Food & Drink

The NYC Sandwich Bucket List

Published On 10/06/2015 Published On 10/06/2015
Courtesy of Mighty Quinn's

New York When you think New York City, you think Wall St, impatient pedestrians, the Empire State Building. You think overpriced loft apartments. You think Woody Allen movies. And, of course, you think sandwiches. New York was built on the deli -- Jewish, Italian, and otherwise -- and because of it, we've gotten really goddamn good at the whole sandwich thing. SO good that sifting through all of them isn't easy. Which is why we put together this: the NYC sandwich bucket list, jam-packed with 20 iconic and ineffably “New York” sandwiches you need to eat before you die (or move to New Jersey with your kids). More Stuff You Will Like

Flickr/angela n.

1. Falafel sandwich

Mamoun's Falafel (address and info)   Greenwich Village Mamoun’s Falafel was hailed by the Village Voice way back in 1976 for having “Arabs and Jews sitting at the same table” at a time when Kissinger couldn’t pull it off. And why not? It's the oldest falafel restaurant in New York City, and still one of the best around. And at a price tag of $3.50? It’s just another piece of what makes Mamoun’s so certifiably iconic. Continue Reading

Gary Stephens

2. Chairman Bao

Baohaus (address and info)   East Village Eddie Huang’s restaurant embodies the best elements of the new New York sandwich joints. With a hip-hop atmosphere, this spot for open­-faced pork belly bao perfectly balances culinary wit with trendy delivery while not overdoing it in either category. Baohaus is a must-check-off for any New York sandwich bucket list.

Dan Foley/Thrillist

3. The Bomb

Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli (address and info)   Astoria The Bomb is iconic for being so incredibly massive. Combining the full spectrum of Italian and American deli meats and cheeses together, this bad boy is piled high with pepperoni, ham, salami, turkey, mortadella, and three cheeses (American, Swiss, and provolone), along with some vegetables or something. The entire hero is about the size of the thick part of a baseball bat and costs just over $8. Just saying.

Courtesy of Luke's Lobster

4. Lobster roll

Luke’s Lobster (address and info)   East Village Luke’s Lobster’s lobster rolls have been a New York thing since the shop opened in 2009 and started slinging simple rolls with just a bun, a smidge of mayo, a few spices, and a quarter pound of righteous-quality Maine lobster claw meat. And if you’re looking for a moved-to-NYC-and-actually-made-it story, they don’t get much better than Luke’s: an investment banker quits his job to start a hole-in-the-wall Maine lobster roll shack in the East Village that, six years later, is now worth over $8 million and is planning on opening an 18th shop in Tokyo.


Courtesy of Mile End Deli

5. Smoked meat sandwich

Mile End Delicatessen (address and info)   Boerum Hill Mile End Deli doesn’t fit into a neat category. It’s non-kosher Jewish French-Canadian comfort food with a hipster twist. And yet, somehow, that solidified it in the hearts of New Yorkers. Well, that and the absurdly succulent smoked meat.


Noah Fecks

6. Pulled Duroc pork

Num Pang (address and info)   Union Square We know there’s no such thing as a Cambodian sandwich. We also accept Num Pang’s claim to the contrary, as its pulled Duroc pork is so deviously addictive. By implementing Western-style pulled pork inside of an Eastern bánh mì-style sandwich, Num Pang raised both hemispheres of flavor to a new level. It’s no surprise that after its inception in 2009, it’s opened five more locations and has two more on the way.  

7. Nicky Special

Defonte’s of Brooklyn (address and info)   Red Hook If they gave awards for truly hardened Italian delis, Defonte’s would take home the gold, silver, bronze, and everyone’s participation trophies. The sandwich shop was founded in 1922 in Red Hook, one of New York’s most violent neighborhoods during the Prohibition era. That same year, 13 Red Hook residents died from drinking poisonous moonshine, and several people were gunned down on the streets. Despite the tumultuous backdrop, Defonte’s kept serving its legendary Nicky Special. This glorious hero is piled high with a trinity of ham, salami, and capocollo, slabs of Defonte’s-style fried eggplant (served super thin, super crispy), and provolone, and topped with Defonte’s signature “house salad”: a mix of hot peppers, oregano, and pickled vegetables.

M. Alexander Webber

8. Chicken Parm

Parm (address and info)   Nolita There’s something alluring about Parm’s chicken Parm sandwich: a classic Italian-American dish converted into hip, high-end comfort food. Perhaps it’s the robust tomato sauce, or the thin basil leaves layered between sandwich and semolina roll. It tastes just different enough to linger in your mind and just familiar enough to call it family. (Also, with one of its four locations in Yankee Stadium, it’s hard not to consider Parm among the new icons of the city.)


