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Los Angeles: the land of macrobiotic diets, turmeric smoothies, seaweed snacks and starving (literally and figuratively) Hollywood types, but those are just clichés. In truth, L.A. is a crazy good food city and the culinary epicenter of this madcap, sprawling melting pot is Downtown Los Angeles (aka DTLA), the city’s central business district and walkable inner core, which is home to more than 60,000 residents, a half million workers and a booming revitalization. Here is where you’ll find hipster hotels, highbrow museums, Art Deco icons, tucked-away speakeasies, late-night raves, a million bus and subway stops and a food scene that has become the envy of Southern California. Not all meals cost an arm and a leg; here are ten downtown lunches that won’t bust your bank.

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Amazebowls, Arts District, DTLA, Los Angeles, acai bowl, cheap eats

Amazebowls | Photo by Jason Heidemann

1. Amazebowls

This teeny super food and healthy treat outpost serves up smoothies and fruit bowls so yummy and addictive, you’ll swear they’re mixed with crack cocaine. Actually, they’re made with a smorgasbord of healthy ingredients like açai, hemp milk, pomegranate powder, turmeric and various fruits, and that’s just the base. They’re then topped with layers of granola, more fruit, chia and flax seeds, agave, coconut, date bits, hemp hearts and so much more. Are they really healthy? We have no idea, but they’re super delicious and perfectly priced at under $10.

2. Birdies

The cranes are flying high everywhere in DTLA and most of the action is happening in South Park, an area just south of the historic core. Good restaurants have yet to catch up, but at least there’s Birdies, a fast casual doughnut shop and chicken shack. The doughnuts are solid and each one is available for sample, but the birds are the best we’ve tasted in a long while. The breakfast sandwich ($8) is a real knockout, but since it’s lunchtime, go for either the Birdies Spicy ($10) with Ghost Pepper Mayo and Tillamook Cheddar or a leg and a thigh for a mere $7.

Clifton's Cafeteria, DTLA, Los Angeles, Cheap Eats

Clifton’s Cafeteria | Flickr CC: Paul Narvaez

3. Clifton’s Cafeteria

No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to Clifton’s, a combination cafeteria, cocktail bar, performance, space, cabinet of curiosities, family-friendly attraction, retro throwback and L.A. institution. Opened in 1932 and recently renovated (to the tune of several million dollars), the five level space includes eye-popping taxidermy, a faux redwood tree that punctuates the entire middle of the restaurant, and all kinds of rare treasures and oddities. It’s also still a cafeteria with a carving station, Jell-o molds and other familiar items. Prices are fair and nighttime lines (for the bar) are out the door.

eggslut, breakfast, los angeles, dtla, eggs

eggslut | Flickr CC: T. Tseng

4. eggslut

Despite the fact that L.A.’s Grand Central Market offers a smorgasbord of choices ranging in everything from ample bowls of vegetarian ramen to tasty scoops of legendary McConnell’s ice cream, it’s this egg-focused eatery that garners the longest lines—even at lunchtime. The menu is 90% breakfast sandwiches hovering around the $7-$8 range. We don’t understand all the fuss although we’ve yet to try the $10 Slut, a cage-free, coddled egg atop housemade potato purée, cooked in a glass jar sprinkled with gray salt and chives and served with slices of baguette.

Guisados, tacos, Los Angeles, DTLA

Guisados | Photo courtesy of Guisados

5. Guisados

Expect to find this taqueria ranked high on all those “Best tacos in America”-type lists that pop up occasionally in your social feeds. Born in Boyle Heights, a working-class neighborhood east of downtown that is slowly gentrifying, Guisados has replicated its neighborhood success with a downtown location on Spring Street that packs ’em in morning, noon and night. The fuss is over homestyle braises such as shredded chicken, flank steak and Mexican sausage. All tacos are priced at $3 or less, which means nothing on the menu will break your piggy bank.

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6. Nickel Diner
The name is appropriate; the Nickel is a cheap and cheerful downtown diner where a sit-down meal can be had for relatively little. Prices aren’t exactly turn of the century as the 5¢ moniker out front might imply, but there are nevertheless a ton of delectable menu items for under $10 like the spicy pulled pork sandwich and fries ($9.75), the big time cheddar sandwich ($8.50) and the turkey burger ($10). Granted, tax and tip will push you over the 10-buck mark for sure, but this is still a cheap eat (and desserts here rule!).

7. Okipoki

The poké craze is as widespread here as it is in any American city, so if you’ve got a hankering for some delicious treats of the sea plopped atop a bed of rice, hit up this quick serve restaurant across the street from the artsy bibliophile dream shop, the Last Bookstore. The pokés here don’t run cheap, only the veggie friendly “Straight Outta Tofu” and spicy “Baby Got Shrimp” are priced under $10, but the same tasty effects are achieved via Okipoki’s sushi burritos which are almost entirely priced under $10.

Pie Hole, DTLA, pies, Arts District

Pie Hole | Flickr CC: jennie-O

8. Pie Hole

An option that is both cheap and trendy, this Arts District entry serves up heaps of unbelievably good and Instagrammable pies, including lip-smacking (yes, these pies are so good that you may smack your lips together) options like Mexican Chocolate, Earl Grey Tea and Salted Carmel Pecan. But wait, you’re here for lunch, right? Not to worry, there’s a full menu of savory pies including Chicken ‘n’ Cornbread, Potato and Leek Pot Pie, and the most comforting of all—Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Every single one is priced below $8. Yum.

9. Villa Moreliana

Another Grand Central Market entry, this place is one of our favorite joints in all DTLA and perhaps the Market’s most affordable lunch option. Villa Moreliana specializes in one thing: slow-cooked pork as it is prepared in Michoacan, Mexico, and served as tacos. The meat is piled high (two will absolutely fill you up) and visitors have the option of choosing either meat only or meat in combination with the rest of the pig (skin, brains, gizzard, etc.). Add to it a bottled water and even with tax and a tip this authentic and exquisite lunch only clocks in at around $9.

Wurstküche, sausages, hot dogs, Arts District, foodie, Los Angeles, DTLA

Wurstküche | Photo courtesy of Wurstküche

10. Wurstküche

What sausage emporium Hot Doug’s (may it rest in peace) was to Chicagoans this joint is to Angelenos because it’s slammed all the time. It doesn’t hurt that it picked the Arts District (aka Little Brooklyn) for its downtown location. Between classic dogs like the standard brat and the vegetarian smoked apple sage (each $6.50), and more exotic fare including rattlesnake and rabbit with jalepeño peppers, there’s something to entice all palates. Plus, even with a small order of frites some combinations still come out at exactly $10.


Tagged: California, Food & drink, L.A.

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