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Diners seated around a table laden with Thai dishes.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

The most affordable options from the 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list

In a season that tends to drain bank accounts, it’s an apt moment to highlight the most affordable restaurants from this year’s 101 Best Restaurants guide. The greatness of dining in Los Angeles is that a tlayuda stand can equal an omakase splurge in its yield of nuanced pleasure. Whether they serve burritos, rotis, pizza, bagels, bubbling tofu stews or curries, the deliciousness delivered at these 16 establishments far outweighs their cost.

If you’re searching for the essential food of L.A., let our critic’s 2022 restaurant list be your guide. Find the best vegetarian, Italian, Mexican and more.

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A vegetarian string hopper meal (including sides of beet curry, okra, and grated-coconut pol sambol) at Apey Kade in Tarzana.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Apey Kade

Tarzana Sri Lankan $
Among several places in the San Fernando Valley that serve Sri Lankan food — on the whole a remarkable and complex cuisine that’s under-represented in Los Angeles — Niza Hashim and Lalith Rodrigo’s Tarzana restaurant is a destination for its comprehensive and consistently delicious menu. Start with idiyappam, or string hoppers, made of thin rice-flour noodles steamed into pearly nests and served with kiri hodi, a golden spiced coconut-milk gravy; a salad of finely chopped greens; sambol; and chutney. For dine-in or takeout, call ahead an hour or two to request lamprais, pronounced lump-rice, a feast of chicken or beef curry with vegetables (or ask for it entirely vegetarian) and other sides warmed in a fragrant banana leaf.
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Mac & Cheese from Bridgetown Roti
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Bridgetown Roti

Arts District Caribbean $
In a town where Caribbean cuisines often go overlooked in the zeitgeist sightlines, the excellence of Rashida Holmes’ Bajan cooking shows many of us what we’ve been missing. Her pop-up operates on weekends from the Crafted Kitchen commissary in the Arts District. Holmes fills the tidy bundles of the namesake rotis with her mom’s recipe for chicken curry, a patchwork of sweet potatoes and fried cauliflower or, best of all, soft, ropy hunks of goat meat she buys from Jimenez Family Farms. And the crust of her savory patties is improbably delicate, even when bulging with green curry shrimp or shredded oxtail meat with peppers.
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The hand-sliced smoked salmon bagel (left) and roe-topped bagel
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Courage Bagels

East Hollywood Bagels $
Arielle Skye began selling her compact, smoky-crisp, Montreal-inspired bagels from the back of a bicycle nearly six years ago. She expanded to the Silver Lake farmers market, and then in October 2020 she and her now-husband, Chris Moss, moved into the Virgil Village space previously occupied by Super Pan bakery. So Courage Bagels isn’t an overnight success story, but it has blossomed into an undeniable phenomenon. I’m ordering Winter in Sardinia — a sandwich layered with sardines, herbs, lemon and a literal fistful of capers — and also half of a purposely burnt bagel pounded with everything seasoning and draped with smoked salmon.
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Kimchi Pork Belly Doshirak and Mandu from SHIKU
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Grand Central Market

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
There is no rush of sensation quite like entering the halls of downtown Los Angeles’ 105-year-old landmark, long a juncture of what the city has been, what it is becoming and what we’re hungry for right now. Follow one trail of neon signs for vegan tonkatsu at Ramen Hood, beef panang at Sticky Rice and a lengua taco from Roast to Go, which has been in operation since 1952. Turn nearby corners to find kimchi-braised pork belly at Shiku or a statuesque chicken katsu sando from Moon Rabbit. I have two habitual stops for manna to enjoy later: DTLA Cheese and Kitchen, for whatever the latest pungent rarity Lydia Clarke has in her case, and Nicole Rucker’s peerless Fat + Flour, for a slice of pie baked with fruit from the best farmers in California.

As to the future, I direct you to the southeast corner of the building and two of GCM’s newest tenants. Shiku, meaning “family” in Korean, comes from Baroo Canteen’s Kwang Uh and Mina Park. Their new project revolves around an ever-changing selection of banchan and to-go meals like fried rice with spicy and citrusy “kimchi’d corn,” fried egg and potato chips. Next door to them is the freshly tiled stand for Fat and Flour, the pie shop (but also cookies!) from superstar baker Nicole Rucker.
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Nasi lemak with chicken curry
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Ipoh Kopitiam

Alhambra Malaysian $
Kenji Tang’s homage to the coffeehouse culture of his hometown Ipoh is one of the few lodestars for Malaysian cuisine in Los Angeles, and the crowds attest to the care evident in Tang’s cooking. I keep returning for the mulchy beef rendang, in which minced shallots and lemongrass pierce through as both textures and flavors; and the mellow groove of the creamy chicken curry with its high note of ground coriander. But there’s profundity in the simple things too: A cup of Malaysian-style white coffee alongside toast sandwiched with kaya (coconut jam) conveys the restaurant’s truest spirit.
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Baba's Falafel and Siti's Origional Chicken
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Tim)

