It isn’t difficult to eat well on a budget in Los Angeles.
These 22 restaurants on the 2019 101 Best Restaurants list will satisfy your appetite without breaking the bank.
Sonoratown is Jennifer Feltham and Teodoro Diaz-Rodriguez’s culinary love letter to San Luis Río Colorado, the Arizona-Sonora border town where Diaz-Rodriguez was weaned on the basic dyad of modern norteño cooking: wheat flour tortillas and mesquite-grilled beef. The menu is basic, economical and utterly satisfying, revolving around carne asada, quesadillas in various configurations and guisados-filled chivichangas. For its carne asada, the kitchen uses mesquite-grilled short ribs, seasoned sparingly and chopped to smithereens. The beef is draped in salsa roja and guacamole and then folded into a handmade flour tortilla. The tortillas — marvelously stretchy and buttery — are at the heart of the Sonoratown enterprise. They have single-handedly raised the tortilla batting average for the entire city of Los Angeles. — P.I.E.
208 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3710, sonoratown.com
Burritos La Palma (15)
In Zacatecas, Mexico, the Bañuelos Lugo family name is synonymous with Burritos La Palma’s buttery flour tortillas; birria made from carne de pierna de res (round steak); and first-rate chicharrón en salsa verde. The family’s success has spawned multiple locations around Zacatecas, and today Southern California is blessed with three locations of its own. The restaurant’s platillo especial is a modern-day classic: two beef birria burritos in chile verde pork sauce, sealed with a glossy mantle of baked-in melted cheese. The slim, smallish beef birria burrito is often hailed as a minimalist masterpiece, but its flavors are maximalist at heart. The taut, crisp, griddle-crisped tortilla splinters neatly between your teeth, unleashing a torrent of spiced, stewed beef. The burrito is small enough that no one bats an eye when you order a second, and then a third. This is essential L.A. food. — P.I.E.
5120 N. Peck Road, El Monte; 410 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana; 3939 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles (inside Banc of California Stadium); burritoslapalma.net
Grand Central Market (20)
The crowds at Los Angeles’ century-old food hall are a microcosm of downtown life: Office workers stand in line for the marvelous carnitas at Villa Moreliana; under-caffeinated locals sip espresso shots at G&B Coffee; weekend tourists, phone cameras aloft, document everything from Sari Sari Store silog bowls to drippy ice cream cones from McConnell’s. You can practically hear the whoosh of Instagram hashtags in the ether. Grand Central Market is more popular than ever; an estimated 2 million people now pass through its neon-lit aisles every year. You can’t blame everyone for wanting to be here — this is the culinary nucleus of the city, a place that preserves the past (China Cafe’s beloved wonton bowls) and telegraphs our latest twee food obsession (designer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at PBJ.LA). — P.I.E.
317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2378, grandcentralmarket.com
Porridge + Puffs (29)
At her calm, quirky, Historic Filipinotown sanctuary, Minh Phan begins her porridges by simmering Kokuho Rose rice from Central California’s Koda Farms with aromatics; she uses this base like staves on blank sheet music, adding meats, pickles and other garnishes to build melodies and counterpoints. Her creations revolve constantly, though one steadfast option with chicken, mushrooms, pickled celery and soy-spiked ground turkey is an ideal introduction to her quietly spectacular brand of comfort food. — B.A.
2801 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 908-5313, porridgeandpuffs.com
Chichen Itza/Holbox (36)
At lunchtime, every office worker within a five-mile radius seems to be gathered inside the Mercado La Paloma complex near USC. The most coveted seat inside the busy food court is the chef’s counter at Holbox, the broadly Yucatán-style marisqueria from Gilberto Cetina Jr. The menu teems with fresh, exquisitely prepared seafood: yellowtail-uni ceviche; griddled scallop tacos with chile morita; smoked fish tostadas with an arbol-peanut soy sauce. The mariscos cocktails are excellent; the mixta is a sweet-sour goblet of octopus, wild Mexican shrimp and oysters in a citrus-spiked sauce. Across the room, the Cetina family’s Chichen Itza restaurant continues to make soulful renditions of Yucatecan classics. — P.I.E.
