We all say it but we don’t give nearly enough thought to what it means to be the "best thing since sliced bread." Because sliced bread is pretty damn incredible: you can dress it up (à la club sandwich) or you can dress it down (oil and vinegar) and you can smoke a whole pig for six hours, debone the tender hunk of meat, and shove it into a massive sliced french roll before slapping it with cheese and calling it a meal. What’s better than sliced bread? Nearly nothing. And when you read about these sandwiches, the debate will turn in favor of the humble loaf. Man cannot live by bread alone, which is probably why the chefs at these restaurants can make sandwiches for a living and be considered ever more the heroes for it.
On paper, it seems simple. Al’s Big Beef sandwiches have been a Chicago staple since 1938, largely buffering the success of this 122-year old restaurant, and it’s made up of thinly sliced tender Italian beef piled high on an Italian roll with giardiniera, a fermented veggie relish with sweet and hot peppers and celery, topped with cheddar and quickly dipped in au jus before serving. Another hot contender for best sandwich in the windy city is actually less a sandwich and more just delicious Frankenstein concoction (that happens to look a lot like a sandwich). Rather than bread, Borinquen makes their Jibaritos with two flattened, deep-fried plantains over slices of beef, pork or chicken with garlic with optional mayo cheese, lettuce and tomato. A little spicy and a little unconventional, this Puerto Rican-flavored sandwich will definitely leave its diner feeling more adventurous.
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Most people wouldn’t dare venture into the dangerous mean streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, but that’s because most people don’t know about Saigon Sandwich, the mom and pop hole in the wall that serves almost inconceivably cheap banh mis stuffed with Vietnamese barbecued pork, and perfectly balanced pickled vegetables on super-fresh crusty bread. Another reliable sandwich shop for those who want some good bread-nomming without having to traipse through urine-stained alleys is Ike’s Place, a north Cali legend which has perfected the art of the sandwich. There’s something for everyone, and usually under fairly amusing titles, but the Elvis Keith sandwich is an unusual winner, featuring halal chicken breast, swiss cheese teriyaki sauce and wasabi mayo, which leaves it starting sweet and ending savory.
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Pig-eaters really, really have to try to Noble Pig from Noble Sandwiches, that’s gotta be clear right off the bat. They offer a lot of different and equally stunning sandwich items, including Creole catfish with tomato tartar sauce as well as smoked duck pastrami, but people who dig pork will feel like a Columbus washing ashore, or James W. Marshall striking gold in California, except this one is arguably better because all diners have to sacrifice is eight bucks. Without further ado, the Noble Pig: spicy ham, pulled pork, bacon and provolone. If you really like meat, try half of the Noble Pig and half of the smoked duck pastrami and call it a good day’s work.
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Founded by Mario Batali’s dad, Salumi harkens back to the traditional artisanal Italian Salumeria which perfected the art of curing meats, tricked out with totally cutting-edge technology (thanks to Armandino Batali’s engineering chops at Boeing). What results is the perfectly salted and braised pork shoulder with peppers, carrots and onions on a roll, topped with daily fresh-pulled mozzarella. The reigning king of the Seattle sandwiches, however, is Paseo's, a place that only locals know – it’s not even marked by a sign. Certainly cash only, and with so little seating space most people just sit outside or find a park. Visitors typically count on a line out the door. However, their Caribbean Roast is worth it: slow-roasted and Paseo-marinated pork shoulder falls into pieces over a lightly toasted baguette spread with aioli, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, romaine lettuce and caramelized onions.
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As the legend goes, in 1918 Philippe Mathieu dropped a sliced french roll into the roasting pan which was filled with meat juices from the oven while making a sandwich. The customer said he’d still take it and after trying it, told all of his friends about this wonderful new French Dip Sandwich. A century later, Philippe The Original is still making sandwiches this way, having settled into its permanent location in 1951. By that merit alone, and also the genuinely great taste of the genuine Original French Dip, Philippe’s deserves to be up there on the list of best sandwiches in Los Angeles.
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La Sandwicherie on South Beach might just look like any ole’ beach shack, but it’s actually a French-owned sandwich shop that pairs a remarkable view of the coast with a buttery loaf of French bread stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto and fresh mozzarella with fresh veggies. Versailles is a classic Cuban restaurant which offers cheap and perfectly filling sandwiches, expertly made since 1971. The Cuban Baguette is a standout, filled with sweet ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard and pickles; while the more adventurous diner might opt for a Grilled Dolphin Sandwich, with a side of plantain chips.
Also check out Hopper's picks for Miami's five best Cuban restaurants to read reviews and see photos
In NOLA, the po’ boy is king of all sliced bread food offerings, and there are plenty of places to get it. But ask anyone and more often than not, they’ll point you to Mahony’s Po’ Boy shop on iconic Magazine Street. They offer a revolving menu of diverse offerings, like jumbo grilled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and remoulade, or alligator sausage; but a general favorite is the Peacemaker, a po’ boy stuffed with cornmeal-fried oysters, cheddar and bacon. More oystery goodness can be found at Casamentos, which has a fried oyster sandwich on a bed of thick sliced pan bread topped with fresh lettuce and tomatoes.
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With a restaurant called John’s Roast Pork in a city like Philly, it’s not surprising what the big seller is. However, if one must get a Philly cheese steak – and one must – then John’s, est. 1930, still keeping day-laborer hours of 6:45 am to 3:00 pm, is the place to try it. Made with mountains of dripping original-recipe roast beef and melted provolone all perfectly retained in a seeded roll from Carangi Bakery, it’s no surprise that John’s is the hometown hero. Real fans go back to get their roast pork sandwich. And then there’s the other kind of meat and cheese on a bed of crispy yet soft bed: the Italian Hoagie from the one hoagie place in this hoagie town you really gotta know about: Sarcone’s Deli has made a name for itself pumping out rolls and stuffed with delicately sliced prosciutto, hot capicola, hard salami, provolone, onions lettuce and tomatoes seasoned with oil and vinegar.
Philadelphia also does a seriously good lobster roll, as one of its restaurants is on our list of places with America's best lobster rolls
New York has no shortage of icons: I Replace the taste of meat in your mouth with ice cream from one of New York's top ice cream shops