Despite rising food prices, New York City remains a haven for the cheap sandwich. Sure, that chopped cheese sandwich from the bodega on your corner always does the trick, but there are so many other fantastic and affordable sandwiches to be had -- like the best bánh mì in the city for just $5.50, or a torta with a cult following for $8. Sometimes these sandwiches are lurking in plain sight, and other times you need to go out of your way for a truly memorable, inexpensive sandwich experience. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with outstanding and diverse sandwich selections from across the boroughs.
Pork roll sandwichPrice: $6
Taylor ham is a rare find outside of its New Jersey birthplace. Like scrapple in Pennsylvania or goetta in the Midwest, it’s a cultishly loved pork product that hasn't quite transcended its local roots. Court Street Grocers attempts to solve this dire underappreciation by showcasing Taylor ham in the most simple way possible: on a classic Martin’s potato roll with lightly scrambled eggs and American cheese. The porcine saltiness of the Taylor ham dominates, but the milder eggs and cheese rein the flavors in for a balanced bite. It may even make you a Taylor ham convert.
The SouthsidePrice: $8
Look no further for the best breakfast restaurant in the city. Josh Sobel, formerly of Court Street Grocers and Mile End, has a strong sandwich-making pedigree and with it he's created a stunning sandwich. Sure, LA people love to post photos of Eggslut, the ludicrously long-lined breakfast sandwich spot that serves sandwiches on a distinctive brioche roll, but Sobel takes a similar roll and goes much, much further. His beautifully toasted roll is topped with a pile of slightly smoky ham, fluffy scrambled eggs, and cheese. Yes, this is very simple, but it's the "breakfast mayo," spiked with maple syrup and coffee grounds balanced by lightly pickled onions, that takes this sandwich to stratospheric heights. Best of all, for now at least, you won't have to wait an hour to grab the perfect breakfast sandwich.
Roast beef sandwichPrice: $5.95
Ever been massively disappointed by an Arby’s roast beef sandwich? You see beautiful piles of roast beef and (sometimes) even Cheez Whiz and think, "this looks freaking delicious." Too bad the actual product is not even remotely edible. Thankfully, Roll-N-Roaster solves this problem. The roast beef is actually meaty and you even have the option of ordering it to your doneness (as in, preferably not gray). Covered in the finest Cheez Whiz and beef jus, it’s even better. Best of all it’s dirt cheap, so get two or three if you must and enjoy your sandwich amongst the classic '70s decor.
Chicken sandwichPrice: $6.50
Lower East Side
All the sandwiches at this newly crowned classic sandwich shop on the Lower East Side are excellent, but it’s the "chicken," a generous piece of crunchy fried chicken on a biscuit, draped in gravy, and topped with red cabbage slaw, that’s the standout. It’s the sandwich every so-called "Southern restaurant" in NYC wishes it could nail, yet rarely does.
Baked salmon salad on an everything bagelPrice: $9.79
No one makes baked salmon salad as good as Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, the neo-Jewish appetizing store in Cobble Hill. Although it contains hardly anything besides high-quality kippered salmon, mayo, sour cream, and seasonings. It’s so good that you should enjoy it with -- at most -- an everything bagel from Shelsky’s bagel purveyor, Mill Basin Bagel. A bagel this chewy doesn't need to be scooped or toasted, either.
House specialPrice: $5.50
It’s had a years-long rivalry with Bánh Mì Saigon around the corner on Grand St, but I've always preferred the slighter storefront of Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli on Broome St. Maybe it's the bread, the key component of a bánh mì, which is always shatteringly fresh. But it's most likely the fried pork bits and livery pate, or the freshness of the vegetables, like the mass of cilantro, pickled carrots, radish, cucumber, and jalapeño, which give the sandwich a depth of flavor that’s sometimes lacking at its competitor.
