America's Best Sandwiches
At its essence, a sandwich is two pieces of bread with something in the middle. It’s a convenient, made-to-carry meal—and can also inspire cultlike devotion.
Consider the Big Nasty, a breakfast of champions that lures diners into Atlanta’s Rosebud for fried chicken, scrambled eggs, bacon, and Tillamook cheddar barely contained within a buttery hamburger bun.
Some memorable sandwiches win us over by breaking the rules. The lobster roll at L.A.’s Hinoki and the Bird arrives in a jet-black bun made from charcoal-enriched flour and flavored with Vietnamese green curry and garlic aioli to punch up the mayonnaise dressing. Others take a reverential approach. At Brooklyn’s Mile End, the Ruth Wilensky (salami and brown mustard on a pressed onion roll) pays tribute to the matriarch of a Montreal sandwich institution.
You can opt for good-for-you ingredients like marinated kohlrabi and butternut squash or indulge in a gut-busting cholesterol bomb. The latter? Well, then let us point you to the off-the-menu Luther sandwich at D.C.’s Churchkey: a chicken jus–glazed brioche donut piled with buttermilk fried chicken and applewood-smoked bacon.
We won’t judge; our favorite sandwiches come from all walks of life. They defy cultural boundaries, blur ethnic lines, and run the gamut from traditional to molecular. But they all leave customers satisfied.
Churchkey, D.C.: The Luther
Imagine the three most soul-satisfying foods in one sandwich, and you have Churchkey’s take on the Luther Vandross–inspired cholesterol bomb. Buttermilk fried chicken and applewood-smoked bacon stand in for the traditional burger, while a house-made, maple chicken jus–glazed brioche donut studded with pecans is a sweet-savory improvement over the called-for Krispy Kreme. Note: the off-menu breakfast sandwich is available only on request, Sundays between noon and 8 p.m. churchkeydc.com
Hinoki and the Bird, Los Angeles: Lobster Roll
This four-bite sandwich is anything but your standard lobster roll. For starters, there’s the striking, jet-black bun, made from charcoal-enriched flour, which imparts a slightly earthy grittiness. Vietnamese green curry and garlic aioli punch up the flavors of the traditional mayonnaise dressing, while Thai basil leaves and flowers are a fresh (and pretty) finishing touch. hinokiandthebird.com
Xoco, Chicago: Cochinita Pibil
Lunchtime often brings lines out the door of Xoco, Rick Bayless’s paean to Mexican street food. Patience is rewarded with this torta, which combines achiote-rubbed suckling pig—wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked in a wood-burning oven for seven hours—with a fiery blend of roasted habaneros, garlic, and salt, plus black beans and pickled red onions. It’s all sandwiched between Labriola Bakery bread, a slightly sour Mexican baguette fermented for 12 hours.
Serpico, Philadelphia: Deep-Fried Duck Leg
Peter Serpico (the former culinary director of David Chang’s Momofuku empire) has decamped to Philadelphia—and his riff on Peking duck bao is a high note on a menu that has earned rave reviews. There’s some Wylie Dufresne–inspired molecular magic in how it comes together, but all you need to know is that this honey-and-hoisin-glazed, deboned duck leg, deep fried and served with pickled cucumbers on a Martin’s potato roll, is giving the Philly cheesesteak serious competition. serpicoonsouth.com
No. 7 Sub, New York: Broccoli Sub
This combination of roasted broccoli, salted ricotta, peanuts, and pickled lychees stuffed into a mayonnaise-lubed hoagie is unconventional, but it works. The secret is in the balance—between sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy—and the mostly white bread (with oats, wheat bran, and flaxseeds), baked fresh daily. In addition to the original location at the Ace Hotel, you can find chef Tyler Kord’s inspired creations at the Plaza Hotel and in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Dumbo. no7sub.com
Saigon Sandwich, San Francisco: Roasted Pork Banh Mi
In a rough-and-tumble area of the Tenderloin known as Little Saigon, Saigon Sandwich has been turning out the city’s best made-to-order banh mi since 1981. The only sign of the times: Vietnamese barbecued pork, pickled carrots and onions, and jalapeño and cilantro on a crusty French baguette now costs $3.75 instead of $3.25. Shop the grocery selection for sriracha sauce or ginger candies while you wait.
