The Best Sandwiches in America
Fancy fried chicken, or perhaps a PB&J? Here are the country's most-iconic sandwiches, and the one place you should try each.
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The Best Thing Between Sliced Bread
A good sandwich is as American as apple pie, spawning dozens of regional interpretations and variations from New York City to Nebraska. Here are the 56 most-iconic sandwiches in the United States, and the perfect place to try each one.
Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs
Pastrami on Rye: Katz's Deli (New York City)
In the late 1800s, when Eastern European immigrants were arriving en mass, pastrami made its way to New York City, working its way into the Big Apple’s — and America’s — essential culinary canon. Salt- and spice-cured beef is smoked and steamed until tender, then hand-sliced — the requirement at a proper deli — and sandwiched in lightly seeded rye bread slathered with spicy brown mayo. That’s exactly how you’ll find it at Katz’s Deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Since 1888, locals have rushed the counters through seemingly disorganized crowds at the cash-only cafeteria-style joint, famously pictured in films like When Harry Met Sally, for its meaty, overstuffed hot pastrami sandwiches.
Muffuletta: Central Grocery (New Orleans)
Long ago, Italian immigrant Salvator Lupe watched his Sicilian farmer patrons struggle to eat their traditional platters of Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham and bread on their laps outside his Central Grocery. He realized he could drastically improve their lives — or at least their lunches — by combining all of the above into an easily held meal. With a sprinkle of freshly minced garlic and a round loaf of sesame-sprinkled bread, the muffuletta was born. That quintessential NOLA sandwich is now found on nearly every restaurant menu in the city, but the proper place to experience its magic is at the place it was created, Central Grocery.
Cheesesteak: John’s Roast Pork (Philadelphia)
Philadelphia may be known as the birthplace of American democracy and the home city of Rocky, but the city’s biggest claim to fame is still a sandwich: the Philly cheesesteak. That hearty combo combines inly sliced and griddled beef, possibly onions, smothered with pick of Cheez Whiz, American or provolone in a crusty roll. Pat’s and Geno’s are the most-famous; however, when locals want to avoid the tourists, they head to John’s Roast Pork. The family-run sandwich stand has been a mainstay since the 1930s, hailed for its namesake roast pork and its cooked to-order cheesesteaks.
Torta: La Torta Gorda (San Francisco)
The Mexican torta, a soft oblong roll filled with flavorful ingredients, has made it to the essential sandwich list in cities and towns around the United States. One of the buzziest versions is the Pierna Enchilada at San Francisco’s La Torta Gorda. Locals will forego their city’s infamous infant-sized burritos in favor of these Puebla-style specialties. Pork butt is marinated in freshly squeezed orange juice and simple spices, slowly simmered for four hours, then pulled into chewy chunks and coated with a smoky, sweet and fiery guajillo pepper-scented adobo salsa until it melts together. That juicy resulting pork is heightened with housemade refried beans, a thick slice of queso fresco, mayo, red onion and avocado on that requisite oblong roll.
Peanut Butter and Jelly: PBJ LA (Los Angeles)
Ah, the PB&J: It’s the lunchtime staple of American childhood. Who would have ever thought that the simple all-American snack could (or even should) move beyond the basics? The folks at PBJ LA took the classic to soaring new levels with an entire menu of plant-based organic, from-scratch nut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. The Red Eye, one of the most-popular picks, is a buzzy riff on the traditional with espresso peanut butter infused Jaguar Forest Organic Coffee, spread onto bread along with dark chocolate raspberry jam. There are also peanut-free versions, such as the cocktail-inspired Old Fashioned with salted pecan butter and apple jam with Angostura Bitters and orange zest.
Italian Sub: Bunk Sandwiches (Portland, Oregon)
Grinders, subs, hoagies and even the muffuletta: If an American city is home to Italians, it’s home to some version of an Italian sandwich. There are classics like Amato’s in Maine, Capriotti’s in Delaware or Ranelli’s in Birmingham. Each is good, with devout followers. However, newcomer Bunk Sandwiches in Portland has quickly surged to the spotlight. The Italian cured meats sandwich is a two-hander stuffed to the brim with ham, Olympia Provisions salami cotto and capicola, as well as marinated hot peppers and provolone picante.
Hot Chicken: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (Nashville)
According to local lure, Nashville hot chicken was created by a scorned lover of a man named Thornton Prince to enact revenge on his prowling ways. Prince’s paramour spiced up his fried chicken with gut-churning amount of pepper until it reached a fiendishly dark red hue and hellishly hot flavor. Her retribution scheme didn’t go over as planned: turned out Prince loved the fiery fish and made it the highlight of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The dish has spread like wildfire over the past few years, spreading from Louisville to Los Angeles. At Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, it can be found in sandwich form at multiple locations throughout its hometown.
