Ah fall, that magical time of year when college students flock back to campus for yet another year of hungover, pajama-clad lectures in pursuit of that super-useful liberal arts degree. But it’s not all fun and games. The start of another school year means it’s also time to fall back into broke-college-kid mode and save your money for the important things in life... like student loans.
Luckily for those that bleed blue and gold, the area surrounding UCLA is a veritable cornucopia of delicious cheap eats, making that whole responsible adult thing all the easier when it comes to your wallet. Here are the best places for Bruins (or anyone else hanging around Westwood) to save money and still eat well.
Best cheap brunch: Soleil Westwood
1386 Westwood Blvd
The best spot to get your brunch fix in Westwood can be found in an unexpected place: a French-Canadian bistro. Menu must-haves include the French toast or the Nutella crepes, which come in at under 10 bucks. Plus, you’ll find good deals on bottomless mimosas, which is really what brunch is about anyways. And should you then happen to go next door to P’tit Soleil for its extensive poutine menu, which includes riffs on the gravy/cheese curd/French fry classic, we wouldn’t hold it against you.
Best cheap lunch: TLT
1116 Westwood Blvd
When the popular Lime Truck launched its first brick-and-mortar shop in Westwood, a new lunch favorite was born. Since opening, the taco heavy spot has garnered lengthy lines for everything from the blue crab grilled cheese to its pork belly nachos and carnitas fries. If you’re in a rush or just don’t want to wait in line, we suggest calling in your order and picking it up to go.
Best cheap date spot: Pomodoro Trattoria
1393 Westwood Blvd
It might be because of the whole Lady and the Tramp-thing, but something about Italian food always feels like a safe bet for a date -- especially when you can get away with two pastas for under $20. Sure, it’s not the swankiest place in down but the small space makes for an intimate date. Plus, there’s free bottomless bread, so you can skip apps and spend the extra money on the affordable selection of house wine and class it up a bit.
Best cheap place to watch sports: Sepi’s
10968 Le Conte Ave
If there’s a cheap sports bar where it’s worth becoming a regular during your time at UCLA, there is no better choice than Sepi’s. The reliable favorite has been a home away from home for Bruin sports fans since opening in 1961. With UCLA sports memorabilia lining the walls, great classic subs and nachos on the cheap, and plenty of beers on taps with late-night pitcher specials, there’s no better place to get you fired up about being a Bruin while watching a game -- except maybe at the actual game.
Best cheap pizza: 800 Degrees
1146 Westwood Blvd
I’m going to say it: this pizzeria franchise is genius. Not only because they took the Subway, create-as-you-move-down-the-line system and applied it to pizza, but because you can get a delicious Neapolitan style pie starting at under $6 until 2am.
Best cheap late night: Tommy Taco
970 Gayley Ave
This Mexican-ish late-night spot has made a name for itself by going all out when it comes to fully loaded combos perfect for 2am cravings. You can get a signature 8in burrito for $5 and upgrade it to the “K-Town” with Korean BBQ short ribs and spicy cabbage or the “Frankenstein” with two bacon-wrapped hot dogs, chili, cheese, fries, avocado, and sour cream -- all for just an extra $1.95. You also may want to consider the signature Dream Fries piled high with cheese, bacon, or steak, avocado, and sour cream for just $5.95. Not having to eat again for 24 hours comes free of charge.
Best cheap burger: In-N-Out
922 Gayley Ave
Whenever an In-N-Out is in your vicinity, all other burgers -- no matter how delicious -- seem to fade away into the recesses of your memory. Luckily for the UCLA crowd, the neighborhood In-N-Out is also super-affordable, clocking in at just over five bucks for a hamburger, fries, and a drink combo.
Best cheap sandwich: Fat Sal’s Deli
950 Gayley Ave
If you want the most bang-for-your-buck in the sandwich department, look no further than Fat Sal’s. The over-the-top combinations like the signature Fat Sal, which comes with mozzarella sticks, roast beef, fries, brown gravy, and mayo on an extra-wide garlic hero roll is just one of the 25 different sandwich offerings, ranging in varying levels of healthfulness. Though you may be inclined to rep your school and go with the Fat Bruin, cheeseburger, chili, and bacon-stuffed sandwich that has contributed to many Freshman 15 efforts.
Best cheap Chinese: Northern Café
1064 Gayley Ave
This newcomer to the Westwood food scene has finally brought worthwhile Chinese food to the Westside. Expect long lines, but with over 10 different varieties of handmade dumplings, piping hot beef noodles, and a delicious cumin fried lamb, the wait is worth it -- especially at the prices, all of which fall under $9.
Best tacos: Tacos Tu Madre
1945 1/2 Westwood Blvd
This trendy taqueria is all about striking a balance between the expected and the playful. Expect classic combinations like grilled shrimp with poblano ranch slaw, avocado, citrus crema, pico de gallo and cilantro to be right at home with a hot pastrami, pickles, and mustard taco. Either way, the tacos range at an affordable $2.25-$5.25 depending on your filling.
