Cheap Eats in LA

Our first few days in California were spent in the City of Angels -- the metropolis that is Los Angeles.  Full of movie stars, rabid tourists, and neighborhoods of every country imaginable, we wanted to see. it. all. two days.   .............on just a weeeeee bit of cash.  Doable?  Yes!

The Biltmore

First things first, we got a deal on our hotel stay at the Biltmore -- an amazing throwback hotel that is so 1950's awesome that it has been featured in a host of movies and our favorite:  Mad Men.  Hands down the coolest part of the hotel was the "fitness" area, an indoor pool, wet sauna and dry sauna that all remains original to the period.  I had never been in a "wet" sauna before, but basically it is a giant steam room.  The steam hits you immediately as you walk in the door and you can only see a few feet in front of your face.  Breathing is difficult, but in a good way.  Think "breathe in through your mouth, breathe our through you nose" and do it SLOOOOOOWWWWLLLY.  I lasted about 2 minutes in there -- Alex loved it and would stay in for 10-15 minutes at a time. Whether you like the saunas or not, they are super cool to check out thanks to the authentic brass trimmings and such.

Virtual Tour of the Biltmore is HERE.

This post is NOT about the hotel however.  THIS post is about the EATS.

The Mexican Market and Skid Row

First off -- LA is a prime city for cheap eats, but you are going to have to brave those non-tourist areas if you want to find them.  In fact, our favorite trip of the entire LA stay was a venture into a Mexican neighborhood where there was a blocks long market set up in the streets, full to busting with Mexicans, cheap food and more excitement than we saw anywhere else in the city.  It was magic.  Want to know where it was?  Well let me show you the map...

Map Courtesy of Experience LA -- has good info on LA neighborhoods!
See that big "x"?  That is where the hotel concierge crossed off the neighborhood warning us that we didn't want to go down there -- we would pass skid row and all that. Well, my ears perked up at that and after a quick tour through the "good site-seeing areas" we were bored out of our minds and I mentioned that we should check out that "x"ed out area.  Just drive through and see everything you know?  We weren't heading to Compton or anything....

Turns out skid row is fascinating (and sad). Homeless folk are everywhere and in lines at the shelters and soup kitchens.  One interesting fact: The original "skid row" was in Seattle (And other northern Pacific Coast cities) and referred to a road through town where the loggers would drag, or skid the logs, creating a muddy mess.  As you can imagine, that wasn't the most highly sought after real estate and "lowlifes" and "misfits" settled in there.  Learn more about the history of Skid Rows HERE.

PS -- The Toy District and Fashion District were also VERY cool and if it weren't so hot and I wasn't so pregnant, we would have spent much more time shopping the whole-in-the-wall supply shops there.  If we go back to LA, THIS is where we will definitely go!

Want to take our path?  Skid row is bounded by Main Street (west), Third Street (north), Alameda Street (east) and Seventh Street (south), then keeps going into the Mexican and Asian neighborhoods.

More history specifically on LA's skid row can be found HERE.

....but this post isn't about skid row, but about the CHEAP EATS!

Mexican Market -- Fresh Squeezed OJ, Tortillas and more!

Here is where they started! That Mexican market I mentioned?  There was stand after stand of AMAZING authentic Mexican dishes, cooked in front of your face and scarfed down by lines of waiting Mexicans.  We were the only white people at the market, so this was NOT tourist food.  My hands down favorite food at the market however was the fresh squeezed orange juice.  Literally orange after orange after orange is squeezed in front of you into a large plastic cup and for a few bucks, you get to visit the Garden of Eden and sample the oranges.  Amazing. Like drinking an orange (which you are).   The one and only disappointment was the bagged hard "funnel cake" type things.  They were fine and cheap,but not great.  Rule of thumb -- if they are making it in front of you DIG IN!  If not, say No Thanks! with a smile. We visited the market on a Saturday and could find no info on whether it is a weekly thing, a Saturday only things, etc, etc.  Nonetheless, the drive through this neighborhood is worth it!

 Tacos Por Favor

While in California, we were determined to only eat good, authentic Mexican food, so our next stop was Tacos Por Favor (Tacos Please!) and we were not disappointed.  The joint is a local place, full of locals and workers from the area and very few tourists and hipsters.  The tacos are the typical Mexican white tortillas -- not soft flour like taco bell :)  The meats were so-so.  Chicken and pork fillings were a bit dry (though the green and red salsas helped a lot), but the steak was delicious and the chorizo was surprisingly good.  I think of chorizo as the super-duper spicy ground sausage type meat, but this was chunks of flavorful (but not overly spicy) meat.  yum.  The fish tacos were just so-so.  The salsas were delicious -- I was a major fan of the green salsa, using chips to dip it up at the end.  I am normally a red salsa girl, but the green was fabulous here!

