Oyster Po' Boy from Domilise's, New Orleans
Of the three dozen po' boys I tried on two separate trips to New Orleans, this is the one I remember most fondly. Po' boys tend to be exercises in excess—fried foodstuffs or gravy-doused meats piled high into belly-filling sandwiches—but I appreciated the delicacy and purity of Domilise's. Plump Gulf oysters, floured and fried right in front of you to a whisper-thin crust, stacked onto a crackly-edged Leidenheimer roll with a sparing spread of mayonnaise and ketchup to bind it all together. The oysters burst open as you squeeze down or bite in, their briny juices soaking into the bread and flavoring every bite. It was like nothing else I'd ever tasted.
I can't explain my fondness for this sandwich; I couldn't have more affection for a sandwich if my grandmother made it. Maybe it's the funky rec-room feel of Domilise's, the cheery yellow building with a sign propped outside, or the honest, careful attention paid to every sandwich—but eating here simply felt right.
'The Arista' at Paesano's in Philadelphia
If you don't know the place, Paesano's can fool you. The scrappy lunch counter aesthetic has you thinking you're at an old-school eatery—until you notice the house-made condiments and chickpea fritters on the menu. But none of that matters once you bite into the Arista, a re-thinking of the classic Philly roast pork sandwich. It's suckling pig they use, not dry roast pork, and it falls apart into a soft puddle of meatiness that's like the essence of baby pig, cut by the bitterness of broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. Don't even bother taking it to go—it'll dissolve the bread right through. But eaten in the moment, it's the most delicious piggy pile of food you can imagine.
Cuban Roast Pork at Paseo in Seattle
It strikes me as wonderfully strange and improbable that two of the best sandwiches I've eaten this year are long roll-clad roast pork sandwiches from places named Paseo and Paesano's—on opposite sides of the country, no less. The Cuban Roast Pork at Seattle's Caribbean restaurant Paseo has marinated slow-roasted pork, a little sloppy, a little sweet, joining thick rings of caramelized onions on a chewy Macrina Bakery roll, slathered in a punchy garlicky spread. (We not only went back the next day for seconds, but went back a third time to cart a roast pork sandwich back to New York.)
Corned Beef Sandwich from Jake's, Milwaukee
After Liz Clayton told me I had to stop at Jake's Delicatessen in Milwaukee—and finding that it closed at 3pm—I found myself grabbing the rental car keys from Ed, screeching down the driveway in Madison, and tearing across the state, blowing through the 81-mile distance in 60 minutes flat. We roared up to Jake's at 2:57, and discovered a sandwich that was worth every minute of effort. They make the corned beef in-house, and it's hand-cut into thick slices with loads of fat and meat-laden nooks and crannies. Ed didn't believe there could be a truly first-class deli he'd never heard of, but Jake's just blew us away.
"Fire Roasted" Sirloin Sandwich on Dutch Crunch from Little Lucca, South San Francisco
Dutch Crunch bread. Garlic sauce and hot pepper spread. Tender "Fire Roasted" Sirloin and caramelized onions and melted cheese. It's a peculiar construction of Northern Californian flavors from a little hut of a South San Francisco sandwich shop that I find totally memorable and appealing.
Tortas from Xoco in Chicago
Frankly, I can't choose one best sandwich from Rick Bayless's casual shop Xoco. Maybe it's the wood-roasted red chile chicken with pickled white onion; maybe the homemade chorizo sausage with roasted poblano and jack cheese. Or maybe it's the “Pepito”—fall-apart, intensely savory shortrib with melted Jack cheese, sweet caramelized onions, black beans and jalapeños. All of them are works of sandwich mastery, beautiful marriages of flavors in extraordinary bread that’s perfectly crisped.
Roast Beef Sandwich from Cutty's, Boston
I'll let Kenji describe this work of sandwich art from Charles Kelsey and his wife Rachel Toomey at Cutty's in Brookline, Mass:
"Kelsey starts the process by giving a whole beef chuck roll an overnight dry cure with salt and pepper. He then slow-roasts it in a low oven until it reaches a perfect rosy hue from edge to center. The ultra-thin sliced beef is piled high on a black pepper bun from Iggy's and topped with cheddar cheese and horseradish-spiked Thousand Island. The kicker is a handful of sweet, oniony, crispy-fried shallots, which elevate the sandwich to modern-classic status."