Food & Drink

The Best Sandwich Shops in NYC

Katz's Delicatessen
Katz's Delicatessen | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Katz's Delicatessen | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Traditional, gussied-up, deconstructed or reinvented: you know a sandwich when you see one. The perennial school lunch staple, picnic provision, DIY treat and restaurant feat is essentially something smushed between two slices of bread, but it’s oh so much more. The simplicity of the form is carte blanche for creativity, and since New York City is teeming with people simultaneously hungry for innovation and nostalgic for the classics, we have sandwich shops slinging a massive range of interpretations.

Our best local sandwich purveyors come correct and honor the foundation of the category.  That doesn’t mean they’re simply slapping baloney and cheese on white, nor does it mean they even specialize in sandwiches, per se. It means that they’re straightforward while considering each sandwich element to serve you a thoughtful construction. Each location has a great bang for the buck, serves a satisfying meal even outside of lunchtime, and has a story to tell with layers of bread, meat, cheese, and veggies.

We’ve avoided any delicacies with deep ties to civic or regional pride, e.g., spiedies, pork rolls, Cubans, po' boys, muffalettas, beef on wecks, croque madame/monsieur, Philly cheese steaks, lobster rolls, and BBQ anything. Burgers, of course, have no place here, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says: hot dogs don’t count.
 
Hot and cold, meaty, cheesy, fresh, crisp, and bold, these are the best sandwiches in New York City.

Blue Sky Deli
Blue Sky Deli | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Blue Sky Deli

Harlem
By now you’ve probably heard the hubbub and punditry surrounding NYC’s version of the Philly Cheesesteak. When all’s said and done, it comes down to deliciousness, and Blue Sky Deli (formerly Hajji’s) makes the reigning champ. Chopped beef sizzles on a plancha before it’s deposited onto a hero with American cheese, peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayo. The whole thing gets pressed and bang. Grab one to go and take it to nearby Thomas Jefferson Park to see what the fuss is about.

Ba Xuyên

Sunset Park
Takeout décor belies NYC’s best bánh mì in Brooklyn’s original Chinatown. Of the various inexpensive variations, the Paté Thịt Nuộng is the most balanced; crunchy, chewy, meaty, briny, spicy, and herbaceous. Crisp baguette sauced with mayo and maggi cradles fatty pork-based meats and velvety pate while heaped pickled veg, cilantro, and jalapeño slices brighten the whole thing up. Maybe best of all, this symphony of flavors and textures can be yours for less than $6.

estrellita poblana
Estrellita Poblana | NYC Food Photo

Estrellita Poblana III

Belmont
Dine in or out at this friendly little Mexican oasis in the Bronx. EPIII serves up heaping portions screaming with flavor and spice, and the hefty Cemita sings loudest. Refried bean spread and mayo on a sesame roll top stretchy Oaxacan cheese, avocado, smoky chipotle peppers, onion, and Mexican herbs with your choice of meat. If texture is your thing, the fried beef Milanesa de Res has lovely chew. If you’re feeling spicy, choose chorizo. And for dimension, order the sweet/spicy al pastor.

Court Street Grocers

Carroll Gardens
The store itself is adorable; delightful baked-goods and unique sundries are charmingly arranged for browsing. But Court Street Grocers exists to serve sandwiches, and every single one is creative and delectable. The Delight is a heartbreakingly good short rib or turkey reuben with Guss’ pickles, the Tuna Berry sets a new standard for an old fave with oil-packed tuna, fennel, and cranberry sauce, and The Uncle Chucky is a zero-compromise vegetarian option featuring roasted cauliflower, pumpkin seed romesco, and pickled fennel. A decent smattering of tables fills up quick on weekends, but Carroll Park is just a short stroll away.

Djerdan Burek

Astoria
This unfussy family-owned Bosnian business’ punjena pljeskavica (a stuffed, spiced, grilled ground meat patty served in a pita with onions and peppers) is a complex, savory mélange of textures and temperatures that conjures the comfort of grandma’s cooking. A long banquette with plenty of seating means you can take your time to savor your meal and peruse Djerdan’s other offerings, like the luscious burek (stuffed phyllo pastry) for which the store is named.

John’s Deli

New Dorp
This spot serves what may be the greatest roast beef sandwich in NYC. The signature “Mutz & Gravy” is piled with beef, sautéed onions, fresh mozzarella, and a top-secret gravy. No veggies, no problem. This ain’t fancy, it’s just really good. The scooped sesame seed hero is pleasingly chewy, but really, it’s just meant to soak up all of that mouthwateringly salty, beefy, mysterious gravy. There are only a few seats, so if it’s crowded at lunch, here’s your ferry ride entertainment.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

Multiple Locations; Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens
Nono, hear me out: the only reason that you haven’t eaten this sandwich is because you’ve had your mind set on dumplings before you walked in the door. Vanessa’s genius sesame pancake sandwiches are served with cilantro, carrots, cucumber and hoisin sauce accoutrement on house-made sesame pancake bread…for less than $5. Each location has ample seating, but you may still wind up waiting for a table. You won't wait long, however, if you put in your order and stay vigilant.

Ess-A-Bagel
Ess-A-Bagel | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Ess-A-Bagel

Stuy Town
There are some very worthy contenders for York City’s best bagel, but Ess-A has to take it. It is the archetype for the NYC (read: only existing valid) bagel: domed, ever-so slightly salty with nary a hole to be found on the chewy, generously seeded exterior — everything else is just ring-shaped bread. You won’t regret opting for the classic lox and schmear, but the Melanie’s Favorite with whitefish salad, lox, tomato, lettuce and onion is the pro move. Tables are small and this place is packed weekend mornings, so grab a buddy and go on a weekday afternoon.

