Orange County is home to many excellent restaurants, but if the Frog Family had to narrow down our four favorites, it would come down to the best in price, quality and convenience. Based on these criteria, we offer you the best Orange County eats for under $5.
Yes, we certainly have our favorite quick-service restaurants at both Disneyland and California Adventure, but we also like to venture outside of the parks to experience the local culture. We enjoy finding food that tastes good but doesn’t cost us a lot of green, especially in Southern California. We know you're hungry, so let's get started!
Here are the best Orange County eats under $5.
One of our first stops in So Cal is always In-N-Out. In-N–Out burger is a famous Southern California original. They opened the first California drive-thru hamburger stand in 1948, and they have been serving up fresh-cut fries and fresh burgers — never frozen — ever since. With about 30 locations in the Orange County area, you are sure to find one conveniently close to you.
In-N-Out’s menu is simple: burgers, fries and beverages (including real ice cream shakes). In-N-Out has one of the worst-kept "secret" menus, meaning you can find all the different "not-so-secret” official ways to order their food pasted all over the Internet if you are interested. For example, carb watchers can order "protein style" to ditch the bun and receive their burger wrapped in lettuce. Indulgers can order animal-style fries, which come slathered in melted cheese, grilled onions and In-N-Out’s secret sauce. Vegetarians can order grilled cheese. The prices are very low, and when any new burger joint opens up, the locals always compare the new burger to In-N-Out’s. For flavor and price, In-N-Out always comes out on top.
One of our next meals out takes us to a joint that is between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm: Portillo’s. Portillo’s actually originated in Chicago, but this Buena Park gem quickly became a favorite among locals, tourists and former Chicagoans alike since they opened up their doors in 2005. Most menu items and meals are under $5. We recommend the Chicago-style hot dog with everything, the Italian beef sandwich (with extra gravy) and their chocolate cake. We have also tried their many interesting salads (if you are tired of hot dogs), Maxwell Street Polish, and tuna salad sandwich on a pretzel bun. Everything is excellent. Portillo’s provides good quality good food for a good price.
The Lime Truck/TLT Food
There are hundreds of taco stands in Orange County, but for a truly unique and affordable dining experience, we also recommend either hopping after The Lime Truck (it’s our favorite color — green!) or visiting one of its brick-and-mortar locations: TLT Food. The popular food truck (The Lime Truck) had such a large following that it opened up locations in Irvine (south of Disneyland) and Westwood Village in Los Angeles.
We like taking a day trip or evening out to visit the TLT Food location in the Irvine Spectrum, a family-friendly outdoor shopping mall with many other restaurants, stores, fountains, a carousal and large Ferris wheel. Like any taco restaurant in the OC, they have Taco Tuesday, offering tasty fresh tacos for $3 each, although to be honest their taco prices the other six days of the week are pretty close to that inexpensive as well (and still under $5). The pork belly adobe taco is so fresh, flavorful and juicy, and the beef short rib taco is delicious too. Their menu is full of food you don’t see every day like the Mr. Potato taco, carnitas fries, and seared ahi tuna tacos. They have vegetarian options as well.
If your tadpoles are not feeling adventurous you can treat yourself to tacos while ordering something a little tamer for your little ones from the Johnny Rockets (or a dozen other kid-friendly spots) across the way. Lily likes hopping on the lights of the sidewalk out in front of the restaurant.
Balboa Bars and Frozen Bananas
There are plenty of Orange county ice cream shops to satisfy your sweet tooth, but if you find yourself in the Newport Beach/Balboa Island area, then you must try a balboa bar or frozen banana. On Marine Avenue, you can find both these iconic frozen treats at either Dad’s or Sugar ‘N’ Spice. Both stores have been there since 1962 and 1945 respectively. Customers’ mouths water as they watch their ice cream bar or banana get freshly dipped in chocolate and covered in the topping — nuts, sprinkles or crushed Oreos — of their choice before the chocolate crust hardens. Dad’s also serves up a topping of butter brickle mixed with graham cracker crumbs, while Sugar ‘N” Spice offers Heath pecan. No matter how you dip, it’s a perfect summer California treat.
If you are looking to venture out of the amusement parks to eat, but you want to stay on a budget, you can’t go wrong with these four Frog family favorite treats. We think these are the best Orange County eats under $5, but if you have found others, we would love to know about them so we can share them with other travelers!