There are deals, and then there are delicious deals. But sometimes it’s tricky to distinguish between the two when restaurants’ offers of “buy one, get one free” and “half-price on Wednesdays” are as commonplace as tuna tartare or beet salad.
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.
Coffee and some pastries
11. Cafecito Organico coffee, $10 for 12 ounces:For your next coffee fix, Cafecito Organico is the local bargain. The L.A.-based company specializes in sustainably grown beans, which it roasts locally and in small batches. A 12-ounce bag will set you back only about $10 for most varieties, including single-origin, espresso and decaf coffees. Silver Lake farmers market on Saturday and Hollywood farmers market on Sunday, online at www.coffeecellar.com.
12. Apple-walnut strudel at Mishi’s Strudel, $4.15: Mishi’s in downtown San Pedro has a seemingly endless supply of the flaky pastry, fresh and frozen strudel (the latter for take-home baking) stuffed with apricots, blueberries, sour cherries, even savory spiced beef. A seasonal pumpkin variety is coming soon, but until then, keep it classic with the apple-walnut strudel. Encased in a crisp filo shell, diced apples are mixed with hunks of walnuts as well as lemon zest, golden raisins and cinnamon. Enjoy it at the Hungarian cafe with a cup of tea or after a steaming bowl of goulash. 309 W. 7th St., San Pedro, (310) 832-6474, www.mishisstrudel.com.
13. Maghreb tart at Blackmarket Bakery, $4.50: Built as it was from a farmers market operation, Blackmarket Bakery is well-practiced in diminutive desserts. Melt-away cookies, little loaves of cinnamon-currant brioche and flourless macaroons all tempt at the bakery’s business park headquarters, but its tarts are some of the more cost-effective treats. Order the not-too-sweet Maghreb tart, a rich, buttery crust loaded with dates, toasted pistachios and almonds all set in a rosewater caramel -- it’s like a North African pecan pie. 17941 Sky Park Circle, Suite E, Irvine, (949) 852-4609, www.blackmarketbakery.com.
Cocktails and wine
14. Cocktails at Copa d’Oro happy hour, $5: What better way to spend happy hour than in Santa Monica at Copa d’Oro, where bartender extraordinaire Vincenzo Marianella will make you any of 12 classic cocktails from the “Happy Depression Menu": Aviation, Ward Eight, Dark & Stormy -- they all go down especially easy for five bucks. And happy hour is all night on Monday, 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 217 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 576-3030, www.copadoro.com.
15. Half-off wine at Akasha, Itacho and Wilshire: If one of your favorite restaurants is offering bottles of wine at a 50% discount on certain weeknights, then why not plan accordingly? Akasha in Culver City offers half-off bottles of wine on Wednesdays, and so does Itacho, the popular izakaya next to Angelini Osteria on Beverly Boulevard. At Wilshire in Santa Monica, which has a wine list more than 20 pages long, 50%-off night is Monday; get a bottle of Torrontes for $16.50 or that ’86 Chateau Margaux for $414. Akasha, 9543 Culver Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 845-1700, www.akasharestaurant.com; Itacho, 7311 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 938-9009; Wilshire, 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 586-1707, www.wilshirerestaurant.com.
Lobster and crab
16. Lobster dinner at Beachcomber, $14.95: Known for its million-dollar views of Surfrider Beach, its adjacent Malibu Pier Club bar and the occasional star sighting, the Beachcomber cafe on the Malibu Pier treats Tuesday diners to half a lobster with drawn butter and fries for just $14.95. 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (310) 456-9800.
17. Crawfish boil at West 4th/Jane, $9.99 a pound: Every Wednesday night, gastropub West 4th/Jane boils up traditional N’Awlins-style crawfish dinners for $9.99. The meal includes a full pound of the spicy Gulf of Mexico mudbugs simmered in a cayenne-laced broth with red potatoes and corn on the cob. Any New Orleans brew from its regional beer selection is $1 off. 1432 4th St., #A, Santa Monica, (310) 395-6765.
The full lunch
18. Lunch specials at Red Ribbon Bakery, up to $6.99: Famous for its outstanding mango cake, Red Ribbon Bakery in Hollywood also offers lunch deals that include an entree, choice of cake and a soft drink for only as much as $6.99. Among the choices are fresh peanut-sauce-topped lumpia and sotanghon, bean thread noodles stir fried with diced chicken and fresh vegetables. Changing cake offerings may be mango, tres leches, coffee crunch or rocky road. Red Ribbon Bakery, 6091 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 465-5999.
