Fast Casual Vegan Junk Food Is Now a Thing
One of the golden children of Portland's food cart-turned-restaurant revolution, Lardo's slogan is "bringing fat back," and holy shit it's not kidding. In-house meats dominate everything from the kimchi-packed Korean pork shoulder to the old-school mortadella. Hell, even the dirty fries are loaded with crispy pork scraps. The mainstays are great -- the subtly spicy pork meatball bánh mì is a standout and the lemon-smacked porchetta is a certified classic – though the sandwiches here rotate as often as the beer selection (which is often). Pray for a beefy Pho'rench dip with a side of hoisin-spiked broth or the Bronx Bomber, which ups the ante on Philly's finest with house-cured salami and -- gasp! --mayo. Even better, founder Rick Gencarelli lets a different big-shot chef design a sandwich each month for charity (as of this writing, it's basically a schnitzelwitch coated in melted fat) offering yet another chance to play a delicious game of Russian roulette with your left ventricle.
The original location became a neighborhood hotspot (with a little boost from a certain frosted-tipped, Camaro-driving Food Network host) but sadly shuttered after a rent dispute. But Chicago still gets its fix for these torta-esque (but better!) sandwich sensations at the more recently opened outpost. And thank goodness, because the Cemitas Atomica is a study in sandwich perfection, with three kinds of pork (ham, guajillo-marinated loin, breaded cutlet), a generous helping of shredded Oaxacan cheese, creamy avocado, and just enough heat from the chipotle adobo sauce. Once it's nestled into one of the custom-baked rolls and hit with a squirt or two of the outstanding salsas, you'll understand how this Pueblan creation became a Chicago institution.
Corktown is Michigan's best neighborhood for boozers, and Detroit's best sandwich shop adds to that designation with its built-in wine shop and 100+ beers. But even if all the place offered to drink was tap water, it'd still be a must-eat on any sandwich pilgrimage. It takes but one bite of a Mudgie's Brooklyn sandwich loaded with roasted brisket, Sriracha beer cheese, and maple-glazed onions to crown the Corktown institution the king of Michigan sandwiches. In a town known for coneys, Mudgie's has been going full artisan, roasting its own corned beef for its take on the Reuben (onion bun > rye bread, though it has both) and getting everything it doesn't make itself from local vendors. This is Detroit pride, sandwiched between buns.
Los Angeles, California
Travis Lett's Gjusta was originally conceived as a Venice Beach commissary kitchen for the owners' beloved Gjelina. That kind of explains why it's a bakery that also roasts meat, makes charcuterie, smokes fish, and kind of looks like a long, brightly lit culinary museum with glass cases full of tastiness. It'd be a sin if it didn't throw the glorious meats on display (and rotating on a spit) behind the counter into one of those lovely baguettes or between croissants. Luckily, it did, and with that was born some of the best sandwiches on the West Coast. You can build your own masterpiece with house mortadella or thin-shaved roast beef, or opt for a layered bánh mì with brisket. But the real move is the house-smoked and rotisserie butcher sandwiches. When you have prime rib this tender or porchetta that manages to symphonically explode with spices, juice, and a little crunch, all you need is a little olive oil, some horseradish, and salt & pepper to make a sandwich you won't forget. It's gdelicious. (Sorry.)
This charcuterie-centric offshoot of Paul Kahan's game-changing temple to all things pork, beer, and shellfish has become a destination in its own right. And while the gleaming case of finely butchered meats has quite a bit to do with that, the sandwich menu looms as the largest draw. Menu options tend to come and go, but the Parm No. 2 (with fried sage, nestled into a brioche bun) will make you rethink every chicken Parm you've ever had, with a chicken cutlet so beautifully crisp and juicy you'll wonder why these guys haven't opened a chicken joint yet. The Return of the Gyro's another favorite, turning the Greek (and Chicago) mainstay on its head by way of braised pork belly topped with raita and Calabrian chili vinaigrette. It's also likely they're planning another favorite that isn't on the menu yet -- you'll just have to keep going back. That shouldn't be an issue.
