Food & Drink

The Best Sandwich Shops in Chicago

Ask five people what the most important component of a sandwich is, and you'll get five different answers (it’s the bread, by the way). But ask any Chicagoan what the best sandwich shops in the city are, and you’re guaranteed to get an answer on this list. As a city, we might be less known for our sandwich artists and more known for our deep-dish pizzas, but Chicago is full of classic sandwich shops featuring Italian, Cuban, European, and of course American roots. These are Chicago’s can’t-miss sandwich slingers. (Two of them even made our list of the best sandwich shops in the US.)

Nonna’s

West Loop

Hearty Italian classics, just like your nonna used to make
Nonna’s is the smaller, more casual offshoot of the modern Italian joint Formento’s. If there’s one sandwich to get here, it’s the chicken Parmesan sub topped with heaping doses of thin and crispy chicken, gooey mozzarella, and marinara between flaky Italian bread. Don’t forget to top your sandwich of choice with Nonna’s housemade giardiniera for an extra buck.

Tempesta Market

West Town

Charcuterie-filled sandwiches from the family behind Nduja Artisans Salumeria
Tempesta is known for its cured meats like its famous spicy ‘nduja, which makes it well-qualified in its latest endeavor: a West Town shop filled with craft sandwiches, cured meats, groceries, and more. Try The Dante loaded with all of the meats: hot soppressata, mortadella, finnochinoa, hot coppa, and porchetta, plus provolone, giardiniera, ‘nduja aioli, lettuce, and tomato on a baguette. The B. Franklin elevates the traditional turkey sandwich with Hooks 2-Year Cheddar, pickled fresnos, avocado, pea shoots, and sofrito aioli on sourdough. A newer location inside Wells St. Market makes Tempesta’s sandwiches even more accessible for the weekday lunch crowd.

The Budlong

Lincoln Park

Some like it (Nashville) hot. But are you classic, hot, or x-hot?
As one of the first spots to bring Nashville-style hot chicken to Chicagoans, The Budlong has proved its staying power (just count its six locations). The main attraction is best enjoyed on a brioche bun with The Budlong’s signature comeback sauce, farmslaw, and pickles. The classic has the perfect balance of heat and tang, but if you’re a spicy food fanatic, opt for the hot or x-hot.

Manny’s

South Loop

An old-school Chicago cafeteria slinging piled-high deli sandwiches and more
If you’ve never had a Manny’s experience, it’s worthy of a trip at any time of day. Grab a tray and cruise down the cafeteria line where you’ll encounter soups, salads, sides, and hefty deli sandwiches like the What Am I, Chopped Liver? with layers of original corned beef topped with chopped liver, or the My Four Kinder with, you guessed it, four types of meats: corned beef, pastrami, brisket, and turkey pastrami.

J.P. Graziano

West Loop

A Chicago institution that puts the sub in sublime
This fourth-generation general store has been a staple in the West Loop for decades due to its substantial subs. Must-try hearty subs include the Mr. G with provolone, hot sopressata, prosciutto di Parma, genoa salami, truffle mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, hot oil, marinated artichokes, basil, lettuce, red wine vinegar, and oregano. Grab a jar of their house hot or mild giardiniera to top your sandwich creations at home.

Firenze Street Food

West Loop

Quality Italian ingredients folded into homemade schiacciata bread
Firenze Street Food keeps it simple: fresh Italian ingredients sandwiched between freshly baked bread. The Chicago French Market stand keeps hungry office workers well fed with signature panini like the caprese with eggplant, mozzarella, balsamic glaze, tomato, basil pesto, and olive oil. You can also create your own sandwich from a combo of meats, cheeses and veggies.

Panes Bread Cafe

Lakeview

A northside mainstay that won’t break the bank featuring basic ingredient combos on homemade breads
A great sandwich starts with great bread and Panes Bread Cafe has featured its original creations on housemade bread since 1994. Panes is most known for its focaccia-like tomato bread, which forms the base for its aptly named The Popular with chicken breast, caramelized onions, spinach, roasted peppers, provolone cheese on tomato bread. Other massive sandwiches include the Oaxacan Pork with marinated pork loin, caramelized onions, spicy mayo, and roasted red peppers.

The Ruin Daily

West Loop

Coffee, deli sandwiches, and booze from the folks behind Longman & Eagle and Dusek’s
This casual shop from the 16 on Center crew offers a variety of sandwiches that make it difficult to choose just one. You’ll find Italian, Cuban, and American influences on the menu to satisfy the pickiest eaters or the most sophisticated palates. More interesting items include the Roast Beef with greens, aged white cheddar, sundried tomato aioli, and pickled peppers on polenta bread and The Craig with turkey, cranberry, baby kale, whipped feta, and garlic aioli on marble rye.

Nini’s Deli

West Town

Simple Latin-American sandwiches for those who can’t make up their mind
Family-run Nini’s Deli keeps its sandwich menu to a minimum, perfect for the indecisive diner. Try the Kitchen Sink with ropa vieja, grilled turkey, chipotle mayo, sliced avocado, eggs, and cheese for your daily dose of protein. Pair it with one of their famous homemade empanadas filled with guava and goat cheese.

Cafecito

Loop

Gourmet Cuban sandwiches in a relaxed Loop locale
Pressed-to-order Cuban sandwiches are Cafecito’s specialty. A house mojo forms the base for its wide variety of marinated meats such as the slow roasted ropa vieja skirt steak sandwich with sweet plantains, black beans, and a tomato creole sauce. If you’re more of a traditionalist, opt for the Cubano, complete with the typical roasted pork, Swiss cheese, ham, mustard, and pickles.

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Amanda Topper is a Chicago-based contributing writer for Thrillist. She is also the founder and food blogger for Chicago restaurant review blog, The Ghost Guest