25 best cheap eats in Orange County for $15 or less in 2021 – OCRegister

You don’t have to drain your bank account to eat well around here. You just have to know where to look. Here’s a quick guide to 25 really great meals that cost no more than $15 (prices subject to change):
The ribeye tacos ($6) at Los Cholos are made with USDA Prime beef and cooked over mesquite charcoal. Tacos al carbon don’t get any better than this. Meanwhile, the cecina (air-dried beef), costilla (pork rib) and arrachera tacos ($3) are also seriously delicious.  1653 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, 714-770-0179, instagram.com/tacosloscholosfullerton; 821 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, 657-201-3043, instagram.com/tacosloscholosanaheim
Mexico City-style quesadillas aren’t like the ones we commonly find in California. They are more like gigantic crispy tacos made with freshly pressed tortillas that are almost big enough for burritos. Assembled atop a hot grill, they are topped with anything from squash blossoms to carne asada and slowly cooked until they turn crisp, at which point they get folded in half and stuffed with shredded lettuce and queso fresco. 1830 W. Lincoln Blvd., Anaheim, 714-999-5515, facebook.com/loschilangosrestaurant
Ćevapi, or chevapi, are cylindrical sausages or kebabs made from ground halal beef. They are savory and succulent and dripping with tallow. Stuff these kebabs into a bun called somun, and now you’ve got an incredible Bosnian sandwich. 17098 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, 714-843-3233, sofraurbana.com
This is the gold standard for chicken pot pie. The filling is creamy and comforting, with tender lumps of chicken and peas. The crust is thick and flaky. Technically it is two different crusts: a sturdy shortcrust on the bottom to contain the fillings and a flaky butter crust on top. 270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-524-3015, poppieco.com
At the restaurant also known as E-San Rod-Sap (which you’ll never actually see written anywhere on the premises), flip to the section of the menu labeled “over rice dishes.” Now look for something called kao pad ka paow moo krob. That’s the one you’re looking for, an incredible fried rice with basil and pork belly. When the server asks if you want it spicy, tell her yes. The rice is studded with puffs of deep-fried pork rind and chunks of fatty bacon, which offset the blistering heat of the chilis. It’s one of the best things on the menu here and possibly the best fried rice of any restaurant in Orange County. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, 714-999-0563
Taiwanese spicy beef and scallion pancake rolls are everywhere in OC, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one than what comes from the kitchen at Noodle St. The roti-like wrappers are thin, flaky and chewy all at once, and contrary to most others, these are virtually greaseless. The beef is tender and richly flavored, a gentle tug-of-war between sweet hoisin sauce and spicy sriracha. 2323 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, 657-217-5664, noodlestinfullerton.com
True, you could come to this birria-focused taqueria for the tacos. But also true: That same slow-cooked birria and that same griddled white cheese that goes onto the quesatacos is equally delicious when stuffed into a baguette and served with a side of red chile-infused consommé on the side, likeFrench dip. SteelCraft, 12900 S. Euclid St. Garden Grove, 657-944-0122, brandlataqueria.com
The menu at this long-running Mexican restaurant includes a dozen different combination plates all priced at $10.25. The possibilities are exhaustive: two taquitos and one tamal, one tostada and two taquitos, one tamal and one enchilada, one enchilada and one tostada, one chile relleno and one tostada… All come with rice and beans, plus a complimentary plate of bean-and-cheese nachos. 12841 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, 714-750-9254
Chao dem, or rice porridge, is typically a very workmanlike, no-frills sort of dish. That’s not the case at East Borough. Everything about this porridge is next-level: the poached Jidori chicken, the charred bok choy, the weirdly bitter tang of the shisho garnish and a perfectly gooey boiled egg. But more than all that, it’s the texture of the porridge itself that makes this version so incredible. The rice is intentionally clumpy, floating in savory chicken broth almost like dumplings. The Camp, 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-641-5010, east-borough.com
Some dishes are meant for sharing. This beef chow fun is not. The wide rice noodles are pleasantly chewy and savory, slicked with sesame oil and dark soy sauce, tossed with tender beef and scallions and finished with a huge fistful of fried garlic. This is one of the best bowls of Cantonese noodles that you’ll ever find. 13913 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, 714-265-1388, tggarden.net
Vaka Burger was still just a food truck when I first tasted their OG Burger. Way back then I said “This might be the best burger I’ve ever tasted.” They’ve set the new benchmark for the classic cheeseburger with lettuce, onion and tomato, plus Russian dressing and ketchup. And for the record: It’s made with real cheddar, not American cheese. Mess Hall Market, 1705 Flight Way, Tustin, 714-259-1027, vakaburgers.com
The Mexican-style grilled chicken from this local mini-chain is beautifully infused with mesquite smoke. The charro beans are excellent, too, supercharged with chorizo. Plus, they make the flour tortillas by hand daily. Locations in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim, elpollonorteno.net