Jerusalem Chicken

View Park-Windsor Hills Palestinian $
After years of running the small local deli chain Orleans & York, Sami and Maria Othman founded their fast-casual Palestinian restaurant in View Park-Windsor Hills in 2021. The menu’s masterpiece is arguably Siti’s original chicken stuffed with hashweh — rice enriched with beef, mushrooms and baharat, a spice blend that includes cumin, cardamom and black pepper. Go liberal with the condiments: tahini, toum (garlic sauce) and especially shatta, the chile sauces that burn equally bright in red or green versions.
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Tacos de Camaron
(Carter Hiyama / For The Times)

Mariscos Jalisco

Boyle Heights Mexican $
It’s more than 20 years now that Raul Ortega has been parking his white lonchera at a curb along Olympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights, serving fish ceviches, octopus cocteles and the crowning dish he credits to his hometown of San Juan de los Lagos: tacos dorados de camarón. Corn tortillas clutch a mixture of spiced, chopped shrimp that’s nearly a paste; Ortega and his team don’t quite seal the tortilla, so in the fryer the filling sizzles around its edges. Then they slice avocado over the top and ladle on a thin red salsa with roughly minced onions and cilantro. The first bite is the textural equivalent of your life flashing before your eyes: It’s every possible experience all at once. Ortega operates three additional outposts, including a counter restaurant in Pomona, with the same menu, and a lonchera on the Westside.
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LOS ANGELES , CA - OCTOBER 18: Nam Prik Noom, a roasted green chili pepper dish, at Northern Thai Food Club on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Los Angeles , CA. (Shelby Moore / For The Times)
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Northern Thai Food Club

East Hollywood Thai $
The strategy at “Nancy” Amphai Dunne’s 12-seat restaurant in Thai Town has always been to interact with her over the steam table, surveying the dishes inspired by the cooking of Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province. Point and choose sai ua, rough-textured pork sausages packed with minced lemongrass; gaeng kanoon, a soup of jackfruit, pork ribs and cha-om, an herb that resembles dill and tastes almondy; and nam prik ong, a warm ground-pork dip with flavors that race with tomato and shrimp paste. Dunne recently introduced a separate menu of soupy rice porridge available during dinner hours. It’s comfort food with a sneak attack: The broth tingles with makhwaen seeds grown in Northern Thailand that have a similar but gentler spicy-numbing effect as Sichuan peppercorns.
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Tres carnes tlayuda from Poncho's Tlayudas
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Poncho’s Tlayudas

Historic South-Central Mexican $
When Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez’s Friday night pop-up in South L.A. returned in March after two long years, so too did one of the city’s defining dishes. Martinez grew up eating tlayudas grilled and folded by cooks in Oaxaca’s Central Valleys, where he was raised, so that’s how he prepares his as well. His masterwork is the tlayuda mixta with three meats: crumbled chorizo; tasajo, a thin cut of flank steak salt-cured for a few hours before grilling; and moronga, an herbed, delicate blood sausage made from a recipe that was a wedding gift to Martinez from the father of his wife and business partner, Odilia Romero. Warmed over mesquite, Martinez’s tlayuda is astounding with its density of tastes and textures; you won’t forget your first bite, or your 100th.
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An array of dishes including the sweet empanadas
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

La Pupusa Urban Eatery

Pico-Union Salvadoran $
At their Pico-Union restaurant, Stephanie Figueroa and Juan Saravia take fundamentals of Salvadoran cooking and rework them affectionately, serving pupusas with eggs and salsa for mid-morning breakfast or smothering them with their versions of al pastor and guacamole or transforming chorizo into a smashburger. It’s their contribution to the L.A. culinary conversation, and their charm speaks volumes. At the heart of the menu are excellent pupusas, balanced in density and crackle-gush ratios, filled with traditional blends of cheese and refried beans or outside-the-box additions like pepperoni.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 6: Polish Riviera from Quarter Sheets Pizza Club on Monday, Oct. 6, 2022 in Los Angeles , CA. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Quarter Sheets Pizza

