I am so excited about this national food holiday! How can you not enjoy a good sandwich? Especially where I’m living now: there seems to be a sub sandwich shop on every block in New Jersey! The sandwich seems like such a ubiquitous dish: nearly every culinary culture in the world has something like it. The rudimentary definition of a sandwich is two pieces of bread, or any bread-like grain, with stuff in between, be it luncheon meat, vegetables, falafel balls…you name it. The story we all hear in elementary school is that the sandwich originated in the 18th century, when the English Earl of Sandwich started putting his meat in between two pieces of bread so he could eat and play cards at the same time. Apocryphal or not, the idea of putting stuff between two pieces of bread for better portability, ease of use, or neatness, has been around since ancient times, when Middle Eastern cultures used two pieces of flatbread to make themselves some hearty meals.
No matter where it came from, the sandwich is a hugely popular concept, and now sandwiches are eaten all over the world in many forms. Variants of sandwiches that have arisen and made names for themselves over the years (and also have national food holidays to themselves!) are Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day, Cold Cuts Day, Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, Hamburger and Cheeseburger days, Ice Cream Sandwich Day, and Fluffernutter Day. But there are so many other sandwiches, from all over the world, that just haven’t gotten their own special place in the sun. And New York City–the place where you can get almost anything you want to eat, from anywhere in the world–is the best place to try something new! My biggest problem with researching for today was…there were just too many sandwiches I wanted to highlight! I’ve never done a huge post like this before 🙂 So, I’m going to let the sandwiches (and the restaurants!) speak for themselves, for the most part. This weekend is the perfect time to get out to a New York neighborhood you haven’t visited and try out a brand new type of delicious sandwich!
First, we start with Food Network stars Aaron Sanchez and Anne Burrel’s favorite sandwich in New York, banh mi. The banh mi is a sandwich created during French colonial times, when the melding of French baguettes and Vietnamese cooking came together into a delicious sandwich. Banh mi consist of a meat–usually grilled pork–and pickles cucumbers and carrots, served with a generous helping of cilantro. The cilantro will sadly keep me away from most banh mi varieties, but you should really try one out at one of the most popular banh mi joints in the city, Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches. It’s certainly the most critically-acclaimed banh mi out there, with rave reviews from Time Out New York, Black Book Magazine, and the blog darling Midtown Lunch.
Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches
311 Atlantic Ave (between Hoyt St & Smith St), Boerum Hill
“Good banh mi is a marvel of contrasting flavors and textures, brilliant ingredients combined into a simple sandwich: salty pork pâté, sweet pickled carrots, thick cuts of cool cucumber, and cilantro on a mayo-slathered, toasted baguette. Ninh Van Dang made exceptional banh mi at An Dong, his famous Sunset Park shop, and his fans are thrilled that the restaurant was reincarnated (albeit in slightly altered form) as this East Village spot. The family has expanded the sandwich line-up, adding chicken, pork chops, and portobello to the original roster of pork pâté and sardine.”–Time Out New York
“Makes a fine sandwich, with more variations than most shops of its ilk offer. Mushroom and tofu to please vegetarians; pork, chicken, and classic pâté for the carnivores. Also serves bubble tea and a rich phở. Hole in the wall location isn’t much, but gets the job done.”–Black Book Magazine
“It was a pork party in my mouth, although honestly all I could really taste was the crumbly pig at the bottom, and the vast amount of pickled carrot. There was only a little bit of cilantro, and also one or two pieces of jalapeno since I had asked for mine spicy (which it really wasn’t) but they took a backseat to the meat. While I wished I had squirted some sriracha on before leaving the shop, there was enough going on flavor-wise to make me forget this sandwich wasn’t spicy.”–Midtown Lunch
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Huh. I’m confused. This place actually makes a tasty banh mi. I wanted to hate Nicky’s and I thought they would be like the Panda Express equivalent of Vietnamese cuisine. After my first bite into a fresh classic banh mi I was so surprised that I actually loved the taste of it. Their viet sandwiches taste like the ones in California. The only downside is that you’re paying for the convenience of not having to travel to Chinatown and they’re expensive. But if I ever need a banh mi delivered to my doorstep Nicky’s has me covered.”–Vanessa T.
