Under $10: Mako

1820 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 660-1211

There comes a time in every single girl’s life when she realizes that if she eats one more goddamned meal in front of her computer, lounging against a couple pillows propped up on her bed, she’s going to go absolutely crazy. I’m sure you’ve been there. Luckily, last night I had a friend who was not only as hungry as I was, but as broke as I am, too.

Despite the plethora of taco stands and cheap Thai joints that pepper Los Angeles, I had a hard time coming up with a suitable option for our destination, one that fit with my “eating for under ten bucks” mission. I scoured the streets of Los Angeles in my mind as I applied my make-up and attempted to make myself somewhat presentable to the outside world. Just as my friend impatiently honked his horn out front for the second time, as I was slipping my feet into my favorite black flats, I remembered the little Japanese hole-in-the-wall that I had spotted on Vermont many times in the past, but had yet to try.

The term “hole-in-the-wall” applies perfectly in this case. Tucked snugly between Skylight Books and the Los Feliz 3 movie theater, the tiny storefront that houses Mako has room for only a couple two-tops and a four-top. There’s also a few plastic tables out front, ripe for people-watching while dining on Mako’s basic Japanese fare, but my companion and I are native to Los Angeles, which means that 70 degrees is too cold to eat outside. We chose to sit inside at the small counter, which gave us a great view of the prep-area where cute young Japanese dudes joked around in broken English as they cooked.

I must admit, I gawked momentarily when I first glanced at the menu. The prices are insanely low, and with the end days upon us and the economy tanking, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal. The most expensive item on the menu was the Ah-so Special – a mere $7.75 for tempura, chicken teriyaki, California roll, crab salad AND miso soup. Good god! It’s as if this place was made with my dueling pitiful salary and voracious appetite in mind! None of the basic combinations (California roll, teriyaki, tempura) topped $6.95, and I ordered the chicken teriyaki/shrimp tempura combination, which also came with miso soup and a salad lightly dressed in sesame oil. My companion, who’s on a confusing diet, ordered the California roll/squid teriyaki combination and I watched with a furrowed brow as he unrolled the sushi and ate the inside, leaving the rice and seaweed on his plate like a snake’s shed skin. Ummm, whatever.

Tempura is a weakness of mine (squash, especially), and Mako’s is average, although they get points for having two pieces of squash in the mix. The batter was a little bland, but it wasn’t overly greasy which is something you’re apt to find when dining on inexpensive Japanese food. The chicken teriyaki was good, standard, but the piece of squid teriyaki I managed to nab from my companion’s plate was by far the best thing we ate that night. Mahi mahi was also offered as a teriyaki option, which I’d like to try next time, as was salmon for a few bucks more (but still under ten!).

Mako also has a lunch menu which offers more variety than the dinner menu. From noon till 4 p.m. you can order noodle bowls for under $4, basic teriyaki for under $5, and a smattering of other basics on the cheap.

Our entire tab came to $11.80 (cash only) which, after a generous tip to the sweet waitress, left my wallet still heavy with the change I’ve been reduced to pilfering from under my couch cushions. If Mako served beer and sake, I would marry the place. If Mako were open until 3 a.m. on the weekends, thus making that god-awful – after last call wait outside Fred 62 unnecessary, I would have its babies. Sadly, no liquor, and they’re only open until 9 p.m. (closed on Sundays), which leaves me still single and childless. But now I have an alternative to those sad cereal dinners in front of my computer, for which I am eternally grateful.