Northern Thai Food Club (37)
To understand what splendidly sets apart “Nancy” Amphai Dunne’s 12-seat Thai Town restaurant, meet her at the steam table. The steel barge is a transporter to her native Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province. She’s constantly tending intricate, brothy stews such as gaeng hung lay, a pork belly curry animated by chiles, sour-sweet tamarind and the zap of julienned ginger. On the table’s left side sits a warming rack laid out with coils of sausage, small battered fish and knobby fried pork ribs; zero in on the sai ua, Chiang Rai’s remarkable, herb-packed pork links coursing with lemongrass. Once you’ve navigated the steam-table specialties, pad the meal with some menu items: green mango salad, khao soi (make sure to douse it with chile oil and squeezes of lime) and a brooding, extra-meaty version of pork larb. Anyone invested in the ecology of L.A.’s Thai dining landscape should put Dunne’s tiny storefront on their itinerary right this minute. — B.A.
5301 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 474-7212, intheloup.la/northern-thai-food-club/
Kobee Factory (55)
At Waha Ghreir’s Van Nuys restaurant, start with an order of fried kibbeh — the tapered croquettes common among Middle Eastern restaurants in America. Ghreir’s are superior, the crunch of the shell cracklier and the filling showing a liberal hand with pine nuts. Then branch out, trying a slightly bouncier grilled version, a specialty of Ghreir’s native Syria, and a beautiful layered variation baked in a pan. The rest of the menu is brief, but each item reveals equal parts prowess and heart: falafel, a few kebabs, a wonderful mujadara (bulgur and rice pilaf covered with deeply caramelized onions). To summon the taste of breakfast in the Levant, come early for fatteh hummus, soft whole chickpeas folded among yogurt, tahini and olive oil and topped with fried shards of pita. Kobee Factory is unassuming, with half a dozen tables and spare decor, but the cooking — uplifting, stunning — is anything but. — B.A.
14110 Oxnard St., Van Nuys, (818) 909-2593, kobeefactoryla.com
Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery’s 10-seat Echo Park cafe plays out different lives on social media and in reality. Online an egg salad sandwich, cut in three and anchored around soft-boiled eggs whose yolks glow like clotted sunshine, ran amok with the restaurant’s identity. The actual experience offers far more nuance. The restaurant is daytime only. Come in the morning or early afternoon and marvel at its precision constructions modeled after Tokyo convenience store sandos, with fillings of pork or eggplant katsu with the sheerest crusts, or the fluffy strata of a dashi-seasoned omelet. — B.A.
1463 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 278-0007, konbila.com
Mariscos Jalisco (61)
For nearly 20 years Raul Ortega has sold tacos, aguachiles and ceviches out of his Boyle Heights mariscos truck on Olympic Boulevard. Anyone moving to Los Angeles and looking for a defining lunch on their first day should consider a plate of his tacos dorados de camaron. They come two to an order, fried corn tortillas gripping spiced shrimp that peek out and crisp a bit in the hot oil. — B.A.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 528-6701, facebook.com/mariscosjalisco
Carnitas El Momo (65)
Anyone who lives in Los Angeles and partakes of pig should know the splendor of El Momo’s carnitas mixta taco at least once. The Acosta family sometimes brand their creation — a combination of maciza (chopped pork shoulder), cuerito (slivers of pork skin) and buche (tender, wishbone-shaped slices of pork stomach) — as the “Aporkalypse.” It tastes far more like a blessing than a catastrophe. — B.A.
2411 Fairmount St., Los Angeles, (323) 627-8540, instagram.com/carnitaselmomo
During a recent lunch at this Westlake landmark I fretted over my order, debating whether to branch out from the deli’s momentous pastrami sandwich. Maybe goulash with noodles this time? Or a hot beef tongue sandwich instead, or the restaurant’s take on the roast beef French dip? The server studied me with patience and then said, “Hon, you should just order the #19 again. It’s the best thing we do.” She was right, of course. The pastrami — brined, peppered, smoked, steamed and shaved by hand into rosy kerchiefs — towers between two slices of double-baked rye bread with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. The world fades in the face of such perfection; it’s you, in a brown, tufted booth, with the happy cadence of clattering silverware and myriad languages ringing through the dining room. — B.A.