The restaurant’s name translates to Duck Duck Duck, and almost everything on the menu here involves some variation of duck or chicken. My favorite dish is the mi vit tiem, in which the duck is braised similarly to French-style duck confit, then finished in the fryer to get the skin extra-crispy. They offer it as a soup or as a dry noodle version. I prefer the latter. 15579 Brookhurst St., Westminster, 714-852-3988
I don’t know how many people in California have fond childhood memories of catching catfish in the local river then having your mom fry it up for dinner. I’m reminded of that whenever I eat the cornmeal-breaded catfish with tartar sauce and coleslaw at Seasurf. The only thing missing is hush puppies. 18401 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, 714-701-1000, seasurffishco.com
This insanely decadent Lao sausage is deep-fried until the tips blister and crackle. This is quintessential Lao barbecue. The kitchen sells out quickly, so you’ll want to call first to make sure the sausage is in stock before you bother getting in the car. Rodeo 39, 12885 Beach Blvd., Stanton, 714-379-7026, krazkais.com
This Tennessee-based chain makes excellent, old-fashioned American-style fried chicken with just a hint of spice that lingers beneath the surface, barely perceptible. They serve it with classic sides such as baked beans and collard greens. 102 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, 949-336-3936, gusfriedchicken.com
While most things on the menu cost more than $20, the chili and cornbread does not. And it makes a perfectly delicious meal by itself. Cooked in the wood-fired oven, the chili is made with several different types of beans, and it’s not spicy. Both of those qualities probably disqualify it from any serious chili competition, but I don’t care. It is absolutely delicious. The cornbread, too. 376 Camino De Estrella, San Clemente, 949-388-3991, flightsandirons.com
Most Thai restaurants make a variation of the classic cellophane-noodle salad known as yum woon sen, but very few of those salads rise to the level of artistry as this one-dish meal at Street Thai. The glassy noodles are tossed with minced chicken and poached shrimp along with cilantro, onions, tomatoes and a spicy lime dressing spiked with bird’s eye chilis. 15887 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, 714-799-2000, street-thai-cafe.business.site
Pho 101 is the next-gen offshoot of the James Beard Award-winning Pho 79, and I think the family’s legendary oxtail pho is even better here than it is at the original. The same insider trick applies: You won’t actually find oxtail pho on the menu. Rather, order the boring-sounding meatless version with a side bowl of oxtail. Both of these things ordered together is what constitutes the famous oxtail pho. 8031 Edinger Ave. Westminster, 714-375-3330
Abundant fast-food chains serving cheap, frozen, pre-breaded cutlets have given tonkatsu a bad reputation. But when cooked to order with high-quality ingredients, tonkatsu can be a revelation. Hako specializes in revelations: big, beautiful, panko-crusted pork patties (and chicken and beef) served hot from the fryer with a simply delightful cabbage salad. 4790 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, 714-389-4202, hakorestaurant.com
Shaved to order from a vertical spit, this Lebanese-style tri-tip is layered with ample ribbons of fat, which allows the meat’s outer edges to form that mouthwatering char and protective seal, hiding bursts of fatty goodness underneath. The chicken version is good, too, but the beef is the star. 16552 Bolsa Chica St., Huntington Beach, 562-592-0001, skewersgrillusa.com
Take all the flavors of a bowl of Japanese ramen with chashu pork belly, strip away the noodles and broth, then stuff what’s left into a cornmeal submarine roll slathered with kewpie mayonnaise and you’ve got one of the best sandwiches you will ever eat. 31441 Santa Margarita Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita, 949-709-5545, thetroughoc.com
It’s hard to think of a better combination than burgers and beer at the beach, especially when the burgers are made from truly top-notch brisket and chuck. The pastrami burger is particularly delicious, layered with salty pastrami and hot mustard and horseradish. Bonus: The fries are made from scratch and twice-fried, but that’ll cost extra. 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-374-1330, theamericandreamhb.com
Peranakan laksa is to Southeast Asia what ramen is to Japan. And it’s getting even harder to find now that the Santa Ana and Buena Park locations of Uncle Fung have succumbed to the pandemic. However, the Long Beach branch is still going strong just across the county line at the edge of Seal Beach. They make their own egg noodles, or mee, and the curry-like broth is incredible. Orangish-yellow in color, it is mysteriously spiced and thickened with coconut cream. It’s loaded with shrimp, a seasoned boiled egg and several squares of miraculously fluffy tofu. 5716 E. 7th St., Long Beach, 562-494-3888, orderunclefungborneoeatery.com
Kyung Bok Kung is the swankiest Korean barbecue restaurant in the county, and the grilled meats here can easily cost $150 per person. But one of the restaurant’s best-kept secrets is its luxurious bibimbap. It’s a complete meal on a large tray, which includes the bibimbap (large bowl of rice topped with grilled beef, braised mushrooms, egg yolk, julienned vegetables and gochujang) plus soup, salad and a half dozen different banchan and kimchi. 7801 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, 714-888-4948, kyungbokkungusa.com
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