Dan Foley/Thrillist

9. Bastirma with labne

Kalustyan's Deli (address and info)   Murray Hill Way before Murray Hill was saturated with post-college lax bros, there was Kalustyan’s Deli. Founded in 1944, this humble Armenian sandwich shop gets credit for never advertising its own delicious existence. And despite massive changes to the neighborhood since, Kalustyan’s has managed to maintain its integrity and flavor for over nearly three quarters of a century. Also: the bastirma with labne is just the Armenian version of a cheesesteak. If you’ve never gotten it before, you need to get it. Like, now.

Courtesy of The Meatball Shop

10. Classic beef sliders

Meatball Shop  (address and info)   Lower East Side “Let’s make a restaurant that only serves meatballs and meatball subs. Oh, and good wine. And ice cream sandwiches. Yeah, that’s enough.” Five years and five locations later, the Meatball Shop is now a behemoth. What’s its secret? Well, the classic beef sliders for one, but also a re-imagined classic meatball, wherein the resto employs ingredients like mortadella and carrots within the beef ones to extract their inner-most flavors.



11. Everything bagel with Nova lox and scallion cream cheese

Ess-a-Bagel (address and info)   Midtown East This once-East Village-hub-of-bagels epitomized everything it was to be a New York bagel shop. It didn’t toast anything. Staff told you to get out if you asked for eggs. And yet, it still had an hour-long line. The location in Midtown East is a bit more relaxed and open-minded than the now-closed East Village one, but it still has the best bagels in the city, hands down. Finding a bagel this chewy, this perfectly seasoned, and this satisfying is an exercise in futility, especially when smeared with homemade scallion cream cheese and loaded with the freshest Nova lox.

12. Burnt ends sandwich

Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque (address and info)   East Village Mighty Quinn’s began with a humble booth at Smorgasburg, asking people: “Do you want a lean piece of brisket or a fatty piece?” Despite its naïve question (always go fatty), the Carolina/Texas mix found its way into the hearts and arteries of New Yorkers that summer of 2012. Since then, it's expanded into a half-dozen locations sprinkled throughout the city, of course bringing along its top-notch burnt ends.

The Cinnamon Snail

13. Thanksgiving Sandoo

The Cinnamon Snail (address and info)   Roaming food truck The food truck that consistently ranks among the best in the city is also the only purely vegan entry on this list. New Yorkers have little patience for anything, especially waiting in long lines in Midtown during a lunch break. Still, the Cinnamon Snail constantly produces lines over an hour long, filled with vegans and non-vegans alike. Their Thanksgiving Sandoo is the perfect explanation for this phenomenon: while so much vegan food attempts to mimic meat, the Sandoo succeeds at surpassing meat. The combination of porcini mushroom-simmered seitan, orange cranberry relish, marinated kale, and rosemary parsnip bread pudding is better than the real post-Turkey Day leftovers.


Courtesy of Russ & Daughters

14. Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers on a bagel

Russ & Daughters (address and info)   Lower East Side Russ & Daughters turned 100 years old in 2014. That means its smoked salmon has been around for longer than the Empire State Building (the idea, not the actual fish). The Jewish grocery shop itself is a proper ambassador of New York quality: unpretentious in its presentation, confident in its product, and fantastic on your taste buds. While Ess-a-Bagel owns the claim to most iconic bagel, no one can rival the overwhelming quality of the Russ & Daughters Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, the pinnacle of smoked seafood in New York City. Piled high on a bagel with all the fixings, it will haunt your dreams.


15. The Pavarotti

Alidoro (address and info)   Soho Yes, the Pavarotti’s artichoke hearts at Alidoro are to die for, but that’s not why it’s on this list. It’s the attitude. Open only for lunch (or until it runs out of bread), Alidoro’s reputation for not tolerating the company of foolish or picky customers is what many think has kept it in business for nearly 30 years now. Also though: the artichoke hearts.


Courtesy of Morris Food Truck

16. Ale cheddar

Morris Grilled Cheese (address and info)   Roaming food truck Like the Cinnamon Snail, Morris Grilled Cheese is always included on the lists of top food trucks in the city. It earns the iconic nod for the flocks of Midtown suits who sit down and consume the gooey, stinky cheese sandwiches (alongside a cup of the spicy tomato bisque), like large children coming home to mom after playing outside all morning.


Mike's Deli

17. The Pavarotti

Mike’s Deli (address and info)   Arthur Ave While Arthur Ave may be a shadow of its former self, gems like Mike’s are still standing proudly, slinging sandwiches like the Pavarotti. The smoked prosciutto and fresh mozzarella are a solid base, but the Napolitano-style eggplant is what sets it apart, thanks to David Greco’s legendary recipe. Bobby Flay recently attempted to “throwdown” David Greco by challenging his iconic eggplant Parm. Suffice to say, Flay failed.