Beef on Weck: Charlie the Butcher (Williamsville, New York)
It sounds fancy and exotic, yet at its core the beef on weck is just a really good, really flavorful roast beef sandwich from Buffalo, New York. What sets it apart from other regional variations is the freshly grated horseradish sprinkled inside the special kummelweck (or kimmelweck) roll, similar to a kaiser but seasoned with fragrant caraway seeds and plenty of pretzel salt. Like all regional icons, this juicy, strongly spiced sandwich is found all throughout the city. Knowledgeable locals and visiting chefs prefer the version from Charlie the Butcher, where beef is slow-cooked for 18 hours, then sliced and dipped in bold au jus and sandwiched together with all the traditional trappings.
Cuban: Columbia Restaurant (Tampa, Florida)
The Cuban sandwich is a misnomer on many levels — neither the sandwich itself nor its culturally diverse fillings originated in Cuba. It’s like an ode to the cultural fabric that made up its home city when it was created in 1915. Invented at Tampa’s Columbia Restaurant, the oldest dining establishment in the state, the iconic sandwich was actually called a mixto when it was first created. It combines Genoa salami from Italy, Spanish ham, Cuban-style mojo-marinated pork, Swiss cheese, German pickles and mustard, nestled in fluffy Cuban bread. The bread still comes from century-old La Segunda Central Bakery, which has been the supplier since shortly after the sandwich was invented.
Barbecue Brisket: Loro (Austin, Texas)
While the word barbecue means pork in the Carolinas, in Texas’ Hill Country, the term is synonymous with beef brisket. Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue is consistently hailed as the leader of the pack. The no-reservations, counter-order barbecue joint has notoriously long lines — President Obama was the only person ever offered a reprieve — but the James Beard Award winner’s brisket can also be found at his new Asian-inspired smokehouse, Loro. Co-owned with Chef Tyson Cole of Uchi and Uchiko fame, Loro offers guests a chance to sink their teeth into Franklin’s smoked and grilled brisket sandwich, marinated in nuoc mam and finished with herbs and chile oil, sandwiches with zesty papaya salad, peanuts, chile aioli and thai herbs — hopefully with a slightly less onerous wait time.
Hot Salami: Gioia’s Deli (St. Louis)
This appropriately titled sandwich is hot in more ways than one. Gioia’s famous hot salami is served warm on Italian bread with Provel cheese and whatever garnishes are desired. And it’s been hailed as St. Louis’ favorite sandwich since 1918. House-made salame de testa is boiled from-scratch every day from a mix of beef and pig parts (that ends up more like a terrine or pate than your run-of-the-mill salami. The slightly earthy and peppery meat is sliced to order in thick rounds, served on hot Italian bread (get the garlic-cheese bread) dressed with choice of toppings like lettuce, tomato and spicy giardiniera.
Croque Madame: Bouchon Bakery (Yountville, California)
The croque monsieur is the fancy French cousin to the American ham and cheese — an elevated combination of boiled ham between slices of sweet pain de mie, topped with grated cheese, baked, fried or grilled, then covered with decadent Bechamel sauce. Put an egg on top and it becomes a croque madame. Thomas Keller offers his own chef-y take on the latter at his renowned Bouchon Bakery in Napa. There, the internationally acclaimed chef accents thinly sliced Madrange Jambon de Paris with thick-sliced Brioche (baked on site of course), Swiss cheese and nutmeg-, clove-, pepper- and Comté-infused Mornay sauce, making the already indulgent dish even more extravagant. Take that, France.
Corned Beef: Canter’s Deli (Los Angeles)
Few dishes showcase the melting pot of American cuisine better than corned beef. Created by wealthy Irishmen, commoditized by the British, adopted by North American colonists and perfected by Jewish immigrants in New York City, brined and boiled brisket has become both a St. Paddy’s Day and Jewish deli staple around the United States. Served hot on fresh baked rye bread with a pickle, Canter’s in Los Angeles is one of the best places to try it. Open 24 hours a day, aside from Jewish holidays, the landmark deli has long been a magnet for celebs at all hours of the day and night, luring Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Guns N’ Roses to its vinyl-covered booths.