It's been a hell of a year for sandwich lovers in Portland, with the Guero redefining tortas and Sammich -- an offshoot of beloved cart Pastrami Zombie -- opening finally opening a sister restaurant to its incredible Ashland shop. But Stacked, well, Stacked is a different monkey altogether. The brainchild of fine-dining vet Gabriel Pascuzzi -- who follows Bunk's Tommy Habetz in transitioning from fancy food to sandwich supremacy -- Stacked is an exercise in redefining classics. For proof, look no further than the joint's take on the French dip, here made with gloriously fatty braised oxtail, charred onions, and crimini mushrooms under a blanket of havarti served with rosemary au jus. There's also a knockout roasted leg of lamb on house focaccia, an elk cheesesteak with the audacity to include roasted squash instead of wiz, and killer Korean fried tofu. Everything's made in house. Nothing is as to be expected. And with that, Portland has managed to become an oasis for sandwich lovers who seek something beyond the deli case.
We've all been there. You're in the midst of a liquor run and think to yourself "hot damn could I go for some ham and cheese right now." Well if you happened to be anywhere near Morris' Deli in Louisville when this all-too common predicament strikes, it wouldn't be an issue, because the local landmark known for its crazy cold walk-in beer cooler is even BETTER known for smoking impossibly tender and flavorful country hams, turkeys, and other meats right out front. They also make the kind of pimento cheese that people make special trips out of their way to acquire. You won't find a whole lot in the way of seating, but your sandwich is likely to be gone so quickly that you won't really have much time to worry about it.
Born out of a simple pushcart by Chilean native Juan Hurtado, Chacarero might appear to be some basic chain restaurant from the outside, with its gaudy glowing sign and super-clean aesthetic -- but it is an incredibly legit purveyor of Chilean food, mostly thanks to its eponymous sandwiches. There are many things on the menu at Chacarero (including some wonderful empanadas), but you will NOT order them. You will order the chacarero or forever regret it. It starts with fresh, pillow-soft homemade round bread coupled with tender grilled steak or chicken (get both, obviously). Then it adds fresh tomatoes, steamed green beans, and Muenster cheese before topping it off with avocado and a spicy, peppery secret sauce. The origins may be South American, but this joint is all Beantown. The place delivers a South American classic to a Boston constituency that just eats it up. No easy feat in old-school New England. Thus is the power of the Chilean sandwich.
Enriqueta’s makes the best Cubano in Miami. Which means it makes the best Cubano in Florida, if not the world. That's no small feat, and a designation that makes hitting up the tiny, cramped Edgewater institution a must for any sandwich seeker. But get this: You should maybe also consider not getting that Cuban in favor of its mutant cousin the Medianoche with ham, pork, cheese, pickles, and mayo on sweet egg dough bread, which will forever make you question other similar sandwiches. Or the Cuban chicken sandwich stacked with lettuce, tomato, shoestring potatoes, and grilled onions. Actually, just maybe grab them all. And do it before the place closes at 4pm (get there early... there will be a line). We’re not here to judge... that’s what the people on the beach are for.
Millburn, New Jersey
In a state practically drowning in a sea of mom-and-pop delicatessens -- each one claiming to be the sandwich king of New Jersey -- Millburn Deli has crafted a legacy that stretches far beyond the Garden State lines. When you go to Millburn Deli, a tiny storefront on the ground floor of what could easily be your grandma's house, you definitely go for the sandwiches it's been slinging since 1947. And even though the shop changed hands in the early '90s, the Fluke family has upheld the deli's tradition as a place for consistent local cheer and even more consistent(ly delicious) Sloppy Joes. Now, these probably aren't the "Sloppy Joes" that conjure images of lunch lady Doris slapping ground beef and tomato sauce into a kaiser roll. They're triple-decker sandwiches stuffed with various combos of turkey, corned beef, roast beef, Virginia ham, and pretty much every other meat variation known to man... or at least Jersey. And lucky you, they'll deliver them all over the US. Good luck getting the mailman to speak in a Jersey accent, though.
