Choi made his name on Korean tacos, but his greatest achievement may be Chego!, the rice bowl emporium with delicious food and questionable customer service policies. (Actual quote from the company blog: "you get what you get and you don't get upset." Aw, so sweet!) But cultural mishmash deals like the $9 Chubby Pork Belly bowl justify the treatment: thick pieces of pork belly, veggies, cotija cheese and, yes, peanuts? Some call it the perfect stoner food. We call it dinner.
? Top Round in Mid-Wilshire
This spot takes the Arby's model and puts an actual chef behind it. Steven Fretz of The Church Key is serving his slow-roasted beef sandwich with fries made in beef tallow (just like McDonalds used to do!) for $7.70. It may come out quickly, but don't call it fast food.
? Zankou Chicken in Various Locations
Zankou was famous long before Beck immortalized them in song, and this crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken is why. The $8.79 Quarter Plate (white or dark meat) comes with hummus, tomatoes, pita, pickled turnips and their legendary garlic spread, which is so good it must be made with opiates.