Best cheap place to eat with your vegan friend: Sunnin Lebanese Café
1776 Westwood Blvd
If you have a vegan friend (which you do because you’re at college in 2016) who makes life challenging when it comes to eating out together, there is always the great option of Sunnin. The Lebanese restaurant has a long list of tasty Middle Eastern specialties with just as many meat dishes -- like their signature arayes, beef filled pitas and spicy ground beef sfiha pies -- as those that just happen to be vegan: from roasted eggplant babaganouj to chickpea balila with mashed garlic.
Best ramen for when Sawtelle is too far: Ramen Yamadaya
1248 Westwood Blvd
If you’re looking for something that’s even more conveniently located than Sawtelle’s famed Ramen Row, Ramen Yamadaya is always a viable option. The tonkotsu is the star here, made with pork bones that have been simmered for over 20 hours making for a delightfully rich broth -- plus the classic won’t set you back more than $7.95.
Best cheap eats where you might run into Jonathan Gold: Attari Sandwich Shop
1388 Westwood Blvd
If you’re hoping for a J. Gold sighting or just want to educate yourself on the diversity of the Los Angeles food scene, then there is no better place to go in Westwood than Attari sandwich shop. This Persian spot, famous for its brain sandwiches and the ab-goosht, a delightful Persian stew, is a favorite of the Goldster and for good reason. While this gem of the LA food scene is not for the picky eater, it’s perfect for the light of cash.
Best cheap dessert: Saffron & Rose Ice Cream
1385 Westwood Blvd
This Persian-style ice cream shop may not have your go-to cookie dough ice cream in store like Westwood mainstay Diddy Riese down the street, but what they do have is super-inventive, exotic flavors that never cease to amaze. From a fragrant orange blossom water flavor to mild cucumber flavored scoop, getting a cup of ice cream at Saffron & Rose is a great way to try an exotic dessert without splurging -- you can get yourself a cup starting at $4.50.
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1. Soleil Westwood1386 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
2. TLT Food1116 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
3. Pomodoro Trattoria1393 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
4. Sepi's10968 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles
5. 800 Degrees Pizza1146 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
6. Tommy Taco970 Gayley Ave, Los Angeles
7. In-N-Out Burger555 Willie Stargell Ave, Alameda
8. Fat Sal's950 Gayley Ave, Los Angeles
9. Northern Cafe1064 Gayley Ave, Los Angeles
10. Tacos Tu Madre1945 1/2 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
11. Sunnin Lebanese Cafe1776 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
12. Ramen Yamadaya3118 W 182nd St, Torrance
13. Attari Sandwich Shop1388 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
14. Saffron & Rose Ice Cream1385 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles
Soleil is a unicorn for UCLA students, as the Westwood joint is equally suited for either boozy brunch or a classy dinner, or both, really. Not only can you and your crew throw back the insanely reasonable $15 bottomless mimosas and gorge yourselves on French toast and eggs benny, but you can also chow down on a Québécois-meets-LA dinner. The orange exterior awning is the opening act for the golden stucco walls inside, making Soleil live up to its name as a sunny, cheerful restaurant. Once you’re inside, opt for pumpkin ravioli or escargots Provençale; they’re cult favorites.
After winning The Great Food Truck Race, the dudes behind The Lime Truck opened up this brick-and-mortar counter-serve in Westwood (they also have another location in Irvine). They're still serving their vaguely Mexican menu of sandwiches, tacos, and fried food, and everything tastes wonderfully satisfying. On the weekend, the menu takes a turn for bottomless mimosa brunch with breakfast versions of tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and nachos.
When you need your pasta fix in Westwood, look no further than Pomodoro Trattoria, a charming neighborhood Italian that offers well-priced traditional dishes in an intimate, bright setting. This place was made for casual family dinners, as the menu offers appetizers, salads, pastas, and meat entrées all in generous portions. The gnocchi is made fresh daily and comes in ten varieties, including the beloved Fiorentina, made with fresh spinach, parmesan cheese, shallots, and cream sauce. Don't be surprised if the owner checks on you more than once throughout the meal, ensuring that you leave feeling happy, full, and, most importantly, part of the Pomodoro famiglia.
It never made much sense to the owners of Sepi's why happy hours end at 7pm, so the guys at this beloved UCLA sports bar decided to gift Westwood locals and students alike with food and drink specials that last well into the night, like cheap pitchers and chicken nachos. The place to go for subs, beer, and sports, Sepi’s becomes a mini Bruins stadium every single game day, packed with uproarious fans egging each other on. You’ll be lucky to get a seat at the wooden tables on either side of the somewhat narrow joint. Photos and jerseys adorn the walls, reminding you that you’re in Bruins territory now, and there’s no turning back.
