Kinpira Inari at M Cafe de Chaya ($2)
There's an eggy quality to the diaphanous aburaage that surrounds this compact vegetarian sushi treat. But as light as the fried tofu pocket is, it almost manages to contain tangles of carrot and sturdy julienned burdock, slightly sweet and pickly, with a texture reminiscent of shaved ginger. A bed of nutty brown rice and sesame seed flecks to complete the earthy and texturally pleasing snack.
Al Pastor Tacos at Tacos Leo ($1)
Two dollars at this latenight truck gets you not one, but two, of the best al pastor tacos in town. Expertly shaved from the trompo, the meat is slightly sweet and supremely moist, with of all the earthy, porky flavor you could want, brightened with a wedge of smoky pineapple. Because the meat itself is so spot on, it's best to stay simple with the condiments, a little salsa roja and a sprinkling of onions and dash of cilantro.
Corner of Venice Boulevard and La Brea Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019 (map)
Pretzel Roll at Rockenwagner ($1.50)
Rockenwagner's full-sized pretzel buns make the perfect malty, chewy bed for nearly any sandwich. But their diminutive cousin, this dense, twisty, savory roll, freckled with a smattering of coarse salt, is pretty excellent on its own.
Baleada at Lempira ($1.75)
The basic baleada at Lempira satisfies that part of you that still craves the comfort of spaghetti with butter and grated cheese or soft, uncomplicated white bread with a smear of good butter. The Honduran answer to the taco, this is an outwardly simple coupling of beans, cheese, and crema, enveloped by a flour tortilla. But after you order at the counter, and take your seat in the small, modest restaurant, you hear the pounding out of your freshly made tortilla and the sizzle of the grill, and when the pale crescent arrives before you, bursting with a thick slather of rich black beans, a sprinkling of cheese and a generous coating of cool sour cream, you're reminded that when made with fresh, solid ingredients, some of the best eats in life are also the simplest.
4848 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (map); 323-662-2927
Potato Sandwich at Yamazaki Bakery ($1.70)
This Little Tokyo outpost of the Japanese bakery chain specializes in sweet, fruity pan, the extra-soft squishy sliced bread, and a mean green tea mochi cookie. But for a quick savory snack, it's hard to beat their potato sandwich. A crisp potato croquette nestled in a pillowy butter roll and topped with a thin layer of sweet tonkatsu sauce and a sprinkling of cabbage. This comforting treat is pretty straightforward (and satisfying) in the flavor department, but the combination of textures keeps it from descending into overly simplistic carb-loading.
123 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (map); 213-624-2773
Snacks at Samosa House (all under $2)
A haven for savory snacks that fall below the $2 mark, this Indian deli and market is best known for its three-cornered deep-fried treat ($1.50), which boasts a perfectly crisp pastry exterior that gives way to a soft, almost luxurious well-spiced blend of potatoes, carrots, and peas. It's ripe for dipping in the duo of chutneys—a particularly herbal green offering and the sweet, thick tamarind number. But you'd miss out if you stopped at the Samosa House's namesake. Depending on the day, there's a variety of other, equally impressive, offerings such as the sprouted lentil tikki (top center, $1.99), a ridiculously tasty, nutty yet buttery fried patty served with the deli's creamy, fresh raita. Another must-try is the dhkokla ($1.25), a steamed gluten-free, lentil cake, gently flavored with coconut that's sweet, faintly tart and tastes like the improbable love child of corn bread pudding and daal.
Lahmajune at Arax Bakery (90 cents)
While it's a good ten inches across, this wafer-thin Armenian flatbread is so light that you could easily eat two, and if you did, you'd still be under the $2 mark. The version baked at this tiny storefront in Little Armenia is among the lightest and most delicate in town, topped with a generous, but not overpowering, concoction of red pepper, American parsley, ground beef, and tomato. The thin, savory dough is moist and chewy beneath the topping, but the crusty outer ring is perfectly crisp, creating a less filling, but highly satisfying pizza-like experience.