Ted’s Butcherblock, Charleston, SC: Bacon of the Month BLT
It’s difficult to improve upon the classic BLT, which may very well be the best sandwich ever invented. But this market-cum-deli has found a way to reinvent the wheel by rotating its artisanal bacon—kurobuta applewood bacon from Iowa’s Eden Farms one month and peppery bacon from Kentucky-based Broadbent’s the next. Garlicky herbed aioli, tomato, mixed greens, and a soft stirato roll make up the supporting cast.
Craigie on Main, Boston: Grilled Two Cheese and Roast Pork Sandwich
A great sandwich starts with great bread—a fact that’s apparent in this panino, which is part grilled cheese, part cubano. Pain au levain, a sourdough boule from Iggy’s Bread, showcases slow-cooked pork collar, Comte, Shelburne Farms Farmhouse Cheddar, and pickled ramps. The whole thing is pressed and served with a side of thick-cut fries.
Rosebud, Atlanta: The Big Nasty
Your morning egg ’n cheese gets a serious upgrade courtesy of The Big Nasty at chef Ron Eyester’s comfort food café, one of America’s best brunch spots. Crispy, juicy fried chicken is piled high with scrambled eggs, smoked bacon, and Tillamook cheddar for a decadent hangover cure that’s barely contained by its buttery hamburger bun. rosebudatlanta.com
Sloco, Nashville: Slow-Roasted Veggie
This vegan option is hearty enough to satisfy even ardent carnivores. Marinated seasonal vegetables, which might include kohlrabi, butternut squash, asparagus, and zucchini, are the meat of the sandwich. Hearty multigrain bread, baked in house and smeared with whole-grain mustard and vegan mayo, serves as a nutty foundation, while micro herbs, grown on the premises, add brightness. slocolocal.com
Bakesale Betty, Oakland: Fried Chicken Sandwich
Alison Barakat, a.k.a. “Betty,” worked as a line cook at Chez Panisse before donning an electric-blue wig and setting up shop for herself. Her fried chicken sandwich is as simple as it is famous: buttermilk battered breast, sourced from Fulton Valley Farms, and spicy, tangy slaw with jalapeños, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and mustard on an Acme torpedo roll. Add Frank’s hot sauce to taste. bakesalebetty.com
Market Grill, Seattle: Blackened Salmon Sandwich
Locals brave the tourist masses at Pike Place Market for just-caught local salmon: blackened, pan-fried, and served with your choice of homemade tartar sauce or rosemary mayonnaise on a grilled baguette from neighboring market bakery, Le Panier (one of America’s best bakeries). Just be forewarned that there are only eight stools at this minnow-size restaurant. 1509 Pike Place, Suite 3, (206) 682-2654
Mile End, Brooklyn, NY: Ruth Wilensky
Montreal native Noah Bernamoff’s Brooklyn deli recently reopened with a new craft brew menu. But thankfully, the Ruth Wilensky sandwich remains unchanged. A tribute to the matriarch of the Montreal institution Wilensky’s Light Lunch, Mile End’s version heaps artisanal salami and brown mustard on a pressed onion roll. Don’t let its simplicity fool you. This is beefy, smoky, oniony perfection. And like everything at Mile End—including the divine whitefish salad—the sandwich is made from scratch and locally sourced.
Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, OR: Pork Belly Cubano
Co-chefs Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood change their blackboard menu daily, but know to keep favorites like this pork belly cubano in regular rotation. Their version of the Cuban workman’s lunch is improved by swapping out roast pork for house-cured, molasses-rubbed pork belly, slow roasted until fork tender. Ham, Tillamook Swiss, and pickles round out this pressed sandwich on a mustard, mayo, and hot sauce–doused French roll. Customers can add bacon, anchovies, and/or hot peppers to any sandwich, and every order comes with kettle chips.
Parkway Bakery & Tavern, New Orleans: Roast Beef Po’boy
Fried shrimp, smoked alligator sausage, and straight-up gravy are among the 20-plus variations of po’boy for sale at this Mid-City institution (est. 1911). If you order only one, we say go for the roast beef. Flaky French bread from Leidenheimer bakery is just substantial enough to soak up the juices from tender slices of beef doused with gravy and debris (the chopping block scraps)—though it’s best to eat quickly—and dressed with mayo, tomato, lettuce, and pickles.
