Up until about 2005, I wouldn't have labeled myself as a lover of sandwiches. Looking back, I don't know what the hell was wrong with me.*
When my eyes were opened to the diversity of this great, simple culinary invention of bread filled with stuff, I realized, "WAIT, THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST FOODS EVER; WHY DIDN'T I EAT MORE OF YOU GROWING UP? AHHH CURSE MY FOOLISHNESS." So in belated honor of National Sandwich Day (which was three days ago on November 3, the birthday of sandwich inventor John Montagu), I'm going to write about a bunch of sandwiches I like. Because I won't have an excuse to do this again...for another year.
In randomly ordered, not well categorized fashion, here are some of my favorite sandwiches based on type, location, or cuisine. Most of the recommendations pertain to New York City.
Eating good baguettes in Paris pretty much ruined all other bread for me. If you've bitten into a crackly, golden crust and chewy, hole-ridden innards, you know what I mean. I ate a lot of sandwiches during my semester in Paris—good bread is generally more important to me than good fillings, and when there's so much good bread (if you know where to look; I must thank Jeffrey Steingarten for his guidance), a good sandwich shouldn't be far behind. I ate most of my sandwiches from Julien since it was near my school (my favorite sandwich: Poulet St. Moret), but would make my own on occasion (shove some lettuce and cheese on butter-smeared bread—win!), assuming I didn't polish off the plain baguette first.
And don't forget about the croque-monsieur and madame, the "monsieur" being a hot ham and cheese sandwich, sometime open-faced, sometimes with cheese on the outer slice of bread; and the "madame" adding a fried egg on top. I prefer mine egg-enhanced.
I'm sure there are plenty of shitty sandwiches in Paris as well. High-tourist areas should generally be avoided for all things edible, but I think you knew that already. And when I say there's lots of good bread, I'm thinking in comparison to NYC, where boulangeries do not appear every other block, to my chagrin. Spend enough time bakery-hopping in Paris and you realize there's a generic bakery model to avoid.
Julien: 85, rue Ste Dominique, 7th, Paris, France
I regret not trying more sandwiches when I visited Chile last May—I only got to try them once at Rapa Nui in Temuco. I reviewed their sandwiches on Serious Eats but to sum things up in one word: MAYONNAISE. SHITTONS OF MAYONNAISE. If you hate mayo, you're so going to hate these sandwiches. Thankfully, my taste buds are in tune with the Chilean's: I say bring on the ungodly amounts of egg-and-oil-emulsion.
The sandwich pictured above, called the chacarero, consisted of a roll filled with juicy slices of beef, tomatoes, and a pile of steamed green beans, all slathered in mayonnaise. Nothing fancy, nothing "exotic," yet not something that has caught on in New York City as a sandwich craze. Someone come here and change that, please. I've only had Chilean sandwiches in New York City at San Antonio Bakery #2 in Astoria; WE NEED MORE.
These sandwiches may be best eaten after a long night of drunken debauchery, but I'd happily eat one whenever.
Rapa Nui: Aldunate 415, Temuco, Chile
San Antonio Bakery #2: 3620 Astoria Blvd, Astoria NY 11103
Norwegian Open Face Sandwiches
I was befuddled by the popularity of open face sandwiches when I visited Norway three years ago. "There's nothing to hold down the filling! What do you guys see in this?" By the end of my week-long trip any progress I made in elegance of sandwich consumption was marginal, but I did gain a fondness for the single-slice construction. Less bread means you can taste the toppings better—at the hands of my weegie friend/chef Morten, those toppings included scrambled eggs, lettuce, red pepper, smoked salmon, and smoked mackerel. When I got back to the US, I made my own open face smoked fish sandwiches, but it wasn't the same; it's one of those things I may have to restrict to eating in Norway, or when a Norwegian friend makes it for me.
this is norway: day two
Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil
The Italian trinity of tomato, mozzarella, and basil is my favorite group of sandwich fillings. (I never combined them with a French baguette though, for reasons unknown.) I perpetually fail at making decent sandwiches at home, but if I can slop together some good fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil, at least I know I will come out with something halfway-edible.
My favorite version (pictured above, and reviewed at Serious Eats) is from Doma in the West Village; they use excellent bread from Balthazar that gives me my favorite combination of crunchy and chewy, and lightly press/toast the sandwich so the creamy cheese is just slightly melted and everything is a bit warm. The cheese coupled with the punch of fresh basil and...whatever it is the tomato brings (I'm not a fan of raw tomatoes by themselves, but they're a necessary component in sandwiches such as this one) is transcendent enough to make me forget about anything else. For at least one bite.
Doma: 17 Perry Street, New York NY 10014
Butter-soaked slices of bread with a golden outer crust and a belly of gooey cheese—that just can't go wrong. This is one of the few things I can make without screwing up too much. I don't have a favorite place to get grilled cheese sandwiches (although I've eaten them a few times at Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop with much satisfaction); most of the ones I've eaten were homemade.