The restaurant group that brought us Umami Burger is behind this fast-casual pizza chain with locations all around the world. 800 Degrees is kind of like the Chipotle for pizza -- you choose the ingredients for your pizza at an assembly-line counter, then the pie is cooked under two minutes in an insanely hot (800 degrees!) oven. The pies are satisfying, the service fast, and the ingredients top-notch. Speciality pies and gluten-free crust is also available, so really, the choice is yours.
Even though UCLA students who come here after a long night out probably won’t stand around and wax poetic about Tommy Taco’s international influences on its Mexican street fare, they probably should. The late-night snack shop’s creations include burritos like the K-Town, decked out with Korean BBQ short ribs, rice, and spicy cabbage, and the Frankenstein, including two bacon-wrapped hot dogs smothered with chili, cheese, fries, avocado, and sour cream. These immense burritos of champions are escorted on the menu by beef quarter-pounders and Tommy’s infamous Dream Fries (a must-have). But being a hole in the wall, Tommy Taco is easy to miss; if you don’t know where to look, you might just stumble right past it.
What is In-N-Out if not the best fast-food chain on the West Coast? The California-based burger purveyor is known for its super-simple three-burger menu (double-double, cheeseburger, hamburger), and its quality fries and shakes. It doesn't take much (literally, just ask the person taking your order) to find out the secret menu, which features triple and quadruple-stacked patties, grilled cheese, and the trademarked Animal Style burger topped with grilled onions. You'll have to wait a bit longer for your order than you would at say, McDonald's, because the heat lamp-free establishment cooks patties fresh-to-order and slices potatoes on-site.
When all of the sandwiches at an establishment begin with the word “Fat,” you know you're in for some truly flavorful, gut-busting creations. Take the classic “Fat Sal,” for example, which is loaded with roast beef, mozzarella sticks, onion rings, and brown gravy -- all served on an extra-wide garlic hero roll. One in a mini-chain of counter-serve spots, this Fat Sal's outpost is a favorite cheap-eats joint among UCLA students, who fill up the tiny, hip space quickly, itching to get their hands on the stacked lineup of hot dogs, heroes, and burgers, like the Fat Bruin: a cheeseburger-, chili-, and bacon-stuffed sandwich that reps the school's mascot.
Quality Chinese food exists on the Westside thanks to Northern Cafe, a casual counter-serve spot in Westwood Village, where locals, particularly UCLA students, flock for handmade dumplings, noodles, and classics like kung pao chicken. Expect to wait in line before grabbing a seat at one of the many wooden tables in this long, bare-bones space, but it's worth it for dishes like juicy pork dumplings, and dan dan noodles with sesame peanut sauce. Don't forget to throw in a side of chive and egg pancakes.
No more chasing down your favorite taco truck after a night out; this colorful takeout window is tiny, but stays put. Most customers get their Mexican creations to-go, but if it’s sit-down you’re seeking, the dining room seats 16, so prepared to get up close and personal with your date. Tacos Tu Madre specializes in unique taco offerings, like Korean barbeque or duck mole, breakfast burritos (definitely the best bang for your buck), and mouthwatering red velvet churros. Non-taco options include sides like Mexican street corn and house-made tortilla chips and guac.
Westwood’s Sunnin Lebanese Cafe is the place to go when you’re craving popular and reliable Middle Eastern food like baba ghanouj, falafel, labneh, and, above all, juicy kefta kebabs. The skewers are made with succulent, just-chewy-enough lamb, beef, or chicken, and from the accompanying piles of rice and crispy romaine salad, you’ll quickly learn that Sunnin delivers on both value and flavor. Whatever you do, don’t skip out on dessert; in addition to baklava, Sunnin offers ashta, or clotted cream prepared with rosewater, orange blossom water, honey, and pistachios.
This beloved ramen mini-chain's Torrance location has long been a mecca for slurpy-noodle enthusiasts. Trust the hype, and get the Tonkotsu. The pork broth in every bowl is simmered twenty hours for maximum flavor -- and you can taste ALL of it.
The sandwiches at Attari in Westwood will make you rethink the lunch staple. Each features a main ingredient like chicken cutlet, tongue (the bestseller), or the omelet-like kuku layered between crusty slices of French bread and topped with tomatoes, pickles, and spiced Iranian pickles. The menu also includes Iranian stew specials and classic kabobs. The sunny courtyard patio will make your lunch taste that much better.
Ice cream is more than just a sweet treat at this Westwood parlor - it’s an experience. Using traditional Persian methods by adding ground orchid root to their batches, Saffron & Rose creates ice cream that is lusciously creamy, rich, and slightly thicker in texture than your average American creams. The flavor offerings are nuanced and aroma-obsessed, with menu highlights including orange blossom, cucumber, and lavender. Don’t let the line deter you – these fragrant fro-yos are worth the wait.