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A server carries colorful dishes of Mexican food
The entire menu at Sonoratown is priced under $15, including tacos, burritos, chivichangas and more.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

15 L.A. restaurants and chains where a $15 budget goes far

The cost of living in Los Angeles seems to increase by the day. Prices for necessities like housing, gas and groceries have all risen, while wages remain largely stagnant. For many, dining out has become a luxury, and even casual options may take you by surprise when you get the final bill.

L.A. restaurants are facing many of the same challenges and still weathering the effects of the pandemic, as well as issues such as loss of business from last year’s writers’ and actors’ strikes. A minimum wage increase to $20 an hour for California’s fast-food workers has many worried that value-minded mega-chains will be forced to raise menu prices, while another state law set to take effect on July 1 will prevent restaurants from adding unadvertised service fees and other costs to the end of a bill, which some restaurant owners predict will result in significantly higher menu prices.

Despite these hurdles, many local restaurants are still committed to providing quality food at prices that diners can afford. A recent quest to find meals for less than $15 turned up a lot of options that aren’t just limited to high-profile chains.

Southern California’s (usually) mild weather arguably makes our region the street-food capital of the U.S., with Mexican and Central and South American cuisines and tacos in particular dominating the scene. Palm-size street tacos range from $1.50 to $5 each, while burritos packed with meat, rice and beans can climb into the low double digits.

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Weekend pop-ups and night markets can serve as laboratories for chefs hoping to launch eventual bricks-and-mortars in L.A.’s competitive market. Their menu items usually are priced lower than what you’ll find at sit-down restaurants as chefs refine their recipes and build their brands.

For mindful diners who want to eat economically while still supporting restaurants and workers, there are a handful of consumer practices that make all the difference. In addition to favoring cash over credit cards, many neighborhood spots rely on word-of-mouth to attract new customers, so be sure to spread the word when restaurants impress you with thoughtful dishes at accessible prices. Tipping is a given, even for takeout spots.

When possible, place orders in person or make delivery requests directly through the restaurant as opposed to using apps that charge fees for both parties. Many small restaurants rely on catering to stay in business, so consider a mom-and-pop spot for your next company party or birthday blowout. And remember, it costs nothing to be kind and patient with the people who are taking your orders and preparing your food.

From Wagyu shawarma in Studio City to health-focused mini-chains and Sonoran-style burritos, here are 15 places where you can get a satisfying meal for less than $15 (before tax).

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A Wagyu shawarma, arayas, side of French fries and Israeli juice from Aviad "Avi" Yalin's Avi Cue pop-up in Studio City.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Avi Cue

Studio City Mediterranean $
The Valley is rife with solid shawarma spots, and Avi Cue’s small storefront on Ventura Boulevard is one of the best. The brief menu is almost entirely priced at under $15 — go for griddled arayes with ground Wagyu beef for just $10 each; beef tallow fries loaded with strips of tender Wagyu shawarma, tomato, onion, parsley, tahini and amba sauce for $11; or stretch your $15 budget to the limit with a shawarma sandwich that features a fresh-baked half pita. There’s also a vegan version for just $12 that adds fried cauliflower with all of the shawarma toppings on the same, still-warm pita bread. Canned strawberry-banana and peach juices are imported from Israel. The counter-service restaurant gets busy during lunch and dinner hours and often sells out, so order ahead of time to skip the line. Bar seating is available if you want to dig into your food while it’s still hot.
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A vertical photo of a hand holding two stacked halves of a roast pork banh mi from Bé Ù restaurant in Silver Lake.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Bé Ù

East Hollywood Vietnamese $
Blink and you might miss this tiny walk-up window on a bustling strip of Hoover Street in Virgil Village. The takeout restaurant from chef-owner Uyên Lê specializes in Vietnamese comfort food, such as double-fried wings tossed in a house lemongrass and fish sauce blend ($13 for five wings) and grilled street corn with scallion oil, crushed peanuts, fried shallots and spicy aioli ($7.50), plus banh mi sandwiches and rice and noodle plates. With an emphasis on Vietnam’s Buddhist cuisine, there are plenty of vegan options available, including banh mi with lemongrass-roasted tofu and a house vegan pâté for just $8.50. The salted pork baby back riblets that come with scallions and pickled cauliflower alongside jasmine rice are $13, though the rice plate with caramelized pork belly, eggs and pickled mustard greens ($15) proves as tempting. Chef specials on the weekend include a new, seasonal soft-shell crab sandwich coated in fried sesame dough. Lê is preparing to launch a fundraiser for the restaurant in June that will go toward renovations, including building a small patio.
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The tahini Caesar salad from Cava.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Cava

