Tipsy Texan at Franklin BBQ (Austin, TX)
Yes, Franklin BBQ is worth a ninety-minute wait—though we suggest you get there early enough to snag a place in the shade. And yes, the Tipsy Texan sandwich ($6.50) is worth ordering, even though it's difficult to save room for anything other than Franklin's ribs and brisket. Owner Aaron Franklin himself slices a huge piece off a hunk of glorious brisket, then chops the beef into glistening, bite-sized chunks. This pile of moist brisket goes onto a large white bun that already contained a base of purple coleslaw and thinly sliced pickles. Slices of sausage get laid atop the brisket (meat on meat!), and finally the top bun secures it all in place. This sandwich tastes like everything that is good.
Any of the Daily Specials from Pal's Takeaway (San Francisco, CA)
Pal's Takeaway is a simple, nondescript deli counter in the back of Tony's Market on the east side of San Francisco's Mission District. With barely any signage to indicate its presence, no seating to speak of save for two fold out tables and four chairs, and windows that until very recently had prison-like steal-my-liquor-if-you-can bars on the windows, it's the last place you'd expect to find a great lunch, but there's some serious deliciousness being created behind those $10 jugs of wine. Pal's owner Jeff Mason works the counter every day, making an ever-changing selection of three daily sandwiches like this one with thick, tender slices of crazy juicy fennel-scented porchetta from nearby Flour + Water on Acme bakery bread with chile-spiked mayo, caramelized onions, and arugula.
The Paesano at Paesano's (Philadelphia, PA)
You can't really go wrong at Paesano's but it's hard to pass on their namesake sandwich. Built on a gorgeous seeded hoagie roll, the Paesano gets stuffed to the gills with juicy beef brisket, sweet peppers, roasted tomatoes, sharp provolone, horseradish mayo, and then topped with a fried egg. The bread is fantastic on its own, the beef brisket is delightfully moist and juicy, the sweet peppers and roasted tomatoes offer a hint of sweetness, and the horseradish mayo + provolone combo leaves a slight tangy kick at the end. The fried egg? Oh, that's just there to push this thing over the top. Every bite is like a game of Russian roulette for white shirts.
Oyster Po' Boy from Domilise's (New Orleans, LA)
Of all the po' boys we've tried in New Orleans (and there have been plenty), this is the one we remember most fondly. 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.
5240 Annunciation Street, New Orleans LA 70115; 504-899-9126
Cheesesteak From Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies (Philadelphia, PA)
At Dalessandro's, they start with the same thinly shaved, super beefy ribeye they use at Pat's or Geno's, but rather than giving it a few cursory chops with a spatula, the griddle cooks absolutely demolish the beef, cutting and cutting and cutting until it can be cut no more. The end result is something vaguely resembling a Maid-Rite loosemeat sandwich. Finely chopped, nearly crumbled beef that sits slowly browning in its own fat and juices on a lightly greased, well-worn flat-top. You won't find massive amounts of stringy, drippy cheese in these hoagies. Rather, the cheese acts as a subtle binder, adding just enough sharpness and fat to bring out the beefy, well-browned flavors of the meat. It all gets shoved into crusty buns from Amoroso's.
Chile Relleno Torta from La Verdad (Boston)
The first batch of cheese is high-quality Jack shoved into a roasted Anaheim pepper that then gets breaded in cornmeal and deep fried until crisp and gooey. The whole thing is pressed, stem and all, into a sesame-seeded torta roll (custom baked and delivered fresh daily from Iggy's in Fresh Pond) slathered with a thin layer of creamy refried beans. More cheese goes on top, this time fresh cheese from Oaxaca, along with thinly sliced avocados, a drizzle of creamy mayonesa, sharp pickled red onions, and a smoky-sweet chipotle molasses.
Banh Mi from Pho Lang Thang (Cincinnati, OH)
If someone asked me to name a city where you could get a great banh mi sandwich, Cincinnati wouldn't come to mind first. But the cold cut version at Pho Lang Thang just outside Findlay Market was pretty stellar. It mostly had to do with the quality of their cold cuts, which showed a freshness and bright flavor you'd be hard pressed to find in any of the banh mi shops in New York. Bright pink ham, slices of head cheese that are almost crunchy in texture, pale white Viet bologna, and a spread of not-too-gamey paté. They're not shy with the Maggi seasoning (the secret weapon of a good banh mi shop), nor are they shy with fresh sliced jalapeño peppers if you ask for your sandwich hot. Crunchy pickles and plenty of cilantro.
