Personal Favorites Around the South Bay

Several affordable restaurants offering quality above their price.

Over the years working in the South Bay, I’ve made a number of places frequent stops for dinner or lunch.

Here’s some of my personal picks I’d like to share.

Shrimp on the barbie at the California Fish Grill.

California Fish Grill

Where else can you get swordfish for $11.99 with two sides? You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere offering such a dish for under $20, but California Fish Grill (a short drive east on Artesia Boulevard from the campus) offers that and other tasty seafood for reasonable prices.

The swordfish steaks and other grilled fish selections come with optional cajun, olive oil, chimichurri or garlic glaze.

Swordfish steaks in cajun glaze, french fries and brussel sprouts. 

Keep in mind the excellent clam chowder, not too greasy fish and chips ($8.99) and consider spending an extra $1.50 for a side of brussel sprouts doused in a tasty vinegarette.

California Fish Grill has numerous locations in Southern California. The closest to campus is 1425 W. Artesia Blvd. in Gardena. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Phone: (310) 225-2777.  Online:


A Habit charburger with bacon, lettuce and cheese. Charburgers start at the $3 range.

The Habit

Forget the greasy Five Guys burgers and consider In-&-Out’s offerings flavorless and overrated compared to The Habit’s charbroiled creations.

While it is more than what you would pay for at In-&-Out, The Habit is much cheaper than Five Guys and other gourmet burger joints in the South Bay.

If you want something a bit fancier for the price, consider ordering the Santa Barbara Char, which has avocado and numerous other toppings on grilled sourdough.

And don’t forget the onion rings. Crisp, not too messy, not oily and a better order than french fries. Have a lemonade or mocha shake and you’ve got an excellent burger outing.

Onion rings go great with honey mustard dipping sauce.

The Habit has restaurants across Southern California. The nearest to the campus is at 3829 Torrance Blvd. in Torrance. It is open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Phone: (310) 406-3063. Website:


A combination plate of ground beef enchiladas, rice and beans from Zacatecas in Hawthorne. Price: $9.25


This literal hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall in Hawthorne is a hidden gem of a Mexican family restaurant, and within reasonable distance from the college.

It is almost always busy and loud with Spanish sports on the TV, but the food can be ordered to go with complimentary chips and salsa, or can be enjoyed in the establishment with a margarita, Michelada or various beers.

Breakfast, seafood, and a variety of burritos (try Tom’s, with carne asada, beans, guacamole, sour cream, onions and spicy green sauce) round out the menu, and weekends offer menudo.

The best thing is that this isn’t a joint that piles on spices and sauces to mask poor-quality meat. It’s mild done right, with the option of adding more fire if you desire.

It’s highly likely the friendly staff will offer you deliciously cold flan on the house, but it might be a challenge to eat it as the amount of food will put you at the bursting point.

The chips and salsa is where the gluttony begins at Zacatecas.

Zacatecas is located at 13737 Inglewood Ave. in Hawthorne. It is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 679-5161. Take out is available.


A mountain of food awaits at #1 Buffet in Hawthorne. Egg rolls, potstickers, chicken skewers, fried rice and various meats, along with a Chinese donut barely fit on the plate.

#1 Buffet

Offering lunch on the weekdays for under $10 and dinners and weekend prices for $13 a person, this Chinese buffet in Lawndale is just a short drive from the campus.

The establishment offers a change of dishes from its lunch and dinner options. Lunchtime eaters should make a beeline for the Chinese barbecue pork, while weekend and dinner visitors should make room for giant crab legs.

Chinese barbecue pork (aka char siu) is the star of the lunch menu at #1 Buffet in Lawndale, and brings back memories of $1 Chinese take out joints in the ’90s (the pleasant ones).

However, the place excels in its appetizers, from wontons, sushi, fried shrimp and chicken wings and skewers. It is likely you will have a plate of appetizers, rice and some variations of meat dishes, and if room allows, a third plate for dessert or fruits.

#1 Buffet is located at 14418 Hawthorne Blvd. in Lawndale. Open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 644-4007. Take out is available. 


Put as many toppings as you want at Pizza Rev: Above is a pie with pineapple, pepperoni, sausage, cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes.

