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Southeast Asian Cheap Eats
Pho Filet. Ptograph courtesy yelp/Louis N.
Banh Mi My-Tho
At this Vietnamese convenience store, a mere $3 nets you a hefty bánh mì on a fresh baguette. The soft bread has a crackling crust, the bits of grilled pork are supple and salty-sweet, and the pickled vegetables lend the right amount of crunch. The San Gabriel Valley abounds with ridiculous bargains, but this sandwich reigns supreme. » 304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-289-4160.
The Valley cubbyhole does a brisk takeout business, but we recommend dining in at this family-run restaurant. Multiple portraits of Thailand’s king radiate a sense of tradition. Mint leaves tossed with seared onions give backbone to a lunch special. There’s undeniable comfort in a dessert of neatly sliced papaya laid over sweet rice cooked in coconut milk. » 15333 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, 818-781-1234.
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
It’s fun to assemble your own goi coun (rice paper spring rolls) at this modest restaurant. Wrap plump grilled shrimp, fermented pork sausage, or grilled lemongrass beef with Vietnamese herbs and douse the bundle in house-made fish sauce spiked with red chilis. » 1700 Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-943-7645.
Rumor has it that Manny Pacquiao is a fan of the sisig, pork parts served on a hot plate splashed with sour citrus and hot peppers. You don’t have to be training for a title fight to covet the garlicky punch of topsilog, cured beef mixed with fried rice and a fried egg, or the buttery rounds of kutsinta, a supersticky rice cake sweetened with sugar. » 534 S. Occidental Blvd., Filipinotown, 213-738-1263.
The Thai regulars who crowd the closely packed tables can do without the Hello Kitty-adorned picture menu. Here you eat among cognoscenti who specify the width of the noodles and the degree of heat with barely a pause in the conversation. Tom yum combines the kick of dried shrimp, the gaminess of chopped liver, and the brightness of handfuls of herbs. » 5301 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, 323-461-3945.
Steak lovers might squirm at the idea of butchering slabs of filet mignon to nearly transparent sheets. But once the rare slices are submerged in this pho palace’s broth—perfumed with cloves and star anise—they could coax even a Texas cattle commissioner into trying a bowl. Slippery rice noodles and a bouquet of fresh herbs make fine accompaniments. » 9463 Garvey Ave., South El Monte, 626-453-8911.