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop: 129 Rivington Street, New York NY 10002
Chinese-Style Egg Sandwiches
I grew up eating egg sandwiches. Tepid, sort of scrambled-fried egg patties on stiff, nutty, whole wheat bread that no adolescent could appreciate, but I was stuck with because my health food-loving mom deemed it so. My impression of egg sandwiches was rather negative as a kid, my main memories being of unwrapping a lifeless brown lump of a sandwich when all my classmates had PB&J (later I'd find out I'm not a fan of PB&J, but hey, I didn't know that at the time), or sitting alone at a table under the fluorescent lights of the YMCA's basement during "after school care" and unenthusiastically eating an egg sandwich as a snack.
It wasn't until I had the Chinese-style egg (and perhaps some sort of meat) sandwich on fat, fluffy slices of crustless white bread that I realized, "Oh jebus, egg sandwiches are totally awesome." I don't know if I'm erroneously characterizing this style of egg sandwiches as a Chinese thing, but I've only eaten it at Chinese bakery/cafes and I can't imagine eating them anywhere else that wouldn't have a constant supply of freshly baked white bread. The beef and egg sandwich above is from Hon Cafe in Chinatown. Someday I'd love to try the egg sandwiches at Australian Dairy Company in Hong Kong.
Hon Cafe: 70 Mott Street, New York NY 10013
Falafel Pita Sandwiches
New York City is laden with falafel joints selling uninspired falafel pita sandwiches. Admittedly, I say this not having eaten most of them; after one too many thin pitas nearly disintegrating from the sauce and full of dense falafel balls, you don't really want to take your chances. And I don't have to, because I have one major favorite, and two others that I'd eat at more often if they were conveniently located: Taim is number one, and Azuri Cafe and The King of Falafel and Shawarma are second.
Taim could be labeled as a fancy falafel joint, not that a $5 falafel sandwich is anything extravagant. They use excellent, freshly baked pitas and stuff them with light, crisp falafel balls that taste good even when not eaten fresh.
I've only been Azuri Cafe once, but I remember the falafel being of the light and crisp sort, and tasting especially flavorful in a way that wasn't provided at Taim. What flavor? Um. The memory escapes me; I was there a while ago. Alas, it's far out of my way, so I have yet to go back.
- The King!
I've never tried the King of Falafel at the actual food truck in Astoria; my coworkers brought some falafel platters (not a sandwich by this point, but whatever) and even after suffering at the hands of time, the falafels were still exceptionally crispy and flavorful, which makes me wonder what it tastes like when it's fresh—life changing, perhaps. Loads of parsley and garlic seem to do the trick. It's no wonder he was a finalist in this year's Vendy Awards.
- Falafel from Ashkara.
Maoz is a reliable choice for a good falafel that won't blow your mind away—I find their falafels too dense. But at least you can put whatever toppings you want on it. A better Maoz-like falafel-rie in New York City is Ashkara in the Lower East Side. Ed and I were pulled in by the prospect of their sign that said, "BEST FALAFEL IN NEW YORK." It wasn't the best, but it was much better than average and a good choice for the neighborhood. Read more about it at Serious Eats.
Amy Ruth's, Cafe Mogador, Taim
NYC eats: so many, oh dear god
Fried Chicken, Gelato, Falafels and Burgers (and Indigestion?)
Tristan Week: Day 2 (Israeli Sandwiches and Mild Tipsiness)
Kåre Week, Day 1: Falafels at Taim
Taim: 222 Waverly Pl, New York NY 10014
Azuri Cafe: 465 W 51st Street, New York, NY 10019
The King of Falafel: 30 Street & Broadway, Astoria NY 11106
Ashkara: 189 E Houston Street, New York, NY
I don't eat Cuban sandwiches/cubanos nearly as much as I should. If you don't love the combination of roast pork, ham, cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo (I guess mayo isn't traditional, but I like it) in a loaf that's pressed to a crisp, I can't trust you. If you're vegetarian, just pretend you're not for a second, and then pretend eating this sandwich and think about how awesome it would be. I've eaten cubanos the most from El Castillo de Jagua, not because it's the best, but because it's conveniently located for me and I like the restaurant. I will gladly accept recommendations for where to get good cubanos in New York City.
While I love cubanos for their affordability—around $5 most of the time—the $17 version from The Spotted Pig is an exception. ...Maybe. The last time I went, over a year ago, it was $15. The current $17 is just over my limit of "reasonable sandwich price." Still, it's really tasty as a cubano-inspired fancy pants sandwich. Ed gives more explanation:
The Spotted Pig Cubano is the best in the city and maybe the world. The Balthazar roll is crunchy and yeasty; chef-partner April Bloomfield uses heritage pork shoulder to sublime effect by brining it for three days, slow-roasting it, and then cooking it in duck and pork fat; the pickled jalapeno peppers add just the right amount of heat; Prosciutto de Parma or speck (smoked prosciutto) is a better quality ham than you will find in any other Cubano around the city; and the aged gruyere lends the whole thing a deeply funky flavor.
Rebecca and I shared the cubano alongside their famous burger and agreed that the cubano was better. Ahh pork, so magical you are.
