Savory savings in the form of skewers

Dollar Hits serves up Los Angeles flavors with affordability built into their name.

Dollar Hits in Historic Filipinotown offers affordable, do-it-yourself skewers, perfect for a quick meal. (Jason Pham / Daily Trojan)

Fitting in as a college student comes at a price many can’t afford, especially surrounded by the luxurious USC and Los Angeles lifestyle. I grew up with smart, immigrant parents who stretched their dollar. Attending USC was not only an opportunity for me that my family sacrificed so much for by moving to the United States, but it also served as a challenge to find my place in a community where I felt financially divided.

Affordable eating in L.A. should be more than just bland dining hall food and expiring dining dollars allotted by the school.

Now midway through my junior year, I’ve reallocated my dining dollars and compiled a list of my favorite college eats while exploring L.A. For me, accessible and affordable eating means an end to depending on University-controlled dining dollars and starting to explore financially conscious food options that thrive within hidden pockets of the city.

After many frustratingly ruined dinners and spent dining dollars, my boyfriend introduced me to a restaurant named Dollar Hits at the beginning of my sophomore year — quickly setting the bar for affordable L.A. eateries and sparking my love for exploring new restaurants.

@dailytrojanIf you are looking for affordable dining options outside of USC’s campus, read Jason Pham’s new column, “Dining Dollars,” every other Tuesday at dailytrojan.com. Video: Kate Cho / Daily Trojan

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He led me through the loaded parking, past the open-fire grills and up to a storefront with a  self-serve bar full of skewers. The bar, taking up the entire lobby and stretching from one wall to another, was quite literally the center of attention. From adidas, also referred to as chicken feet, to isaw, also known as pig or chicken intestines, the range of Pilipino meats and skewers truly fostered a community hub for locals and foodies alike.

Located in Historic Filipinotown, the family-oriented restaurant serves its skewers for just a dollar and some pocket change — roughly a dollar less than a soft drink at Seeds or Tutor Campus Center. The grilling experience is only available during dinnertime, starting at 4:30 p.m. for the L.A. location.

We went down the self-serve line, grabbing whatever looked appealing to us. The aluminum trays and strategically laid skewers felt like a grand family barbecue in someone’s backyard. The menu didn’t just stop at skewers, with dim sum, drinks and additional Pilipino dishes available to order.

Stacks of pork skin, longganisa and fish balls filled my styrofoam plate to the point of bending. With more skewers than we could hold, my boyfriend and I checked out. The cashier offered drizzles of their house-made sauces, with my favorite being a barbecue-style marinade.

But the real experience started when we stepped outside the restaurant and the fire was lit.

Dollar Hits offers exclusively outdoor seating with self-service charcoal grills to cook up your skewers to your preferred crispiness. With the long grills wrapping around the plastic stools and tables in the parking lot seating area, the space becomes hot with conversation and grilled delights during the dinner rush hour, emulating an intimate, night market setting.

We sat down and quickly found a spot on the grills as everyone else seemed to be moving in a swift cycle between eating and grilling. Still in our talking stage at the time, the open fire served as a pathway into conversations between my boyfriend and I — laughing over my terrible cooking skills and burnt skewers.

The crispy skins of the charred meats mixed with the house sauce made for an array of complex, fresh flavors packed onto a singular stick. The cool wind and the hot skewers set the tone for a cozy dinner setting that filled our stomachs for less than $10 each.

The restaurant’s immaculate vibes and popularity is definitely not a unique discovery from an L.A. transplant like me, as Dollar Hits’ roots stretch back to 2013. Dollar Hits, located in a strip mall with additional Pilipino businesses, initially started as a cultural beacon for many Historic Filipinotown community members who immigrated from the Philippines and were seeking a taste of home.

Despite the rise of gentrification and ongoing demolition for new construction in Historic Filipinotown, Dollar Hits’ online presence and hospitality have expanded its business from a mere food stand to now multiple brick-and-mortar locations. First appearing in viral TikTok and YouTube videos, the restaurant cemented as an online sensation after starring in the first episode of Netflix’s docuseries “Street Food.”

However, such popularity does not equate to acceptance or protection from others in the greater L.A. population. Dollar Hits was unfortunately one of the targets of a series of robberies that struck the Historic Filipinotown community in December. Despite all of the hospitality and reasonable pricing Dollar Hits had to offer, I was devastated to see the restaurant violated rather than celebrated.

I believe affordable eating should not just center around the price or quality of food, but instead, the stories of the industries that are serving these financially conscious options. I seek to use my position in this column to not only uplift these affordable restaurants and eating options but also to shine a light on the industries that are dedicated to serving the community rather than seeking a profit.

So if you’re looking for a cheap, fun way to break the ice over charcoal grills with friends, co-workers or even a date, Dollar Hits will not disappoint.

Jason Pham is a junior writing about affordable eating and restaurants in his column, “Dining Dollars,” which runs every other Tuesday. He is also the features editor at the Daily Trojan.

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