Paneer tikka sandwichPrice: $6
Vegetarians rejoice! This is the ultimate version of a grilled cheese sandwich. While it looks nice enough, like a white bread sandwich you might have taken to lunch in elementary school, a whole world of spice and heat lurks underneath the mild, milky paneer cheese. Fiery peppers and sweet chutneys abound to cause a surprisingly complex bite. Make sure to have the kitchen griddle the bread to melt the cheese and enliven the chiles.
Tortas chivasPrice: $8
What was once "Tortas Neza," the cultishly adored torta truck parked under the rumbling 7 train along Roosevelt Ave near Junction Blvs (and only a short walk from Citi Field) has been reborn a few blocks away in the front window of Juan Bar on Roosevelt and 97th St in Corona, Queens. The genius behind the torta sandwiches, each named for a different team in the Mexican football leagues, goes only by "Tortas." When the proprietor is named after the dish he serves, you know it's going to be good. The "Tortas Chivas" doesn’t disappoint. Piled high with a chorizo and egg omelet, plus a swipe of black beans, lettuce, shredded queso Oaxaca, pickled jalapeños, and tomatoes, it's a massive sandwich for only $8 and is far more than "just" a breakfast.
La Morada does a bustling lunch business along a busy stretch of Mott Haven, a Mexican enclave in the Bronx. Its pambazo is, for good reason, the only knife-and-fork sandwich on this list. While I don't normally condone eating sandwiches this way, this sandwich is so good that sometimes exceptions must be made. First, a torta roll is filled with fried pucks of chorizo and potato, lettuce, queso Oaxaca, and beans. Then, the cook takes a ladle of mole (your choice of mole Oaxaca, which is a bit spicier, or mole poblano, fruitier and more bitter) and covers the whole sandwich, before finally finishing this monstrosity with a sprinkle of queso fresco. Eat this sandwich immediately and be glad that you did.
Cachapa de pabellonPrice: $9.50
Lower East Side (& other locations)
This Venezuelan sandwich shop with a location on Essex St on the Lower East Side built its reputation on the formidable "patacon" sandwich, which substitutes smashed, fried patties of plantain for bread. But it’s the "cachapa" sandwiches, made with griddled sweet corn pancakes, that are the must-order. Best of all is the cachapa de pabellon, a massive sandwich filled with black beans, shredded beef, sweet yellow plantains, and shredded queso blanco. It's salty, sweet, and filling all at once.
At this Peruvian sandwich joint in Queens, make sure to order the chicharron sandwich, which mixes meat and starch for deliriously delicious results. Deep-fried chunks of pork shoulder rest on a bed of sweet potatoes and salsa criolla -- a bright, acidic onion relish -- that shines through the fatty shoulder bits. Better yet, make sure to add as much green sauce and mayo as you can handle, as this only makes the sandwich better.
Chicken gyroPrice: $6.46
Two massive, rotating spits beckon as you enter this narrow Astoria shop right off the BQE. Your choices: chicken or pork gyro. Opt for the chicken, which takes better to the yogurt smack of tzatziki sauce that's generously applied to the bottom of the blistered pita bread. Topped with greens and tomatoes, it’s a hefty sandwich for well under $10.
Maracas-style bake & sharkPrice: $7.75 (weekends only)
Trini eateries abound in the city, but for something truly outstanding, sometimes you’ve got to travel to a place in Ozone Park, Queens that blasts soca music, especially since a proper bake 'n' shark is a rare find in the city. Often, the bake -- a deep-fried disc that's sliced open and filled for sandwiches -- will taste like old, greasy oil. But at Trini Delite in Ozone Park, the bake is ultra fresh and the fillings are even better. A cutlet of shark is deep-fried and slid into the split-open bake and drizzled with habanero sauce, tamarind chutney, cucumber chutney, bright-green shado beni, and a cabbage slaw spiked with pineapple.
Tuna melt on ryePrice: $7.50
Sidle up to a stool at this classic Flatiron sandwich shop and get yourself a tuna melt on rye. The creamy tuna salad conspicuously lacks anything green or celery-like (well, except for a pickle on the plate). Get it topped with a piece of melted cheese and watch as the sandwich maker expertly griddles your rye to a burnished mahogany. Wash it down with a chocolate egg cream and nothing else will matter.