The Bobbie at Capriotti's (Wilmington, DE)
Capriotti's is known for their signature Thanksgiving-leftovers sandwich. Who doesn't love a non-November opportunity to eat this style of sandwich? The combination of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and bread is all held together with a dab of mayo. The Bobbie feels like a real sandwich made from leftovers, rather than just a leftover-style sandwich. The big draw is that Capriotti's roasts their turkey in-house. Unlike sliced deli turkey, the shredded chunks of bird actually mingle with the other components instead of forming a slimy flavor barrier. A line of cranberry sauce (which is admirably chunky) and a thin layer of mayo provide just enough sweetness and moisture to prevent the sandwich itself from feeling dry.
Cold Fried Chicken from Ink.Sack (Los Angeles)
It was kind of a stroke of genius to bring cold fried chicken into the sandwich form. The chicken is cooked sous-vide then fried and it turns out remarkably tender. The ample toppings of creamy housemade Ranch dressing is made with a touch of buttermilk tang and a drizzle of Gindo's Spice of Life hot sauce. If we had to pick, it'd probably be our favorite at Michael Voltaggio's newish Los Angeles sandwich shop ink sack.
Muffuletta from Cochon Butcher (New Orleans)
Chef Donald Link's artisanal butcher shop/sandwich joint/wine bar is next to Cochon. His muffuletta is a cheffy version of the classic New Orleans sandwich first made in Central Grocery in the French Quarter. The CG version uses a sesame seed flat loaf with a firm texture, but Cochon's has a fluffier, softer sesame bun that's browned to a crisp on the bottom. The house-cured meats are all good, especially the smoky ham and the pastrami with plenty of black peppercorns. The olive tapenade had just the right mix of briny and tart.
Campanile's Grilled Cheese Thursdays (Los Angeles)
The now legendary Grilled Cheese Night at Campanile all started when Nancy Silverton, the godmother of La Brea Bakery nextdoor, started putting her fantastic breads into the panini press. Turns out, people love grilled cheese, and Thursday night became one of her busiest nights of the week at Campanile. The success even inspired Campanile's cookbook, Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book, which featured the best hits from Thursday night. Some examples: croque monsieur (hey, it's technically a grilled cheese), Sevillana (Serrano ham, fresh figs, manchego and honey) and the classic one pictured here with grilled onions and whole-grain mustard. Silverton has since left the restaurant, but her ex-husband, Mark Peel, is a great cook who knows delicious, so they are still up to snuff every Thursday. All of the sandwiches come with french fries and a pint of Belgian ale too.
Italian Hero from Ken's Artisan Bakery (Portland, OR)
Ken's always manages to find that perfect balance between meat and cheese. Their hero is built with a trio of Italian meats (mortadella, salami and a peppery capicola,), aged asiago cheese, and house-pickled onions on a ciabatta roll, the "hero" of this hero. It's crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and with a great taste throughout.
Caprese Sandwich from Pane Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)
Pane Bianco is the sandwich shop sibling of Pizzeria Bianco, the legendary (especially around these parts) Phoenix pizzeria where Chris Bianco's pies have people queuing up well before their reservations. But back to sandwiches. The slices of bright tomato slices from a local Arizona farm are paired with crisp basil leaves and freshly pulled mozzarella. And no matter which sandwich you get, the bread is one of the best parts: the straight-from-the-wood-fired-oven circular loaves have just the right chew, dotted with charred crispy spots on top. There are caprese sandwiches, and then there is THIS caprese sandwich.
4404 North Central Avenue # A, Phoenix AZ 85013 (map); 602-234-2100
The Pork Rabe Saturday Special from Cutty's (Brookline, MA)
f you haven't noticed yet, we're big fans of Cutty's, husband and wife team Charles Kelsey and Rachel Toomey's sandwich shop in Brookline. Their roast beef sandwich may get most of the attention ("I should have called this place Cutty's Roast Beef," says Charles), but we also can't get enough of their Saturday-only slow-roasted Pork Rabe. It starts with pork shoulder that's cured overnight in a salt and pepper rub before being slow-roasted. Charles then lets it cool and rest for another night in its own liquid—an important step, as the fat and juices are reabsorbed into the meat, only to be slowly released again as they warm up while you eat your sandwich. Read More Here.
