Food & Drink

NYC's 20 Best International Sandwiches

Published On 03/23/2015 Published On 03/23/2015
Courtesy of Bolivian Llama Party

NYC is a global city, and that means 1) nearly 40% of the population wasn’t even born in the United States, and 2) we've got DELICIOUS sandwiches from all over the world. Here are the 20 best of them, listed by country/region.

Dan Foley/Thrillist

ARMENIA: Bastirma with labne

What is it? Bastirma is an Armenian salt-cured beef, lingering in a flavor limbo between pastrami and beef jerky. Labne is a strained yogurt that possesses the buttery soft texture of cream cheese with a robust and unique flavor. Together, they are Captain Planet! Or, um, just delicious.

Where to get it: Kalustyan’s Deli (address and info)
Located above a furiously authentic grocery/spice-market, Kalustyan’s seems almost out of place in the frat party of Murray Hill. That doesn't stop them from running a magical deli, though, where many a Westerner consumes their first (and often not last) combination of bastirma and labne.

Courtesy of Noah Fecks

AUSTRALIA: Kangaroo burger 

What is it? Designated for the “kangatarians” among us, a kangaroo burger is, in fact, made from the annoying, hopping marsupials that plague our neighbors from down-under. It's a departure from all you know about the typical beef burger, far leaner and gamier and, made properly, it can be a worthy and exotic culinary experience.

Where to get it: The Thirsty Koala (address and info)
One of the few places to get real ground australus (the proper name for kangaroo meat, as determined by the kangaroo meat industry), the Thirsty Koala offers several kangaroo meat entrees. The signature is the “Kangaroo Burger with the Lot,” a ‘roo patty topped with bacon, cheese, pineapple, a fried egg, and the unorthodox beetroot, contrasting it’s gamey flavor with the savory, the sour, and the sweet.
 

BOLIVIA: Sandwich de chola 

What is it? Named after the lovely culinary-minded women (the cholitas) who serve them, the chola features succulent roasted pork loin coated in panko, cumin, and an acidic, vegetable-loaded marinade (known as escabeche) stuffed between two pieces of bread.

Where to get it: Bolivian Llama Party (address and info)
To be fair, the chefs of the Bolivian Llama Party are not purists when it comes to re-creating this Cochabamba specialty; they implement several elements of American BBQ, including brown sugar and smoked paprika, pickles, and a unique cheese-aoili mixture called quesillo. They make the cut, however, because the soul of the chola still remains intact. (And also because their sandwiches are so very fat.)

Courtesy of Noah Fecks

CAMBODIA: Cambodian sandwich

What is it? Essentially Vietnamese bánh mì loaded with a different team of proteins, Cambodian sandwiches are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, with outposts beginning to pop up in New York and LA. The debatable origins of this sandwich have led some to believe it to be an American innovation, but no one's 100% on this thing.

Where to get it: Num Pang (address and info)
Wherever it's truly from, the spicy, sweet, sour, savory, salty sandwiches of Num Pang -- with the eclectic Khmer-esque choices (like “Pulled Duroc Pork” and “Ginger  Barbecue Brisket”) -- have led to no less than six locations in New York City since its opening in 2009.

Flickr/Nosher Hungryman

CHINA: Scallion pancake

What is it? Scallion pancakes may not seem like sandwiches at first-glance, their deep-fried, flat flour shell appearing to be more of a pizza than a sandwich. Look closer. You will soon realize it is, in reality, a giant flatbread sandwich, stuffed with saliva-inducing roast pork and Peking duck (and, of course, scallions). A righteous sandwich ride, indeed.

Where to get it: Prosperity Dumpling (address and info)
Everything that’s right with Manhattan’s Chinatown, Prosperity is a shockingly delicious, outrageously cheap hole-in-the-wall with a scallion offering that's dripping with the proper amount of grease -- no more, no less. Note: come in with a plan to sit elsewhere, as there are a grand total of four uncomfortable stools in the entire restaurant.

Flickr/Nicole Tarazona

COLOMBIA: Arepa rellena

What is it? A hockey puck-sized ground maize creation, designed to carry meat, cheese, and vegetable stuffing like an edible pocket. Their true power, however, is their invulnerability to sogginess, even when confronted with the juiciest of meats.

