The perfect sandwich is hard to find. But when you do find it, you have to pay homage. From superior ingredients to the freshest-baked bread and sauces that make you say, "Dammit, I kind of want to drink that," the ideal sammie has to strike a delicate balance, and the people who make them have hit upon something way more important than just a portable meal.
So, without further ado, here are the 21 best sandwich shops in America. Prepare to get hungry.
The only BYOB joint in Charleston also makes its finest sandwiches, which you can knock back in a dining room that feels like a friend’s place. Their menu, scrawled on a chalkboard, is constantly changing depending on the region’s local offerings, but always features innovative creations such as the General Tso’s-chicken sandwich, with their crunchy version of the distinctly American-Chinese dish, replete with broccoli rabe, jalapeños, and carrot slaw on a crispy roll. Oh, and heads up -- they’re also open late on weekends, meaning this is generally where the party will end up anyway.
A relative newcomer to the sandwich scene, East Hampton was founded in 2012 by an aspiring lawyer who traded tort reform for torta reform (sorry) and assembled a team of sandwich-crazed artisans to help him advocate for YOU. What resulted is a sleekly minimalistic temple of farm-to-table goodness, with the likes of Southern fried chicken, avocado mash, pepper jack, greens, and cured bacon with a jalapeño cream sauce, where they have quite obviously plead guilty of being totally awesome.
We already mentioned Zingerman’s in our college sandwich-shop roundup, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t warrant being mentioned again -- and here we are! Zingerman’s isn’t just a sandwich shop; it’s an institution, with a creamery, a roadhouse, and a bakery, all rolled up into a package that also happens to sling some of the best deli meats, pickles, and sides in the entire country. It’s a little on the pricey side, but that’s a non-issue when you consider the fact that you’ll be getting piles of pastrami, corned beef, Swiss & Wisconsin muenster cheeses, and two types of deli mustards (when you order their famous Jon & Amy’s Double Dip), in addition to the hundreds of other combinations they have available for revelers.
Putting Northwest Austin on the foodie map, Noble Sandwich Co. took a gamble opening in the suburbs in late 2010 and quickly garnered a rep for sandwiches worth a half-hour drive. Everything's made in-house from the bread to the bacon, which you can literally take home thanks to a deli case stuffed with meats and charcuterie. The signature 'wich is the seared beef tongue (smoked green onions, red pepper relish, aioli) that's a modern flip on Mexican lengua, but they're also rocking more traditional fare like the eponymous Noble Pig, stacked with spicy ham, pulled pork, prov, and -- of course -- bacon.
Not many chefs open a great sandwich shop and then open a truly great restaurant, but Denver's Justin Brunson did just that. Making his mark on the Denver scene with Masterpiece Deli (which just opened its second location in town), Brunson won the hearts and arteries of the Mile High sandwich-loving community with selections like a Cubano (slow-roasted mojo-brined pork, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, garlic aioli) and a 12hr-braised beef brisket sammie (with Tallegio fondue on a baguette). Be sure to top whatever sandwich you get with Denver Bacon Co. bacon -- obviously, if you're already going to open a great sandwich shop and a great restaurant, you should start your own bacon company, too.
Cemitas are essentially a variation of the torta native to the Mexican state of Puebla, differentiated primarily by the pillowy sesame seed roll, which Chicago landmark Cemitas Puebla gets custom-made at a local bakery. The milanesa (breaded-and-fried pork loin) is the most traditional, but if you're looking to up your swine intake you can add guajillo-rubbed loin and ham to get the triple threat that is the Atomica. A huge pile of shredded, mozz-like Oaxacan cheese, a generous smear of creamy avocado, and sweet, smoky, spicy chipotle bring all kinds of added flavor and texture, but pros know to take it even further and add a few drops of their trio of addictive salsas to each bite.
Mendocino Farms is an LA-based sandwich market that specializes in locally produced and raised vegetables and meats, meaning their stuff is fresher than a certain prince. Step into any of their woody, grass-adorned locations, and you'll be struck by their natural aesthetic; one bite of any of their seasonal sandwiches or down-home favorites, and you'll be struck by their pure deliciousness. Folks go especially crazy for their Kurobuta pork belly banh mi, served on ciabatta rather than the typical French roll, and filled with caramelized pork belly, pickled daikon & carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapeños, and a chili aioli.