Culver City Mediterranean $
This Mediterranean-influenced fast-casual spot is the most widespread chain on this list, but its mission feels rooted in California values with a focus on carefully sourced ingredients in support of the environment, farmers and Cava’s workers. Build-your-own bowls with greens and grains start around $12, with proteins such as grilled chicken and roasted white sweet potato at no extra cost (harissa-honey chicken and spicy lamb meatballs are available for an added charge); a world of toppings including pickled red onions, crumbled feta, salt-brined pickles and fiery broccoli (avocado costs extra); chunky house dips such as harissa, roasted eggplant and the trademark Crazy Feta; plus dressings, from balsamic-date vinaigrette to skhug. To be honest, the abundance of options tends to overwhelm me, so my go-to is the tahini Caesar salad with grilled chicken, hummus, crispy pita strips, pickled onions, feta, romaine lettuce and arugula, priced the same as the build-your-own greens and grains bowl. Pita wraps are available for the same price and a kid’s meal is $7.25.
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A shrimp pupusa with curtido from Con Sabor.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Con Sabor

Mid-City El Salvadoran $
Every time I eat a pupusa, I think about what a value-hack it is. Just one of the thick, griddled masa cakes is hearty enough to comprise a meal, and they’re usually under $5 apiece. Sarita’s Pupuseria at Grand Central Market and Delmy’s Pupusas, which pops up at the Silver Lake and Crenshaw farmers markets, are a couple of favorites. Con Sabor has been around since 1997 and stands out as a prime option if you’re in Mid-City, with a bounty of creative filling options. Here, pupusas are $4 each, with chicken, cheese, beans or chicharrón, plus combinations like cheese, pork and jalapeño. Pupusas with seafood are $4.50 each, with shrimp (my favorite), tuna, salmon or sardines. Plenty of other menu items are under $15, including chicken tamales for $3 each, all-day breakfast plates such as chorizo with eggs for $12, three plantain empanadas for $9 and Salvadoran-style pollo guisado for $15 flat.
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A container of chicken tikka masala, rice and naan from Curry in Hurry.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Curry in Hurry

Mid-City Indian $
I’ll be honest: The phrase “Curry in Hurry” did not immediately breed trust, but I grew more curious about the fast-casual Indian spot in a strip mall off La Brea and Pico after seeing its almost perfect ratings on both Google and Yelp. The counter-service restaurant features a cafeteria-style bar where you can order daal, channa masala and eggplant a la carte or in combination plates. Tandoori items such as chicken seekh kebabs and paneer tikka get marinated overnight before they’re baked in a clay oven. You could make an under-$15 meal out of sides like veggie samosas (two for $7.49) and aloo tikki (two for $6.49) or a big plate of malai kofta for $14.49 that feeds two to three people. One-item combo plates with rice and naan start at $12.99, with options like goat or chicken curry and chicken or veggie korma. Upgrading your combo with chicken tikka masala will cost an additional $2 but is well worth it, with a generous portion of the creamy-rich curry. It’s also worth upgrading to garlic naan for an additional 75 cents.
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Pastrami dip sandwich from the Hat.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

The Hat

Alhambra American $
Founded in 1951, the Southern California chain with a chef’s hat logo specializes in pastrami dip sandwiches and, priced at $11.99, I’m not going to steer you from the staple menu item. The French roll is plush and soft with tender pastrami that spills out with each bite. It’s big enough to saw in half and save the rest for a second meal. You can get the same pastrami loaded onto a burger for an identical price.

Less talked about but just as deserving of your attention is the chili, for piling on a burger ($5.99 for a single patty, $7.29 for a double), hot dog ($5.39), tamale ($5.99) or fries ($7.69). Other hot sandwiches include roast beef with au jus or gravy ($11.99), steak ($11.99) and grilled cheese ($4.99). Cold sandwiches include tuna, ham or turkey ($7.59, or $7.69 for turkey and ham). Sides are generous. Get a small order of fries for $3.99.
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Pecos breakfast taco on a turquoise plate with small cups of red and green salsa
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

HomeState

East Hollywood Tex-Mex $
The Tex-Mex chain from Briana Valdez brings staple items from the Lone Star state to a growing number of SoCal locations, including breakfast tacos with fresh flour tortillas (or corn tortillas) stuffed with eggs, refried charro beans, bacon, potatoes, cheddar and more, plus taco options for any time of day such as picadillo, brisket or chicken. Rotating “band tacos” are created in partnership with local musicians, like the vegan-optional Chicano Batman with soydillo, potatoes, guacamole and salsa verde. Quesadillas, queso-topped chips and migas round out the menu, and everything is under $15; boozy drinks are the most expensive items ($14 for a “ranch water” or spicy frozen paloma).

