Pork-cheek BLT and fries at Larry’s in Venice
Eating out on a budget these days is a pretty big challenge. As you check the glove box and couch cushions for loose change, here are a few options that offer both good food and exceptional value.
Atwater Crossing Kitchen
Flatbread is the budget diner’s dish du jour, but all too often it’s a poor excuse for a meal. At the new Atwater Crossing Kitchen, however, the flatbreads are taken seriously, as is the whole menu, on which nothing costs more than $12.50. Chef Sarkis Berghoudian, who once owned Fiddler’s Bistro and Blue Pyramid, was coaxed out of retirement to run the kitchen at this open-air café in an ultrahip complex of creative businesses. Berghoudian’s wood-burning oven turns out gorgeous flatbreads (try the one with Spanish chorizo and Serrano ham or the one with spiced minced lamb, caramelized onion, feta, and pomegranate-mint pesto) and puffy pizza-style bread, which serves as the bun for the terrific Kobe burger. Salads—such as the farro tabbouleh—are bright and fresh, some beer selections are local, wines are chosen by Lou Amdur of Lou’s Wine Bar fame, and the adjacent stage sometimes hosts live music. 3245 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles; 1-323-522-3488. —Colleen Dunn Bates
Located steps from the Venice Beach boardwalk, Larry’s turns out worthy pizzas in a locale that normally costs diners a lot more. It bills itself as a gastropub, and, indeed, it has an excellent selection of draft beers (including Red Seal Red Ale and O’Hara’s Irish Stout) and wines (though not enough on the cheap end). Food selections share well and don’t cost too much: green curry mussels; a pork-cheek BLT; a salad of wild arugula and grilled figs; a very good plate of cured meats, cheeses, and pickles; and, of course, pizzas—the one with Brussels sprouts, bacon, parmesan, and a drizzle of chile vinegar was $14 very well spent. 24 Windward Avenue, Venice; 1-310-399-2700. —C.D.B.
Darabar Secret Thai Cuisine
I wasn’t able to figure out what the “secret” is about Darabar Secret Thai Cuisine—it’s one of many strip-mall Thai cafés in East Hollywood (a.k.a. Thai Town), and its menu isn’t written in code. But it does have some dishes you don’t see everywhere else: crunchy pork soup (using all sorts of pig parts, including fried pork belly), inventive fried-rice concoctions with salted fish or shrimp paste and sweet pork, and good seafood, such as fried, battered mussels and squid with spicy lemon. You’ll also find classics, like shrimp dumplings, papaya salad, an excellent spicy eggplant, and rich jungle curry flavored with Kaffir lime, galangal, chile, and lemongrass. Entrées range from $7 to $13. 5112 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood; 1-323-668-2717 —C.D.B.
Banu Persian Restaurant
The dark facade of this restaurant is reminiscent of a dive bar, and the interior resembles the Japanese barbecue eatery it once was, complete with round gas-fired grills set into several tables. But once the food arrives, there’s no confusion: Banu Persian Restaurant serves generous helpings of Persian and Middle Eastern fare at some of the friendliest prices on the boulevard. The standard kebabs are juicy and tender, but the rice specials (served with lamb or chicken kebabs) are the way to go; try the albaloo polo, a sweet-savory toss of rice with sour cherries, pistachios, and slivered almonds. For a more hands-on dining experience, order up the marinated flap meat (one of my favorite cuts of beef) and cook it on your tabletop grill. 17970 Ventura Boulevard, Encino; 1-818-774-9621. —Jean T. Barrett
Take a Bao
Take a Bao is a cute name and concept for a restaurant: Start with pillowy clamshell-shaped Chinese steamed buns (bao), stuff them with an array of Asian-accented fillings, and sell them for around five bucks each. The formula worked like a charm at the first location in Century City, and now Studio City has its own Take a Bao, which has been packed since it opened last October. The bao, which come in white or wheat versions, make for tasty grazing (try the duck confit or the panko-crusted fish), but other menu items are worthy and well-priced, too, such as roasted market fish in a coconut–Kaffir lime broth with stir-fried veggies, and the grilled hanger steak with sumac-dusted steak fries. 11838 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City; 1-818-691-7223. —J.T.B.
Vertical Wine Bistro
The worst-kept secret in Pasadena may be happy hour at Vertical Wine Bistro, when the chic restaurant’s upscale kitchen cranks out an array of tempting items at nickel-and-dime prices ($5–$10). Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and all night Sunday, a ten-spot will get you a steaming bowl of mussels with sliced chorizo, and $8 will snag a terrific slider trio, toothsome miniature burgers served in chewy rolls that actually have flavor. A heaping helping of shoestring fries is just $5, and crisp-edged flatbread pizzas with varying toppings are a mere $6. Selected drinks are also discounted, making this early- or late-dining option a real deal in the Rose City. 70 N. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena. 1-626-795-3999. —J.T.B.
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