Yet another sandwich I don't eat nearly as often as I should. (Alas, most banh mi shops are in Chinatown, but most close before dinner, and when I'm in Chinatown I tend to want to eat at a sit down restaurant anyway.) I love how this Vietnamese sandwich combines various forms of porky goodness (the "classic" option, at least) with raw vegetables, pickles, and herbs in a crusty baguette. The pile of vegetables almost makes me believe I'm eating healthily, even though under the pile lay the porcine treasures of ham, pate, roast pork, sweet sausage, and possibly other slabs of animal fats and proteins. Even better is that a massive sandwich usually costs some ridiculously low price of $5 or less, unless you're at a fancier banh mi joint.
I'm no banh mi expert. For that sort of knowledge, I defer you to Tam Ngo and her banh mi analysis post on Serious Eats of six sandwiches from Ba Xuyen, one of the city's most well-regarded banh mi shops that is inconveniently located for most people, unless you live in/near Borough Park. Baoguette is another popular choice as a newer, more creative banh mi shop (Ba Xuyen is old school), but I can't really endorse them seeing as they used my photos on their website without my permission or giving any credit (I contacted them about it, but have yet to get a response). Fail.
Ba Xuyen: 4222 8th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11232
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop is my favorite sandwicherie in New York City. They don't make the best sandwiches you'll ever eat, but they don't have many competitors for the price—most sandwiches are $5 to $8—and their bread, the sesame semolina in particular, is great. The main downside is that they tend to run out of ingredients by the time dinner comes around. One time I went, they had run out of bread (...yeeaaah, well, it was just one time) and my friends and I ended up eating soups and salads.
My favorite is the Spicy Rizzak filled with a stack of sliced turkey, crispy bacon bits, melted cheddar, sliced tomato and onion, and hot chipotle mayo. There's no standard way of stacking the ingredients, from what I've observed, but it doesn't affect the deliciousness.
My second favorite sandwich is almost the opposite of the Spicy Rizzak: the Veggiest of them All, avocado, cucumber, sprouts, shredded carrots, tomato, spinach, roasted red peppers, onions, and Annie's goddess on 7-grain baguette. It's a salad hugged by carbs. My preferred combination would be half of this and half of the Spicy Rizzak—in my mind, they sort of equalize each other.
Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop: 129 Rivington Street, New York NY 10002
- Filet-O-Fish: Glorious.
What is it about the combination of fried dessicated fish patty and processed yellow cheese in a squish, steamed bun that triggers my stomach to go into sloshing mode? Don't. Know. My declaration of Filet-O-Fish love on Serious Eats assuaged my fears that I was alone in my Filet-O-Fish fandom. Screw McDonald's burgers; Filet-O-Fish is where it's at.
I almost forgot that burgers are a sandwich, too. And when I want a burger, I think of Shake Shack. THE END.
...Or if that's not enough, check out my list of my top 5 burgers in New York City.
Someone pointed out that I'm missing a few crucial sandwiches (if you think I need to add anything, feel free to chime in). I can tell you off the bat that I've never had a muffuletta (when am I going to visit New Orleans?). And related to muffulettas, I'm not a big fan of sandwiches stuffed with Italian cold cuts (many an Italian hero has gone into my stomach, growing up in New Jersey and all), so those are out too.
What about lobster rolls? I did just blog about them. But their prices makes them quite inaccessible, and only having one clear favorite in New York City that I've only eaten once (from Pearl Oyster Bar) doesn't give it precedence in my "favorite sandwich" list (which I probably should have limited to the top ten). It has the potential when done right though. Maybe I'll go back to Pearl Oyster Bar soon...
And what about the Middle Eastern sabich? It's a simple and delicious combination of fried eggplant, hard boiled egg, hummus, Israeli salad, tahini, and amba sauce. There are probably a bunch of places to get it in New York City (usually at falafel-ries), not necessarily under the name "sabich," but I'd only ever think of getting it at Taim (I wrote about it on Serious Eats). Alas, I usually get falafel when I go there, perhaps after a tiny internal debate where I can't decide if I want fried chickpea mash or fried eggplant. If you've never had a sabich before, you should definitely check out Taim's. I think I need to do more sabich research; like lobster rolls, they have the potential to be life-changingly delicious—I just haven't eaten enough of them yet.
The only other sabich I've had is from Bite, and while it's a tasty sandwich, it's not nearly as tasty as the one from Taim since Bite doesn't fry their eggplant.
Addendum 2: Pane Bianco
So a week after I wrote this post I realized I forgot about the best sandwicherie of all.
Pane Bianco in Phoenix has made possibly the best sandwiches I've ever eaten. It's ridiculous that I could forget about it; I unintentionally ignored the rest of America. It's no surprise that Pane Bianco would make the best sandwiches since it's helmed by possibly the country's best pizza maker, Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco. The fillings match the quality of the bread, and the bread is freakin' fantastic. Bread is key, man. So key.
You can't go wrong with anything at Pane Bianco. But I did have a favorite. And it wasn't the tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwich, although that was awesome.
It was the roasted lamb and escarole sandwich. Methinks the lamb is a seasonal filling; I hope your visit is during lamb season.
I gush more about these sandwiches in my post about my trip to Phoenix over two years ago.
Pane Bianco: 4404 N Central Ave, Phoenix AZ 85012