Fried Bologna: Turkey and Wolf (New Orleans)
Kids all across America grow up eating bologna sandwiches. Young Southerners, however, up the ante with fried bologna. From the Great Smoky Mountains to the Mississippi Delta, rounds of cured pork (derived from Bolognese mortadella) are fried to a crisp, sandwiched between slices of white bread and flavored with various condiments, including near-mandatory mayo. At New Orleans’ Turkey and the Wolf, Mason Hereford griddle-fries three slices of locally made bologna, coats it with American cheese and accents it with house-made hot mustard, Duke’s mayo and shredded lettuce. That would be great on its own, but what really sets this monster of a sandwich apart is the crown of vinegar-brined potato chips sandwiched between butter-slathered thick-cut slices of Pullman bread.
Reuben: Crescent Moon Alehouse (Omaha, Nebraska)
Of course a sandwich as celebrated — and ubiquitous — as the Reuben has some legends surrounding its original story. One of the more credible fables claims it came to be when Reuben Kulakofsky suggested the combo during a poker game in Omaha’s now defunct Blackstone Hotel. It’s said that hotel owner Charles Schimmel first made the sandwich and liked it so much he added it to the menu. That same recipe of tender corned beef, melted Emmental cheese and sauerkraut slathered with Russian dressing, pressed between slices of grilled marbled rye can now be sampled right across the street from the old hotel at Crescent Moon Alehouse, the city’s best Reuben according to many locals.
The Original Maid-Rite Sandwich: Maid-Rite (Muscatine, Iowa)
An Iowa tradition since 1926, chowing down on a Maid-Rite sandwich is a requirement for sandwich-loving Hawkeyes. The messy ground-meat sandwich — with Midwestern beef topped with mustard, ketchup, onion and pickles on a fresh-steamed bun — was first invented by butcher Fred Angell in Muscatine, Iowa. A customer, a local delivery man, was pleasantly surprised by that combination of tangy spices and savory meat, declaring the combination to be "made right." And the sandwich got its name. Shortly after its inception, Angell began franchising the concept, spreading the gospel of the Maid-Rite sandwich across the state and throughout the entire Midwest.
Hot Brown: Brown Hotel (Louisville, Kentucky)
This creamy, open-faced turkey sandwich was created to recharge the batteries of dinner-dance patrons when Chef Fred Schmidt introduced it to the Brown Hotel’s menu back in 1926. Schmidt piled sliced turkey atop a piece of toast, covered it with Mornay sauce, adorned it with Roma tomato halves and toast points, passed the lot under a hot broiler and added crisp bacon slices. Now a Kentucky sensation, the Hot Brown has spawned numerous best-of competitions. Try one where it was created.
Jibarito: The Jibarito Stop (Chicago)
The jibarito — a sandwich of meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese, cradled between two slices of fried, salted green plantains — has engendered some serious controversy. One side claims it was invented by Chicago restaurateur Juan Figueroa at now-closed Borinquen. Others say it was created in rural Puerto Rico. Wherever its inception, one thing is certain: The sandwich has become a Windy City obsession. Nearly every Puerto Rican joint in the city serves a rendition. The popular sandwiches are the name of the game at The Jibarito Stop in Pilsen, where you’ll find a banner version with cheese, meat, lettuce, tomato and onion between salted green fried plantains.
Ham and Cheese: Feast! (Charlottesville, Virginia)
It’s hard to find a ham and cheese that’s better than the one you make at home ... unless you head to Feast! in Charlottesville, Virginia. The local-centric market and deli offers an impeccable rosemary ham and goat cheese sandwich that celebrates the flavors of the city and nearby Shenandoah Valley. The creamy and tangy chevre is handcrafted in small batches down the road at Caromont Farm. It’s counterbalanced with a sweet and spicy plum chutney from Virginia Chutney Company and peppery arugula from Manakintowne Farm, all layered together on fresh focaccia bread made by Albemarle Baking Company, then warmed on the grill. For those who want to eat more than one, all of the ingredients can be purchased at the neighboring specialty store, so you can up your at-home ham and cheese game, as well.
Maryland Pit Beef: Chap’s Pit Beef (Aberdeen, Maryland)
The opposite of Kansas City, Texas and the Carolinas low-and-slow philosophy, Maryland’s regional barbecue cooks hard and fast. Lean-top roast beef is minimally seasoned before it’s tossed onto a grill directly over hot charcoal. When it’s somewhere between raw and medium-rare, the whole thing is sliced into thin pink silvers, which are piled into a roll. At Chap’s Pit Beef in Aberdeen and Baltimore, those shreds of tender meat are enlivened with onions and the signature Tiger Sauce, a spicy blend of mayonnaise and horseradish.