Where to get it: The Original Mama’s Empanadas (address and info)
Unlike every bogus Manhattan pizza shop boasting the title “Original,” this is the legit, O.G. empanada house, straight out of the Colombian epicenter of Jackson Heights. Since its inception, Mama’s has not strayed from its honest, home-style arepa recipe, always served alongside a surplus of their addictive-ass ambrosial green sauce.

Courtesy of Ricardo Palafox

CUBA: Cuban sandwich

What is it? Formed from a loaf of Cuban bread, spread with mustard, and piled with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, and pickles, the flavor of a Cuban hits you in all the right places.

Where to get it: Coppelia (address and info)
Why the words “Cuban” and “24-hour diner” aren't featured in the same sentence more often is a societal failure that we want no part of, so here you go: you can get an awesome Cuban at 24-hour diner Coppelia. Doing everything right with its Cuban sandwich, from the quality of the dual-pig meats covered in rich Swiss, to the tangy mustard mixed with the oh-so-necessary crunch of pickles.

Courtesy of Jim Franco

FRANCE: Saucisson

What is it? The saucisson is king amongst the French baguette sandwiches, a cured pork sausage that's layered along a fresh baguette, smeared in fresh butter and sprinkled with a tiny gherkin pickle called a cornichon.

Where to get it: Maison Kayser (address and info)
Seeing pre-wrapped sandwiches in a display cooler is normally a red light for any sandwich epicurean, but Maison Kayser is the exception to the rule, offering fresh-baked baguettes lined with fine imported saucisson. The Rosette is the all-star in the Maison Kayser roster, featuring Rosette de Lyon saucisson, hailing from the lush Southern region of Lyon.

Courtesy of Alexandros Lambrovassilis

GREECE: Gyro

What is it? There's something undeniably seductive about watching chunks of meat fall from a magnificent vertical spit. The Greeks knew that. They also knew that this meat should find its home in a fluffy pita, alongside fresh cut onions, tomato, and a creamy tzatziki (yogurt) sauce to top things off.

Where to get it: BZ Grill (address and info)
To open a Greek restaurant in Astoria, you've gotta have a damn good recipe; to post a sign above it that reads “New York’s Best Gyro,” you've gotta have brass cajones. BZ Grill has both, and they manifest themselves in the pork gyro, where a pig’s worth of succulent pork shavings are stuffed into a warm pita with just a dash of tzatziki, tomatoes, and onions.
 

INDIA: Paratha wrap

What is it? Paratha bread is simultaneously soft and flaky, flavorful and subtle -- something of a next-level tortilla that lends itself to a near-limitless range of fillings.

Where to get it: The Kati Roll Company (address and info)
Kati Roll has created a locale that's as suitable for a quick and proper family lunch as it is a late-night energy booster for celebratory college students. Their fillings include everything from lamb and egg and lentils, to beets and peanuts, to Indian farmer’s cheese cubes and spicy pickle -- keeping your taste buds on their toes (buds?) with each Kati Roll excursion.

Courtesy of Eataly

ISRAEL: Challah sandwich

What is it? The definitive aspect of the challah sandwich is the challah bread, the brilliance of which is understood at the moment your teeth sink through its crispy outer layer and enter into the gooey, pillowy-soft insides. Within this chosen bread lies an open-ended spectrum of delicious fillings, with the sole caveat that these fillings remain kosher.

Where to get it: Zizi Limona (address and info)
There's a dearth of substantial brunch breakfast sandwiches in NYC, which makes Zizi Limona’s brunch sammies all the more impressive. Somehow, using only eggs, “charred veggies,” and harissa (a chili pepper paste hailing from Tunisia), Zizi creates one of the most subtle and intriguing breakfast sandwiches in the city.
 

ITALY: Italian prime rib 

What is it? Step one: fresh-baked Italian bread. Step two: load it with a stupid amount of superior prime rib. Step three: drizzle with high-end olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Finish.

Where to get it: Eataly (address and info)
Fresh squid ink pasta, pistachio gelato made in-house daily, fat fillets of wild salmon, and a stocked wine dungeon are just some of the factors that make Eataly Manhattan’s definitive Italian market. For the sandwich lover, the steak-grade prime rib, drizzled in imported olive oil, is among the best you will have here in New York.