It's a special kind of awesome when a place is named after what people will call you after you've eaten too much of its wares, but Lardo is indeed a special kind of awesome. The cart-turned-three-restaurant-chain does everything right, from the spicy grilled mortadella to the incredibly flavorful porchetta, the meatball banh mi, and, perhaps, the best Cubano this side of Havana. The secret? Every bit of pork is made in-house, from the ham and mortadella to the pig skin sprinkled in hand-cut fries. When even the tuna melt is exceptional, you're in trouble. Someday soon, Chef Rick Gencarelli will have enslaved all of Portland.
Cleveland’s got its fair share of interesting people, but not all of them open tattoo-friendly, punk-rock-playing alternative grilled cheese joints, like Matt Fish did when he first founded Melt Bar & Grilled in 2006. Offering patrons who get a Melt tattoo 25% off for life is only the second of his selling points -- the first is grilling up insane grilled cheese sandwiches that keep Ohioans coming back time and time again. The Parmageddon, for example, rocks potato & onion pierogi, sauerkraut, sharp cheddar, and sauteed onions and is every bit as face-melting as its name would suggest.
This Caribbean snack shack with two locations in Seattle can be identified one of two ways (in lieu of a big, flashy sign, which they’re apparently not all about): 1) the intoxicating smell of caramelized onions and slow-roasted pork wafting out of it, and 2) the line going down the block and beyond. Sure, it’s cash-only and the wait for a sandwich might be up to an hour, but there’s a reason everyone swears by Paseo’s creations -- they’re so goddamned delicious. Try the Caribbean Roast with marinated, fall-apart-tender pork shoulder, aioli, cilantro, and Romaine lettuce to get the best possible experience.
If you grew up in a Western suburb of Boston, the name “Linden” rings out. As in, “I’m getting a Linden,” and “You want to go to Linden?,” and “Who just ate my Linden, because now I have to kill them?" Open since 1933 and owned by the LeBrun brothers -- Greg and Mark -- the vibe is old-school town deli: stools, communal tables, and a line that often snakes close to the front door during lunch hours. All of the sandwiches are good (try the Hot Italian or the Ryan, and add extra “hots”), but on Wednesdays, they do a hot sub special that usually sells out by noon featuring slow-simmered BBQ roast beef and onions with melty American cheese that will change your life, or at least the notch you use on your belt.
With a history that spans 60yrs and a line that often spans 60 people, White House is a veritable Atlantic City institution whose authentic Italian subs were apparently frequently craved by Mr. Sinatra himself, who would send a lucky lackey down from NYC just to pick some up for him. The original sub shop’s still standing, but you now have the option of going to the Trump Taj Mahal to pick up your fix of capicola, provolone, salami, and chili peppers. Or be a little unorthodox and give their cheesesteak a try. Just go in armed with the knowledge of what you're getting into -- their "half" sandwich is bigger than just about any whole sandwiches you've ever eaten. So, you know... get the whole sandwich.
At this sandwich marketplace in Houston, everything is the sum of its parts -- and the parts are insanely awesome. The wide-open, retro aesthetic sets the stage for sandwiches crafted with the same care and love that Texans have been accustomed to for generations. Each sandwich purchase nets you two sides, which they swap out based on what’s available/in-season (think crispy slaw with lemongrass vinaigrette), and you’ve pretty much gotta try their Crunchy Chicken sandwich with nut “crumble”, provolone, buttermilk ranch, and pickles on a chewy pretzel bun to truly know Southern comfort.
Hidden away in a pint-sized hole-in-the-wall in San Francisco, Darwin’s small interior belies the huge sandwiches within. Committed to bringing you the best in seasonal ingredients and fresh-baked breads, Darwin’s an intimate backdrop to some of the best sandwiches this side of the Mississippi. In addition to being tender and supremely thin-cut, their legendary roast beef, is also piled high with the complementary veggie du jour, which in some cases is arugula and tomato jam and in others is caramelized onions, peppers, and mushrooms.