Falafel Pita: Al-Ameer Restaurant (Dearborn, Michigan)
The greatest vegetarian dish between any type of bread, these fried balls of ground chickpeas and fava beans have been hugged by fluffy pita possibly further back than a millennia. The wrap spread to the United States by way of the Middle East sometime in the 20th century, making its way into restaurants and delis all across the country. The city best-known for its impeccable presentations of Middle Eastern fare is Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit. For the past three decades, Al-Ameer has been hailed as the best restaurant in town, serving the best Lebanese-style falafel in the U.S. These fluffy-on-the-inside-crisp-on-the-outside rounds are topped with housemade tahini, parsley and tomatoes on fresh-baked pita.
Grilled Cheese: Melt Shop (New York City)
Making a good grilled cheese is actually harder than it seems. Every home cook has experienced the blackened bread or not-fully-melted cheese problem. Those sad attributes are never an issue at Melt Shop, arguably the place that reinvented the grilled cheese. Whimsical sandwiches span from pepper Jack-coated Buffalo chicken to savory French onion steak. Purists appreciate the simple Maple Bacon. A superior version of the homemade bacon-topped version, Melt Shop’s take combines sweet maple-glazed bacon with New York cheddar and sharp brick spread, perfectly gooey on properly browned country white bread.
Lobster Roll: Eventide Oyster Co. (Portland, Maine)
There are a lot of great things to see and do in Maine: stunning oceanside cliffs, verdant forests, antique wooden ships sailing through fog-covered harbors. Even so, the first thing most visitor want to experience upon arrival to the Pine Tree State is a lobster roll in the place where lobster’s best. The signature Eventide Brown Butter Lobster Roll is regarded as the top pick of many a top chef. This warm sandwich combines straight-out-of-the-water Maine lobster meat with a nutty, salted brown-butter vinaigrette stuffed atop a bao-style steamed bun. This creative update is certainly rich, but the hint of lemon in the buttery dressing cuts through the potential heaviness, brightening the flavor of the perfectly cooked shellfish.
Bacon, Egg and Cheese: BEC (New York City)
New York City may be best-known to out-of-towners for its dollar slices and dirty water dogs. However, one of the most popular locally beloved staples is the bacon, egg and cheese on a roll. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of excellent BEC found at bodegas and delis throughout the city, whipped up in under a minute. For a grand take on the morning mainstay, head to the fittingly labeled BEC. The Chelsea fast-casual joint offers made-to-order organic egg sandwiches accented with locally sourced meat and dairy. The BEC Classic combines two over-easy eggs with applewood-smoked bacon and New York sharp cheddar on a bacon- and cheese-crusted brioche bun.
Chicken Parm: Parm (New York City)
It shouldn’t be hard to guess the specialty at this New York City Italian-American joint. Choose from chicken, eggplant or meatball parm offered on rolls, in heroes or as platters, along with a handful of other red sauce classics. The chicken parm is consistently hailed as the best in the United States. There are no over-the-top tricks or accoutrements, just high-quality, extremely fresh ingredients expertly assembled. Soft semolina bread sourced from nearby Parisi Bakery is layered with slowly simmered tomato sauce, freshly fried chicken cutlets, another drizzle of tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. The whole thing is toasted until the cheese is melted, then it’s finished with a few basil leaves and bundled together.
Sloppy Joe: Town Hall Deli (South Orange, New Jersey)
Not your average cafeteria-style ground beef in tomato sauce, this New Jersey sandwich is a far cry from what many Americans think of when they think sloppy Joe. This far less messy meal was actually inspired by a dish found in Havana, Cuba, at — surprise, surprise — a bar called Sloppy Joe’s. Reborn at Town Hall Deli in South Orange, back in 1934, this triple-decker features three slices of specially baked pullman rye bread, interspersed with layers of meat, cheese and coleslaw, with a solid dose of Town Hall’s signature Russian dressing. And though it’s been around for nearly nine decades, it’s still just as sought-after as it was back in the day.
Almost Famous Pastrami: Primanti Bros (Pittsburgh)
This Pittsburgh institution, now a national franchise, isn’t famous for one particular sandwich — it’s infamous for its accoutrements. Sweet and sour coleslaw, two tomato slices and — here’s the important part — a handful of hot and crispy hand-cut French fries are what makes these massive sandwiches so famous. You can pick from about 20 different protein options, ranging from oven-roasted turkey and cheese to imported sardines and cheese. The best one of these giant concoctions is the salty, smoky pastrami with cheese, served between large slices of soft Italian bread with the standard trifecta. To think what started as a small wooden lunch stand in Pittsburgh’s Strip District during the Great Depression has turned into national fry-covered sensation. Hey, fries do make everything that much more delicious.
