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The high life on the cheap


WRITERS are striking. Wall Street is in Grinch mode. Gas prices are rising, and holiday shopping is sucking our bank accounts dry. It's a rare Angeleno who isn't hurting this year, but that doesn't mean we can't show ourselves a good time. Less money just requires more of an imagination -- and in our opinion, that equals more fun.

So don't think of yourself as strapped for cash; think of yourself as free to explore. It doesn't take much dough to sample our city's smorgasbord of neighborhoods: Culver City, Long Beach and Highland Park are three good choices for art walks. Babe's and Ricky's Inn is only one well-priced music venue bopping around tuneful Leimert Park. The L.A. Urban Rangers have mapped out all the access ways to Malibu's coastline, while the Los Angeles Conservancy offers a concrete suggestion: "Just look up," says communications manager Cindy Olnick. The myth is that L.A. is one big mall; the reality is that areas like downtown host world-class architecture. Or take a refreshing turn through San Pedro's Vinegar Hill or Mar Vista's midcentury Moderns.

Not that we're downplaying the joys of dining at swanky eateries like Jar. But have you considered the thrill of eating out of a jar?

That was a joke. Read on for a few real solutions to downsizing your life -- without feeling like you're scrimping at all.


Eating out

Before: Steak at Cut ($34-$160)

After: Fourteen bucks lets you grill your own sirloin at the Venice Room (2428 S. Garfield Ave., [323] 722-3075). The H.M.S. Bounty (3357 Wilshire Blvd., [213] 385-7275) scores for two reasons: Succulent lamb chops and a stiff drink will run you about $20.

Before: Sushi at Katsuya ($40 and up)

After: Noshi Sushi (4430 Beverly Blvd., [323] 469-3458) offers fists full of fish for negligible prices.

Before: Gelson's Deli

After: One $3.99 lunch special from India Sweets and Spices (eight SoCal locations; www could stretch for two days.

Before: Gourmet sliders

After: Yuca's (2056 Hillhurst Ave., [323] 662-1214) is a James Beard-award-winning burger and taco stand busting your gut for about $5.

Before: Dinner at Craft ($50 and up)

After: Lunch at Craft (10100 Constellation Blvd., [310] 279-4180). A prix fixed $38 buys you three courses.

Before: Whist's $55 Sunday Brunch

After: Oh, happy new year! All January, Whist (1819 Ocean Ave., [310] 260-7500) has whittled its price down to $20.08.

Before: Lucques by day.

After: Lucques by night. Past 9:30 p.m., the restaurant (8474 Melrose Ave., [310] 655-6277) unveils its bar menu, including terrific steak frites for $16.

Before: Jerry's Deli

After: The famous beef French dip sandwich at Philippe the Original (1001 N. Alameda St., [213] 628-3781) costs $5.15, a pancake breakfast can still be had for $2.75 and a cup of coffee runs you one thin dime. You can't afford not to eat at Philippe.

Before: Dominick's Monday through Saturday

After: Sup at Dominick's (8715 Beverly Blvd., [310] 652-2335) on Sunday nights for their $15 three-course prix fixe menu.

-- Eating in

Before: Trendy supermarkets

After: Ethnic supermarkets. Shopping inexpensive 99 Ranch (several locations, might require more intestinal fortitude, but only of the metaphorical kind -- meat lovers, we can vouch for freshness and quality. We've personally enjoyed many a chicken dinner obtained from these parts, even if we had to view a few unorthodox chicken parts to obtain it.

Before: The produce aisle

After: Your neighbor's tree. According to Fallen Fruit, any citrus treat overhanging public property can be pocketed by your rights as a taxpayer. For tips (and maps of fruit-filled 'hoods), visit www.fallen

Before: Purchasing food

After: Sampling food. Families can fill up with just the freebies at Costco ( For organic noshing, frequent the stands at your neighborhood farmer's market.

Before: Omakase

After: Su casa. Mitsuwa (333 S. Alameda St. [213] 687-6699, call for other locations) offers sushi-grade cuts of seafood, plus all the fixings (rice, seasoned vinegar, nori and S&B's gourmet wasabi -- zingier than any we've been offered in a restaurant), all packaged for assemble-your-own dinners.



Before: Full-price movie tickets

After: The ArcLight is great -- for as much as $14 a seat, it should be. Shave off bucks with a membership; just by signing up (www.arclight, regulars can earn discounted and free tickets. Laemmle's Sneak Preview Club ( offers monthly freebies right off the bat. For $25 a month, the (semi) Silent Movie Theatre ([323] 655-2510, www.silent allows unlimited admissions, as well as one bucket of popcorn on the house. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, first-run movies at the historic (if somewhat rundown) Highland Theatre (5604 N. Figueroa St., [323] 256-6383) will set you back $3. Same deal but seven days a week at Academy Cinemas (1003 E. Colorado Blvd. [626] 229-9400).

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