It’s time for our sequel to the $5 Lunch — the $7 Lunch. We’re moving a tiny notch up in class here, and as with the $5 Lunch, these are not fast-food, eat-in-the-parking lot dives. We’re talking a proper place to sit, with real forks, and a chance to relax over something fresh and tasty to eat.
Here are eight finds for a sit-down lunch for less than $7 in the San Gabriel Valley. If we’ve missed a favorite, let us know. And stay tuned for part three: the $10 Lunch.
Plenty of folks stop into this fine Thai bistro for the regular lunch and dinner menus, but what really brings the regulars back is the lunch buffet. A mere $6.95, it includes a soup, spring rolls, two chicken dishes, several vegetable dishes and two kinds of rice. The offerings get bare if you arrive after 12:30, but just say the word and owner/chef Poki will whip up a fresh replacement for any empty buffet dish. Vegetables are crisp and fresh, flavors are skillfully balanced, and chiles are used for flavor, not just to make your face sweat.
411 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia, 626.447.8845. L Mon.-Fri., D Mon.-Sat. Beer & wine. MC, V.
Every fat, delicoius torta (sandwich) in this stylish Monterey Park café is $6.98, and take it from us: That’s a steal. Built on soft, house-baked rolls, the traditional tortas, like the fiery ahogada (”drowned” in chile sauce), are executed with flair, while original varieties — like bacalao (dried salt cod) with Spanish cod and garlic, chicken mole verde and pork mojito — create a fiesta of flavors.
1944 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 323.278.3536, cookstortas.com. B, L & D Mon.-Sat., brunch Sun. No booze. MC, V.
Good-value restaurants are rare in Old Town, so Kansai is a find. A sweet table-service café that backs up to the (free) Schoolhouse parking structure, this is a noodle house, and it has plenty of udon or soba bowls, hot or cold, for $6.95 or less. The various broths (mild Osaka style, richer Tokyo style or vegetarian) are flavorful, the noodles are cooked properly, and the ingredients are good. It’s nothing amazing, but an aromatic, generous bowl of udon for six bucks is a thing of beauty in this neighborhood.
36 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Old Pasadena, 626.564.1560. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. MC, V.
It’s not easy to spot this café — it’s in the far corner of the Pollo Loco strip mall. But its hidden location hasn’t hurt it any — thanks to the very good $5.95 and $6.95 lunch specials, the place is full every day. We’re hooked on the savory ginger pork, but others return for the garlic eggplant, pad see u (flat noodles with pork and broccoli) or panang curry. Proper table service by nice people.
711 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena, 626.441.5348. L & D daily. No booze. MC, V.
A constant crowd is happy to wait for one of the dozen or so tables, so they can order the huge plate of Hainan chicken with chicken rice and dipping sauces. It’s $6.95, and it’s more than you should eat for lunch but you’ll probably finish it anyway. It costs $2 for the dark meat, which is worth it, especially if you share it with a friend.
138 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626.308.9535. L & D daily. No booze. Cash only.
This friendly family restaurant is rich with inexpensive Mexican home cooking, most notably the $5.99 posole, a fine and hearty meal. Also terrific are the shrimp or mixed-seafood tostadas ($4.99), hearty quesadillas filled with carnitas or pollo ($4.49) and the burritos. If your ship comes in, the splurge on the $8.99 chile verde is not one you’ll regret. No beer, but great fresh juices.
843 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, 626.797.0866. B, L & D daily. No booze. MC, V.
Unusual and wonderful cornmeal-crust pizza (think polenta pizza) is the specialty, and though it’s more expensive than your typical pizza joint, the quality is miles above the norm. A slice is $3.50, so for your $7 budget you can get a slice with onions, peppers and homemade sausage and a slice with fresh white corn, balsamic onions and chives.
328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia, 626.358.8298, zelo.us. L Tues.-Sat., D. Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. AE, MC, V.