Banh Mi: Lu’s Sandwich (Minneapolis)
A fusion masterpiece since long before the term fusion implied culinary trends, the banh mi combines French baguettes and pâtés with Vietnamese flavors and ingredients. The result, is one of the best sandwiches ever created. Lu’s Sandwich in Minneapolis serves one of the top takes in the U.S. Crisp, airy baguette is baked fresh daily, filled up choice of eight different proteins and traditional cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon, jalapenos, green onions, homemade butter and pork pâté. You can go wrong with any of the picks, but the Vietnamese-style grilled pork might just be the best thing you’ll ever eat.
Tri-Tip: Firestone Grill (San Luis Obispo, California)
Although most barbecue fanatics tend to concentrate on the south, California’s Central Coast is also a hotspot for smoke-kissed meat. Inspired by the area’s deep rancho roots, grill-masters have long finessed tri-tip, a lesser-known cut from the top of the sirloin. Throughout the region these Santa Maria steaks are grilled to medium-rare, then stuffed inside a French roll. You’ll find an excellent representation at San Luis Obispo’s Firestone Grill, where thin slices of oak-scented tri-tip are simply served with house-made barbecue sauce on a French roll.
Gyro: BZ Grill (Astoria, New York)
Imported from the Ottoman Empire to Greece, then from Greece to America, the gyro features thin slices of meat, stacked onto a skewer, slowly churned on a vertical spit. Those juicy hunts are sliced off into thin slivers and stuffed in a pita with tomatoes, onions and lettuce and creamy, refreshing tzatziki sauce. Sadly, there are a lot of bad gyros out there in the world, made from processed slices of mystery meat and ready-made sauce. Find a banner version at BZ Grill. The Astoria restaurant makes its gyro the right way, with sliced-to-order shards of succulent pork served on fluffy toasted pita with all the traditional fillings and fresh tzatziki, tangy from yogurt and brimming with herbs.
The Clam Roll: Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale (Madison, Connecticut)
One would think that it would be easy to deep fry clams and stick 'em in a roll. Apparently, it’s not — try finding a great clam roll outside New England, and you’ll understand why. Forego the fried mess and head to the source at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale in Connecticut. There, fresh whole belly clams are delivered six days a week. Each one is carefully selected for firmness, breaded to order with the shop’s famous light and tasty batter, cooked in vegetable oil and drained on baker’s paper to remove any excess oil. Those flaky and golden-brown bellies are served on a traditional New England-style hot dog bun with a side of freshly made coleslaw and house-made tartare.
Italian Beef: Johnnie’s Beef (Elmwood Park, Illinois)
Sure, Chicago is known for hot dogs, deep dish pies and the predecessor to the Bloomin’ Onion, but the city’s greatest claim to culinary fame lies in its Italian beef. The sandwich is totally unique to the Windy City and inspires fierce debates on who makes the best. Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park is always somewhere on the list. Locals join the perennially long queue for a taste of its thin-shaved roast beef topped with spicy and sweet pepper giardiniera jammed into an airy white roll dipped in gravy. Similar to staffers at Philly’s cheesesteak joints, the brusque folks behind the counter expect you to know your order as soon as you approach. Repeat after us, "beef, sweet, hot and dipped."
BLAT: Friends & Family (Los Angeles)
Bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches are beloved across America. The perfect combination of salt and acid with a nice crispy, smoky crunch, the sandwich could hardly be improved, but leave it to Californians to add avocado. The upgraded combo can now be found in nearly every sandwich shop in the country — even Subway — but the best place to try one is still California. At Friends & Family in East Hollywood, Chef Daniel Mattern and Pastry Chef-Baker Roxana Jullapat have combined culinary forces to create a simple version that ups the ante on the classic combination with a touch of basil and Jullapat’s excellent homemade sourdough bread.
Cemitas: Cemitas Puebla (Chicago)
Created in Oaxaca and adopted by Chicagoans, the cemita is a Mexican sandwich that has become a principal dish in a city that is known for its love of meat-stuffed carbs. Similar to a torta but with its own sesame seed-studded bun, cemitas are filled with papalo (a spicy-citrusy Mexican herb), avocado, shredded Oaxaca cheese and, generally, plenty of meat. At Cemitas Puebla, owner Tony Anteliz bakes his own crusty buns in-house for his acclaimed sandwiches. The most popular pick, the Cemita Atomica, comes piled high with guajillo-chile-slathered roast pork, a slice of ham, traditional breaded pork Milanese, chipotle-pineapple sauce and all the customary accoutrements.