704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8050, langersdeli.com
Is Guisados taking over Los Angeles? The De La Torre family’s acclaimed Eastside taquería now has seven locations, stretching from the O.G. Boyle Heights address all the way to Beverly Hills. Their tool of domination is guisos caseros, home-style Mexican braises that take hours to cook and mere seconds to devour. There are 15 guisos on the menu, including an intensely smoky tinga de pollo; a bacon-infused, griddled flank steak; a marvelously soupy chicharrón in chile verde; and cochinita pibil underscored by the fury of habanero chiles. — P.I.E.
2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 264-7201; 1261 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 250-7600; 541 S. Spring St. No. 101, Los Angeles, (213) 627-7656; 8935 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 777-0310; 312 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, (818) 238-9806; 3500 Wilshire Blvd. No. 205, (213) 674-7343; 120 S. Linden Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 271-8114; guisados.co
Chong Qing Special Noodles (77)
There is great pleasure in a platter of fried chicken, especially one as deeply snackable as the Gele Mountain Chicken at Chong Qing Special Noodles. The chicken — cubed into bright, chile-stained morsels — is crisp yet meaty, and seethes elegantly with the vivid, tingly fragrance of Sichuan chiles and peppercorns. You no doubt are here for the excellent noodles. There are thickish you po noodles streaked with tart vinegar; zhajiangmian with pork and black bean paste, more savory than spicy; and the house special, Chongqing noodles — springy and light, with a brooding spiciness that leaves you wanting more. — P.I.E.
708 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 374-1849
If the popularity of the L.A. ramen shop has cooled somewhat in the last couple of years, you wouldn’t know it from the way traffic on Sawtelle slows to a crawl around Tsujita L.A. and its annex location across the street. The object of desire is the shop’s specialty, tsukemen — thick, long, sinuous noodles that you wrest from your bowl with chopsticks and then dip into simmering bowls of rich broth before consuming them in one unbroken slurp. The porky broth is remarkably dense and rich, and the noodles have a springy, tensile strength that makes them a joy to slurp. You can order your tsukemen topped with slices of fatty barbecued pork, and customize your bowl with various accoutrements: a jammy boiled egg, nori, bamboo shoots. Along with excellent tsukemen, Tsujita also is home to a terrific tonkotsu ramen bowl. The Tsujita group continues to grow; there are now branches of the noodle shop on Fairfax Avenue and in the Americana at Brand in Glendale. — P.I.E.
2057 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 231-7373, tsujita-la.com
El Coraloense (80)
El Coraloense is a small, laid-back mariscos joint tucked into a Bell Gardens strip mall with some of the cheekiest, most over-the-top Mexican mariscos in the city. The heart of the menu is the kitchen’s baroque ceviches. The Changeonada is a hillock of lime-sluiced shrimp smattered with candied bits of mango and chile-dusted peanuts; the Rompe Catres is a citrus-ratcheted spectacle of plump shrimp and baby octopus. The aguachile revels in the twin pillars of the Nayarit-Sinaloan kitchen: acid and heat. — P.I.E.
6600 Florence Ave., Bell Gardens, (562) 776-8800, facebook.com/elcoraloense
Howlin’ Ray’s (81)
In L.A., the Nashville hot chicken phenomenon has reached its apogee at Howlin’ Ray’s, a restaurant whose famously long lines are a testament to the thrilling potency of its product. More than three years after it opened inside Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, Johnny Ray Zone’s Nashville-style hot chicken restaurant continues to produce fried chicken of enormously addictive properties: preternaturally juicy, with a splendid, crackly crust that seethes with hot peppers. The restaurant’s fiery, bespoke spice blend can be adjusted to the limitations of your palate. — P.I.E.
727 N. Broadway, #128, Los Angeles, (213) 935-8399, howlinrays.com
X’Tiosu Kitchen (87)
Oaxacan-born brothers Felipe and Ignacio Santiago spent years working in local Lebanese kitchens, and they bring that experience to their baby-blue storefront in Boyle Heights, where they cook Oaxacan-inflected, Lebanese-inspired dishes. The menu at X’tiosu (pronounced “sh-tee-oh-sue,” it means “thank you” in Zapotec) yields various marvels: ruddy, delicately spiced house-made chorizo kebabs; black bean hummus punched up with cayenne pepper; crisp falafel that eschews chickpeas and fava beans in favor of black beans, garlic and cilantro. The high point of the mezze offerings is the herb-intensive nopales tabbouleh salad, which swaps out bulgur in favor of cactus. — P.I.E.