Pizza Rev

The concept of Taco Tuesday seems to be ripped off by Pizza Rev’s special — $6 personal pies, all day on Tuesday.

The chain pizzeria, which operates like a Subway but serving thin-crust pizza, allows for as much meat, veggies and other toppings as you like for that price. That’s right: no extra charge for more pepperoni or adding more flavor to a Hawaiian-style (or is that Canadian?) ham and pineapple.

Along with specials offered on smartphones, this should be a consideration for a student’s wallet. Pies generally cost under $9 the rest of the week.

The only minus is location; the nearest one to El Camino College is in El Segundo, in the shadows of the city’s skyline on the always-busy Sepulveda Boulevard. There is ample free parking in the midst of the offices, at least.

Pizza Rev has numerous locations in Southern California. The nearest location to El Camino College is located at 460 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in El Segundo. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 426-6320. Take out and online ordering are available, and the chain offers deals and rewards via smartphone. Website:

A clone of its own: Tilly’s Tacos

There’s plenty of similarities to Tito’s Tacos, but Tilly’s manages to stand out in some areas.

It’s not hard to see similarities between Tilly’s Tacos and the more famous Tito’s Tacos in Culver City.

Take a look for yourself.

Is it me …
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or is there something in common here?









Tilly’s Tacos and …
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Tito’s Tacos offerings, along with the white paper and box, as shown from its website.

Tilly’s may look like a clone of Tito’s, and it some ways it tastes like a good imitator, but it does a few things different that stand out.

Speaking of standing out — hey Tilly’s, if you don’t want to be called a Tito’s clone, use this logo around the place.

Within walking distance of the campus, north of it along the west side of Crenshaw Boulevard, Tilly’s isn’t grandiose. It’s a small part of a strip mall. The metal tables are few and the place can get a bit too warm.

But it’s the food that makes up for it.

Eight bucks and change for a pair of tacos — one beef, one chicken — and a regular drink, with complimentary chips and salsa.

Now the frugal types might say Del Taco down the street is cheaper, or the Taco Bell by their house, or even those tasty blasphemes that are Jack in the Box tacos.

True, but here you’re getting a larger, tastier taco that fills you up with less.

It is a bit on the greasier side than a hard shell from Del Taco or Taco Bell; you might want to pocket heartburn pills or antacids. Which is something similar to Tito’s, as well.

While the beef tasted very similar to Tito’s — not a bad thing — the chicken, which Tito’s does not offer, has a very good taste and is easier on the stomach.

Orders come with a side of chips and salsa. Now here’s another Tito’s comparison: first impression of the salsa. Tito’s odd, pink-colored salsa looks like melted bubblegum.

Tilly’s salsa isn’t the typical red stuff either. It’s not even red. It looks like it is made from apricots.

Despite the weird look, the mild stuff had a nice bite. Better than Tito’s.

No, the salsa doesn’t have an apricot taste. But it’s good stuff.

One of the biggest similarities between the two taco joints is charging for cheese. Tito’s charges 70 cents; Tilly’s 50 cents for shredded cheese. Unless you’re observing religious dietary laws, lactose intolerant or something like that, there should be no such thing — cheese should be an automatic fixture on a taco, and posting the amount gives a negative vibe. You could just order cheese-less tacos, take them home and shred some cheddar or Monterey Jack at the house, saving a few bucks.

Tilly’s strikeout was the burrito. It was a compartmentalized creation; most of the meat at one part of the burrito, the rice in another, and the onions that were asked to be held out at the end.

It looks like a few sections of sauce, beef, bean and cheese got squeezed together here, but most of the burrito tasted like everything was assigned to its own section.

At under $10 for a pair of tacos or burrito, a drink with chips and salsa, Tilly’s is worth the walk. There might be some heartburn concerns or “heavy” feeling, but it’s quality stuff for the price. And it’s a hell of a lot closer and less traffic to deal with than making a trip up the 405 Freeway to Tito’s Tacos.


Tilly’s Tacos is located at 15717 Crenshaw Blvd., Unit A in Gardena. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is closed on Sundays. Tilly’s Tacos offers a number of specials, such as checking in on Yelp for a free churro. Website, which includes online ordering: