Welcome to Dining On A Dime, a feature in which Lucas Kwan Peterson surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
House of Dimes in Jefferson Park received its name because the tacos it became famous for used to cost a dime. It's no longer a full-time restaurant -- the current proprietress, who once worked for the original owner, is getting on in years, hence the restaurant's highly limited hours: Thursday-Saturday, 11am-8pm. Still, that's plenty of time for locals to get their fill of tacos, chili, and burgers from this neighborhood institution.
By most accounts, the restaurant opened in 1949. It's not much to look at on the outside, and you can easily miss it and its bleached-out, pink exterior. Come to the think of it, it's not much to look at on the inside either, resembling a tiny, smoky shack with a TV in the corner tuned to CNN. A sink in the back shows where dishes are hand washed. There's a one long counter lined with six or seven non-matching plastic chairs. There's not a lot of room -- when I walked in, I bumped the back of someone's chair with the door.
The restaurant is oddly categorized as Mexican on most websites -- this is definitely not the case, and those seeking real Mexican food will be in for a surprise. The mother-son team that run the place are African American, and the tacos are about as authentically Mexican as El Paso and La Victoria products. They are tasty, however, in a Tito's Tacos-esque kind of way -- well-seasoned ground beef, lots of shredded cheddar cheese and lettuce and a soft shell that's charred to give it the feel and texture of a hard shell. They're a bargain at $2.50 -- large, bursting at the seams, really. They are served, necessarily, with a spoon and many napkins.
Tacos come in a few options: veggie, turkey, chili, and their signature "Indian" tacos. I asked why they were called Indian tacos, as they seemed to me to be fairly standard beef tacos, and the man working the grill said, "I don't know. I think the previous owner was half Indian or something like that." So there's no actual reason they're called Indian tacos, I asked. "Nope. Just a name," he responded, and went back to the grill.
The tacos are good -- where this place really shines, however, is with their burgers and chili. A chili cheese burger will set you back $4.75 and take you into a heavenly coma of sodium and grease. The burgers (all made-to-order) are simply done, with the right amount of char on the outside, and the chili is the perfect condiment to make any others superfluous (though the bun does come with a little mayo and mustard) -- smoky and with a perfect balance of spice and tomato flavor.
Bonus tip: There are sodas and water but there are no fries, or sides of any kind. Unless a chilidog counts as a side.
— Lucas Kwan Peterson
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