18. Chicken Parm

Tino’s Delicatessen (address and info)   Arthur Ave The other iconic hallmark of good ol’ Arthur Ave is Tino’s Delicatessen. If Mike’s can lay claim to the perfectly made classic eggplant Parm, then Tino’s can lay claim to the perfectly made classic chicken Parm. It’s amazing what over 50 years of practice can do for a chicken Parm sandwich.

Gabriel Estabile

19. The Koreano

Fuku (address and info)   East Village The most recently canonized sandwich on the list comes from David Chang’s sandwich shop Fuku. Given the monumental success of the Momofuku brand, the opening of Fuku garnered the most hype of any sandwich in this city, ever. Chang delivered a spectacle for sure, a succulent fried chicken sandwich three sizes too large for the bun. The off-menu Koreano is the true go-to, balanced by a web of daikon radish.

Sarah Anderson/Thrillist

20. Pastrami on rye

Katz’s Delicatessen (address and info)   Lower East Side Is it touristy? Absolutely. Is it overpriced? You bet. Is it even kosher anymore? Not for a long time. But the Katz’s Deli pastrami on rye is about as iconic for old New York as it gets. Aside from being a New York institution since 1888 (when it was known as “Iceland Brothers”) and serving the only sandwich ever associated with an orgasm (thank you, When Harry Met Sally), it still has some of the finest pastrami in the city, as it did when it began. And it seems this old dog can still learn new tricks, with the potential opening of a new Katz's in Brooklyn.
Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer. Dan Foley is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Tailored Ink, a boutique writing agency. He is also a lover of sandwiches and the author of The New York Sandwich Project.

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1. Mamoun's Falafel 119 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012 (Greenwich Village)

Mamoun’s has OG status in your book -- and rightfully so, they've got all the delicious hummus, falafel, baba ganouj, and more that you crave -- but it's often overrun with people, especially late at night, so time your visit carefully.

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2. BaoHaus 238 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

The incomparable Eddie Huang's shaking things up at the EVill follow-up to his smash hit BaoHaus, not only adding to the menu, but also upping the kitchen equipment (Actual gas! A real fryer!), going large enough to accommodate dining tables in addition to counter seating by the open kitchen, and throwing up a "Great Wall of Chinamen" mural featuring everyone from Confucius, to Connie Chung, to Gizmo, to a Dance Dance Revolution machine.

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3. Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli 33-12 23rd Ave, Astoria, NY 11105 (Astoria)

Dubbed the "Sandwich King of Astoria," this old-school deli is known for their stacked Italian subs, which may or may not strain your jaw. Worth it.

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4. Luke's Lobster 93 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

Long before Luke's Lobster became a national chain, it was a tiny seafood shack in the East Village. The original location serves the chilled lobster rolls that made the New England-inspired counter-serve so damn popular -- as well as crab rolls, shrimp rolls, and sides. If you really want a taste of Luke's, order the Taste of Maine combo, which includes half-portions of the aforementioned rolls (all served on buttered and toasted split-top buns), crab claws, chips or slaw, a pickle, and a (non-alcoholic) drink. The shop's small size makes it conducive to take out, but there a few stools.

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5. Num Pang Sandwich Shop 28 E 12th St, New York, NY 10003 (Union Square)

"Num pang" is the Cambodian version of a sandwich like a bahn mi, and this location of the local chain is serving 'wiches loaded with five spice glazed pork belly, coconut tiger shrimp, or hoisin meatballs. This dependable lunch spot is not only affordable, but a great deal more flavorful than most other sandwich spots on the block.

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6. Defonte's Sandwich Shop 379 Columbia St, Brooklyn, NY 11231 (Gramercy)

This family-owned sandwich shop has been in the biz since 1922 and serves up beautifully breaded creations like the Valentino with fried eggplant, provolone & roasted peppers, and their version of the Cuban, with roast pork, Virginia ham, swiss, and pickles, served up on garlic bread.

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7. Parm 248 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012 (Nolita)

This Italian-American restaurant from the Torrisi crew serves rich but simple veal, chicken, and eggplant parm, in sandwich or platter form. Parm's menu reads like a "best of" list of red sauce classics, featuring clams casino, mozzarella sticks, penne pomodoro, and of course, giant meatballs. The Nolita spot is small and cozy with a long bar in front and small tables in the back, but take-out is available if you'd rather eat your sauce-drenched hero in the privacy of your own living room...or cubicle.

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8. 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.

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9. The Meatball Shop 84 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

This Lower East Side location has all the same bells and whistles as the other locations. Make sure everyone orders different types of meatballs so you can all try the beef, chicken, and even the vegetarian meatballs. You can also opt for your own. In that case we recommend the beef meatball smash with spicy meat sauce.