In a city with more than its fair share of secrets, tucked-away restaurants, and almost-inaccessible eateries, Animals at The Wayland just might be the most clandestine of them all. Sitting inside The Wayland, an unassuming, cutting-edge Alphabet City cocktailery, Pink Floyd-homaging Animals is only open from 11am-5pm, and only on weekdays, plus to get there you've gotta trek over to Avenue C, which is, like, far. But when you do, a pulled bacon sandwich with red slaw, avocado, pickled jalapeños, refried beans, and chili mayo will be waiting to reward you for taking the afternoon off work strictly for a sandwich. Or maybe the Pernil "Don't Call Me George" Romero, whose pork shoulder is slow-cooked in garlic, fennel & rosemary. The pig on the wing shall be you.
Yet another holdover from our college sandwich-shops list is Primanti Bros., one of the few joints on this list that boasts a profile of its signature sandwich-making style on its Wikipedia page. Founded in 1933 by a few brothers named Primanti, the innovative sandwich shop skews toward the behemoth, opting to add a helping of hand-cut French fries to each one of its already-prime deli sandwiches (such as pastrami, salami & cheese, and even knockwurst). This, as you can imagine, made them pretty popular, and they now boast 16 Pittsburgh-area locations, with a few popping up in far-away Florida, and then… THE WORLD?!
With arguably one of the best cheesesteaks in the city of Philadelphia, John’s Roast Pork stands above the rest for its other sandwiches, which are pretty much all outstanding. It may be in a different camp than some other Philly cheesesteak joints, which use neon-orange Cheez Whiz instead of the sharp provolone of John’s, and it’s their authentic ingredients that allow them to also make an impeccably juicy roast pork sandwich (duh) with spinach, as well as an awesome steak Milano with grilled tomatoes, all on fresh-baked sesame seed rolls. It’s so good you won’t even miss the Whiz, and that’s saying something.
Totally reviving the East Nashville food scene (and possibly setting the bar for full-service delicatessens all over the US), Mitchell Deli was founded in 2008 with the goal of providing customers with all-natural, all-delicious ingredients made into beautiful sandwiches, and on their first day of service, they ran out of food. If that isn’t enough of an indicator of Mitchell Deli’s greatness, check out their legendary Asian flank steak sandwich (once offered only on Mondays, but now available throughout the week due to high demand), which has been featured on Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America and is served on locally made, fluffy ciabatta bread.
Everyone knows that New Orleans’ muffuletta is the king of sandwiches. That fact is indisputable. What is up for debate, however, is which place in New Orleans serves the finest specimen of this gargantuan stack of olive tapenade, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone -- and the top dog is most certainly Cochon Butcher, a wine bar-butcher counter combo that’s got the city’s best sandwich menu (“bacon melt”, anyone?). Central Grocery may be the original, but it can’t compare to the freshness of CB’s house-cured meats, melty cheese, spicy olives, and soft, gloriously chewy bread.
In addition to being one of the best authentic Cuban restaurants in all of Miami, Enriqueta’s also makes a hell of a Cuban sandwich -- but not just the pressed ham, roast pork, cheese, and pickle panini that we’re all used to. They also whip up a Cuban chicken sandwich, stacked with lettuce, tomato, shoestring potatoes, and grilled onions that’s out-of-this-world good. The place is a little hole-in-the-wall where lines can get pretty long, so be sure to venture out and grab your fix before they close at 4pm.
Saltie may look like an ultra-hip temple of Brooklyn coolness from the outside, and that's because it is. But here's the rub: they make some of the biggest, best, and messiest sandwiches in the entire world, and they do it all in a tiny space using mostly -- GASP -- vegetables. Granted, there are a few meaty bites on the menu (mortadella, chicken liver paté, ham, even sardines), but the real move here is to go with one of their funky vegetarian sandwiches, like the Scuttlebutt, a seemingly unholy amalgam of eggs, feta, capers, olives, pickled veggies, and spicy pimentón aioli on perfectly fluffy focaccia, which -- if it doesn't convert you into a believer -- will at least preach you the gospel.
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Adam Lapetina is the partnerships editor at Thrillist and has probably never been hungrier than he was while writing this article. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.