Cecina and Egg Cemita at Don Adrian ($5.50)
Just as soon as you get over the sheer girth of this hulking colossus (and figure out how to get your mouth around it), you'll experience a second wave of astonishment, brought on by the wild assortment of flavors barely contained by the crunchy sesame cemita bun. This sucker's got it all— toothsome smoky cured beef, fresh avocado, wedges of queso fresco; a garden of cilantro; your choice of salsa (go for the spicy chipotle); and a fried egg for good measure. Though almost all of Don Adrian's sandwiches are under the six-dollar mark, this breakfast creation (available any time of day) offers the most bang for your buck.
Jerusalem Bagel with Feta Cheese at Bibi's Warmstone Bakery ($5.95)
An amped-up version of the classic bagel and cream cheese, this sesame-encrusted behemoth emerges from Bibi's stone oven crunchy and crisp (more bruschetta than bagel), oozing with a spread of whipped, super savory feta and garlicky house butter sauce. If that's not enough dairy for you, there's also a spiced ranch sauce for dipping. Big enough to share as a snack or to horde as a comforting breakfast or lunch for one.
Tuna Salad at the Panini Cart at Larchmont Village Wine & Cheese ($4.75/half)
Catching the tuna sandwich at this tiny counter, tucked into a corner in the larger gourmet grocer, is a gamble. Sandwiches are limited to lunchtime, and then only until they run out of bread. The tuna is an even less frequent sighting, available occasionally at the whim of the kitchen. But when it's around, the creamy salad, spread thick on a near perfect baguette and topped with a slice of nutty emmenthal, mixed greens, tomato, and a drizzling of olive oil and sweet balsamic, makes for a sensational sandwich. For less than six bucks, you'll have to settle for a half sandwich, but even the smaller size is pretty filling and comes with a side of cornichons and briny olives.
223 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004 (map); 323-856-8699
Wada Pav at India Sweets & Spices ($1.99)
Known as the "Indian burger," the wada pav does look disarmingly like a mini hamburger, topped with iceberg lettuce and slices of red onion. But instead of a beef patty, sandwiched between that sweet pillowy bun is an orb of deep fried potato, packed with all the savory, spicy flavor of a really great samosa and slathered with sweet tamarind chutney.
Beef Dip at Philippe the Original ($5.95)
The beloved lamb dip sandwich is 95 cents too much for our list, but the beef version is a good second choice. Double dipped, with a sensible smear of Philippe's fiery mustard, this centenarian sandwich is a simple, satisfying taste of L.A. history.
Niu Rou Shao Bing at Huge Tree Pastry ($3.25)
The flaky sesame bread base of this Taiwanese breakfast sandwich has all the delicacy of diaphanous filo dough. But the filling is anything but delicate. With sweet strands of shredded beef, stalks of fresh cilantro and parsley, and a generous dose of mustardy pickled cabbage, this slim pancake-like creation delivers a powerful wake-up call.
423 N. Atlantic Blvd. #105-106, Monterey Park, CA 91754 (map);626-458-8689
Lebni sandwich at Falafel Arax ($5.50)
Sure, the falafel is among the best in town and the soujouk isn't bad, either. But Arax's soft, comforting lebni sandwich is a sleeper worth discovering. A liberal schmear of tangy lebni is spread thick on a crusty French roll, then topped with a few slices of ripe tomato, a dusting of mint and olives, and a drizzle of olive oil. The whole thing then gets pressed flat, panini style, emerging a complexly sour, sweet, and creamy take on grilled cheese.
5101 Santa Monica Blvd, Suite 2, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (map); 323-663-9687
Medianoche at Porto's Bakery & Café ($4.25)
You won't go wrong with Porto's classic Cubano, but in the spirit of true frugality, its close cousin the medianoche, cheaper by sixty cents, is our choice. The midnight sandwich's sweet roll provides a soft, honeyed platform for the thin slices of tender roast pork, salty ham and pickles, and a creamy combination of just-melted Swiss, mustard, mayo, and butter. As you eat, this patchwork of ingredients contrasts for a moment before giving in to a true harmony of flavors. And did we mention it comes with a plate of freshly fried plantain chips?
Bánh mì thịt nướng ($2.50) and Bánh mì bo nướng ($2.75) at Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho
Sweet caramelized charbroiled meat (tender pink pork or for a quarter more a chewy, slightly gamey beef); fresh thin-cut (but still crisp) julienned carrots and daikon; ample sprigs of cilantro; and a sprinkling of peanuts. The baguette, a crisp worthy contender. This bánh mì duo? Yes, please.
304 West Valley Blvd., Alhambra, CA 91803 (map);626-289-4160
Churrasco sandwich at Rincon Chileno Deli ($4.95)
Even cut in half, the churrasco, a squat pug of a sandwich, is a total two-hander. Juices from the chewy but tender grilled steak dribble out of the soft pale bun, which becomes moister by the moment as creamy avocado, tomato, and green aji sauce infiltrate its sweet, porous surface. You'll be messy when you're finished, but full and happy too.
4354-56 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (map);323-666-6075
Basturma sandwich at Sahag's Basturma Sandwich Shop ($5.99)
The half moon of toasted pita is crisp with a hint of salt. The pickles have crunch and a sensational tang. And even the side of olives and magenta pickled turnips are packed with salty, briny flavor. But the star here is clearly the shop's namesake basturma, the cured Armenian beef, which first makes an impression with its vibrant red appearance, but really leaves its mark with a sharp, peppery garlicky punch.
5183 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (map);323-661-5311
Pork bun at Si Hai (Four Sea Restaurant) ($2.40)
Though it disappears in a few bites, the chewy, slightly fatty marinated pork, crunchy tangy pickles, and squishy steamed bun, make this slip of a sandwich a powerful flavor giant in a diminutive package.
708 E. Las Tunas #A, San Gabriel, CA 91776 (map); 626-285-8369
Mediterranean Special at Papa Georges Hy Mart Sandwiches ($5.95)
The vegetarian special at this family-run Mediterranean deli is a hefty burrito-sized wrap stuffed till the point of bursting with velvety housemade hummus, salty feta, olives, ripe avocado, and the usual suspects of lettuce, tomato, and onion, all brought together with a generous mist of oil and vinegar. Like it spicy? Papa Georges will add some cayenne and a smattering of jalapeños. Prefer a nuttier finish? Ask for some tahini. No matter how you take it, this wrap is just right.
4795 Vineland Ave. #C, North Hollywood, CA 91602 (map);818-506-7264
Milanesa Cemita at Angelica's Cemitas Originales Truck in front of Smart & Final($5)
It seems appropriate that this fine, one might even say ultimate, version of the milanesa cemita comes from a truck that parks most afternoons outside of a place called Smart & Final. We're talking about a breaded cutlet of fried beef, topped with smoky chipotle, slice after slice of buttery avocado, and heaps of stringy quesillo, all piled on a fantastically fresh sesame cemita bun. And for only five bucks, this bold sandwich is almost enough for two.
10113 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034 (map);213-907-4027