Calling out a Philly sandwich shop whose specialty ISN'T a cheesesteak might seem like a more egregious Brotherly Love blasphemy than preferring a Dennis-less Always Sunny. But, alas, it is the right call. John's Roast Pork's specialty is... obviously... their eponymous roast pork: a truly legendary Philadelphia sandwich with sharp provolone, a surprisingly delicious sautéed spread of spinach, and the juiciest smoked pork known to man (or beast). But even their cheesesteak, while less heralded than phillies from shops like Tony Luke's, Dalessandro’s, or Ishkabibble’s -- can hold its own against any and all contenders. So it is incredibly difficult to go wrong with any order. Unless you just get a glass of ice water and call it a night. That would be wrong. At any rate, they've been making these suckers since 1930 (it's "Pop Pop's recipe" after all) and if the continuous line that forms every day at lunchtime is any indication, it's not going anywhere, anytime soon -- despite the ill intentions of Philadelphia's seedy underbelly. Basically: for Pennsylvanians, John's is the jawn. Don't worry if you can't understand that -- people from Philly do.
Duck fat is what the signature Belgian frites are fried in at this brick-laden joint from a James Beard-winning chef, and its a base in the gravy that turns them Canadian in the poutine. Both are essential accompaniments to the place’s signature grilled paninis, which don’t so much complicate classics as expand on them, from a slow-roasted pork Cuban to a BBQ brisket that would hold up deep in the heart of Texas. And, naturally, there’s a quack sandwich in the form of the Overnight Duck Confit, loaded with miso mayo and a spicy slaw. Pair it with that poutine and a donut hole with -- yup -- duck fat caramel and you’re having duck three ways... which is way more delicious than the image of Disney-themed trysts conjured by that regrettable phrasing.
St. Louis, Missouri
Vinnie Valenza is a sandwich ambassador, and for the past decade his Blues City Deli has drawn hordes thanks to its ability to hit so many different styles and influences just right. New Orleans gets a run for its money thanks to the massive muffuletta and po-boys, which pair beautifully with the constant 12-bar soundtrack, which includes live music some nights. Were they the only great sandwiches on offer, Blues City would be perfect. But this place spreads its geographic wings even further, and never fudges the quality. There’s a taste of Chicago in the succulent Italian beef, midwestern mainstays like the juicy house-roasted roast beef, pastrami towers that would satisfy even the most ardent New Yorker, and a roster of Southern BBQ favorites like pulled pork and chicken. Usually, when a shop offers so many different options, it’s a recipe for disaster. Here, they’re all representative of the best of their style. And with the addition of a tiny pizza spot Melo’s in the back, this is a place that hits all the right notes. The blues may be on the speaker. But the overall feeling from eating at Blues City is joy.
Back in 2010, the sandwich shop once called Noble Pig put NW Austin on the food map with its homemade loaves and house-cured meats. But one restaurant could not sustain the city's desire for salty duck pastrami Reubens and crispy oyster po-boys. Now, two locations are packed with folks eager for a taste of Noble's wares, from the signature seared beef tongue layered with smoked green onions and a red pepper zip to the sweet mustard-covered fried bologna and the chorizo-and-egg sandwich whose cumin kick and relative lack of grease have made it the city's top breakfast sandwich. The addition of a new location has certainly reduced the need to drive an hour, as some are wont to do. And that's a great thing, because you're gonna be better off taking a nap than getting behind the wheel after this feast.
New Castle, Delaware
Look, we punch down at Delaware a lot. Blame Wayne Campbell. But one thing we can get behind, aside from increasingly lazy jokes by editors (like us) who grew up dreaming of our own Mirth Mobiles, is a destination-worthy sandwich. Delaware has a few, but none so succulent or praiseworthy as Ioannoni's. Hand-carved, slow-roasted beef is the de-facto star at this spot, where $15 or so will score you 21 massive inches of sandwich greatness (don’t worry, you can go much smaller). But at the risk of upsetting the entire population of Philly, this institution makes perhaps one of the best roast pork sandwiches you’ll ever have, tender and layered with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe. Were that not enough, the joint offers up eight varieties of chicken cutlet sandwiches -- from standard Parm to the Gi Gi’s Delight with rabe, roasted peppers, and fresh mozzarella -- and a bevy of grilled hoagies. Usually, when a place offers this many different specialty sandwiches (we haven’t even started in on the cheesesteaks), it means something’s out of focus. But Ioannoni’s does them all right. We're sorry, Delaware. Now can we have another napkin?
