19 Incredible Sandwich Chains the Entire Country Needs
Sandwiches have changed as the world has gotten smaller. Global influences are finding their way between slices of bread. Regional tastes are now national trends. And as the once-humble sandwich shop diaspora now includes fancy chef-driven sandwiches to go alongside old-school delis and grab-and-go counters, so too has the sandwich chain game been elevated.
When one thinks of a sandwich chain, thoughts immediately go toward big dogs like Subway, Jersey Mike's, and Jimmy Johns. Maybe Great Harvest or Panera enter the mix, or nostalgia pangs steer you toward Potbelly's secret menu. But there's so, so much more out there. The restaurant chains on this list represent the best multi-location bread bombs in the US. Some are old-school regional chains beloved by generations. Some are genuine farm-to-table pioneers. Many cater to the comfort foods of the past, while some twist tradition into wonderful new creations. One thing they all have in common: If you see one opening in your town, it's cause to re-think your lunch plans.
Where they are: Delaware, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington State, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C
To quote former Thrillist staff writer/Delaware native Lee Breslouer, "There are three things about my home state that I'm proud of: Dogfish Head, the beaches, and the Bobbie. And Ryan Phillippe." The Bobbie -- Capriotti's big-time dish -- alone has chiseled the Delaware chain into the pantheon of American sandwich greats. And while any Capriotti faithful will tell you all the sandwiches are superb, it's the Bobbie's that truly sticks its neck out. A Thanksgiving-ish combo of stuffing, roast turkey, and cranberry (served year-round), the sub has changed the lives of the those who were lucky enough to get one in their gullet… a number that's expanding relatively quickly, as Capriotti's has now spread coast-to-coast in nearly 20 states. No offense to Ryan Phillippe (whose performance in I Know What You Did Last Summer remains terribly underrated), but the Bobbie is still Delaware's favorite son.
Where they are: All over Wisconsin and two stores in Illinois
Despite its dominance in the Midwest and complete lack of knowledge of Springsteen's unreleased b-sides, Cousins actually has East Coast roots. It was founded by a couple of Jersey transplants in 1972, during a bout of separation anxiety from the beloved Italian sub shops they left behind in the Garden State. They done good. Cousins is now a Wisconsin institution, because a fantastic sandwich is a fantastic sandwich no matter where you live, and when you combine the grand Jersey sub tradition with the undeniable power of Wisconsin cheeses and meats, you're on track for a fantastic gut bomb. The bread that they bake daily doesn't hurt, either. Neither do the cheese curds, which not surprisingly go great with the requisite cheesesteak.
Where they are: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
One of the most reliable purveyors in the northeast, D'Angelo's offers more than 40 hot and cold choices, and is most famous for their steak and cheese sub and wraps. Brian J. McLaughlin and Jay Howland opened the original, then-called Ma Riva's Sub Shop, in Dedham Massachusetts, 1967. It was renamed Angelo Sub Shop at some point, and the “D” was tacked on in 1978, which rumor has it stood for delicious. Makes sense. Fun fact: they even serve foot-long lobster rolls for $22.99, an absolute steal if you do the long division and/or have ever been charged $30 for what's basically a buttery crustacean slider in New York.
Where they are: Texas
In the late 'aughts -- amid a recession and a subsequent interest in cramming fancy meals between starches and calling them "chef-driven sandwiches" -- savvy Texas upstart East Hampton saw the demand for fancier sandwiches and scaled it. The result is a chef-driven sandwich joint minus the chef, a place where meticulously curated ingredients net you incredible bread bombs that include everything from hot-chicken riffs to lobster rolls, chicken parm hoagies, Italian subs, and delectably pressed signature Cubanos. This is a joint that lost its place on our annual list of the nation's best sandwich shops not because the quality waned, but because its expansion into a mini chain disqualified it from inclusion. It's a small price to pay if it means an increased chance of finding the White Truffle BLT with tenderloin, bacon, and heirloom tomato jam outside of Texas.
