You know as well as we do: The city of Los Angeles offers a culinary topography as diverse as its population. And while we can always count on you to be finicky about your fashion, Angelenos are even more discriminating about their food. For those looking for that gem in the neighborhood or a taste of something new just a drive across town, we're offering a well-edited collection of places that will no doubt satiate your senses. We asked local food blogger, Natalie James of FashionIntel to weigh in all the secret mouth-watering spots around town that offer an amazing meal and an amazing deal, and her list of ethnic gems does not disappoint (fish tacos, ramen, pupusas...don't get us started!). These are the spots you can pull up a seat, get cozy, and have a fantastic food experience that's seriously wallet-friendly. Dig into our latest hit-list of L.A. cheap and unexpected eats.
Rameniac ranks Shin-Sen-Gumi as #4 on his list of best ramen in L.A., but this delicious noodle house has remained my #1 for years. It's one of the few places in this town that you can indulge in a piping hot bowl of Hakata-style ramen while listening to the jovial salutations from their helpful staff. Your senses will let you know that you're in for a treat when the aroma of the pork broth invades your nostrils from the drive down Valley Boulevard. Order up a bowl with extra pickled ginger and enjoy what will be the most savory broth to ever pass your lips. Tip: Don't be afraid to use the vinegar and chili oil in each spoonful!
Shin-Sen-Gumi, 8450 Valley Boulevard #103 (at West Garvey Avenue); 626) 943-7956.
Previous to visiting Jaragua, all of my pupusa excursions have involved street vendors in the areas surrounding MacArthur Park and the Rampart district, so I was hesitant to eat at any place offering me a chair to sit in. When I heard praises about the family-owned Jaragua and their menu of El Salvadorian dishes, I knew I had to give it a try. Plus, the chances of dropping curtido (pickled cabbage) on my shirt was now a tad bit slimmer. Try the ayote con queso pupusa (squash and cheese), platano frito con frijoles y crema (fried plantains with black beans and cream), and the yucca con chicharron (yucca with fried pork). After showing your stomach how much you love it, stop by the bar and order yourself a libation created by L.A. mixologist Andrew Willett.
Jaragua, 4493 Beverly Boulevard (at Oakwood Avenue); 323-661-1985.
3. Cooks Tortas:
Don't go to Cook's Tortas just because their bread was perfected by the owner's brother-in-law, who once held down the job as top baker at the original Bouchon. Head down to this torta mecca because they have an entire chalkboard full of Mexican sandwiches that will undoubtedly get you drooling. Did I mention they have some of the best agua frescas in town—cucumber lime anyone? For those looking for a torta with some extra bite, I highly recommend the Ranchito (their most expensive torta at $7.95). It will leave you with virtual vibrations in your mouth...promise.
Cooks Tortas, 1944 South Atlantic Boulevard (at Brightwood Street); 323-278-3536.
4. Samosa House & Bharat Bazaar:
If you make it a point to eat everything this wonderful city has to offer, you might have noticed that some of the best food joints are found in or connected to small markets. Samosa house is no different, serving up some of the best vegetarian Indian eats in all of L.A. For $7.99 you can enjoy a 3-item vegetarian plate consisting of some of the most creative dishes, made with ingredients like jackfruit and lotus root. Add to your nosh a mango lassi or fresh coconut water (found in the market), and you have yourself the perfect afternoon meal.
Samosa House and Bharat Bazaar, 11510 West Washington Boulevard (at Berryman Avenue); 310-398-6766.
5. Raffi's Place:
Glendale has an abundance of great food in the L.A. area: You can't go one block without seeing an Armenian bakery, deli or mini-market packed with olives, rose-water ice cream, and fresh herbs. When I want to relax and dine al fresco, I head over to Raffi's Place, a landmark in this part of town. The shish kabob is mouthwatering and their fluffy rice is unrivaled as it is cooked with saffron. Their herbs, hummus, and lavash bread are always fresh, so you can expect a burst of flavor in every bite. If you're willing to pay a little more than Zankou and Al Wazir for a meal you won't forget, Raffi's Place is definitely for you.
Raffi's Place, 21211 East Broadway (at North Maryland Avenue); 818-240-7411.
6. Merkato Ethiopian Restaurant & Market:
Again, there is something special about restaurants that share a space with a market. No matter how many times I trek on over to Little Ethiopia, I find myself cozying up in the incense infused Merkato, which serves up delicious Ethiopian fare for spice loving omnivores and their vegetarian friends. If you haven't tried injera (Ethiopian bread) then you haven't really lived, and I urge you to drop what you're doing and head over to this miraculous spot on Fairfax. My menu suggestions always consist of their asa tibbs, which is fried trout accompanied with vegetarian sides like lentils, collard greens, steamed cabbage, and salsa. If you want to make yourself at home, order your table some strong Ethiopian coffee and relax while taking in the scene; you just might spot a photo of Bono (eating at Merkato) taped up somewhere on the walls.
Merkato, 1036 1/2 Fairfax Avenue (at Olympic Boulevard); 323) 935-1775.
7. Casa Bianca Pizza Pie:
Back in the day when Barack Obama was a student at Occidental College, he would frequent this mom 'n' pop pizza pie joint. Casa Bianca has remained a favorite in this community's gut even with the boom of restaurants on Colorado Boulevard over the past few years. You know what you are getting here and there is something about familiarity that can make the heart grow fonder. As with most red and white checkered pizza parlors, you should stick with the meat pizzas like sausage and pepperoni but I have a friend that swears by their eggplant pizza. Skip the salad here and just go for their cheesy pies, you can thank me later.
Casa Bianca, 1650 Colorado Boulevard (at Mount Royal Drive); 323-256-9617.
8. The Corner Place:
Nothing says a good time like sitting down with a few friends over beers while cooking your own meat, Korean-style. Real food lovers flock to this establishment to enjoy a bowl of dongchimi gooksu (cold noodles), and friends of mine have been known to liken its addictive properties to crack. Though they're known for their bulgogi and cold noodles, I seriously come just to eat the bahn-chahn (Korean tapas) because I like anything pickled and at The Corner Place, they take it to the max.
The Corner Place, 2819 James M. Wood Boulevard (at South Westmoreland Avenue); 213) 487-0968.
9. Tacos Baja Ensenada:
There seems to be a growing, albeit, heated discourse on who makes the best fish tacos in Los Angeles. You have contenders like Ricky's, Senor Fish, and the Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, but every time I have the urge for something crunchy and covered in crema, I head over to Tacos Baja Ensenada in East L.A. The place can get easily crowded inside, but I can always take my plate outside to one of the many tables and enjoy my battered pescado and camarones with a bottle of Mexican coke. Throw in one of their various ceviches and I'm in seafood heaven. As an added bonus to the meal are the complimentary warm yellow chilies sprinkled with seasoning; I advise anyone reading this to load up on these.
Tacos Baja Ensenada, 5385 Whittier Boulevard (at Oakford Drive); 323-887-1980.
10. Luscious Dumplings:
The masses flock to Din-Tai-Fung for their universally known pork soup dumplings, but if you want to keep it simple and avoid the crazy crowds, I suggest you drive over to Luscious Dumplings instead. Sure, you might have a short wait, but your experience will feel more like eating in someone's home rather than in the middle of a well-oiled machine. Depending on where you're sitting, you might get a glimpse of the family who runs this place handcrafting perfect panfried dumplings, pot-stickers, and xiao long bao. Come hungry and early, and don't forget to bring cash! P.S.: Nothing on the menu is more than $6.
Luscius Dumplings, 704 West Las Tunas Drive, Suite #4 (at Sycamore Drive); 626-282-8695.