This is definitely an eater's market -- but just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's a bargain. If a $5 cocktail isn't well-crafted, or an appetizer that costs less than a cup of coffee fails to excite your palate, then it's not a delicious deal.
So, wading through the low-price hype, Food section writers found 25 of the best values around, including $1 specials at a favorite San Gabriel Valley noodle house, a 10-course Indian thali feast, a $14.95 lobster dinner with a million-dollar view, the happiest happy hour and our top spots for all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue.
$1, $2, not even $3
1. Dollar special at Bamboodles, $1: Bamboodles' famous feature is the wall-mounted bamboo pole on which a chef hops up and down to work the noodle dough, but of equal allure is the San Gabriel noodle house's $1 special. The special changes every few weeks. You might find discounted noodles with black-pepper beef or chicken and green onions, or maybe a block of fried pork or a plate of spicy fish balls. There are a couple of stipulations, however; you're required to both dine in and finish the entire dish, or you'll have to pay full price. Simple sacrifices. 535 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 281-1226; bamboodlesrestaurant.com.
2. "Test Kitchen Tuesday" appetizers at Cork Bar, $2: Every Tuesday, chef Albert Aviles tests a new, farmers market-driven dish and serves appetizer-size portions for two bucks, until he runs out. It might be carnitas ravioli with tomatillo marinara; queso fresco and pickled onion; or pork belly with watercress, beet greens, pearl onions and fig jus. (Take advantage of happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., for discounted wine and snacks too.) 403 W. 12th St., L.A. (213) 746-0050, www.corkbar.com.
3. Sfiha baalbakia at Al Sanabel Bakery, $2.75: There are about 20 variations of Lebanese flatbreads at Al Sanabel Bakery -- manaeesh, lahmajoun and sfiha. The spice-rubbed zaatar manaeesh is a mere $1.25, but the protein-packed sfiha baalbakia is a more complete meal. Typically a box-like pastry, this sfiha is an 8-inch flatbread topped with finely minced lean beef. Flavored with pomegranate syrup, spices and a sprinkling of pine nuts, the beef is a perfectly tart counterpoint to the lightly charred crust. 816 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 635-4353.
4. All-you-can-eat Korean barbecueat Mu Dung San or Hae Jang Chon, $16.99: Koreatown barbecues are ablaze with grilled meal deals. Banners everywhere advertise bargain combos and all-you-can-eat specials. Topping our list: the classic Mu Dung San, where $16.99 buys unlimited choices from a dozen high-quality meats and the banchan, salad and soup are as nicely made as Grandma's. At the hip Hae Jang Chon, $16.99 brings 13 choices of meat or seafood including baby octopus, pork belly, Angus brisket and kimchi fried rice as a finale, all cooked on a traditional dolgooi, tabletop stone grill. Mu Dung San, 1040 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 737-9292. Hae Jang Chon, 3821 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 389-8777.
5. All-you-can-eat thali at Rajdhani, $14: There are buffets littered throughout Artesia's Little India, most of which avoid double-digit prices. But Rajdhani's 10-course Gujarati thali isn't a typical buffet -- there's no do-it-yourself steam-table service here; instead, you get a sit-down meal as intricate as a 10-course tasting menu. Expect hot roti, a hearty lentil dal, yogurt-enriched soups, vegetable curries and endless condiments. Whenever you finish a dish, a waiter is right there with a refill, a process that creates a little galaxy of steel cups orbiting your plate. There's dessert too -- saffron and rose ice creams, fudge-like blocks of sweetened gram flour -- so save room. 18525 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 402-9102.
6. Breakfast at La Casita Mexicana, $7.99: Can't think of a better way to start the day than with a platter of chilaquiles at La Casita Mexicana. Here it's fried tortillas with nopales (cactus) or guajillo chiles smothered with one of several sauces: a rojo tomato and cascabel sauce, a verde tomatillo and serrano sauce, a combination of the two (divorciados), a 46-ingredient mole poblano, or red or green pepian sauce made with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and chiles. It's topped with cotija cheese, crema, beans and red onions. (Excellent eggs ranchero and omelets are $7.99 too.) Wash it all down with cinnamon-scented de la olla coffee, sweetened with a little piloncillo (dark sugar). 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773-1898, www.casitamex.com.
7. Texas sampler at Bludso's BBQ, $25.50: The Texas truism that everything is bigger in the Lone Star State has taken root at Bludso's in Compton. The restaurant brings that big-waisted wisdom home with its Texas sampler, a combination plate of every tender, slow-smoked meat on the menu -- plus two sides. That adds up to pork ribs, beef ribs, rib tips, chicken, chicken links, beef links, pork shoulder and the restaurant's expert brisket. It can easily feed five. 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton, (310) 637-1342.
8. Torpedo sub sandwich at Angelo's Italian Deli, $8.99: Don't even try to face down the Torpedo all by yourself. This foot-long monster sub sold at Angelo's, located just off 2nd Street in Belmont Shore, starts with chewy, crusty Italian bread and piles on imported cold cuts, provolone cheese and all the trimmings. But it's the herb-garlic spread that really makes this sandwich stand out. Share it -- and the $8.99 price tag -- with a friend. 190 La Verne Ave., Long Beach, (562) 434-1977. There's also a Seal Beach location: 133 1/2 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 431-1113.
Burger and a shake
9. Burger at Golden State, $10: There may be less-expensive burgers, sure, but in the $10-burger category, Golden State's is hard to beat. It's a juicy, meaty, fatty 6-ounce patty of prime beef on a Röckenwagner brioche bun ("We tried 8 billion different buns," says co-owner Jason Bernstein), with house-made aioli, ketchup, Fiscalini cheddar and bacon. And it comes with fries too. 426 N. Fairfax Ave., (323) 782-8331, www.thegoldenstatecafe.com.
10. Milkshakes at Rowdy Red Wine & Burger Bar, $3: For towering milkshakes at a not-so-steep price, head to the underground food court at the corner of 5th and Flower streets in downtown L.A. The cold, thick milkshakes come in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, Oreo, chocolate peanut butter and Peet's coffee. 515 S. Flower St., L.A. (213) 627-5511.