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10. Ess-a-Bagel 831 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown)

Ess-a-Bagel is known for its deliciously dense, hand-rolled bagels and classic spreads, as well as a great mix of meat and fish add-ons. While its not the original (RIP), this Midtown location is still doing God's bagel work and often has lines out the door.

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11. Mighty Quinn's BBQ 103 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

This fast-casual BBQ joint has multiple outposts in the city, but the original holds strong at its 6th Street East Village location, bringing the sweet smell of smoked meat to 2nd Avenue. There's a real authentic flavor here, whereas many BBQ spots in the city have an artificial smokiness to their meat. The fall-apart brisket at Mighty Quinns doesn't even require sauce, but you might want to add one of the local drafts on tap to your order.

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12. The Cinnamon Snail 93 10005, 85 Wall St, New York, NY 10005 (Financial District)

This food truck is well known for it's vegan and organic selections. With the menu rotating with the seasons, expect to eat fig pancakes late summer and tofu subs year round. For a sweet treat, try their apple cider donuts that everyone can't get enough of.

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13. Russ & Daughters 179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Open since 1914, Russ & Daughters is the NYC standard for cured fish, spreads, and other “appetizers,” which are the traditional Jewish food eaten with bagels. This piece of New York history (which, in 2014, opened a more formal cafe that is also located in the Lower East Side) is still the place to grab a bagel and schmear or one of its near-perfect deli counter sandwiches, like the Super Heebster, a mammoth bagel sandwich with Whitefish & baked salmon salad, horseradish-dill cream cheese, and wasabi flying fish roe.

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14. Alidoro 105 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

With sandwiches named after world cultural icons, they have to live up to the hype of the people they're named after. The Mona Lisa, the Pinocchio, and the Frank Sinatra are just a few of the most popular sandwiches here all loaded with fresh meats and cheeses.

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15. Morris Grilled Cheese , New York, NY

This food truck offers gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches that are greasy and simply perfect. The maple glazed ham and roasted Brussel sprouts in between layers of various cheeses is just what you should expect from these folks.

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16. Mike's Deli 2344 Arthur Ave, New York, NY 10458 (Bronx)

You don’t get more old-school Italian than the Arthur Ave Market Place in Belmont and the Big Mike's Combo Italian sub at Mike’s Deli. It might be a mere stand tucked in the back of the marketplace, but this joint's acquired legend status over years of serving New York sandwiches bursting with fresh meats and cheeses like Hillary Clinton's Favorite, the Paula Deen panini, and The Monster, all piled high with mozzarella, salami, ham, peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes.

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17. Tino's Delicatessen 2410 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458 (Bronx)

Don’t let the signed photos of politicians and the dim lights dissuade you. This deli is a favorite among Fordham students for its belly-hugging heroes, but that's not what you’re here for. Skip the meat-head case and head straight for the shelves. Owner Gianluca Paciullo stocks his store with real deal balsamic vinegar, Nettuno anchovies imported by the Bronx’s Gustiamo, and pastas you won’t find at Eataly. Yes, the prices are more expensive than Teitel’s (where you’ll find good quality pine nuts and very low prices), but no one else stocks as many products like this up here.

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18. Fuku 163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

David Chang’s fast-casual chicken sandwich shop features one of the county's best fried bird numbers, featuring chicken thighs brined and marinated in a habanero puree that’s later coated in buttermilk and spices, then fried crispy, and finally, served in a Martin’s potato roll with pickles and house-made butter.

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19. Katz's Delicatessen 205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Open since 1888 on the corner of East Houston and Ludlow Street, Katz's is synonymous with iconic New York City food, specifically, slow-cured pastrami and corned beef. There's usually a line filled with a mix of tourists, die-hard New Yorkers, and everyone in between, and the wait is nothing but proof of the stacked sandwiches' pure goodness. You receive a paper ticket when you walk in, order at the counter (be ready!), and wait while the servers sling layers of pink meat onto cafeteria trays. If pastrami on rye (or better yet, a hot reuben) is your kind of late-night food, then you're in luck -- Katz's is open all night on Fridays and Saturdays. Words to the wise: stock up on napkins, order a generous side of pickles, and whatever you do, don't lose your ticket.

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20. Mile End Delicatessen 53 Bond St, New York, NY 10012 (Noho)

Mile End Deli doesn’t fit neatly into a single category, serving non-kosher Jewish French-Canadian comfort food with a hipster twist. And yet, ironically but un-ironically, this has solidified it in the hearts of New Yorkers. Well, that and the absurdly succulent smoked meat. The meat masterminds here have crafted a true tour de force de fries -- poutine with cheese curds, chicken gravy, and the option to add smoked brisket (do it).