Barbecue Pork: Rodney Scott BBQ (Charleston, South Carolina)
Smoked pork is to Southerners what pastrami is to New Yorkers, a long-established tradition that can be found at any number of places. Of the many options, Rodney Scott is at the top of the class. The famed pitmaster took home a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, thanks to his exacting whole hog ’ cue. Slow-smoked over oak coals with a hint of hickory and pecan hardwood, Scott’s whole hogs are imbued with smoky flavor, then flavored with his peppery, vinegar sauce. The meat is pulled off the carcass into thick, chewy bites and tucked inside a toasted white bun. It’s simple, smoky and sublime.
Tuna Salad: BKLYN Larder (Brooklyn)
For the past 50 years, cans of tuna have graced nearly every pantry in the United States. Because of that, a lot of Americans turn to the tuna salad sandwich when the fridge runs down to its bare bone essentials. At BKLYN Larder, however, the tuna, egg and anchovy sandwich is a dish worth celebrating. It starts with a Grandaisy Bakery flauta baguette that’s sliced down the middle and smeared with mayonnaise on one side, drizzled with olive oil on the other. Brooklyn’s best tuna salad is then topped with briny bursts of capers, a sliced, hard-boiled egg and two whole Agostino Recca anchovies laid across the whole thing with a quick squeeze of lemon for an innovative carb-loaded riff on a Nicoise salad.
French Dip: Cole’s (Los Angeles)
Southern Californians are an innovative lot when it comes to dining: They’re responsible for the two-way drive-through speaker (In-N-Out Burger), valet parking and the French dip sandwich. There’s a big debate about whom to thank for the sandwich. Both Philippe’s and Cole’s claim to be the creators of the simple combo of thinly sliced roast beef piled to the brim of a French roll that has been dipped in the jus that melted off the meat during the roasting process. Go to Cole’s to choose between braised pork, classic roast beef, turkey breast, pastrami and braised lamb dipped in their own droppings. Each one is served on freshly baked bread with a side of homemade au jus and Cole’s atomic pickle. Plus, the landmark saloon boasts a hidden speakeasy in the back.
Fried Chicken: Buxton Hall Barbecue (Asheville, North Carolina)
As evidenced by countless fast food joints and chef-driven fast-casual spots, fried chicken sandwiches are one of America's favorite ways to get covered in grease. There are plenty of options for great fried chicken sandwiches, but Buxton Hall BBQ’s rendition has reached road trip-worthy status. Pitmaster Elliot Moss smokes his bird along with his acclaimed whole hog, then dips each breast in buttermilk, before it’s deep-fried and topped with a combination of American and pimento cheeses, white barbecue sauce and bread-and-butter pickles. The creamy, smoky and crisp ingredients are sandwiched between a toasted white bun that somehow manages to hold it all together.
Breaded Pork Tenderloin: The Mug (Greenfield, Indiana)
Breaded pork tenderloin is beloved across the Midwest, but it’s most-synonymous with the Hoosier State. It’s so ubiquitous, it could be the state’s official dish. Throughout Indiana and now beyond, pork is pounded until cardboard-thin, then breaded, deep-fried and served on a bun that is like the little coat to the fat hunk of meat. For a great take, head to The Mug, a "farm-to-curb" drive-in located in Greenfield as well as Indy’s Irvington neighborhood.
Chow Mein: China Star Restaurant (Fall River, Massachusetts)
In the 1930s, when Fall River’s textile mills were filled with Quebecois, Irish and English workers, Chinese restaurant owners began tailoring menus to suit the preferences of factory workers. The resulting success marinates locally made crisp noodles in a salty brown gravy with meat, onion and celery. The half-soggy, half-crisp strands are tucked inside a bun for the Chow Mein sandwich, which quickly became a local staple throughout the Northeast. At the height of its popularity, the hybrid sandwich was featured on the menu at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. It’s still just as popular as ever at China Star Restaurant in Fall River, which sells about 200 chow mein sandwiches per week.
Sesame Pancake: Vanessa's Dumplings (New York City)
Following in the footsteps of the enterprising immigrants who adapt homeland favorites to local customs, Vanessa Weng created the ultimate mashup dish of Beijing and New York City. She took the former’s breakfast staple, the sesame pancake, and reinvented it as a sandwich. Like the street food vendors in Northern China, Weng fries her pancake-like dough on an oiled pan until the sesame-studded mixture is crisp on the outside, spongey within. It’s filled with julienned cucumbers, green onions, sprigs of cilantro and flavorful fillings ranging from kimchi and egg to Szechuan-style beef and Peking duck.
Bagel and Lox: Russ & Daughters (New York City)
Bagels and lox are as representative of New York’s melting pot as any dish. Eastern European Jewish bagels serve as the base for American cream cheese and cured salmon. The latter combines Scandinavian salmon and Native American smoking and drying techniques. That trifecta of ingredients creates the foundation for the iconic sandwich, along with onions, capers and tomatoes at bagel shops around the country. But the place to get it is Russ & Daughters on New York’s Lower East Side. The historic "appetizing store" has been slicing foods that pair with bagels (like cream cheese and cured fish) in the classic Jewish tradition since 1914.