“The banh mi starts with the bread, a perfect combination of soft and crusty. The inside was a little scarce in terms of fullness, but very tasty. I tried some of the pho and it was excellent. When you can get hot Vietnamese soup and dump your ingredients in, you are in a good spot if you are not a numbskull who can’t figure out how to do it. The pork chop with rice vermicelli was excellent as well. Flavorful, a nice size and a good combination on the plate.”–Jonathon G.
Jetting all the way from Vietnam to a country that’s a little closer our shores–Cuba–comes the Cubano sandwich, a hot pressed sandwich comprised of ham, cheese, mustard, and pickles (the secret ingredient!) on Cuban bread. You can get Cubanos at many restaurants–not even Cuban ones!–but to find one of the best Cubanos in New York City, you’ve got to head to La Flor de Broadway in Harlem. At $2.50 per sandwich, it’s probably the cheapest lunch on this entire list. You can get your sandwich with mustard or with mayo (Dominican style), but make sure to get the pickles or it’s just a plain ol’ ham and cheese!
La Flor de Broadway
3395 Broadway (between 137th St & 138th St)
“There is no fate worse for a Cubano than a flighty hand at the presser, which results in a sandwich with only partially melted cheese. At this Harlem take-out spot, they take their sandwich smooshing seriously, basting the bun with margarine while it cooks to ensure a smooth sheen and irresistible crunch, and making sure all the pungent flavors meld harmoniously.”–New York Magazine
“The secret is two-fold: Flor de Broadway starts with Dominican pernil, a roasted pork shoulder that is redolent with the flavors of garlic and melted fat. While not quite the classic Cuban lechon asado, the pernil carries a familiar note of unctuous oiliness and a subtle flavor that balances the saltiness of the ham, the lactic tang of the Swiss cheese and the tart bite of the mustard and pickles. Everything is held together with the Cuban bread. At Flor de Broadway, they cook it slowly on a flat press, pausing every few minutes to baste the sandwich with margarine. This isn’t fast food, and it isn’t a quickie Panini crushed on an oil-sprayed press: the Cuban takes time. When it’s done, though, the finished product is dense and rich, with a crunchy fried crust that gives way to a succulent interior.”Food Republic
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Yes, the sandwiches are really good. Oh man, the garlic sauce or garlic mayonnaise or whatever garlicky goodness they put on the cubanos is amazing. I also like that they have some baby cubano sandwich that is half the size for 2.50 or something..perfect for a little snack. Yum baby sandwich. Recently, I also tried their flan which was also delicious.”–Jon L.
“Their cuban sandwiches are really delicious, cheap ($4), and abundant. All the ingredients used to make this sandwich are fresh (they make their own ham and do not use those phony lunch meats you find in the delis). It is best eaten when it is fresh out of the panini press, and toasty.”–Sandra S.
Let’s jetset again to one of the oldest places to put meat into bread: Greece! The Mediterranean gyro takes its origins from the Turkish doner kebab, and while the meat differs slightly, the principal is all the same: ground lamb or beef (or a combination of the two) is mixed with spices and attached to a rotating spit, where it turns ever-so-slowly on a vertical axis, allowing the fat to drip from the meat. When someone orders a gyro, the server slices pieces of the meat off the skewer and serves it in a pita with veggies and a yogurt tzatziki sauce. New Yorkers have been savvy to the gyro for years–and in halal-heavy food truck regions like Rockefeller Center, it’s the primary source of cheap eats sustenance–but one of the best gyro stands in New York City is up in the Bronx. Christos Gyro and Souvlaki is a father-son operation in Kingsbridge that serves up gyros fresh to order, with homemade tzatziki sauce and a family-friendly atmosphere they definitely don’t serve up at any food cart.