Chicken saladPrice: $9
The secret to great chicken salad is to keep it simple, and Peck's, which opened in Clinton Hill in 2013, takes this mantra to heart. Served simply on an onion roll with greens, the creamy chicken salad is seasoned and dotted with red onions and fronds of dill. Better yet, Peck's uses leftover rotisserie chicken for the salad, which adds a far deeper flavor than simply poaching chicken. This is the chicken salad sandwich of your dreams.
Club subPrice: $8.45
FiDi (& other locations)
Those of you who eat at Subway or settle for a bodega deli sandwich are doing it all wrong. If you want a real sub (at least as real as a Jersey-style sub gets) you need to go to one of the handful Jersey Mike's locations in NYC. Best of all is the club sub, filled with turkey, ham, bacon, and provolone. Order it Jersey-style or "Mike's Way" with oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. It’s a massive sandwich for under $10 that will surely satisfy any sub craving.
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Noah Arenstein is a lawyer, cook, writer, and event planner based in Brooklyn, NY. He also co-founded Real Cheap Eats, which sought out the best food under $10 in NYC. He recently opened El Atoradero Brooklyn, which relocated from the Bronx to Prospect Heights. Follow him on Twitter: @NMArenstein.
1. Court Street Grocers485 Court St, Brooklyn
2. Southside Coffee652 6th Ave, Brooklyn
3. Roll-N-Roaster2901 Emmons Ave, Brooklyn
4. Cheeky Sandwiches35 Orchard St, New York
5. Shelsky’s Smoked Fish141 Court St, Brooklyn
6. Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli369 Broome St, New York
7. Usha Foods & Usha Sweets255-03 Hillside Ave, Floral Park
8. Tortas Neza at Juan Bar11103 Roosevelt Ave, New York
9. La Morada308 Willis Ave, Bronx
10. Patacon Pisao139 Essex St, New York
11. Juanitas Cafe84-15 Northern Blvd, Jackson Heights
12. BZ Grill2702 Astoria Blvd, Astoria
13. Trini Delite110-02 Liberty Ave, Jamaica
14. Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop174 5th Ave, New York
15. Peck’s Food455A Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn
16. Jersey Mike's Subs80 Maiden Ln, New York
This Carroll Gardens mainstay has been serving up great sandwiches since day one. Club sandwiches, paninis, hot meat heros, and breakfast sandos rule the menu here; customize 'em or order a la carte. One of these delicious, huge bites won't cost you more than $12. First founded in Carroll Gardens, the spot now has outposts in Red Hook and Greenwich, so you can get your fix across the boroughs.
There's nothing that makes fancy coffee taste better than a lack of fancy overhead and pretense, and this neighborhood spot delivers some of the best fancy coffee -- and chill vibes -- in town.
The Roll-N-Roaster's a Brooklyn landmark; for the past 45 years, this fast-food greasy spoon in Sheepshead Bay's been slinging up its famous roast beef sliders, hamburgers, and sandwiches. The menu also features pizza, milkshakes, and Roll-N-Roaster's legendary cheese fries. While trekking out here may be a bit of a hike from Manhattan or BK, Roll-N-Roaster is well worth your visit.
Cheeky Sandwiches bring the best flavors from New Orleans to the Lower East Side, offering a heavenly variety of po' boys as well as sweet and savory sides. The secret behind the sandwiches is the bread, shipped directly from John Gendusa Bakery in New Orleans. The Creole and Cajun spot wouldn't be complete without its Big Shot soda, Zapp’s potato chips, beignets, Chicory coffee, and other NOLA natives and staples. The small snack shop is full of charm and warmth, decorated with a white picket fence in front, brightly painted shutters, and red bar stools to match.
Shelsky's is Brooklyn's answer to Russ & Daughters, it's all about the lox with 10 different varieties of salmon to choose from.