You can order a few of the tacos with a $15 budget. For an ideal sampling, I recommend the Neches with eggs, charro beans and cheddar; the potato taco with cheddar, sour cream, guacamole, cabbage slaw, pico de gallo and pickled jalapeños; and the Tijuana Panther with shredded brisket, queso, potatoes and pico de gallo.
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The Mandarin salad from Mixt
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Mixt

Silver Lake American $
The California-founded chain Mixt was born of a desire to offer healthy, high-quality food in a fast-casual environment. Mixt is a certified B-corp that puts a focus on fair wages, serving organic and sustainably produced ingredients and reducing landfill waste. Build-your-own salads are tossed on the spot and start at $11.95, with your choice of organic greens, up to five specialty ingredients (such as jicama, pickled red onions, herb-roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, avocado and edamame) and your choice of dressing (such as lemon tahini and roasted poblano). Proteins including applewood-smoked bacon, grilled achiote chicken and crispy cauliflower or falafel are available as supplements.

Or you can go for one of the signature salads. My favorite is the Mandarin, which skates in just under $15 — $14.95 — with hearts of romaine, kale, crispy chicken, cabbage, spiced and candied almonds, snow peas, jicama, spicy sesame seeds and miso-ginger vinaigrette. Warm bowls with grains such as lentils, cilantro-lime brown rice and rainbow quinoa are available at a similar cost, along with a handful of sandwiches.
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A slice of vegetarian pizza, a cup of celery salad and an Italian ice on a tiled table at Shins Pizza in Cypress Park.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Shin's Pizza

Cypress Park Pizza $$
Opened last summer in Cypress Park, Shin’s Pizza is decked out with dark green tiles, framed family photos and outdoor seating that will feel nostalgic for those who grew up going to neighborhood slice shops. Of course, whole pies won’t fit the $15 budget, but the pizzeria offers all of its pizza options by the slice, so you can try a few different slices of the foldable, thin-crust pizzas topped with farmers market ingredients. A vegan marinara slice is just $3.95, cheese will run you $4 and a pepperoni or veggie-loaded option costs $5. Specialty slices with mortadella, ricotta and mozzarella and the rotating “pizza of the month” run $6 each. This May, the shop is offering a Spring Pizza with asparagus, Japanese sweet potatoes, arugula pesto, bacon and fried sunchokes. You can get a slice of cheese or marinara, pepperoni or veggie and one of the specialty options without exceeding the $15 (pretax) goal. Don’t be afraid to branch out to other menu items either: Sides are similarly priced and include barbecue-pork-stuffed arancini for $6, ginger-marinated chicken nuggets for $9 and small salads with seasonal produce such as snap peas and Asian pears for less than $10. You can also pair your slice with Italian ice in flavors like calamansi and mango, available for $5 each.
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A person holding out a burrito with grilled scallions on a green plate
(Silvia Rázgová / For The Times)

Sonoratown

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
The Burrito 2.0 at Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez’s Sonoratown is the sort of meal that lingers, eliciting a pang of sadness as you finish that last bundled corner where all of the meat’s juices, dregs of pinto beans, melted cheese, creamy guacamole and spicy chiltepin salsa have puddled. Wrapped in a silken flour tortilla that’s cooked in lard, there’s no doubt that finishing the burrito will eradicate your hunger for several hours, if not the entire day. And yet, every time I eat one — always with the mesquite-grilled short rib, though chicken, pork chorizo, cabeza, tripe and roasted poblano chile with pinto beans are also available — I find myself wishing I had just one more bite left. At $12.50, the burrito is the most expensive menu item. The chivichangas are smaller wraps stuffed with shredded beef or chicken guisado and just $5.50 each, while the bean and cheese burrito (which is all the more satisfying thanks to those lard-cooked tortillas) is just $4. The Lorenzo ($5), on a small, freshly fried tostada, is the only menu item that can be made vegan.
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The spicy chicken sandwich from StormBurger.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

StormBurger

Inglewood American $
Opened on North La Brea Avenue in Inglewood just a year ago, StormBurger recalls the classic burger stands of South L.A. with an eye-catching sign that sits on the corner of West 64th Street with bright-blue text and an orange lightning bolt, plus an old-school walk-up window in addition to a drive-through. The menu is short and sweet with prices that feel vintage — a classic cheeseburger is just $5.99 and onion rings are $4.99. The burger isn’t bad, but I prefer the spicy chicken sandwich for $6.99; it comes with a breaded patty that spills over a bun slathered with house apricot “thunder” sauce that’s sweet, tart and a little spicy all at once. You can make it into a meal with fries and a drink for an additional $5.99, which brings the entire pretax total to $12.49, inviting you to splurge with additional sauces for 50 cents apiece (spicy mayo and an extra side of the apricot thunder sauce, please!) or embellish your sandwich with toppings such as a fried egg (for $1) or bacon (for $1.50).
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The tonkotsu pork ramen from Suehiro Mini.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times )