19.Katsu-don meal No. 2 at Misasa, $6.50:Katsu-don might be the ultimate Japanese comfort food. A big bowl of rice is topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet and a broken egg that has been quickly poached in a dashi-soy-mirin-sugar broth. One of Southern California’s best katsu-don is at Misasa, in the food court of Mitsuwa Marketplace on the edge of Mar Vista -- and for cheap! It’s fantastic, served with pitch-perfect miso soup, a cube of tofu topped with ginger, soy sauce and green onions, tsukemono (Japanese pickles) and a small cup of barley tea. Misasa, Mitsuwa Marketplace, 3760 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 398-2113, www.mitsuwa.com.
20.Fresh tofu with ginger syrup at Vinh Loi Tofu, $3.29: At this vegetarian cafe and tofu factory in Reseda, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that costs more than $10: noodle soups, salads and spring rolls. But the fresh, warm tofu custard (dau hu duong) drizzled with spicy-sweet ginger syrup is too delicious to pass up. You can also get it with a swirl of coconut milk. Another version is subtly flavored with pandan leaf. 18625 Sherman Way, No. 101, Reseda, (818) 996-9779.
21. Olives at Guidi Marcello, $7.95 a pound: There are few luxuries that can beat having a well-stocked pantry, and one of the best places in Southern California to begin building one is Santa Monica’s Guidi Marcello. At the very least, go for the olives: Sicilian, Baresane, Calabrese, Castelvetrano and Cerignola are crisp and fresh out of vacuum-packed 1-pound bags for only $7.95. You can also pick up a can of Agostino Recca’s salted anchovies (1 kilogram for $19.95) and some salted capers (2 1/2 -ounce jar for only $3.75). And then there are olive oils, condiments and cookies. And look! Bottarga di mugine! 1649 10th St., Santa Monica, (310) 452-6277.
22. Pork shoulder, less than $2 a pound: You can argue about what are the best buys in the rest of the store, but in the meat department there is only one hands-down bargain king: the pork shoulder (sometimes called “picnic roast” or “picnic ham”). Not only is it the moistest, most flavorful cut of meat from the pig, it usually comes with the skin intact, meaning crisp, porky cracklings. And hold on, here comes the best part -- you can usually buy it for less than $2 a pound. You can feed practically the entire block some of the best pork they’ll ever taste and it’ll cost less than one decent steak. Available at meat counters everywhere (but especially at Latino markets).
23. High tea at the Bazaar by José Andrés, $26 plus tea or coffee: It’s not so pricey when you consider high tea here is miles more fun than at most tea salons. At the Bazaar’s patisserie, you’re served a series of delicate, decadent savories (such as steamed buns topped with caviar), followed by sweets (beet meringues, pâte de fruit, chocolate bonbons). No heavy, dull scones here. Teas, about a dozen varieties, run $8 for a pot. Offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. At the SLS Hotel, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 246-5555, www.thebazaar.com.
The $35 splurge
24. Omakase menu at Wakasan, $35: To eat at Wakasan is to eat omakase (chef’s choice); that’s how the dining room works here -- everyone eats omakase. At $35 for 10 to 12 courses, it’s a steal. You get a parade of izakaya-style dishes: bonito-dusted oshitashi (spinach); miso clam soup with fried shrimp and onigiri (rice balls); tuna, yellowtail and mackerel sashimi; custardy, savory chawanmushi; pork kakuni; and so much more. 1929 Westwood Blvd., L.A., (310) 446-5241.
25. Amaro Bar menu at Osteria Mozza, $35: It doesn’t get much more sympatico at L.A. restaurants than at the bar at Osteria Mozza. And Monday through Wednesday, the restaurant offers a $35 three-course meal with wine at its Amaro Bar: You choose a dish from the mozzarella bar (burricotta with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and mint pesto, for example), a pasta (maybe fresh ricotta and egg raviolo with brown butter), dessert (say, melon sorbetto with figs, berries, whipped cream, honey and Sicilian pistachios) and a glass of either Bastianich Friulano or La Mozza Morellino di Scansano. 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0100, www.mozza-la.com.
Linda Burum, Noelle Carter, Miles Clements, Rene Lynch, Mary MacVean, Russ Parsons and Elina Shatkin contributed to this article.