923 Forest Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 526-8844, xtiosu-kitchen.business.site
The Taiwanese menu at this Highland Park treasure is remarkable in its concision and its enormous appeal: a few soups and bowls of noodles, a handful of rice dishes, half a dozen riffs on sandwiches. Take a moment before ordering to study the cold appetizers in the case near the counter. You might see wood ear mushrooms, curled and inky; bamboo shoots, resembling a jumbled pile of woodwind reeds; pig ears, sliced into squiggles; and crunchy-soft braised peanuts. The changing array of salads has become a signature for owner Vivian Ku, who also runs Silver Lake’s Pine & Crane. With most dishes priced under $10 and a tirelessly cheerful staff, the place is a 2019 archetype of an open-hearted neighborhood restaurant. — B.A.
5100 York Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 999-7642, joyonyork.com
Dai Ho (91)
“No book and newspaper reading, please,” states the sign hanging in Dai Ho’s dining room. There’s no lingering at Jim and May Ku’s Temple City noodle shop, open midday for 3 1/2 hours, six days a week. Food speeds out of the kitchen; strangers sometimes share tables. Most customers show up for the Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup, the Kus’ masterwork: The broth is alive with aromatics and thick with house-made chile oil, braised beef shank, spinach and a clutch of properly bouncy noodles. In the fast-paced spirit of the operation, they’re already packed to go. — B.A.
9148 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, (626) 291-2295
You don’t need hummus to eat well at Hasiba. There’s a satisfying shakshuka on the menu, along with a crisp falafel sandwich. You’ll probably want to snack on the drippy, delicious mess that is the warm, overfilled Israeli street sandwich known as a sabich. But Hasiba is a counter-service restaurant patterned after Israel’s neighborhood hummusiyas, or quick-service hummus shops. So you are here for the hummus, especially the wild mushroom hummus, which is bolstered by a garlicky slash of Moroccan chermoula. There is hummus pounded to a satiny, bittersweet finish and topped with marinated eggplant. There is hummus ful, a bright, clean puree of stewed fava beans and herbs. The restaurant’s “classic” hummus is terrific: an ultra-creamy blend of chickpeas and tahini blasted with smoked paprika. — P.I.E.
8532 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 302-0225, hasibarestaurant.com
Apey Kade (99)
Lalith Rodrigo and his wife, chef Niza Hashim, are natives of Colombo, the port-city capital of Sri Lanka. The name of their Tarzana restaurant translates from the Sinhalese language as “our store,” and their menu reflects the scope of Sri Lanka’s many intermingled cultures. Hashim makes fantastic string hoppers — thin rice-flour noodles steamed into flat, pearly nests. Garnishes surround them: kiri hodi, a golden spiced coconut-milk gravy served with a hard-boiled egg; pol sambol, a fluffy coconut condiment dyed peachy orange from red chiles; mallum, a salad of finely chopped greens (in this case kale) with coconut, onion and lemon; and coconut chutney dusky with chile powder. Call ahead, to dine in or take out, for dishes listed under the menu’s “special orders” section; most of these take only an hour or two of notice. Lamprais (pronounced lump-rice) is the most compelling one to request. The word has Dutch origins but the meal thoroughly evokes Sri Lanka: It is a feast of chicken or beef curry with vegetables and other sides warmed in a banana leaf. The steam when you unwrap this parcel carries the scents of sweet spice and coconut palms and nutty rice. — B.A.
19662 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 609-7683
100. Kogi BBQ
Kogi-mania is not what it was a decade ago, when teenagers scanned Twitter to track the food truck’s every cross-county movement, and block parties materialized in its wake. Roy Choi’s famous Kogi short-rib taco is now easily accessible at a permanent location inside a Palms strip mall. But the godfather of modern-day L.A. food trucks is as relevant as ever, a touchstone for a whole generation of chefs obsessed with reimagining the taco. And that short-rib taco is still maddeningly flavorful — extravagantly marinated, caramelized on the grill to surprising depths. The Kogi menu yields other gems too. The chicharrón-and-salsa Pac-Man burger is a stoner’s delight; the Kogi dogs spiked with kimchi and Sriracha are juggernauts of heady flavor. Don’t miss the kimchi quesadilla, a ruddy, spicy emblem of what Kogi gave Los Angeles: a happy marriage between two of the city’s most beloved cuisines. — P.I.E.
Hours and locations vary, kogibbq.com