20 Essential NYC Sandwiches to Bring to a Picnic
Spread your blanket at a park, beach, rooftop, or more.
NYC is a sandwich town -- from the pastrami on rye to the bacon, egg and cheese, we both invented and mastered the genre of handheld meals. And with distanced outdoor hangouts being the go-to social activity of choice at the moment, we’re all about embracing the sandwich’s innate portability to liven up our newly picnic-centric lives.
So the next time you’re looking to get out of the house with a meal that doesn’t need utensils, grab your mask, go spread your blanket at a park, beach, rooftop, or yard, and social distance responsibly with these awesome portable sandwich options, both new and standby.
By now you’ve probably heard the hubbub and punditry surrounding NYC’s version of the Philly Cheesesteak: The chopped cheese. When all’s said and done, it comes down to taste, 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.
What to order: Chopped Cheese
How to order: Storefront or call 646-682-7488, open 24 hours
This Italian-inspired bakery and coffee spot is putting together some of the tastiest new lunch options in Brooklyn. Housemade focaccia is the star -- buttery and topped with flakes of sea salt -- the perfect framework to house an array of Italian meats from mortadela to salami. Our pick is the Italian Disco Club -- a take on the classic turkey avocado sandwich which features smoked mozz, crispy prosciutto, sweet yet savory tomato compote, and Calabrese aioli for kick.
What to order: Italian Disco Club
How to order: Via Caviar
Grip Japanese comfort food at eye level with the offerings at Otaku Katsu. The sandwiches at this cozy family-run spot include a tamago sando with kewpie mayo that opens up to a gorgeous soft-boiled egg, a bacon steak sandwich with grilled pork belly, and classic katsu sandos in pork, chicken, or salmon, all served with chips and pickles. Sando Picnic Sets for 2-4 people are also available.
What to order: Tamago Sando
How to order: Call 917-388-3924 or via website
Blume is a new backyard restaurant located behind Schaller and Weber, an Upper East Side butcher shop that’s been offering German-style sausages and smoked meats for more than 80 years. Modeled after an Austrian-style wine bar, sandwiches include the farmer’s sandwich with Black Forest Ham and Austrian Butterkäse, the double smoked bacon BLT with chive aioli, or the European speck with gruyere, housemade pickles, and freshly grated horseradish served on an open-faced baguette.
What to order: European Speck
How to order: Call 646-726-4355, reservations and walk-ins welcome
This new waterfront hangout from the team behind Grand Banks has oysters and seafood items like caviar hash brown on the menu. But when it comes to sandwiches, the must-try dish is the Lobster BLT. Made with Maine lobster and served on a griddled potato bun, it also comes with “New Bay” chips and a side salad.
What to order: Lobster BLT
How to order: Via website
Takeout décor belies some of 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 cradles fatty pork-based meats and velvety paté while heaped pickled veg, cilantro, and jalapeño slices brighten the whole thing up.
What to order: Combination #1: Banh Mi Paté Thit Nguoi
How to order: Storefront or call 718-0633-6601
Quality sandwiches are the focal point at Cutlets, a modern version of a tri-state deli. As the first solo project for Richard Zaro of Zaro’s Family Bakery, traditional sandwich combinations are classics reinvented using natural and non-GMO ingredients. Signature sandwiches include the Number One -- chicken cutlet with thick cut bacon, white cheddar and Cutlets special sauce -- and the Number Six -- herb roasted turkey with Cutlets special sauce, sharp provolone, iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomato, and red onion.
What to order: Number One: Chicken Cutlet with Bacon
How to order: Via website
At this friendly 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 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.
What to order: Cemitas Milanesa de Res
How to order: Storefront, call 718-220-7641, or via website
This popular New York-born bagel shop cooks up the city’s most symbolic carb with Montreal-inspired techniques. Bushwick is home to their newest (and seventh) location, where you can order up their classic smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese, red onion, tomato, and capers.
What to order: Classic Smoked Salmon
How to order: Via website
The store itself is adorable, 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.
What to order: The Delight
How to order: Storefront or via Grubhub
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. With outdoor seating available, take time to savor your meal and decide on which other Djerdan’s offerings to order for home, like the luscious burek (stuffed phyllo pastry) for which the store is named.
What to order: Punjena Pljeskavica
How to order: Outdoor seating available or via DoorDash
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.
What to order: John’s Signature Roast Beef w/ Mutz & Gravy
How to order: Outdoor seating available or via website
A mighty fine bacon-egg-and-cheese-salt-pepper-ketchup can be had from nearly any bodega, but it’s the unpretentious simplicity of the Hungry Man Special -- Bonafide’s bacon, sausage, egg, and cheese that elevates it. Served on a hero with American cheese, which gets folded into the fluffy, tender scrambled egg, the elements become one in simple, perfect harmony.
What to order: Hungry Man Special
How to order: Via DoorDash, Grubhub, Seamless, Uber Eats
This quaint, friendly corner market in Queens is known for their sandwiches throughout the 5 boroughs and 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.
What to order: The Beast
How to order: Via Seamless
This itty-bitty, cash-only neighborhood joint serves traditional West Indian fare in Bed Stuy. Be honest about your spice comfort level and order 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.
What to order: Goat Curry Roti
How to order: Storefront
One of the rare NYC staples that fully lives up to its reputation, Katz’s serves NYC 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 with a side of pickles. Trust us.
What to order: Katz’s Corned Beef Sandwich
How to order: Via website
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. Grab some sandwiches for takeout and hop over to nearby Sara D. Roosevelt Park or the Elizabeth Street Garden.
What to order: The Dennis
How to order: Storefront or call 212-226-6378
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.
What to order: Il Classico
How to order: Storefront or call 718-364-3867
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 $11.99 (cash only!), a true deal.
What to order: The Bomb
How to order: Storefront or call 718-278-9240
Defonte’s is glorious, and every bite is a ferry ride to sandwich heaven at this Staten Island spot. 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.
What to order: Eggplant Parmesan
How to order: Call 718-285-4310 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tae Yoon is the Local Editor for Thrillist NYC.