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli is a hole-in-the-wall that’s easy to overlook, but it shouldn’t be: the specialty banh mi here are not only gigantic, they’re fantastically cheap. The cash-only deli exists in a neighborhood borderland, where Soho, Chinatown, and Little Italy bleed into each other in a dizzying cultural clash. The effect can be likened to the concept of banh mi itself: an unlikely yet culinarily rewarding product of French influence on Vietnam. Twelve varieties are on offer (eight classics and four vegan), but the undisputed king of them all is the house special. A poster hanging in the sparse space shows the cross-section of what to expect: a toasted baguette (more Italian than French in character, really), pickled daikon and carrot, crispy minced pork, a speckled Vietnamese bologna, thin slices of a pasty and much lighter pork-and-chicken sausage, and finally a fistful of cilantro over a liberal application of hollandaise. The old man behind the counter will encouragingly ask if you want to go spicy (read: add chunks of raw, seedy jalapeño). Don’t disappoint him. You smell the huge sandwich before you taste it, but behind the fish-house bunk odor is a complex and interesting eat where different tastes and textures -- soft with hard, fresh with pickled -- are at play. The other meat variations don’t disappoint, with the pate supreme and sweet minced pork as runner-up bets. If pork is a no-no and you must go vegan or vegetarian, the lemongrass mock chicken and mushroom and tofu numbers are better than the rest. While it’s really banh mi or bust here, a survey of the cluttered counter will reveal a selection of imported treats, like wasabi-dipped peanuts from Thailand and Vietnamese coffee, that are worth adding to your order. This banh mi beacon stands as proof that bargain does not mean inferior.
This spot in Floral Park, Queens, offers a stunning array of Indian snacks (called chaat) and sweets. Don’t miss the deceptively simple, yet insane vegetarian paneer tikka sandwich, which is essentially a grilled cheese with a diversity of flavors and textures.
The best tortas in town can be found from a little walk-up window at a bar in Corona, Queens. The chorizo and egg “Torta Chivas” is pretty much the best breakfast ever, and the carnitas are excellent, so be sure to make the trip up there.
La Morada's a truly unique neighborhood resto in the Bronx; how many restaurants have you gone to that house an entire lending library of books for their patrons, plus employ a Poet-in-Residence? Offering swoon-worthy Oaxacan fare, La Morada's a solid choice for a savory, flavorful meal.
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.
This cute little joint in Elmhurst offers affordable lunch fare in the form of Peruvian sandwiches. While the spot itself may be no-frills, the sandwiches are packed with major flavor-- made on big, crispy ciabatta, choose from a variety of smoky, savory meats like pork shoulder (chicharron) pollo a la brasa, or homemade roast ham (butifara). Customize your sandwich with add-on's like egg, swiss, lettuce or tomato.
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.
This Trinidadian and Caribbean local joint offers authentic island fare in the form of roti, stews, and sandwiches. Their most well-known dish, however, is their bake & shark, a Caribbean classic that resembles an empanada-- the dish comprises a doughy disc of oil that's fried and filled with shark cutlet. While it may sound unorthodox to some, we guarantee it's a delicious and authentic way to taste the island flavor.
Eisenberg's knows its role -- on its website it proclaims "Raising New York's Cholesterol Since 1929." What makes this one of the spots for go for pastrami? Well, the lack of tourists helps -- this is a local spot.
Peck's is a friendly neighborhood spot serving up delicious customizable and a la carte deli sandwiches. Taking inspiration from Jewish home-cooking and traditional NYC delis, Peck's serves savory, warm fare like matzo ball soup, potato latkes, and hot pastrami on rye. A solid lunch option, Peck's sandwiches usually don't run more than $12 a pop.
Jersey Mike's is a New York/New Jersey (duh) mini-chain offering massive and tasty sub sandwiches for the price of a song. Serving up sandwich realness since 1956, Jersey Mike's extensive menu features a wide variety of sandwich types: hot and cold subs with turkey, roast beef, ham, bacon, meatballs, tuna, and salami, among others, plus a fair amount of vegetarian friendly options.