[Food Issue 2008] For Our Recessionary Times, 54 Orange County Meal Deals Between 99 Cents and $15

Brother, Can You Spare a Taco?
For our recessionary times, 54 Orange County meal deals between 99 cents and $15

How's $4 gas treating you? Devalued homes? Layoffs? Shrunken Los Angeles Times? Outsourced Orange County Register? And doesn't it suck that most of your favorite haunts—that is, if you can still afford to eat out—have raised their prices in the past couple of years? Remember dollar-per-gallon gas? 'Twas only a decade ago, amigos.

The economy blows, so we're here to help. On the following pages are the county's best choices for filling, affordable dining, from high-end restaurants to taco trucks. None costs more than $15 per person, and most check in at less than 10 bucks. Follow this list, and we'll beat the Bush years yet.

OC's cheapest grub: in HB
Tim Melideo
OC's cheapest grub: in HB
A Dosa good food for seven bucks
Jonathan Ho
A Dosa good food for seven bucks

Location Info



1475 S. Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Retail

Region: Costa Mesa

Las Brisas De Apatzingan

1524 S. Flower St.
Santa Ana, CA 92707

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Santa Ana

Nha Hang 1.99

11707 Edinger Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Fountain Valley

El Chinaco

560 W. 19th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Costa Mesa

Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery

15551 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Westminster

Lucia’s Tacos & Mulitas

16952 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Huntington Beach

Al Sanabel Bakery

816 S. Brookhurst Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Anaheim

Wholesome Choice

18040 Culver Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Irvine

Champion Food Co.

17090 Magnolia St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Fountain Valley

Saffron Grill

17441 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Category: Restaurant > Mediterranean

Region: Huntington Beach

• 99 CENTS to $4.99 •

TACOS EL CHAVITO in Huntington Beach is the greatest meal deal in Orange County: two double-tortilla, small-but-filling tacos for a friggin' buck. And don't think there's some roach-coach reproach to this offer: the meats (about a dozen, from carne asada to carnitas to brains and belly) are perfectly charred, the tortillas slightly toasted, and the thick salsa a perfect binding agent. And if the two-tacos-for-a-buck price doesn't entice you, pineapple juice is on the house until it runs out—and, after that, sodas are two quarters. On Morgan Street, between Slater and Speer avenues, Huntington Beach. No phone number.

It's obviously a ploy to get you into the store, but who could argue against IKEA's famous breakfast of scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes and two slices of bacon for 99 cents? An extra dollar adds coffee and two Swedish pancakes with sweet lingonberry jam. Hell, why not get two of these? But whatever you do, leave when you finish. If you should take the bait and actually wander in, you'll get lost in the sadistic maze of showrooms where there are no visible exits unless you're carrying a Billy bookcase. 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532;

Hotteok, the Korean rice-flour version of pupusas, are filled with nuts, sesame and brown sugar. A simple, cheap, sweet treat, and the only thing sold by KOO'S CATERING TRUCK. They're a buck each (or 11 for $10); one is a snack, three is breakfast, and five creates a sweetly distended tummy. Find the truck parked in front of Freshia Market in Tustin from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. 14551 Red Hill Ave., Tustin. No phone number.

Tamales are a dime a dozen (figuratively, unfortunately, not literally) in Orange County, with few memorable and most overpriced. Not so the huchepos at LAS BRISAS DE APATZINGAN, a Michoacán-style restaurant in deepest, darkest SanTana. These tamales are formed with sweet corn masa so fresh it contains whole kernels. A huchepa preparada—topped with Mexican sour cream, crumbly cheese and a tart salsa—is $1.99; two make your digestion stagnate for a couple of days, but they're oh-so worth it. 1524 S. Flower St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5584.

The name says it all: NHA HANG $1.99 RESTAURANT. Rice with grilled meat and noodle soups with plenty of toppings, all for $1.99. They do charge for water, but when you've already made out like a criminal, go ahead and splurge an extra $1.75 on iced coffee. Besides, you don't want to piss off the craggy old men who are your servers. They'll take your order, but they won't take your shit. 7971 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 893-8364.

Ah, the humble pupusa, Central America's take on the gordita, the only worthwhile thing to originate in El Salvador. At EL CHINACO, the stuffed masa treats are served with a side of cojones: Owner Mirna Burciaga bravely took on the Minuteman Project a couple of years back, never stopping the production of her massive, perfectly griddled $2.42 pupusas. If those Know Nothings ever bothered to step in and try them—blackened just so, gooey inside—they would probably march for amnesty, and all would be right on Earth. 560 W. 19th St., Ste. D, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8632.

"Little Saigon" is a synonym for "food bargain" 'round here and provides the best bang for your buck in the form of a bánh mì (which, coincidentally, is kinda pronounced "bang mi"). Most places sell these Indochinese hoagies for less than $3, but the tastiest and cheapest are at BANH MI CHE CALI; buy two gut-busters stuffed with meat (or tofu) for $2.25 and get the third free. Let's see Subway top that. 15551 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 839-8185; 8948 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 897-3927; 13838 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 534-6987.

A mulita is the bastard child of a quesadilla and gordita: two thick masa disks separated by meat, bound together with thick, buttery Mexican cheese, then cut into four—truly a product of Mendelian genetics. This product reaches its apotheosis at LUCIA'S TACOS Y MULITAS, which also sells great omelets for less than $5. But stick to the $3.75 mulitas—the true reason God invented masa. 16952 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-2404.

Their real name is sphiha, but feel free to call the baked specialty of AL SANABEL BAKERY an Arabic New York-style pizza: thin, crispy flatbread cooked with any number of ingredients from cheese to tomato to one simply sprinkled with zaatar, a zesty spread of thyme, oregano, olive oil and other good stuff. Al Sanabel offers 20 in total, all $2. 816 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 635-4353.

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