Oyster Po’ Boy: Bevi Seafood Co. (New Orleans)
During a violent streetcar strike in 1929, former conductors Bennie and Clovis Martin pledged to feed their old coworkers at their coffee and sandwich stand. The brothers asked baker John Gendusa to fashion a wider loaf to accommodate larger servings for the "poor boys" on strike. The name and the sandwich stuck, becoming part of Louisiana sandwich history. You can get a great po’ boy nearly anywhere in the state, but New Orleans’ Bevi Seafood Co. is consistently hailed as one of the best — their fried oyster po’ boy features Louisiana oysters fried to juicy and crisp-dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise on a roll sourced from century-old Leidenheimer Baking Company.
Cucumber Tea Sandwich: The Palm Court (New York City)
Back in 19th-century Britain, it was considered fashionable to eat dinner at 8 p.m. To mind the long gap between luncheon and evening meal, Anna Maria Stanhope, seventh Duchess of Bedford, came up with the ingenious idea of afternoon tea service. To this day, the elegant snack usually includes a light sampling of cakes and scones served with cream and jam as well as a selection of light sandwiches. The most-famous of the array is the cucumber sandwich, immortalized by Oscar Wilde, and enjoyed by guests at places like The Plaza Hotel’s storied Palm Court. There, English cucumber is flavored with minted goat cheese Green Goddess on crustless rye bread on a tier with other sandwiches and savories.
The Bobbie: Capriotti’s (Wilmington, Delaware)
Have you noticed that your favorite Thanksgiving leftover sandwich appears on restaurant and deli menus across the country? And that former Black Friday sustenance has suddenly seem to be readily available any time of year, from Christmas to Fourth of July? Thank Capriotti’s. This Wilmington-born mini-chain has been expanding its footprint around the US along with its nationally acclaimed best-selling sandwich the Bobbie, a holiday-inspired mix of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayo, nestled in a soft sub roll. What seems like to simple a concept has spawned countless imitators, but few impersonators put as much care into roasting fresh turkeys every single day of the year.
Egg Salad: Masterpiece Deli (Denver)
The egg salad sandwich has long filled the void when it seems like there’s nothing to eat in the house. Even the most sparsely populated kitchens tend to have eggs, mayo and some sort of bread. Chef Justin Brunson of Masterpiece Deli in Denver kicked the classic fridge forager dish up several notches. Drawing on the chef-beloved egg-and-truffle pairing, Brunson added high-quality white truffle oil. Served on butter-toasted white bread, the fairly straightforward recipe (which can be found with a simple google search) blends hard-boiled eggs with mayo, capers, red onion, Kosher salt and ground black pepper layered with a bed of crisp Romaine lettuce.
Pimento Cheese: Caviar & Bananas (Charleston, South Carolina)
A tradition unlike any other, the $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches sold at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, might just be the most-famous sandwiches in sports. The simple snack combines shredded cheddar, softened cream cheese, diced pimentos and spices with Duke mayonnaise (yes, it has to be Duke’s) on soft white bread. But that iconic golf course isn’t the only place in the South to snag a bite of these iconic sammies. Caviar & Bananas in Charleston, Nashville and Greenville sells its own more substantial version throughout the year. Housemade pimento cheese is layered with applewood-smoked bacon, pickled green tomato and bibb lettuce between two slices of toasted sourdough, offering a southern fried riff on two classic sandwiches, the pimento cheese and the BLT.
The Garden Sandwich: Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Back in 1979, way back when Americans were told to eat two or more servings of meat every day, Jimmy Weisman took a chance and entered The Garden sandwich into the National Sandwich Contest that year. He beat out over 1,000 other meatier entries, taking home the blue ribbon for his meatless combination of cheddar and provolone cheeses, sunflower seeds, spinach pate, mushrooms, mayo and alfalfa sprouts on pumpernickel. The Garden has become the linchpin of Weisman’s eponymous Little Rock sandwich shop, Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches, as well as the most-famous vegetarian sandwich in all of Arkansas
Limburger: Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern (Monroe, Wisconsin)
Green County, Wisconsin Swiss and German immigrants adopted a beer and sandwich combo that has worked its way deep into the state’s culinary consciousness. It consists of good local brew and notoriously stinky limburger, a surface-ripened, aged cheese developed in 19th-century northern Europe. That malodorous — but delicious — cheese is traditionally sandwiched between slices of dark bread with raw onions and horseradish or mustard. Because the local delicacy paired so well with beer, sales declined when taverns closed during the Prohibition years, but you can still get a real, old school Limburger cheese sandwich at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern, located on the town square in little Monroe.