Flickr/Yun Huang Yong

MALAYSIA: Kaya toast 

What is it? If “dessert sandwich” isn’t a term, it should be -- especially given the existence of the hyper-addictive Malaysian kaya toast. These mini-sandwiches are sugar-loaded white bread concoctions stuffed with an alien green coconut jam ooze known as “kaya,” the Malaysian word for “rich.”

Where to get it: Pasar Malam (address and info)
Malaysian for “night market,” this ornate eatery in Williamsburg takes great pains to strive for Malay integrity in all aspects of their cuisine. As such, its kaya toast is the realest of deals and bound to go all-too-fast (it’s best to order two... maybe three).

Flickr/bolbolaan

MEXICO: Cemita 

What is it? Not to be confused with its brash younger brother, the torta, the cemita is a sesame-topped egg bread sandwich hailing from the Southern coastal city of Puebla, Mexico and containing a plethora of glorious Mexican ingredients: jalapeño and chipotle peppers, red chile sauce, avocado, and that buttery soft Oaxaca cheese, among others.

Where to get it: Don Panchito (address and info)
This food truck -- featuring a lovable, mustachioed mariachi-hat mascot -- serves a quality and authentic array of Mexican fare at the crux of Bedford and Metropolitan in Williamsburg. None of the cemitas will disappoint, but the off-menu (!!!) cemita lengua (made of surprisingly delicious cow tongue) is the move here. Also: Don Panchito really never, ever closes, making it the ideal lunch, dinner, or 5am drunchie snack locale.
 

MIDDLE EAST: Falafel sandwich 

What is it? Fried, smashed chickpea balls grace a pita and -- along with just a few sandwiches on this list -- it falls into the healthy category. Likewise vegan-friendly, these sammies are usually topped with creamy tahini (formed from a Middle Eastern sesame paste), along with a slew of spicy and sour additions.

Where to get it: Oasis (address and info)
Falafel is never known for being expensive, but Oasis manages to produce the dopest of the dope falafel for the downright absurd price of four dollars a pop (up from three dollars in 2014). When you taste the carefully calculated fusion of fried chickpeas, homemade tahini, pickles, red cabbage, and a spicy red sauce, you'll start using phrases like "carefully calculated fusion," too.
 

PUERTO RICO: Tripleta

What is it? For those of you who don’t habla español, tripleta means “triple,” referring to the number of meat variations included in this carnivorous Puerto Rican street food. Roasted pork, ham, and steak are the usual suspects, although occasionally chicken is subbed out for one of the original three. Tripletas are typically covered in melted Swiss and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and mayonnaise.

Where to get it: Latin Kitchen NYC (address and info)
To be fair, you can’t really go wrong when you stuff three different meats into a sandwich, but Latin Kitchen gets the nod for its sheer portability (it comes from a food truck), quality of meat, and homemade, tangy mayo that allows the whole beast to stick together.

Flickr/LexnGer

SCANDINAVIA: Nordic sandwich

What is it? As many a Nordic tradition involves snatching up first-rate swimming beasts and smoking them into oblivion, it should come as no surprise that a Nordic sandwich is composed of such things, loaded into a baguette, often served open-faced and, like everything else in the Scandinavian region, cold.

Where to get it: Nordic Preserves (address and info)
Located inside the Fish & Wildlife Company on Essex, this sandwich shop boasts a seafaring lineup of what might be your only Nordic sandwich option in town. The choice offering is the Nordic, constructed from nova lox, traditionally cured, and artistically covered in black lumpfish caviar and smetana (a European sour cream), with pico de gallo, vegetables, and cilantro.
 

SPAIN: Bocadillo

What is it? The commonality is the open-faced barra de pan (baguette) -- after that, the ingredients vary depending on region, ranging from calamares (squid) to potato tortilla, to lomo (cured pork lion).

Where to get it: Despaña (address and info)
This humble Jackson Heights eatery/butcher shop/winery/several other things does a “Picante” that's a fantastic introduction to the bocadillo culture -- aioli-spread bread extracting the essence of the choice chorizo picante, paired with Mahón cheese, and topped off with spicy piparras peppers/tomatoes.

