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Wow, what a deal!

We hit the streets to find the most delicious bargains around.

September 13, 2006|Betty Hallock | Times Staff Writer

WHETHER it's saving $200 on the price of an airline ticket to the Mayan Riviera or snagging a pair of Christian Louboutin sandals priced to move on the last day of the Barneys Warehouse sale, there's something about finding a great deal that's supremely gratifying. And if it's three-star dim sum for the price of a paperback or a cold, frothy chocolate egg cream that's just 50 cents (in Beverly Hills, no less) -- it's just that much more delicious.

So what tasty bargains await hungry Angelenos? The best fish taco in town, filled with crisply fried halibut, crunchy cabbage, salsa and crema for 99 cents. Two cocktails for the price of one in a swanky setting from a top mixologist. A steak dinner at the beach for less than $20. A three-course chef's tasting menu that might include impeccable yellowtail sashimi with bacon and preserved lemon, suckling pig confit with fresh garbanzo beans and blackberry gastrique, and coconut panna cotta with pistachio-cumin brittle -- for only 30 bucks.

These are just a few of the 25 tasty bargains that Food section writers discovered after pounding the pavement, from Santa Monica to the Sunset Strip, from North Hollywood to Westminster, from Koreatown to Little Tokyo. Sometimes the delicious deal depends on knowing when to get what where -- so step lively if you want that free bottle of wine or a blow-your-mind-but-not-bust-your-budget bento box lunch. Others, like a superior Vietnamese sandwich for $1.75 or a perfectly spiced samosa for 59 cents, are perennial steals. Here are our favorites.

1. Fish taco at Tacos Baja Ensenada, 99 cents on Wednesdays. Perfect Baja-style fish tacos with delicately battered, freshly fried, piping-hot hunks of halibut in soft, warm corn tortillas, dressed with crisp shredded cabbage, salsa, finely diced red onion, cilantro, a dollop of crema, a squirt of lime -- these are what customers line up for at this East L.A. mecca. Every other day they're a well-priced $1.15 each, but come Wednesday, 99-cent fish taco day, the crowds are even thicker, and the line can extend past the ceviche counter and the trays of fresh radishes, limes and red-pepper-dusted yellow chiles -- and sometimes out the door. Tacos Baja Ensenada, 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A., (323) 887-1980, www.tacosbaja.com.

2. Egg cream at Barney Greengrass, in the Barneys New York store, 50 cents. Why are those ladies who lunch on the top floor of Barneys New York paying $3.75 for a small bottle of Norwegian Voss water when they could be having a frothy chocolate egg cream for just two quarters (and four pennies, including tax)? It's a good one too, made with a squeeze of Hershey's chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. Traditionally it's made with Fox's U-Bet, but hey, this is Beverly Hills, not Brooklyn! Barney Greengrass, 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 777-5877.

3. Tri-tip special for six to eight people from Swinging Door, $56. Take home a feast of slow-cooked, wood-smoked barbecue for less per person than the price of a movie ticket. Swinging Door's wonderful barbecued meats are widely appreciated, and when they run out, there's no more till the next day, so order ahead. The tri-tip special, big enough for a family meal, includes a whole tri-tip, a slab of baby back ribs, three side dishes and a dozen of the cafe's addictive fresh garlic rolls. Swinging Door, 11018 Vanowen St., North Hollywood, (818) 763-8996, www.swingingdoorbbq.com.

4. Barbecued pork banh mi and avocado smoothie at Top Baguette, $1.75 for banh mi, $2.50 for smoothie. After tasting more than a dozen banh mi, we can be sure Top Baguette is indeed top baguette. Its list of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches includes beef sauteed in lemon grass, a combo of cold cuts and a veggie banh mi with vermicelli noodles and tofu spiked with coarsely ground black pepper. But the best is sweet, succulent barbecue pork. The freshly baked crispy-crusted-but-soft-inside baguettes hold handfuls of pickled carrots and daikon and slabs of crunchy cucumber, plenty of cilantro and a few slices of jalapeno. And lots of banh mi spots offer avocado smoothies, but the luscious one here is the best. Blended with a whole fresh avocado, a little sugar, half and half, milk and ice, it is cold, creamy and wonderful. Top Baguette, 9062 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 379-7726.

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