When chef David Mitchell opened his deli in 2008, he completely ran out of food on the first day. East Nashville, it seems, was hungry for all-natural, all-delicious ingredients made into beautiful sandwiches. In the ensuing near-decade, the market/restaurant has become an institution thanks to offerings like the now-legendary Asian flank steak, the clear breakout of the menu that went from a Monday-only special to a daily essential loaded with giardiniera and provolone. The spot also offers favorites like braised turkey & Brie with jalapeño cranberry relish, apples, and mustard on a hoagie and a monster of a smoked BBQ brisket, but it also caters to vegetarians, with options ranging from classic caprese to barbecue tofu with avocado, sprouts, pickled cucumber, and house-made sesame ginger dressing.
South Orange, New Jersey
In New Jersey, you can get a pork roll anywhere. Only at South Orange's Town Hall can you get the original Sloppy Joe, which has inspired the aforementioned Millburn Deli and countless others to aspire to greatness. It's not just a bunch of ground beef and ketchup. It's actually more akin to a triple-decker Reuben, with ham, tongue, and Swiss. If tongue makes you nervous, better not look at what goes into your go-to Manwich. Or just go with the steak sandwich or the best damn muffaletta north of the Mason-Dixon. Barring that, go with the classic Gobbler, which crams an entire Thanksgiving meal -- sides and all -- into a bun. That, too, gets sloppy. Everything here does. Have your sandwich and wear it, too.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Everyone knows the muffaletta is the king of New Orleans sandwiches (don't tell po-boys we said that). What is up for debate, however, is which place in New Orleans serves the finest specimen of this gargantuan stack of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, olive tapenade, and provolone on a sesame-topped loaf. Central Grocery may be the original, but the debate ends at Beard-winning chef Donald Link's Cochon Butcher, a wine bar/butcher counter combo that's got the city's best sandwich menu, muffaletta or otherwise (bacon melt, anyone?). Nothing can compare to the freshness of CB's house-cured meats, cheese, spicy olives, and soft, gloriously chewy bread. Geaux the minute you get to the city, and geaux often.
Ryan Santwire now runs three versions of his snack shack in Seattle, and after 21 years the lauded Caribbean destination doesn't need big-ass signage to be identified. You'll immediately be drawn to it -- like a less pervy Pepe Le Pew -- by intoxicating smells of caramelized onions and slow-roasted pork wafting out of the building and washing over the inevitable line outside. Sure, you might sit sandwich-less for up to an hour, but something this delicious is absolutely worth it. Try the Caribbean roast with marinated, fall-apart-tender pork shoulder, aioli, cilantro, and romaine lettuce on a sturdy Giuseppe roll that keeps half the meal from spilling onto your lap. Pair it with a Rainier (the Pacific NW's homegrown answer to PBR) and corn on the cob and it’ll be just like you're in the Caribbean. Except, you know, it's kind of hard to find Rainier in the Caribbean.
New Orleans, Louisiana
In sandwich-rich New Orleans, the argument over which place claims po-boy superiority can go on for days. But let's be frank here: Domilise's is very likely the best in the city, which places it among the best damn sandwiches in the country. The Uptown spot -- set up in an boxy, inconspicuous building with a bar and a full view of the owners working the fryer -- will very certainly have a line, but for once that line is well-earned, considering each and every shrimp or oyster po-boy is fried to order, and to perfection. The place even helps you avoid a difficult choice by letting you go half shrimp and half oyster on the same bun. Some may say it's not traditional. Those people are idiots: This place has been going for a century. At this point, everything here is a tradition.