Courtesy of Jonathan Hernandez

VENEZUELA: Patacon sandwich

What is it? This traditional Venezuelan recipe trashes the “bread” factor and instead implements the splendor of fried, pressed plantains, called “patacones.”  Not only are these avocado-loaded bombs delicious, they're also gluten-free and paleo-approved, so all can soak in their majestic flavor.

Where to get it: Patacon Pisao (address and info)
Though Patacon Pisao began as a humble food truck peddling patacones in Queens, you can now experience this tantalizing eatery in three locations around the city in the form of the “Paisa Patacon,” which incorporates chunks of grilled carne asada and chorizo sausage.

Courtesy of Scott Wong

VIETNAM: Bánh mì

What is it? While East and Southeast Asia are sparse in the traditional sandwich categories, Vietnam stands as a rare exception, largely due to French colonialism, which introduced the Vietnamese to the fundamental ingredients of baguette and mayonnaise. The bánh mì was the byproduct of this, a fusion sandwich that is natively Vietnamese, featuring pork belly, pickled vegetables, cucumber, and cilantro on a French baguette with mayo.

Where to get it: Joju (address and info)
Don’t let the cutesy interior fool you -- the chefs at Joju are punctilious with their sandwiches. It's rare to discover a bánh mì that so effectively balances all five tastes in mind-meltingly perfect harmony, while upping the ante with chipotle mayo and a runny fried egg served atop the already saturated baguette.

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Dan Foley is a freelance writer, world traveler, and lover of sandwiches. Find him at newyorksandwichproject.com and @nysandwichpro.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Kalustyan's Deli 123 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016 (Murray Hill)

Located above a furiously authentic grocery/spice-market, Kalustyan’s seems almost out of place in the frat party of Murray Hill. Doesn't stop it from being a magical deli, though, where many a Westerner consumes his or her first (and often not last) combination of bastirma and labne.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. The Thirsty Koala 35-12 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY 11105 (Astoria)

This Australian joint is one of the few places around that you can get real ground kangaroo meat, which is offered up in the form of several different entrees. Go with its signature Kangaroo Burger that features a ‘roo patty topped with bacon, cheese, pineapple, a fried egg, and the unorthodox beetroot, contrasting its gamey flavor with the savory, the sour, and the sweet.

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3. Bolivian Llama Party 165 Banker St, Brooklyn, NY 11222 (Dumbo)

This food truck favorite in DUMBO offers Bolivian tradition and culture through comfort foods like sandwich de Chola.

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4. Num Pang Sandwich Shop 148 W 48 St, New York, NY 10036 (Midtown)

Num Pang is an NYC mini-chain doling out modern variations on the classic Viet-Cambodian lunch staple, banh mi. The Midtown outpost offers their signature take on the sandwich (traditional pork pate can be swapped out for grilled khmer sausage, barbecue brisket, or grilled cauliflower, among others), plus a solid variety of green salads and spicy vegetable sides and soups.

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5. Prosperity Dumpling 46 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002 (Chinatown)

Prosperity is a shocking delicious, outrageously cheap hole-in-the-wall with a scallion offering that's dripping with the proper amount of grease, no more, no less. Note: Come in with a plan to sit elsewhere, as there are a grand total of four uncomfortable stools in the entire restaurant.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Original Mama's Empanadas 8505 Northern Blvd, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 (Queens)

Unlike every bogus Manhattan pizza shop boasting the title “Original,” this is the legit, O.G. empanada house, straight out of the Colombian epicenter of Jackson Heights. Since its inception, Mama’s has not strayed from its honest, home-style arepa recipe, always served alongside a surplus of their addictive-ass ambrosial green sauce.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Coppelia 207 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011 (Chelsea)

Named for a Havana ice cream shop, this 24/7 "traditional Cuban luncheonette" from the Yerba Buena chef is outfitted Caribbean-style, with a large marble bar sporting spinning stools, and a beautiful stained glass window near the kitchen. The eats are designed for the post-Meatpacking group, with Cuban classics like ceviche, fried cheese balls, and empanadas ready to satisfy even the most aggressive of 4am appetites.