Where they are: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Colorado
The Midwest loves its sandwiches, and Erbert & Gerbert's has become a staple for many institutions of higher learning since first opening in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1987 -- and as you can see from their presence in Texas and Arizona, they're starting to parlay their sandwich prowess into an even wider footprint. Their signature move is scooping out the soft middle (or "guts") of the fresh-baked bread to attain a more optimal bread-to-filling ratio. But lest you worry about being denied the carbs you rightfully paid for, they give you the guts on top of your sandwich, and said guts play quite nicely with their excellent soups. Go with The Spartan, a chicken-bacon-Cheddar number with Peppadew mustard and Hellmann's, plus a side of broccoli Cheddar soup.
Where they are: New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC
While Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A slug it out for chicken-sandwich supremacy, master NY restauranteur David Chang has been quietly touring a different challenger to the throne across the eastern US. Here, thighs are brined and marinated in a habanero puree that’s later coated in buttermilk, fried golden, then piled onto a Martin's potato roll with pickles and butter. There's a less-spicy version with chicken fingers in the middle, plus buckets of bone-in fried-chicken bliss. It's a simple menu packing explosive flavors. Even more interesting is the expansion plan: Fuku has roots in NY and Boston, but it's also been rolling out to concession stands at stadiums like University of Michigan's Big House and DC's Audi Field. Basically, Chang's bringing Fuku to the crowds, then turning around and watching them come to him. Such is the power of a perfect chicken sandwich... and one you don't have to have conflicting emotions about.
Where they are: Washington and the Bay Area
Like so many sustainability-minded restaurants, Homegrown proudly flaunts a list of the local farms, creameries, and roasters that provides its goods. Unlike most of those places, this is a counter-service joint trafficking largely in sandwiches, and oh what sandwiches they are. Here, the humble steak sandwich is grass-fed and loaded with greens and blue cheese, pastrami is smoked in-house and covered in white Cheddar, and vegetarians get extra love in the form of a succulent broccoli melt and a smashed chickpea number piled with beets, avocado, and lemon harissa tahini. Salads get just as much love, with a matcha chicken avocado creation standing out thanks to the incorporation of warm ancient greens. Even the humble bacon, egg & cheese is highlighted by applewood bacon and roasted garlic aioli. It's fast-ish food you can feel really, really good about, unless you go nuts and eat way, way too much of it, which is a distinct possibility.
Where they are: Arizona, California, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Virginia
When Lee's launched in 1983 in San Jose, California, it was just a little chain of shops catering to areas with large Vietnamese communities desperate for a good banh mi. Fast forward 35 years and Lee's is still doing the same thing it's always done: making fresh-baked baguettes and piling them with pate and pork in various forms (cured, roll, meatballs, grilled), sardines, and delicious, fresh daikon, all on the cheap (there are also "European" sandwiches on croissants that are more expensive, but why would you do that?). Today Lee's is the biggest Vietnamese sandwich chain in the world, and the rest of America's palate has gotten a taste for banh mi. For many, Lee's was an introduction to banh mi. Its expansion across the US is pure comfort.
Where they are: California
The only way Lemonade could be more Californian is if it hired Anthony Kedis to sing to it while it got calf implants. And according to our resident fast-casual food expert Kevin Alexander, it's fantastic (read Kevin's full Lemonade review here). Sure, there's a marketplace area with salads (expect so, so much kale), but the true stars here are the sandwiches, which include the showstopping Turkey "El Tijuana," a hand-chopped pile of turkey loaded up with ripe avocado, jalapeño aioli, jicama slaw, and queso fresco. It was heralded as "like a remix of a remix of a torta, club sandwich, and Memphis-style chopped pork." That alone should fill seats, but this is a place so committed to freshness that its menu changes 8x annually so everything's in season. It remains to be seen whether that intense seasonality -- and the correspondingly higher price point -- will fly as the restaurant expands to Texas and beyond. But one things clear: Lemonade is the pinnacle of fast-casual California cuisine.