3625 Kingsbridge Ave, Kingsbridge, Bronx
“Christopher Parashakis, who moved to Washington Heights from Greece in 1972, named his eight-year-old eatery for his son, Christos. Together, the father-son team serves up Kingsbridge’s favorite gyros, slices of lamb made the traditional way on a vertical broiler. Served as a platter ($10) or in a pita ($7), Christopher’s gyros have only the best tzatziki, made with real Greek yogurt and chopped cucumbers, as well as fresh tomatoes and shredded lettuce. And when you’re there, you’ll be family: the Parashakis treat everyone — from New York’s Finest, who have a precinct down the block, to the locals who have been coming since the begining — like they’re in their own kitchen. If you have room for dessert, try Christopher’s wife’s baklava, which she makes fresh everyday.”–New York Daily News
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“BEST GREEK FOOD ANYWHERE! OMG, my family comes from out of town and this is the first place they want to go to get food. The owners are so nice and friendly and they remember everyone who goes there. If you’ve never been there they will make you feel at home. Great place. It’s a little hard to find if you don’t know the area but that isn’t too bad for those of us who live near by and want to keep it all to ourselves. I always order the chicken gyro souvlaki sandwich and my mouth just waters at the thought of it. This isn’t an upscale place at all but definitely a great place to eat that is local and comfy. Totally recommend this place if you are in the area.”–Kelly M.
“Christos is your typical little Greek restaurant, with typical Greek fare, but Mabel is right–it has a great homemade twist! From the food to the service, it’s one of the friendliest spots in the area (the owner is a real sweetheart)! You can eat in house or take out, but if you do decide to stay, it’s very very casual. The gyros are amazzinngg–hot, juicy, tasty, well-seasoned, and the tzatziki sauce is delish. My friends and I all rave about the place!”–Amanda F.
I’m going all over the map here, lol! But the next stop on our sandwich world tour is back in the Caribbean with Trinidadian doubles. A simple, vegetarian sandwich, doubles consist of fried flat bread filled with curried chick peas and spicy chutney. While you may consider spicy, savory foods to be best for dinner or a pick-me-up for lunch, native Trinidadians eat their doubles for breakfast! You can’t get doubles everywhere, but in the deeply Caribbean neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant (or at least, what hasn’t been overtaken by gentrifying Williamsburg) you can find lots of doubles bakeries dotted throughout the area. One of the best is the A&A Bake & Doubles Shop, where they start baking their doubles at the crack of dawn and close whenever they sell out–which can be as early as 2PM! You should definitely try out this Trinidadian fast food staple, but remember to get there early!
A&A Bake and Doubles Shop
481 Nostrand Ave (between Hancock St & Halsey St), Bedford-Stuyvesant
“Both singular and plural, doubles is the Trinidadian weekend delight, a pair of glistening flatbreads drawn from a red soda cooler, smeared with a thick chickpea curry, sluiced with mango and pepper sauces, then twisted into a bit of tissue paper to make a rather gooey sandwich, all for one dollar apiece. A doubles is delicious, with an eggy taste and a spicy kick that leaves a warm glow in your stomach. To take a single bite is to wolf down the entire thing and get back into line for a repeat.”–The Village Voice
“A&A—the self-proclaimed “Doubles King”—has a small steam table where food is efficiently dished up to lines that snake down the block when it’s busy. If you want to hit both, and why not, you’ll need to go in the early afternoon. That’s because Ali’s doesn’t open until noon, while A&A, which opens early for the breakfast crowd, closes whenever the food runs out, which can happen as early as 2 p.m.”–Brokelyn
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Delicious, quick, flavorful doubles for $1.25? SCORE! I have been going to A&A for about 4 years and I have a really hard time ordering anything but the doubles (because I love them so much), but I’ve had the bakes (sandwiches) a few times. I like the mixed veggie bake, mixing whatever veggies they have that day (pumpkin, okra, etc). The only bake that I didn’t like was a pumpkin bake on some special coconut bread. It sounded really good but ended up being way too sweet for my liking. Back to the doubles! The food is always prepared fresh and you get your order within 2 minutes. There’s no dining area within the store, but there’s 2 chairs outside so I often just sit right outside and smash my food pretty quickly.”–Cassandra B.