Echo Park Pizza $
Over the past year Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin slowly moved their Glendale pizza-and-cake pop-up into a magnetically eccentric Echo Park space, selling takeout while building a pizza parlor that ended up looking like an early-’80s rec room. Maybe potatoes, pistachio pesto and cured lemon will crown one of Lindell’s pies, or perhaps there will be a meatball sub reimagined as a pizza, or sambal goreng tingling under a veil of mozzarella. A couple of slices for most appetites can easily make a meal. Ziskin dreams up fantasies like olive oil chiffon with tiers of bay leaf-vanilla custard, passion fruit curd and salted Chantilly. No one can guess what L.A.’s first couple of carbs will devise next, but I feel pulled to show up every week and find out.
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BELL GARDENS, CA - OCTOBER 28, 2022: Mole Verde at Rocio's Mexican Kitchen (Ron De Angelis / For The Times)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Rocio's Mexican Kitchen

Bell Gardens Mexican $
“La diosa de los moles,” “mole queen,” “mother of moles”: Each of the nicknames that Rocío Camacho has earned over the years honors her command of laborious, symphonic moles. The menu at her Bell Gardens restaurant details a dozen of them. Some are tenets; others are fantasias. Her mole Oaxaqueño, its dozens of ingredients alchemized into a substance as glossy as fresh-churned earth, is as distinctive as an autograph. From there, dabble in her moles made with pistachio and mint or cranberry and rose. Come in the morning for chilaquiles blanketed in dusky-bright pipian rojo.
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LOS ANGELES, CA - October 23: Plate of mix flautas from Los Dorados at Smorgasburg on Sunday, Oct. 23 in Los Angeles, CA. (Annie Noelker / For The Times)
(Annie Noelker / For The Times)

Smorgasburg L.A.

Downtown L.A. Eclectic $$
Smorgasburg L.A. is the city’s great incubator of culinary talent. We convene on Sundays in Row DTLA’s back lot to plug in, to mingle, to eat our faces off. The lineup of vendors revolves continually, guided by general manager Zach Brooks’ curatorial mastermind. This year some of my favorite pop-ups and food trucks showed up regularly. Friends and I would split up, order and reconvene to share pork belly breakfast burritos from Jonathan Perez’s Macheen, lamb barbacoa flautas from Steven Orozco Torres’ Los Dorados and dessert flan tacos from Evil Cooks. And there’s so much more to try.
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Sonoratown's Lorenza (a corn tortilla, monterrey jack cheese, avocado, cabbage, pinto beans and a grilled poblano pepper)
(Ron De Angelis / For The Times)

Sonoratown

Downtown L.A. Mexican $
Whenever I bite into one of Sonoratown’s tortillas, my brain flickers on like the downtown skyline at dusk. They are unions of Sonoran wheat and pork lard against which to judge all other flour tortillas in Los Angeles. Savor it in the guise of a taco, quesadilla, caramelo, chimichanga — or, best of all, as the famous Burrito 2.0, swollen with pinto beans, mashed guacamole, Monterey Jack and sharply spicy chiltepin salsa. The meat of choice is costilla — a mix of boneless short rib and chuck robed in mesquite smoke. Teodoro Díaz Rodriguez Jr. and partner Jennifer Feltham, who rose to national prominence with their taqueria in DTLA’s Fashion District, opened a second location in Mid-City. Same menu; same brilliance.
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A spread of kimchi soondubu and assorted dishes from Surawon Tofu House.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Surawon Tofu House

Koreatown Korean $
When Sun Los Lee traveled to Korea to study traditional tofu-making, she landed on an unconventional technique: She found that using black soybeans gives bean curd a flavor that hints of sesame and peanuts. At her Koreatown restaurant, where small cauldrons of soondubu jjigae arrive boiling volcanically, choose between the typical white tofu or (my preference) the black-soybean variation. Both are made in-house. It’s one of many customization options the menu presents, including additions of kimchi, oxtail, vegetables, oysters, intestines and an assorted mix of beef or pork with seafood. Among levels of heat, which range from “plain” to “extra spicy,” I find “spicy” to be pulse-quickening but not punishing.
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LOS ANGELES , CA - OCTOBER 08: The Villa's Trio at Villa's Tacos at El Mercado Street Festival in Highland Park on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 in Los Angeles , CA. (Shelby Moore / For The Times)
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

Villa's Tacos

Highland Park Mexican $
Victor Villa and his crew form an efficient assembly line of tacos under tents set up outside Block Party bar in Highland Park. When I’m lifting one of the queso tacos out of a takeout container, I have an inkling of how an alien god might feel plucking a landmass right out of the ocean. This thing looks like a continent; curls of cheese have seized along its borders into a craggy coastline. The blue corn tortilla, pressed to order, forms thick, soft ground for layers of grilled chopped steak or chicken leg meat with onion, cilantro, crema, flurries of cotija and a cloud of guacamole. It’s unwieldy and overwhelmingly delicious, and it’s vital to splotch the top with salsa (there are at least seven to try) to tame the richness.
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