So, you’ve exhausted every good restaurant within walking distance of campus, and if you so much as look at another plate of food from a dining hall you might vomit. It’s time to venture farther into LA for a meal, and you’ve successfully convinced your friends to come with you on this adventure.
But those friends have made their requirements clear: no one wants to spend very much money, and everyone wants to make the trip worth it. There’s no point in dealing with Uber/public transit unless it’s actually going to be a great meal.
That’s where we come in. Here are some of our favorite spots for an affordable group dinner.
Two words: arcade restaurant. These would normally send us running in the other direction, but not with Button Mash. Full of the arcade games of our childhood (we will own you on NBA Jam), there’s plenty of ways to stay occupied if there’s a wait. There will probably be a wait. But it’s definitely worth it for the crispy tofu balls and the double-fried chicken wings, both great for sharing. The burger is not good for sharing, but you should order it anyway.
Wurstküche is a group dinner slam dunk. You order and pay separately (no awkward bill splitting at the end always scores points), there are big communal tables you can easily take over, and there’s lots and lots of beer. Definitely don’t bring your vegan friends with you, but definitely do order the fries. Sausages run the gamut from solidly traditional bratwurst to rattlesnake, and all of them are pretty great.
If you’ve got some adventurous eaters in the mix, you can’t really go wrong at Night + Market. It’s on the edge of affordable, and all the fermented meats/ mentions of pig’s blood/all that spice might scare some off, but if the group is game, you should not hesitate. It’s some of our favorite Thai food in the city and a truly fun eating experience.
Jenny wants pasta, but Tom wants curry, while Frankie is jonesing for a taco. If indecision is the name of the game, Grand Central Market is the play. There is quite literally something for everyone at this ever-changing Downtown institution, so everybody will go home happy. And though lunchtime can be a bit of a nightmare, the newish dinner hours are a much calmer affair, so you might even be able to find a table that fits everyone. Consult our guide for the best places to dine.
Look, we’re not going to pretend that the food is the reason you’re at El Coyote. There are burritos, enchiladas, and carne asada things galore - all of which are perfectly acceptable, satisfying, and affordable. But more importantly: there are margaritas, the place is huge and a total slice of Hollywood history, and the whole thing is just plain fun.
Unlike the Santa Monica original, the newer Culver City outpost of Father’s Office has actual space, including some big tables out the front, perfect for summer nights and multiple rounds of craft beers. If you’re coming here, you’re coming for the burger, and you better make sure everyone knows the drill. No substitutions, no ketchup, and we hope you like blue cheese. These guys do not budge, but that’s probably because they’ve managed to come fairly close to perfection. Note: they will not let you in unless you’re 21.
If it’s Tex-Mex you want, Bar Amá delivers. A Downtown staple that’s filled with people who actually live there, we could eat queso and down margaritas all day here if we could. You should probably (definitely) make a reservation because every other person is also here on the weekends.
Burgers and beers are always a winner, and Plan Check delivers on both fronts. The space is big, although it still gets crowded, but the food is always reliable. There are locations spread across town (Santa Monica is getting one soon), and any menu that has fried chicken, beer nuts, and donuts on it is probably going to be a winner.
Ever heard of Frogtown? Neither had we. But turns out this little track of land by the LA river is a real place, and home to what could be the restaurant of the summer. The chef behind downtown’s Mexicali Tacos is manning the kitchen at this Sonoran-style BBQ spot (think mesquite-grilled carne asada tacos) in an almost entirely outdoor setting. With long, communal tables and extremely reasonable prices, the Eastside just got their big group go-to spot.
Another day, another chance to argue the Chicago-style vs. NY-style pizza debate. We’re not here to cause a turf war, but if you’re pro-Chicago (or simply over having your pizza be a sad, unfulfilling flatbread), take your big group dinner to Masa. This is hands down the most authentic deep-dish in the city, with a fantastic family-run vibe inside. You’re also well-positioned for all things Eastside nightlife afterwards.
Aside from paying for something you didn’t eat, the worst part of any group dinner is never being able to decide what everyone wants. Hack: Got to Izakaya Honda-Ya. The informal Japanese tavern in Little Tokyo not only has affordable prices, but a menu large enough to make even the pickiest eaters in the group happy. Those endless bottles of Kirin hitting the table aren’t a bad thing either.
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