Chopped Barbecue from Lexington Barbecue (Lexington, NC)
Lexington's chewy, smoky chopped pork, crowned with a scoop of sweet and tart barbecue slaw and stuffed into a factory-made hamburger bun, is a classic handful of American barbecue. Read More Here »
Flour Bakery's Roasted Lamb with Tomato Chutney and Goat Cheese (Boston)
Chef Joanne Chang made a name for herself peddling pastries like the world's best sticky buns, banana bread, and homemade Oreos, but her three Boston-based Flour Bakery branches turn out some pretty mean sandwiches, too. For this one, she packs thin shavings of rare roast lamb, herbed goat cheese, fresh greens, and a sweet-tangy homemade tomato jam studded with gold raisins and currants between the oblong slices of hearty white bread.
Multiple locations; flourbakery.com
Chorizo Torta at Xoco (Chicago)
There are breakfast sandwiches born of convenience, and then there are breakfast sandwiches that are worth getting up early for. It shouldn't surprise anyone who's eaten at Rick Bayless's Xoco that the Chorizo-Egg Torta ($7.50) is one of the latter. Soft scrambled eggs, ripe, buttery avocado, and two kinds of cheese (totally melted jack and salty, crumbly queso fresco) form the sandwich's creamy core. But they're all just there to highlight the mind-blowing chorizo, commingling with roasted poblanos, falling apart into a soft stew of cinnamon and vinegar-laced meat. Read More Here.
Reuben at Jake's Delicatessen (Milwaukee)
Though many of the half-century-old deli's throwback quirks have been lost to modernity (dine-in customers are, for example, now allowed to order a bag of chips from their server, instead of being sent to the carry-out line and back—and they're now open past three on weekends!), nothing has been lost in the delivery of some of the most succulent corned beef and pastrami going. The reuben—bread toasty but yielding, meat-flaked, cheese-kissed, moist as hell—defaults to Jake's corned beef. But for those to whom the idea of selecting between corned beef and pastrami would be like choosing which child to save in a fire, you can always go combo.
The Godmother from Bay Cities Italian Deli (Santa Monica, CA)
This is a testament to old-world sandwiches still being done right, as the perpetual line in front of the deli counter can attest. Genoa salami, prosciutto, mortadella, coppacola, ham and provolone cheese are all thinly layered inside a crusty length of Italian bread. Be sure to give it "the works": mayo, mustard, Italian dressing, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and a chopped pepper blend that keeps the Godmother zippy when the rest of the concoction threatens to weigh you down.
Bacon and Egg Fancy from Mike and Patty's (Boston)
Eggs, thick-cut smoky bacon, creamy avocado, sharp cheddar, and red onion on a slightly sweet multi-grain bread with a spread of house mayo. There are so many ways a well-intentioned breakfast sandwich can go wrong--improperly timed eggs, sloppy composition, unbalanced ratios--but the Fancy is nearly flawless. And that swipe of garlicy, barely spicy, bright orange mayo simply makes the sandwich. What's in it? "Garlic, cumin, cayenne... and secrets," says Mike.
Chopped Pork Sandwiches from Payne's (Memphis, TN)
Payne's Bar-B-Q, a family operation that has been in business since 1972, serves some of the best pork barbecue in Memphis, if not the country. In sandwich form you can get the slow-smoked pork shoulder pulled, sliced, or chopped, and topped with red barbecue sauce. The pork is stuffed into a bun with a scoop of slaw. Read More Here.
Loaded Roast Pork from DiNic's at the Navy Yard (Philadelphia)
This is a for-real hidden gem in the Philadelphia Navy Yard that makes some of our favorite sandwiches in Philly. Their roast pork is really different; insanely tender mounds of pulled (rather than sliced) pork along with bits of crispy skin, more like carnitas than sandwich meat. Similar to the DiNic's pulled pork in the Reading Terminal, but in our opinion much better. Some of the best bread, too.
15 Kitty Hawk Avenue, Philadelphia Navy Yard (map)
The Golden Gate at Back Yard Kitchen (San Francisco)
Back Yard Kitchen is a tiny sandwich shop that makes solid sandwiches in the San Francisco style. In other words, they're veggie-laden with killer locally-sourced meats and everything's available on Dutch Crunch. The Golden Gate ($7.50) is a grilled chicken sandwich with gruyere and guacamole. The so-called "guacamole" is actually just avocado that's so ripe it's scooped out of the shell and spread on the roll like butter. The gruyere is melted over the chicken before it's added to the sandwich, which preserves the crispness of the romaine, onions, and tomatoes.