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8. BZ Grill 2702 Astoria Blvd, Astoria, NY 11102 (Astoria)

To open a Greek restaurant in Astoria, you've gotta have a damn good recipe; to post a sign above it that reads “New York’s Best Gyro,” you've gotta have brass cajones. BZ Grill has both, and they manifest themselves in the pork gyro, where a pig’s worth of succulent pork shavings are stuffed into a warm pita with just a dash of tzatziki, tomatoes, and onions.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. The Kati Roll Company 99 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012

Kati Roll has created a locale that's as suitable for a quick and proper family lunch as it is a late-night energy booster for celebratory college students. Their fillings include everything from lamb and egg and lentils, to beets and peanuts, to Indian farmer’s cheese cubes and spicy pickle -- keeping your taste buds on their toes (buds?) with each Kati Roll excursion.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Zizi Limona 129 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

The food Zizi Limona isn't so much Mediterranean as much as it's a combination of the distinct cuisines of the Middle East. The menu is meant to be shared and as such, it's split into three different categories, or "Zi's"; small Zi's like falafel and charred hummus work well as appetizers, while classic Zi's like shakshuka and shawarma are a familiar comfort alongside the large Zi's -- lamb kebab, chicken tagine, and five-hour braised short ribs with freekah risotto. The Williamsburg spot is tucked away from the main drag on Havemayer and South 1st.

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11. Eataly 200 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010 (Chelsea)

This massive food emporium in Chelsea has all of your Italian food cravings covered, from prosciutto, mozzerella, and other panini-necessary ingredients, to olive oils, to pastas and sauces, to coffee and desserts.

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12. Pasar Malam 208 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

This Malaysian spot in Williamsburg is overflowing with extremely innovative eats. Head in for the s'mores roti, Ais, soft-shell crab ragu, and a drink called the Michael Jackson. Get it all.

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13. Don Panchito Bedford Ave and Metropolitan Ave, New York, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

This food truck -- featuring a lovable, mustachioed mariachi-hat mascot -- serves a quality and authentic array of Mexican fare at the crux of Bedford and Metropolitan in Williamsburg. None of the cemitas will disappoint, but the off-menu (!!!) cemita lengua (made of surprisingly delicious cow tongue) is the move here. Also: Don Panchito really never, ever closes, making it the ideal lunch, dinner, or 5am drunchie snack locale.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
14. Oasis 161 N 7th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (Williamsburg)

Falafel is never known for being expensive, but Oasis manages to produce the dopest of the dope falafel for the downright absurd price of four dollars a pop (up from three dollars in 2014). When you taste the carefully calculated fusion of fried chickpeas, homemade tahini, pickles, red cabbage, and a spicy red sauce, you'll start using phrases like "carefully calculated fusion," too.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
15. Nordic Preserves Fish & Wildlife Company 120 Essex St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Located inside the Fish and Wildlife Company on Essex, this sandwich shop boasts a sea-faring lineup of what might be your only Nordic sandwich option in town. The choice offering is the Nordic, constructed from nova lox, traditionally cured, and artistically covered in black lumpfish caviar and Smetana (a European sour cream), with pico de gallo, vegetables, and cilantro.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
16. Despaña 86-17 Northern Blvd, Queens, NY 11372 (Queens)

This humble Jackson Heights eatery/butcher shop/winery/several other things is a jack of all trades. Pick up some wine (or have a tasting), chow down on tasty spanish fare, or purchase a variety of authentic Spanish products that are tough to find elsewhere.

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17. Patacon Pisao 139 Essex St, New York, NY 10002 (Queens)

This food truck turned restaurant has been serving Queens the best of Venezuelan cuisine since 2005, including their plantains, which have been raved about by everyone from locals to the New York Times.

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18. JoJu 83-25 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373 (Queens)

This Queens spot takes Vietnamese cuisine up a notch by adding fries, creating favorites like Banh Mi fries and Kimchi fries. Try the loaded fries: We love banh mi. We love French fries. And this Queens hangout ingeniously COMBINES THE TWO by garnishing crunchy potatoes with classic Vietnamese sandwich fixin's (pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, and jalapeños), spicy mayo, and a zingy house-made green sauce. Oh, and you can can top it all off with an optional (only in name) fried egg.

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