Cheap Fast Eats, DTLA Edition: Iconic Pupusas, Mesquite Smoked Tacos And Vegan Skinny Burritos
Every month, we scout out eateries, stomach-filling burrito joints, and hidden gems so you can eat without breaking the bank or sacrificing your palette. We focus on dishes that are $10 or less, but, hey, inflation's a thing, so it's probably best to check the prices yourself before you head out. Also, if you have an area you'd like us to try, drop us a line at the bottom of the story.
Downtown Los Angeles always seems to be in a transitional state, a place where the old brushes up against the new, with historic buildings, high-rise condos, and constant construction. It’s the same for residents — on the same block, dreams are delivered for some, while others are dashed.
Everyone shares the sidewalk — fit-looking city officials, cops in nice suits wearing their badges on their belts, recent Latino immigrants hawking items for sale, office workers, unhoused folk, hip artist-types and tourists.
The reality is everyone needs to eat at some point, and that’s where we come in: welcome to Cheap Fast Eats DTLA.
From secret alleyway breakfast burritos to huge lunch plates big enough to feed you and a friend with more to spare, there’s absolutely no shortage of food options in downtown L.A. when you're ready to fill your gullet.
Located inside Grand Central Market, there’s a good chance you have already sampled or at least passed by the iconic Sarita's Pupuseria, which can be found almost smack dab in the middle of the 104-year-old market. Look for the luminous blue neon in the shape of the country of El Salvador, and you’ll know that you are in the right place.
If you manage to grab a stool at the counter, it feels as if you are in some type of timeless classic with downtown as your backdrop, and you wouldn’t be alone; the 2016 film La La Land did precisely that in its love letter to Los Angeles. We’ve always been impressed by the sheer volume of menu items available at any given time, which are always made to order by hand (and may take a little longer to arrive than one might be accustomed to).
While it’s hard to go wrong with anything on the menu, the nopal (cactus) pupusa is an excellent choice and not one that you often see, a Salvadoran dish executed with an ingredient that's commonly found in Mexican cuisine (a perfect dish for this area, which many people from Mexico and South America call home).
Gab Chabran joins podcast host Brian De Los Santos as they take a tasting tour of some of DTLA's best bargains on this episode of How To LA
There’s something tantalizing about the textures of the cool slivers of cactus layered immaculately with the melted cheese. There’s also a more traditional favorite, queso con loroco, an edible flower that grows in Central and South America, known for its vegetal flavor on a par with artichoke or chard. There’s nothing quite like it, and it's an excellent form of sustenance to send you on your way.
317 S, Broadway, stall E5, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Open daily, 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
It’s safe to say that breakfast burritos are a staple in the Los Angeles diet, given the variety of places to choose from. But somewhere along the line, we got full. Those sizable breakfast burritos, which tend to be a bit of a kitchen sink affair, got to be a bit much when, after eating, you find the need to curl into a ball and take a nap. While we love our sleep, who’s got time for that with all the Cheap Fast Eats out there?
Enter Burritobreak, located between Broadway and Hill Street in the Jewelry District, at St. Vincent Court in an alleyway which once served as the shipping and receiving entry point for the Bullocks department store. Eventually, the department store began leasing it out to small businesses like restaurants and cafe spaces. Suffice to say the place is a historical trip. But we aren’t here to marvel at the architectural wonder of downtown today. Save that for another day.
The fact is that we are here to sample the “skinny burritos,” which are called that because they're smaller and thinner than your typical breakfast burrito affair. For us, a manageable burrito in size connotes a certain level of comfort, similar to those you grew up with that cost $2 each.
They're the brainchild of sisters Claudia and Laura Barrera and their mother and aunt, who hail originally from Baja California. The family started selling their burritos as sidewalk vendors at 7th and Figueroa, just up the street from where they are now. Today, their small storefront offers an impressive array of breakfast and lunch-style burritos that come in different combinations of meat, vegetarian, and vegan, so there’s a little something for everyone to try.
For a meat eater, there’s the classic egg, chorizo, and potato burrito, or the machaca burrito, made with stewed beef. For a vegan, there's the soy-chorizo and rajas (roasted and sliced poblano peppers) with potato. You should also douse any stellar burrito combination with their house-made Mizalsa “orange sauce,” which they also bottle and sell for $10. It's the perfect way to take home a little Cheap Fast Eats souvenir to share with your friends and family.