Where they are: Ohio
The gourmet grilled cheese made a play for comfort-food dominance a decade ago. And it won: You can now get great grilled cheese sandwiches at food trucks and fancy restaurants alike. And while this might have left many a latchkey kid's mom feeling under-valued (maybe you should have used Manchego instead of Singles, Mrs. Dietrich!), it's been a wonderful boon for the trend of eating like a fancy toddler in restaurants. At the top of the gooey heap is Melt, a Cleveland institution that whips up borderline ridiculous grilled cheeses stacked with everything from pierogis to pulled chicken. And though Melt -- which offers 25% off for life if you get a tattoo incorporating the Melt logo -- seems content to keep its ever-expanding footprint exclusive to the Buckeye State, it is expanding nonetheless. Hell, they even opened an outpost in amusement park Cedar Point, though eating a 2lb grilled cheese before hitting one of the world's largest roller coasters seems dubious at best.
Where they are: Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania
Like its cousin in Cleveland, Melt Shop specializes in delicious grilled cheeses ranging from a simple Cheddar/American classic to a Muenster truffle mashup. But it's when you move to the "melts" section that things get amped up. Think seasonal offerings packed with fried chicken, hot honey, and pimento cheese; or a smoked brisket/chimichurri explosion that's basically like somebody opened a Brazilian churrascaria in BBQ country and made sandwiches with the leftovers. Yes, you're in New York, so don't shy away from a grilled cheese gussied up like a bowl of wings. And definitely get tots loaded with homemade cheese sauce. It's not like you came here to avoid dairy.
Where they are: California, plus new locations in Houston
When Mendocino Farms took up shop in a failed Starbucks in LA way back in 2005, the husband-and-wife owners simply sought to up Los Angeles's sandwich game with carefully sourced ingredients, attention to detail, and a commitment to high-end takes on classics at an affordable price. Nearly 15 years later they've evolved to… doing just that, only at way more locations, including a couple new satellites in Texas. This is a place that has cultivated a veritable religion around their "Not So Fried" chicken sandwich topped with what is basically fancy Rice Krispies, where pork belly banh mi reigns supreme and Brazilian-style steak comes covered in chimichurri on a pretzel. These are next-level sandwiches -- and salads… it's California -- where every ingredient seems to be chosen with the utmost care. A place where eaters of any walk -- it's friendly to vegans and gluten-averse eaters -- can feel like they've indulged without tipping the scales or worrying about overdraft protection.
Where they are: New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey
Moe's is like a better, friendlier version of certain other much larger and more ubiquitous fast food sub shops. New Hampshire has been keeping it all to itself for 60 years, but the chain has recently started spreading its wings further afield. Cheese salesman Phil "Moe" Pagano founded the first location in Portsmouth in 1959 on the strength of his mom's sandwich recipe -- mild salami and provolone with tons of Italian veggies, spices, and a bit of olive oil. It's still the flagship sandwich, and although they've expanded the menu a touch it's still pretty streamlined with an emphasis on doing the little things well. Pro tip: ask for the spicy oil to take your sub to the next level.
Where they are: Illinois, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota
Yes, Portillo's is a rare chain that specializes in hot dogs and sausages. Does this mean its inclusion means we're officially taking an editorial stance to say that hot dogs and sausages are sandwiches? Nice try. Portillo's also specializes in the Italian beef, another Chicago favorite that eats like a fatter, saucier, more gregarious version of LA's French dip. As in Chicago, you can get it dry or dipped in gravy. They'll even stuff a sausage in it to really mess with the "but is it a sandwich?" crowd. Portillo's is basically a Chicago street food Disneyland -- a place where you can have your Italian beef with a side of dragged-through-the-garden dogs, or, if you prefer, a fried flounder sandwich. Pro tip: the chocolate cake is the stuff of legend, and the legend gets even better when it's ground up into a milkshake.