Astoria, New York
There are more delis in New York than Rays who claim varying degrees of fame, so when we say that Sal, Kris & Charlie's makes perhaps one of the greatest sandwiches in a city that would give Dagwood a seizure, we mean business. One of the city's best deep cuts for food, this long-standing outer-borough deli (it doesn't even have a website!) is basically a bodega on 'roids. It's cheap. It's simple. And it's exactly what the sandwich world needs right now. Get the legendary Bomb, which, as the menu states, has everything. And that's not a classic case of NYC bravado skewing facts. It literally has more ingredients than the freezer at the Cheesecake Factory -- turkey, salami, ham, three types of cheese, mayo, LTO, and so, so many more meats, dressings, and accoutrements. If we listed them all, we'd get carpal tunnel. For these sandwich kings, and for the Bomb in particular, we all should be compelled to bend the knee.
Justin Brunson, the chef behind Masterpiece Deli, also owns one of Denver's most important restaurants (the acclaimed Old Major), and his culinary talents are equally showcased at this humble deli. One of the major feats of this Mile High shop is its versatility. The menu features a mouthwatering 12-hour-braised beef brisket smothered in a rich Taleggio fondue and served on a baguette. And damn it if Masterpiece's bland-as-hell-sounding roasted vegetable sandwich isn't one of the best sandwiches you'll ever eat, too. The flavors of the fresh zucchini, wild mushrooms, and piquillo peppers mesh gloriously with the hummus, a zesty tomato tapenade, and aged provolone on a baguette. Though the Cubano -- loaded with Black Forest ham and brined mojo pork and glued together with melted Swiss -- might be enough to tempt even the president of PETA over to the dark side.
Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Much like Cleveland legend Melt Bar and Grilled, this little shop in the idyllic, tiny lake town of Coeur D'Alene takes its grilled cheese to, well, extremes. But not, like, Mountain Dew Code Red extremes. That's just too much. Consider the mainstay Ultimate Meltz special, which manages to squeeze white Cheddar, mozzarella, fontina, provolone, goat, and Gorgonzola between two slices of bread, with the extra cheese getting crispy and crunchy as it seeps out onto the grill. But Meltz takes things to the next level with its rotating selection of mad-scientist grilled-cheese innovations that constantly change with the seasons and the chef's whims, with past creations like a curd-filled poutine sandwich seeming to have emerged from our (very Canadian) dreams and into reality.
Brooklyn, New York
Longshoremen frequented this Redhook sandwich shack -- opened by Italian immigrant Nicky Defonte in 1922 -- long before the waterside 'hood turned from windy no man's land to hipster playground. And the hulking sandwiches are still big enough to satisfy a gruff man o' the sea, even if the clientele is now cops and construction workers. It still opens at 6am when the move is its signature calorie bomb, the potatoes and egg sandwich, an intimidatingly thick mound of fluffy eggs and slips of starchy spuds. When lunch rolls around look to the Sinatra Special, which heaps rosy slices of roast beef with fried eggplant and mozz on a chewy sesame seed-studded hero. Or the Nicky Special -- named after the joint’s late, great patriarch -- which also deploys fried eggplant, along with thinly sliced salami, ham, capocollo, provolone, marinated mushrooms, and the signature "hot salad," a zippy mix of hot cherry peppers and pickled veg.
La Jolla, California
What was once a tiny fish shack founded and managed by teenage surfers -- seriously -- in Del Mar has over the course of 32 years evolved into one of the best markets in the seafood-crazed region. Now located on La Jolla's bustling Pearl Street, Pescador's an upscale seafood market with communal tables lined up in full view of the fish you will soon be inhaling. And while San Diego's famous fish tacos are on offer, the move at this sunny joint is decidedly breadier: the seafood torta. As at taco trucks, shrimp reigns supreme, but you're best going big in the form of the namesake El Pescador, which loads half of Nemo's besties -- two kinds of shrimp, house-smoked salmon, and buttery Dungeness crab – into the place's signature sourdough bun. And yeah, the tacos are great, too (so are entrees like grilled swordfish). But let's be real. You can get a great shrimp taco on every corner of SoCal. Dungeness crab tortas? Good luck, bruh.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The corned beef here is the stuff of legend, which gets the Reuben treatment piled high on the house-made Jewish rye, while the chopped liver and roasted turkey offer up all sorts of variations to the long lines of college students and sandwich pilgrims drawn like moths to a flame that smells suspiciously like somebody roasting the best beef you’ve ever had. Eating a Zingerman's sandwich is as essential to understanding why Michiganders are as paunchy and jolly as they are as coneys, pasties, and craft beer, and Zingerman’s has Michigan’s hordes in the palm of its hand... ironic, given it’s located in the palm of a state shaped like a mitten.