Bonafide Delicatessen & Cafe

Cobble Hill
A mighty fine baconeggandcheesesaltpepperketchup can be had from nearly any bodega. There are soigné versions, but it’s the unpretentious simplicity of Bonafide’s sausage, egg, and cheese that elevates it. Order the thing on a buttery, toasted English muffin with American cheese, which gets folded into the fluffy, tender scrambled egg, the elements becoming one in simple, perfect harmony. It’s like Jean Georges writ Micky D’s. Try to snag a seat outside or by the street-facing window for prime Brooklyn people-watching.

Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop

Bed Stuy
You’ll be lucky to snag a seat at lunchtime at this itty-bitty, cash-only neighborhood joint serving traditional West Indian fare. Be honest about your spice comfort level and belly up to the counter for a cup of tart/sweet hibiscus sorrel to complement your mouth watering goat curry roti or some doubles -- tiny arepa-like sandwiches of warming chickpea stew between spiced flatbreads served with tamarind sauce. This is a saucy affair, so be sure to get extra napkins.

katz's
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Katz’s Delicatessen

Lower East Side, Manhattan
One of the rare NYC staples that fully lives up to its reputation, Katz’s serves New York City epitomized as a sandwich. There are brilliant pastramis, franks, and knishes to be had, but do yourself a favor and order corned beef on rye with mustard, a side of pickles, and a Cel-Ray. Trust us. Ordering procedure can be a bit confusing, but the seating is plentiful by sandwich shop standards. And remember: tip your cutter, and hang on for dear life to your ticket. You don’t want to find out why.

Parisi Bakery sandwich
Parisi Bakery | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Parisi Bakery

Lower East Side
One of the 33 best sandwich shops in the country, Parisi Bakery’s sandwiches taste like a century of family tradition. It’s hard to ignore the Italian favorites on offer, but for our money, The Dennis is the most unique and scrumptious item. Fried chicken cutlet, prosciutto, mozz, tomatoes, balsamic and herb spread. The place is tiny with no seating, so get in, get out, and hop over to nearby Sara D. Roosevelt Park or the Elizabeth Street Garden.

Casa Della Mozzarella

Belmont
Cheese is the star at this Bronx Little Italy store, where a father/son team stretch mozzarella fresh, daily. You’ll be a hero if you take a precious, lacto-rific ball of mozz or burrata home, but look out for #1 and indulge in a sandwich first. You want as little between you and the cheese as possible, and to that end an Il Classico panini is your move: mozzarella, tomato, basil, and olive oil. Pay the extra $1 for a press, and take your cheesy delight to Ciccarone Park to watch some Bocce.

Noah Fecks

Num Pang

Multiple locations, Manhattan
Another one of the 33 best sandwich shops in the US, Num Pang’s Cambodian sandwich stylings are similar to that of a bánh mì; protein with pickled veg on crusty bread. The difference is in Num Pang’s attention to their sandwiches’ starring components. The Coconut Tiger Shrimp are cooked expertly, the Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly is a fatty, umami delight, and the star is the Peppercorn Catfish: zingy, delicate yet substantial, it’s grilled and served with a salty/sweet soy glaze on a Parisi’s semolina roll.

Sal, Kris & Charlie’s Deli

Astoria
Kissing-cousin to the classic Italian combo, the “sandwich king of Astoria” house specialty, The Bomb is a kitchen-sink affair the size of your forearm. The mouthwatering payload on this sesame-seed torpedo is virtually every meat and cheese, shrettuce, tomato, and sauce. It’s absurdly tasty, shareable, and for $9.50 (cash only!), a true deal. This is a counter-service spot, sans seating, so bring a blanket and plan on picnicking in nearby Astoria Park.

cherry valley deli and grill sandwich
Cherry Valley Deli & Grill

Cherry Valley

Whitestone
This quaint, friendly corner market in Queens is open 24 hours, so you can grab one of their unbelievably yummy sandwiches ‘round the clock. The Beast is a chicken cutlet with bacon, swiss, gravy, and onion rings. For $6.65, this sits near the top of the pack in terms of value. There’s only a couple of seats, but Francis Lewis Park is close and has waterfront views.

Defonte’s of Staten Island

Stapleton, Staten Island
Defonte’s is glorious. On a Friday, go for the special fried calamari hero. Otherwise, breakfast was made for the sumptuous Pepper & Eggs. The Nicky special (gabagool, salami, fried eggplant, and mushroom/pepper salad) earns its fame, The Vinny D (sausage, broccoli rabe, ricotta) is a revelation, but it’s hard to beat their classic Eggplant Parm. Décor is cafeteria chic and you’ll probably chow down standing at a small bar, but every bite is a ferry ride to sandwich heaven.

Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village is a late-night standby. Don’t sleep on Alidoro in SoHo. Paisano’s Butcher Shop in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn has the ingredients. JoJu in Elmhurst, Queens is inventive and luscious. Liebman’s Deli in Riverdale is classic as it gets. Russ & Daughters Café on the LES is simply beautiful. Joe’s Italian Deli in Belmont has your chicken parm fix.

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Julien Levy is a writer and native to downtown Manhattan. He now lives in Brooklyn.