Where they are: New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC
Meeting somewhere at the confluence of a Parisian cafe, a London fashion district coffee shop, Starbucks, and Great Harvest, Pret is an England-based shop that has been aggressively expanding in the US. The chain specializes in bistro-style sandwiches, salads, pastries, soups, and coffee, all with an eye toward healthier choices and fresh ingredients. And while ultra-English offerings like coronation chicken didn't cross the pond, they've made their name with such offerings as a cucumber-topped tuna salad, balsamic chicken & avocado, and a take on the Thanksgiving sandwich that won't leave you in a coma. It's a place that manages to feel upscale while catering to the grab-and-go crowd. Oh, and it's been doing avocado toast since before it became cool, then not cool, then the norm.
Where they are: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia
In the early '30s, Joe Primanti and his brothers opened up a little sandwich joint in Pittsburgh's blue-collar-as-hell Strip District, where they designed the perfect work-time lunch: a meal (bread, fries, coleslaw, meat) in the palm of your hand. Flash-forward 80 years, three generations, and six Lombardi Trophies later, and the corner shop for steel workers has turned into one of the Steel City's most enduring icons this side of Fred Rogers. If any sandwich has a true cult following, it's the Primanti (and by the way that's pronounced with a hard "A-as-in-apple" sound). When people are willing to shill out $100 to get one air-mailed, it's obvious there's some gastro-magic happening. While its expansion into spots outside its native Western PA has been slow, recent outreach into different states have fans of the 'Burgh's Almost Famous sandwich hoping, dreaming, and yearning, that one day, they'll be able to sip an IC Light over a few thick slabs of cheesesteak all over the country. I mean, if Dock Ellis can pitch a no-hitter on acid, anything should be possible, right?
Where they are: Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
Look, we're not trying to knock gas station sandwiches: There's a time and a place for a brick-hard ham sandwich whose packaging has had the expiration date re-written three times and whose cheese has entered a new chemical state between solid, gas, and liquid. But Sheetz, well, Sheetz is different. It's not just that the place serves serviceable sandwiches made to order while you gas up. The cultishly beloved 24/7 chain serves some of the best chain sandwiches in the country, period. Everything is customizable via touch-and-go order screens, with literally thousands of combination options. Whether you're in the mood for a breakfast BEC bagel loaded with fire-roasted tomato sauce (they call it the Walker Breakfast Ranger), a messy meatball sub, or freshly fried popcorn chicken on a bun (call it a makeshift po'boy), Sheetz has you covered day and night. And because it's a convenience store, your chip pairings will be on point too.
Where they are: Texas and Oklahoma
Fact: The idea that you can’t get a good cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia is inherently bullshit. And this chain proves that you can actually go far off the South Philly script and still do it right. Yes, they do an authentic sandwich wit, covered in Whiz. But they also bring a Texas flair to sandwiches, which basically means that they put queso on thin-sliced steak -- an addition that makes way, way too much sense, given that queso is basically Whiz's country cousin -- and serve their sandwiches with chips and salsa. Funny what can happen when you challenge the notion that it’s impossible to grill steak and onions in a different zip code.
Where they are: 36 states… use their restaurant finder here
When you decide to give your restaurant a question for a name, you better make sure there's a damn good answer waiting inside the doors. The owners of Which Wich deliver by offering a staggeringly customizable menu with options from French dips to Sriracha tuna. Foodstuff aside, Which Wich stakes part of its fame on a novel ordering system -- you use a Sharpie to place your order on a sandwich bag, you can then write/draw on the bag and tack it to the wall. And the place has a good-vibey, peace and love, smiley-face aesthetic that people without pitch-black souls probably really dig. The DIY way of placing orders allows customers to dutifully choose every ingredient in their sandwich, making this a picky eater's haven. And it's worked… the last entry on our list is also the biggest, now with more than 400 locations in 36 states, officially surpassing Potbelly while still seeming like a relatively mom & pop operation. Bottom line: it's just unique enough to thrive along similar sandwich joints... and who doesn't like to write their name on stuff, then stick it on a public wall?
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