Suehiro Mini

Chinatown Japanese $
Founded by sisters Junko Suzuki and Yuriko Morita Regaert in 1972 before being passed down to Junko’s son Kenji Suzuki in 1991, Suehiro Cafe was a Little Tokyo institution. Sadly, the historic Japanese restaurant that specialized in late-night ramen, udon noodle and rice dishes was evicted from its original location last year and has since moved to a larger downtown space. For a cozier and more casual experience, there’s Suehiro Mini, also owned by Kenji, which has been going strong in Chinatown since 2019. The slightly stripped-down menu offers ramen, udon and soba noodle dishes, rice bowls and small plates, with most of the menu priced under $15. Gyoza ($10.75 for eight pieces) and chicken karaage ($9.75) are great as snacks, but for a full meal, you can’t beat the tonkotsu ramen with pork bone broth and thick strips of bobbing pork belly for $15 even — note that adding spice will increase the price. The restaurant’s hours are equally generous: Suehiro Mini is open seven days a week from lunch to 1 a.m.
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The spicy tuna poke bowl from SweetFin.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

SweetFin

Santa Monica Seafood $
The sunny Southern California-based poke chain is one of your best bets for satisfying a raw seafood craving for less than $15. Plus, you can feel good knowing that the fish you’re eating was sourced ethically. While the menu is focused on fresh fish, vegan options and land-based proteins also are available, and the entire menu is gluten-free. Like some of the other spots on this list, SweetFin allows you the freedom to build your own, starting at $12.60 for a small poke bowl and $16.60 for a large. The health-focused spot also offers bowls catered to different diets and even offers “functional” bowls that claim to boost immunity and brain power. I opt for the tried-and-true spicy tuna bowl, with spicy mayo, avocado, edamame, cucumber, slivers of hijiki and crispy onion. A small bowl is a great lunch option that won’t weigh you down, while the burritos — with spicy tuna or customized fillings and wrapped in gluten-free tortillas — represent a slightly heavier option and are priced at $13.50.
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Two halves of a submarine sandwich on blue-and-white checked paper
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Uncle Paulie's

Studio City Sandwich Shop $
The celeb-favorite sandwich shop from Paul James and streetwear designer Jon Buscemi draws inspiration from the delis that James grew up with in Queens, N.Y., and gained national attention in 2022, when actor Pete Davidson was spotted wearing its merch. Now with locations in Beverly Grove, downtown, Studio City and as far afield as Las Vegas, the neighborhood deli remains laidback with approachable prices. Most of the sandwiches are under $15, including breakfast options on fluffy poppyseed Kaiser rolls (at $12, the sausage, egg and cheese is a standout), a variety of cold cut sandwiches (the towering Italian is $15 and one of columnist Jenn Harris’ favorite Italian subs in the city) and hot sandwiches (like the Carmine with roast beef, mozzarella and brown gravy on garlic bread for $14.50). There are also salads ranging from the cruciferous to potato or chicken and cold pasta dishes, all priced under $15.
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The chicken kebab plate from Zankou Chicken comes with rice, garlic sauce and a roasted tomato.
(Danielle Dorsey / Los Angeles Times)

Zankou Chicken

Glendale Mediterranean $
First opened in Beirut in the 1960s before migrating with the Iskenderian family to Los Angeles in 1983, Zankou Chicken is an L.A. institution for Armenian-influenced spit-roasted meats and its addictive, secret-recipe garlic sauce. Zankou has expanded to 13 locations across Southern California. A meal of whole rotisserie chicken, large sides of cucumber salad and rice, pink pickled turnips and packs of pita costs $29.99 (serves up to four) or $54.99 (serves up to eight).

But we’re here to talk about meals under $15. Pita wraps range from $8.49 for roasted chicken to $12.49 for shish kebab; plates with hummus, tomatoes, garlic sauce, pita bread and a quarter-chicken (dark or white meat) are $12.99. Kebab plates land at $14.99 pretax, with marinated chicken or seasoned ground beef grilled on the spot (expect a 10- to 15-minute wait). Kebab plates come with all of the fixings to make your own wrap, including a juicy roasted tomato that I like to mash into the rice so that it’s present in every bite.
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