Fried Brain: Schottzie’s Bar and Grill (St. Louis)
The fried brain sandwich doesn’t just exist, it lures people from all around the Midwest. People drive from hours away to try the formerly common Midwestern specialty at Schottzie’s, one of the few remaining restaurants that still serves the now-endangered sandwich. Like most fried foods, this patty is crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and it tastes far better than one would imagine. Brain, generally hailing from hogs, is dipped in an egg wash, then a flour mix sprinkled with spices, formed into patties and stuck in the freezer. Each one of the 20 to 25 orders sold at Schottzie’s per week is thrown back in the deep fryer when ordered and sandwiched between rye bread with mustard and pickles served on the side.
St. Paul: Mai Lee (Brentwood, Missouri)
This St. Louis-area special was said to have been created by a Chinese-American chef hailing from Minnesota, hence the confusing title. A mix of an egg foo young patty (egg, onion and bean sprouts), lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles between two slices of white bread, this creative sandwich spread throughout the Gateway City in the 1940s by Chinese restaurateurs seeking to attract customers unfamiliar with their cuisine. You can still try it at Mai Lee. The popular Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant offers about a half-dozen variations of the regional favorite. The one to get is the Special St. Paul, featuring all of the standard ingredients as well as a meaty mix of pork, beef, chicken, ham and shrimp, brightened with pickled onions, cucumber and lettuce.
Patty Melt: Du-Pars Restaurant & Bakery (Los Angeles)
Half-cheeseburger, half-grilled cheese with some onion thrown in, the patty melt was invented in 1932 by restaurateur Tiny Naylor in Los Angeles. It’s been on the menu at Du-Par’s Restaurant & Bakery at the Farmer’s Market since 1938. Now owned by Tiny’s son Biff (as of 2007) the historic diner offers a patty melt true to Tiny’s original recipe. A coarse Harris Ranch chuck patty is covered with sweet caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread that is so buttery and delicious, it can barely hold itself together. You’ll want to make sure to get an extra napkin (or three) with this decadent SoCal mainstay.
Fried Fish: Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Cafe
Fried fish sandwiches are popular all across America, at fast food joints, oyster bars and seafood shacks up and down both coasts. It’s hard to find a fresher — or better — fried halibut sandwich than the one served at Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Cafe in Whittier, Alaska. It features fish harvested straight from the Prince William Sound, hand-dipped in a secret recipe batter. The result is a perfectly golden, tender filet nestled into a springy bun. These are best enjoyed on the restaurant’s covered deck, which offers prime views of the mountain-backed harbor.
Meatball Sub: Defonte’s (Brooklyn)
Balls of meat date back to some of the earliest Arab cookbooks, but classic meatballs are a distinctly Italian-American tradition, especially when tucked into a sub roll. One of the oldest and best examples can be found at Defonte’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The 1922 sandwich shop offers a huge meatball parm sub, dubbed the Dino, with sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella, flowing from the side of the seeded Italian bread.
Chicken Salad: The Cheddar Box (Louisville, Kentucky)
Americans have been mixing chicken with mayonnaise since the 1700s to serve on salads, in lettuce cups, heck even straight out of the bowl, but everyone knows it’s really best in a sandwich. One favorite place to try the classic is the homey Cheddar Box in Louisville, Kentucky. Using the freshest ingredients, the lunch hotspot prepares three different versions. Its world-famous features homemade mayo and celery. The curry incorporates chutney mayonnaise, red onion, celery, grapes and almonds. And the honey-pecan can turn even the most ardent savory-sweet hater around with its vibrant blend of honey mayonnaise, dried cranberries, celery and pecan. Get your pick tucked inside white, whole wheat, marbled rye or a butter bun.
Taylor Ham: Bagel Chateau (Westfield, New Jersey)
North Jersey and South Jersey don’t agree on much. One half of the state claims allegiance to NYC, the other half to Philly. One prefers hoagies, the other subs. Though they may call it different things — Taylor ham in North Jersey and pork roll in South — this Canadian bacon-like meat is a Jersey favorite, especially when combined with fried egg and cheese on some sort of bread. The hard roll is the most-common foundation. But, while the state doesn't get nearly as much credit as its Big Apple neighbor, New Jersey is also famous for its impeccable bagels. Try all of the above at Bagel Chateau in Westfield. There, chewy bagels are stacked thinly sliced, crisp meat, hot fried egg and cheese oozing out the side.