Fika, Minneapolis: Radish Smörgås
The secret to this New Nordic eatery at the American Swedish Institute is the rye bread. Made from a combination of rye and whole wheat flour, plus milled-to-order cracked rye berries, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and rolled oats, the bread is the foundation for nearly all of the open-faced sandwiches (smörgås), including this delicate combination of raw, pickled, and poached radishes—the brainchild of chefs de cuisine Dustin Thompson and Sam Miller. asimn.org
Big Bad Breakfast, Oxford, MS: The Southern Belly
John Currence’s distinctly southern take on the classic grilled cheese starts with pimento cheese, a down-home combination of cheddar, cream cheese, mayo, and pimentos. He adds a creamy, tangy slaw (made with mayo and apple cider vinegar), bread and butter pickles for a bit of sweetness, and house-cured bacon for crunch and smokiness. The finishing touch? The whole thing goes on a butter-lubed griddle—no surprise when you consider that this chef goes by the motto “Lard have mercy!”
The Brown Hotel, Louisville, KY: The Hot Brown
Invented in 1926, the Hot Brown has been much imitated, but the original is still the best. Part club, part croque monsieur, the Hot Brown layers sliced turkey (roasted in house) with tomatoes, Mornay sauce (béchamel with pecorino cheese), and thick-cut bacon. Served on 1 1/2-inch Texas toast, the broiled, open-face sandwich is meant to be eaten with a knife and fork.
Three Sheets, Atlanta: Grilled Cheese
Applewood-smoked grilled cheese with tomato bisque is a buttery winner with proven staying power (it’s always on the menu). But to see how far Three Sheets can stretch the sandwich, turn up for the monthly Grilled Cheese Wine Dinners, which pair five versions—Camembert, apple, and brown sugar on honey wheat, for example, or Brie, avocado and prosciutto on Italian—with five wines. threesheetsatlanta.com
G&R Tavern, Waldo, OH: Fried Bologna Sandwich
The spicy, garlicky housemade blend of pork and beef is cut thick (3/4 inches) and fried in its own fat until it develops a crust. This bologna doesn’t need much—white bun, sweet pickles, onion, and Monterey Jack—to make you reconsider the lackluster deli meat. gandrtavern.com
The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX: Brisket Sandwich
Each 1/2-pound brisket sandwich at this destination barbecue spot in Texas Hill Country is a labor of love that starts with a simple dry rub of salt, pepper, and red pepper. The meat is smoked for 17 hours, cooked over an open pit for another few hours, and slathered with special habanero-spiked sauce. More sauce, pickled jalapeños, and a bun to soak up the juices complete this detour-worthy meal
Zabak’s, Houston: Falafel Sandwich
It turns out that putting a Gulf Coast spin on the traditional Middle Eastern sandwich finds the perfect balance between hot and cold, crispy and creamy, spicy and sour. Parsley and jalapeño peppers give the falafel its distinctive green color—and a bit of heat—while lettuce, tomato, and tahini are a cooling counterpart. Za’atar lends zest, and because this is Texas, a dose of Cajun Chef hot sauce goes without saying.
Philippe the Original, Los Angeles: French Dip
Philippe the Original, Los Angeles: French Dip
This cash-only Chinatown deli—which hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1908—claims to have invented the French Dip. So, too, does Cole’s, but regardless, this French Dip is legendary and a hands-down winner over its downtown rival. The sandwich calls for thinly sliced meat double-dipped in its juice, and finished with beyond-hot mustard. Dig into the classic roast beef at one of the communal tables.
Las Olas Café, South Beach, FL: Cuban Sandwich
The perfectly pressed Cuban at Las Olas hits the sandwich trifecta: crunchy, gooey, and salty. There’s nothing revolutionary about this Cuban, prepared with pork loin (roasted and sliced daily), plus ham, Swiss cheese, and a slab of butter. Pickles and mustard add just the right amount of acidity. facebook.com/pages/Las-Olas-Cafe-South-Beach
Faidley Seafood, Baltimore: Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sandwich
A Lexington Market staple since 1886, Faidley Seafood is famous for its baseball-size crab cakes, made with jumbo lump crabmeat sprinkled with Old Bay, saltines, and a “sauce” of mayo, Dijon, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Deep-fried and served on soft, white bread, they’re best eaten standing at the counter—with a cold beer. faidleyscrabcakes.com