2760 Octavia Street, San Francisco CA 94123; 415-655-3023; backyardsf.com
Lobster Roll from Harraseeket Lunch (South Freeport, ME)
The sweet lobster lumps piled inside aren't dripping with mayo, thankfully; just enough to keep it all together. It's a fresh, unfussy roll served in an idyllic outdoor setting that'll make you feel like you're in a postcard from the Vacationland state. Read More Here »
Chivito from Fast Gourmet Inside a Gas Station (Washington, D.C.)
How often do you eat something at a gas station, then feel compelled to gush about it all weekend to friends? Hm, us either. Until trying the Chivito at the Lowest Price gas station on 14th and W Streets in D.C. This sandwich is also probably the most expensive thing you'll buy at a gas station that's not gas. It's $13, but includes the following: beef tenderloin, slices of black forest ham, bacon, green olives, melted mozzarella, a hard-boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, house-made (gas-station-made?) escabeche (pickled red peppers, onion, and garlic in olive oil), and a swipe of creamy mayo. All that is somehow contained between two flat grilled halves of a roll, which has a soft doughy-ness reminiscent of Pillsbury crescent rolls. Also, that roll was baked there—can you remember the last time you went to a gas station with bread-baking ovens?
1400 W St NW, Washington DC (map); 202-448-9217
Cuban Roast Pork at Paseo (Seattle)
This Caribbean restaurant takes marinated slow-roasted pork that's a little sloppy, a little sweet, and joins it with thick rings of caramelized onions on a chewy Macrina Bakery roll, all slathered in a punchy garlicky spread.
2 locations: paseoseattle.com
Fried Tomato Special from Chickie's (Philadelphia)
This is one of our favorite only-in-Philly hoagies, which is more or less a Turkey Club on steroids (or Sarcone's, their hefty bread of choice). It's a long seeded roll jam packed with roasted turkey, crisp bacon, shredded iceberg, American cheese, roasted red peppers, breadcrumb-fried slices of ripe tomato, and a generous slather of mayo. This hoagie is awesome year-round but especially amazing in the summer when the Jersey tomatoes are bright red and extra juicy.
Breakfast Sandwich from 4505 Meats (San Francisco)
This is one of the best breakfast sandwiches in America. They start with juicy, sweet-and-spicy maple-flavored sausage patty, top it with nutty cave-aged gruyere, a runny fried egg, and a handful of peppery cress and nasturtium greens. Stacking all of this together so the liquid yolk melds with the melted cheese and sausage patty juices and soaks into the house-made buttery sesame-seed bun without the whole thing imploding into a dripping mess takes more than a bit of skill.
Porchetta and Fennel Sauerkraut at Wildwood (Portland, OR)
There's no shortage of great sandwiches in Portland, and the fennel-marinated porchetta and fennel sauerkraut from Wildwood is one of our favorites. Chef Dustin Clark marinates the pork for 12 hours in olive oil, fennel seed, fennel frond, caramelized fennel, garlic, chile flake, salt, and pepper, before a 12-hour slow roast makes it fall-apart tender. It's then topped with a crunchy fennel sauerkraut that's been fermented in salt at room temperature for seven days. A tarbais bean paste made with roasted garlic and lemon gets spread on the soft, olive oil-toasted French roll from local Vietnamese bakery An Xuyen, providing a creamy foil to the salty porchetta and the crisp, mild fennel. Rounding out the flavors is a vibrant salsa verde made with capers, garlic, parsley, and olive oil.
Cemitas from Cemitas Puebla (Chicago, IL)
Cemitas Puebla in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago is known for their unique cemitas sandwich. The cemitas are served on a flat sesame-seed bun with avocado, your choice of meat (pictured here is the milanesa, the breaded pork cutlet), adobo chipotle peppers, fresh Oaxacan cheese, and, when in season, papalo, a Mexican herb similar to cilantro. The sesame seeds give this torta-like sandwich some texture from bite one; then the rich avocado hits your tongue, the crunch of the fried pork gives it a full, fatty flavor, the adobo supplies heat, the melted cheese adds rich velvet, and the oil from the sesame seeds comes back to break through and turn the sandwich into a whole different experience.
Beef Brisket Barbecue at Smoque (Chicago, IL)
Smoque has quickly made a name for itself with meticulously studied barbecue staples. Believe the hype: The Irving Park smoke joint's beef brisket sandwich ($7.45), a standout in what is historically a pork rib town, is perfectly executed. Split into equal cuts of flat and deckel, Smoque's brisket sports a peppery, smoky bark and tender, flavorful meat. The "moist" pieces are especially delectable.