Lee's has survived 15 years in Atlanta, which in the restaurant realm puts it somewhere near immortal. Even crazier, as "hot new restaurants" have opened and closed, Lee's has managed to seemingly get more popular each year. How? It happens to make one of the finest variations of the humble bahni mi in the US. The bread is un-clone-ably crispy, chewy, and delicious, which makes sense being that it's a bakery and all. And all that goodness between the bun would be just a cherry on top if not for the flavor you get when the pickled veggies and tender pork start going together like they're slow-dancing at their middle-school homecoming dance. It's pure love.
Johns Island, South Carolina
Finally, we arrive at a southern general that we can all agree is great, and whose legacy is not marred in any terrible historical bullshit and who doesn't immediately make us think about the political divides of our nation. This Johns Island spot's legacy is one of incredible sandwich artistry forged in fat. The Southern General is like a meat-induced fever dream of a southern comfort restaurant where everything’s made in-house and nothing is simple. Each offering is the product of fine-tuning and inspired innovation, from the sweet tea-infused BBQ sauce that covers the pulled pork to a Cuban-inspired bánh mì with candied pork belly and sweet potato-garlic kimchi. The coup de grâce, though, might be the Southern Pot Roast, which packs an entire slow cooker’s worth of sirloin, veggies, and gravy into a hoagie roll smacked with local honey. And sure, if you’re looking for something simpler, you can get that too (go with the beer-battered shrimp po-boy)... but don’t sleep on the poutine, loaded here with beer-battered mozz curds.
It might bring to mind the bad taste left in your mouth after a certain Will Ferrell sitcom reboot, but Minneapolis chef Mike Ryan brings some serious sandwich thunder in the form of pastrami that has made even the most strident New Yorker grudgingly nod in admiration. It's not all classic deli fare -- more adventurous selections include a tuna confit on focaccia with preserved lemon and a smoked turkey ciabatta cleverly married with bacon, Medjool dates, and goat cheese. There's even a veggie option that pairs asparagus with piperade and black pepper-glazed fennel. But it's all capable of putting you under its spell (!) which is a much better joke than just about anything in a certain Will Ferrell flop.
Richmond's raising its profile as a destination for drinkers, but even the most ardent cocktail fan or follower of a horde of demonic, blood-spurting interplanetary demons needs a break and a great sandwich once in a while. Union Market offers that respite in spirit and one of the best sandwiches you or Oderus Urungus, for that matter, have ever had. Union Market strikes the perfect balance between comfort sandwiches and innovative flavor-building, with a hyperlocal approach to sourcing each and every ingredient. Each carefully constructed sandwich is slightly tweaked from expectation, from the pastrami sandwich (available in tempeh form) that balances the Russian dressing with kimchi to the French dip’s Sriracha-infused horseradish sauce. Perhaps the most inventively surprising sandwich, though, is the chicken tarragon, which turns grandma’s chicken salad on its head with the addition of spice, plum ginger jam, and crunchy chicken skins… one of the few chunks of flesh never simulated at a GWAR concert… yet.
Not to sound too Rockwellian, but when was the last time you hugged your butcher? Seriously. Her or she spends hours on end carving animals into deliciousness, and the best of the best will roast or smoke the best cuts in house and serve them between slices of bread. To that end, Underground Butcher is the best of the best, a place where they'll wrap raw cuts to go, but where you're advised to take a sandwich for the road. here's Texas-style brisket paired with decidedly un-Texas (but tasty!) fixin's of kimchi and whole-grain mustard. There's their house salami on a baguette with creamy Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, Dijon and aioli. There's a house-made hot dog on Fridays, but that's just not a sandwich debate we're prepared to wade into at the moment. You don't have to enter this place with a "thank you" card, but you might want to.