St Vincent Ct., Los Angeles, CA 90014
Open Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.
So let's get straight to it; we took some liberties with our Cheap Fast Eats price point when we visited Yuko Kitchen, and the reason is simply — we are such big fans. (Their signature plate is $15 but there’s enough for two).
We were initially taken by the decor of the interior of Yuko’s, which looks like what would happen if pop-artist Keith Haring and Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki went on a safari together. The multi-colored spray-painted some-sort-of-endless jungle scene never ceases to delight, coupled with a plethora of potted plants, available to purchase, which owner Yuko Watanabe started selling during the pandemic to offset lost business.
The menu at Yuko Kitchen brings together so many different styles that simply calling it Japanese almost sells it short. There’s a unique spirit that is exemplified throughout their menu, like their special plates, which feature chicken, fish, veggies, or sushi rolls along with rice, four pieces of spicy salmon roll, green salad, cucumber, tomato, and a small side of soup and mini dessert, which when we visited was a cookie with a smattering of sweet cream.
It’s a lot of food. But if you’re in a hurry and not too hungry, grabbing a hot cup of coffee or tea with their strawberry and green tea chocolate chip cookies is the perfect pick-me-up.
101 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
Monday - Wednesday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m;, Friday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; closed Sundays
Venture down the road towards the Fashion District, where you’ll find a little slice of flour tortilla heaven at Sonoratown. The taqueria on 8th Street between Los Angeles and Santee has been slowly chipping away at the notion that not all Mexican food is a monolith since 2016. Owned by Teodoro “Teo” Diaz Rodriguez Jr. and Jennifer Feltham, they’ve created a menu representing Rodriguez's northern Mexican town of San Luis Río Colorado, in the state of Sonora, across the border from Arizona.
Before the pandemic, Feltham would make trips to Mexico every two weeks, bringing back sacks of Sonoran flour that they would use to make their tortillas. However, given the lockdown meant closed borders, the pair were left to get more creative.
They sent the Sonoran flour they used out to a lab to determine what makes it special to determine its genetic makeup, then sent it to different mills to create a blend that properly captured the essence of what they would previously get from Mexico.
Tortilla genealogy aside, Sonoratown serves some of the best tacos in Los Angeles. The tortilla in all its glory is only part of it. Another distinguishing factor is the presence of the smoke flavor, which is absorbed from the mesquite they used when grilling their meats, serving as a signature ingredient. When you take a bite, it feels nothing short of alchemy, with a touch of their fiery chiltepin salsa making for a unique taste you won’t find anywhere else.
All their menu items fit under $10 and will fill you up. Some of our favorites include the costilla taco made with grilled beef rib meat and chicken chivichanga, the Sonoran equivalent to chimichanga and a gourmet dish served throughout Mexico. The mini burrito served with the taco makes for the perfect amount of food. You honestly can’t go wrong when you take a trip to Sonoratown.
208 E. 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014
Sunday - Thursday, 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Located inside Las Perlas, a mezcal bar, which opens at 5 p.m. for Happy Hour, is Moderno Cocina, the work of Denice Mendez and chef Pablo Ricardo. Ricardo cut his teeth alongside Chef Ricardo Zarate (of Picca Peruvian Cantina back in the day). These days their permanent pop-up can be found at both Las Perlas locations, in DTLA and West Hollywood. Here in downtown, you’ll find their taco cart on the patio, where you can sample some marvelous creations.
Vegan, vegetarian, and meat eaters can all find something to nosh on while sipping their mezcal and beer. A couple of stellar standouts were the cochinita pibil with its succulent flavors of perfectly cooked pork, topped with divine red pickled onions providing just the right amount of acidity to cut through the fattiness of the pork.
As for the vegan option, their tinga option made with hibiscus flowers are some of the best we’ve ever sampled. Ricardo and Mendez have unlocked a new level of flavor and texture that we didn’t even know was possible, stewing the flower in the perfect amount of spices and other flavors. It makes for a bite that is equal parts umami with a hint of sourness that will make anyone — despite virtuous dietary decisions — come back for more.
107 E. 6th St., Los Angeles, CA, 90014
Open daily, 5:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.