Introducing Cheap Fast Eats: LAist's Guide To Chowing Down For $10 Or Less. This Time We're In Pasadena
It’s no secret that times are tough these days. With sky-high inflation and food costs through the roof, we wanted to help all the hungry folk out there find something affordable and, of course, delicious to eat.
Every month, Cheap Fast Eats brings you meal recommendations from one neighborhood in L.A., the OC, and beyond. We're scouting out old school eateries, stomach-filling burrito joints and hidden gems so you can eat without breaking the bank, or sacrificing your palette.
So we’re introducing our monthly “Cheap Fast Eats” series, where we visit a neighborhood and pick a few places to eat with a promise to fill you up quickly so you can continue your busy day.
Before we start, here are some ground rules to make this truly easy on the wallet.
- We'll focus on dishes that cost around $10 (or less sometimes).
- We’ll exclude combo meals, which means nixing the fries and drink to stay on budget.
We understand that you might still be thirsty after some of these delicious dishes, so we encourage you to bring a bottle of water (bonus points if it’s of the emotional support variety). Using a reusable water bottle reduces waste and keeps you nice and hydrated.
All set? Let’s go!
First off, we’re heading to Pasadena. We’ve selected eateries to satisfy a variety of palettes, from classic Mexican-American standards to sandwiches brimming with old-world charm to stellar Middle Eastern choices with enough zest to awaken the senses for days to come.
Cruise along a section of Washington Blvd. until you see a humble-looking walk-up eatery on the corner of Sierra Bonita Ave. You're in the right place. Burrito Express has been serving hungry eaters since the late '70s, and that time-tested seal of approval speaks volumes about the restaurant's appeal. While the menu offers everything from breakfast burritos to crispy beef tacos, it’s the bean and cheese burrito that will keep you coming back again and again.
Enthusiasts such as myself grew up consuming the molten, silky smooth mixture of beans and sharp, tangy cheese wrapped together with love in a flour tortilla. While there are many burritos like it out there in the universe, very few exude the level of comfort that Burrito Express manages to pull off. The entire affair will set you back around $5 and can be consumed on the premises or, as I have often found, in the front seat of my parked car, lost in the haze of post-burrito bliss.
Address: 1597 E Washington Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8 AM- 8 PM
Another institution for those in the know, especially when on the hunt to cultivate a particular Ciao Italia vibe. Markets with deli counters are generally a great place to start when looking for cheap, fast food due to the abundantly available ingredients. However, the heart of Roma Market is 83-year-old Rosario Mazzeo, the sandwich creator who wakes up early to oversee the construction of 500 sandwiches sold daily.
The draw is the simple execution of a Sicilian-style bread with its hard, crusty outside and soft, pillowy inside, containing a fine selection of Italian cured meats and cheese that includes capicola, mortadella, prosciutto, and provolone. Marrying the sandwich's contents is the only condiment, a drizzle of olive oil. It’s easy on the wallet at $6, and also an exercise in how certain foods don’t need to be overly complicated to still be good, offering comfort with each bite.
Address: 918 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104
Hours: Open every day, 9AM-5:30 PM
Sandwiches by Connal
Another Pasadena mainstay on Washington Blvd., just a few blocks from Burrito Express. Look out for the iconic mid-century white and red signage in all its glory. This walk-up window establishment is another soft spot for residents. Connal’s is probably best known for its grinders, a sub sandwich whose name, it's said, originates from Italian American communities on the east coast who used the term to describe the experience of biting into firm Italian bread.
Your best bet when ordering at the window is to go with the turkey grinder. Once your order is called, grab a seat on the back patio and dig in. The combination of cold cuts with tomato and shredded lettuce, dressed with olive oil and vinegar, gives the meal a festive air as a confetti of lettuce rains onto your plate. You can’t beat it.
Address: 1505 E Washington Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104
Hours: Open every day, 8 AM-9PM
Mediterranean Cafe carries a certain amount of history in its three decades. Yet if you don’t know where to look, you might just miss it — located in a small storefront on the backside of Lake Ave., facing a parking lot. You have a few affordable options to consider; our go-to is the falafel pita wrap that comes with two falafels, lettuce and tomatoes, dressed to impress in tahini sauce, all wrapped in a warm pita.
If you want something more protein-heavy, one of their kabobs — beef, chicken, or kafta (ground beef made with various seasonings) — is a good move. Take advantage of some of their house-made harissa, which provides a solid flavor kick. The line that stretches out the storefront to the large patio is a testament to its popularity, attracting a diverse group of people, usually on their lunch break.
Address: 273 Shoppers Ln, Pasadena, CA 91101
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 AM -5 PM, Saturday, 11 AM- 3 PM, Closed Sunday
The Old Sasoon Bakery
On a sleepy section of Allen Ave., facing the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, is where you’ll find Old Sasoon Bakery. The bakery specializes in a variety of savory Middle Eastern baked goods, like khachapuri, a dish with roots in Georgia and Armenia, made with bread filled with cheese and often eggs or vegetables.
However, you should try the flatbreads, each costing around $5, which means you can get a couple and still have a cheap, fast eats-style lunch. These are not the frozen flatbreads you purchase at Trader Joe’s when looking for a low-stress meal. Instead, it’s a simple round flatbread made into something akin to a small pizza, but folded in half like a taco. We’d recommend grabbing two to get a sample of the different flavors.
An excellent place to start is lahmajun, ground beef mixed with onions, parsley, tomato paste, and spices like paprika and Aleppo peppers to give the proper amount of zing for each bite. (There's also a vegan version). Another good option is foul, a fava bean mixture containing bright-tasting sliced tomatoes and onions, chunks of green olives and chopped bits of mint, sprinkled with spices. The result is a satisfying mouthful with enough texture for an added crunch. It’s in that moment, after consuming two flatbreads, that you realize that being able to feed yourself for $10 is sometimes one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Address: 1132 Allen Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 AM-6 PM