4871 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (map); 323-666-7313
Taco dorado de camaron at Marisco Jalisco ($1.75)
The shrimp taco from this taco truck mainstay packs more deep-fried goodness into an under $2 snack than seems physically possible. As you bite into the messy, two-handed taco, the crisp, miraculously not greasy fried shell gives way to a moist-crunchy-toothsome-rich mass of fried shrimp. Avocado on top provides creamy butteriness, the salsa a bit of acid punch.
3040 E Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90023 (map); 323-528-6701
Pastries and Buns from JJ Bakery ($1.85 and below)
JJ Bakery is an under $2 eater's dream with scores of pastries and buns, both savory and sweet, falling well below the deuce mark. Among our favorites of the non-dessert variety is the daikon pastry (top center), which folds a perfectly flaky crust around an intensely savory shredded daikon filling, reminiscent of real-deal sauerkraut in its robustness and texture. But to prove how far a couple of bucks can really go, your best bet might be the Taro Pork Fu Bread (upper right), an amalgam of most everything in the J.J. pantry. Soft, chewy bread; thin sweet-savory strands of dried pork sung; folds of earthy purple taro dough; and bubbles of herb-flecked melted cheese, all come together into this behemoth that's at once as soothingly, satisfying to eat as it is disarmingly confounding to regard. And it'll only set you back.
1130 S Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, CA 91007 (map); 626-836-6888
Pupusas at La Nueva Flor Blanca ($1.50 to $1.75)
It's not so tough to find a pupusa for under two bucks, making them a go-to cheap eats staple. But the pupusas at La Nueva Flor Blanca are so much more than merely a bargain bite. The hand-packed masa discs are charred to a perfect savory crisp, suffering from none of the leaden rubberiness that plagues their lesser cousins. The masa exterior is light, with a touch of subtle corn sweetness and is stuffed in perfect proportions with gooey cheese, loroco, or the near revelatory revueltas, a combination of cheese, beans, and rich voluptuous pork.
4271 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90004 (map); 323-662-9493
Takoyaki at Mitsuru Cafe ($2)
If you catch them piping hot, fresh from the grill, these crisp octopus fritters, served three to a skewer, practically dissolve in your mouth, the crunchy outer edges giving way to a creamy center, with the texture of a really moist crab cake and all the flavor of the sea.
117 Japanese Village Plaza Mall Los Angeles, CA 90012 (map); 213-613-1028
Honey Lavender Biscuit at Ludo Truck ($1.50)
While nothing goes better with fried chicken than biscuits, this fluffy creation is good enough to be enjoyed on its own. It hits all of the key components of the biscuit basics, with light, diaphanous strands of buttery richness, but elevated with the sweet, faintly herbal note from the honey and an essential sprinkling of salt for contrast.
Moving Target; 213-973-8839; mobimunch.com/ludotruckt
Carnitas Taco at Los 5 Puntos ($1.99)
The aroma of rich, porky carnitas slow-cooking in the back of this venerable Boyle Heights market is so palpable and enticing that even if you've come to buy it by the pound to take home, you'll likely be tempted to snag a quick taco from the deli counter to eat on the spot. And packed into a puffy house made corn tortilla and topped with pico de gallo and maybe a slash of creamy guacamole, it's totally worth the $1.99 for a quick, satisfying snack before you head home to more fully gorge yourself on some of the best carnitas in town.
3300 E Cesar Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90063 (map); 323-261-4084
Marinated Poached Egg at Ramen Bull Pop-up ($2)
This salted egg comes in a bowl of any of the beef-based ramen dishes currently being ladled up at the Ramen Bull pop-up at BreadBar. And while it adds eggy richness to those already savory bowls, when submerged in the beefy soup, you can't fully appreciate the tender creaminess of the white and the soft, velvety powder of the yolk. With a head-on burst of umami from the soy sauce, konbu, and shitake marinade, it's worth ordering one of these suckers to start off with—think of it as a foreshadowing of what's to come with the main course.