Note:  Order tacos individually instead of getting the combos.  The combos are way overpriced while tacos alone will just cost you a buck or two. Really weird setup on the menu...  Also, regular Coke is a buck and comes in a can, but Mexican Coke comes in a bottle, is much more delicious and costs $2.50.

ink.sack in West  Hollywood

Forget the food!  Get me this pink chandelier  in Vivienne Westwood's!!
For our next meal, we did a little research and stumbled upon this fabulous map on  It is nice because the map is easy to navigate and the author gave a good sampling of great, cheap eats in various sections of the city.  NONE of them are in overly touristy areas.  (YAY!)

We were in West Hollywood at the time and are fans of Michael Voltaggio (from Top Chef), so his less expensive sandwich place called "ink.sack" was our lunch choice du jour. The sandwiches are $4-7 (a wee bit pricey in our book), and some remarked that they are small, but we were WELL pleased with our meal.   We ordered three sandwiches between us thinking that two wouldn't fill us based on other folks' advice. Turns out two was quite enough.  The sandwiches might be short, but they are wide and FULL of meat.  The ingredients are the same gourmet ingredients you would expect to see at Michael's flagship restaurant ink and every single bite was delicious.  I had the cold-fried chicken and Alex downed a bahn mi and loved every bite.  The third sandwich was a warm Rueben and while it was also delicious, it didn't hold a candle to the first two.  We rounded out the meal with a Mexican Coke and were divinely stuffed and satisfied for many hours afterwards.

More info on both restaurants can be found HERE and the ink.sack menu is HERE.

The Getty

Cupanis at the Getty
This is a weird one, I know.  I have to include this in the cheap eats section though because it was one of the most important meals I had along the trip.  We decided one morning to go up to the Getty (a large museum and gardens) and must have skipped breakfast.  I was 7 months pregnant at the time and climbing the stairs to the museum, I could literally feel my legs crying out for food and started to feel faint.  I. Need. Food. was my mantra.  I needed some protein desperately (Weird when your pregnant that you can pinpoint EXACTLY what your body needs...)  Luckily, there is a little stand there serving a few cold breakfast/snack stand items and hot breakfast burritos. Let me preface this by saying I have never had a breakfast burrito - ever.  This day though? It was perfect.  Alex and I split the burrito and I downed a glass of milk -- all for under $5 and then I could walk again.  Literally within 10 minutes of eating, my body started smiling again -- pregnancy is so weird.

Sidenote:  The Getty is ok.  I am not a huge art museum buff, so perhaps I am not the best judge, but it was just ok.  The gardens were very nice to walk through.  The museum is free, but parking is $15.  Worth it?  Depends on if you like museums (and breakfast burritos).

California Fast Food

A few times during our stay, we were on the move and couldn't find a great, cheap dive to eat at, so we opted for the traditional California fast food that we had heard about but never tried.  Top of the list was an In and Out Burger, followed by some Jack in the Box (not on the same day :)  The burger was Fabulous and deserves all the hype. I compare the quality and price to ChickfilA and the line around the place waiting to hit the drive through spoke volumes as well.  Jack in the Box was just ok.   We ordered a few $1 items and the tacos were ok-pretty good, the burgers were BAD and the churros were quite delicious and fresh out of the fryer.  Consensus?  Get a burger from In and Out and skip Jack unless you want a churro snack. (PS the "mini cookies" are HORRIBLE).

Strawberries and Shopping

One of my hands-down favorite moments of the trip was in a strawberry field behind a gas station...more to come on for a classic California eating experience and a little taste of West Hollywood shopping!  Check it out RIGHT HERE!


we are headed there in 2 weeks for my brother's wedding! good to know and i will have to pass this on to him in case any are new to him. they live in echo park and there was this great vegetarian restaurant that was inexpensive that i LOVED! i can't remember the name.
thank you SOOOOOOOO much for coming yesterday and i am so glad you made it home safely! it was so great to meet you in person and i look forward to doing it again! :)
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Amy Renea said…
Cassie it was so SO wonderful to meet you! You are as charming in person as you are online and I hope to see much more of you in the coming months/years! :)

That vegetarian place sounds divine! I would love to go BACK to LA -- it was fun!!! Are you headed anywhere in particular while you are out there?



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