“Doubles! The channa with pepper sauce is off the hook. The chickpeas are tender and flavorful, the fried bread doesn’t taste heavy. I also tried various bakes over my week of working in the area. The herring bake was awesome! The channa and cauliflower bake was awesome! The spinach and pumpkin bake was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.”–Isana G.
Eventually, though, you’ve got to come back to the United States, because we’ve become some major players in the sandwich variety game. The cheesesteak is a definite American creation of thin-sliced beef steak, sauteed onions, and cheese–typically the utterly American Cheez-Whiz–in a split-top white bread bun. They were created just south of us in Philadelphia in the early 1930s, and the originator of the sandwich behemoth–Pat’s King of Steaks–still serves them up at the lunch counter today. It may be considered a sin to eat any cheesesteak outside of Philadelphia, but the Phil’s Steaks food truck makes them just as close to Philly style as you can get them. They’re newcomers to the New York City food truck scene, but already they’ve won the highly-competitive Rookie of the Year award from the 2012 Vendys, which gives awards to the best mobile food vendors in the city. You can get specialty cheesesteaks like the pizza steak, a provolone steak, or the “special” with hot peppers, but I say don’t go overboard and get what’s best: wit’ and whiz. Nothing beats an old standard.
“The options at this New York City food truck are many. You can get beef or chicken, wit’ or wit’out grilled onions, add peppers, mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and extra cheese, of which they have white American, provolone and whiz. As for the bread, they use Amoroso’s, which is as authentic as you can get for a Philly cheesesteak. A full-sized 10″ hero is $8.50, and it comes with 1/2 pound of meat(!) You can also get a half for $5.50.”–CBS New York
“Phil’s authentic Philly cheese steaks are one of the most popular street foods around, and it’s not hard to see why. Cheese steaks are one of the best munchies there is, and Phil’s steak, cheese, and Amoroso’s rolls are excellent.”–New York Street Food
“Really good, on par with the best I’ve had in Philly and better meat than Pat’s and Geno’s which are the most recognizable. This was the second time I’ve gone, and was great both times. It’s officially the best cheesesteak in NYC in my opinion (and I’m from Philly.) It’s one of my go to lunch spots from now on.”–Midtown Lunch
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Sometimes, the most delicious meals are the messiest. This was definitely one of those occasions, and I think they know, because they give you a stack of napkins. I ordered a 6” whiz wit’, which costs $6.75. The 10” is $9.75. Considering that sandwiches of similar caliber in the area can cost $8 or more, their prices are pretty average. All six inches are stuffed past the bread with meat and a proportionate amount of onions. The beef is juicy and flavorful, and the onions are meaty and sweet without being overpowering. There is a good meat to cheese ratio as well. You can taste beefiness and cheese in every bite.”–SukMon C.
“This place surpasses any that I’ve had in philly or anywhere else for that matter. I got the tradtional 10in wiz with onions and half hot peppers and half sweet—divine. The only thing I wish this place would have is french fries.. I’m not sure why because I’m stuffed after my sandwich but maybe if I got the 6inch and fries I’d be good. They post up somewhere new everyday. If you’re in midtown on Wednesdays, 45th and Madison is where its at!”–Navid T.
But the most classic of classic American sandwiches has to be the BLT. There’s nothing simpler, as its initials indicate everything you need to know about the BLT sandwich: bacon, lettuce, tomato. Maybe a smidgen of mayonnaise, too. There can be variations of a BLT that include other ingredients, like pickles, avocado, and anything else you can fit between two pieces of bread. It’s the second most popular sandwich in the United States (second only to ham–so, basically, Americans really love their pigs!) And, while you can get all fancy with different ingredients inside the BLT, a sandwich shop’s expertise lands solely on how well they can make the traditional ‘wich. All year-round, that answer has to be Frankies Sputino in Carroll Gardens. The bacon is thick and juicy, and it’s married with fresh tomatoes and lettuce all sandwiched together in a fresh foccacia roll. You won’t find a better BLT anywhere else in the city today.
457 Court St (between 4th Pl & Luquer St), Carroll Gardens
“Frankies might be better known for its meatball and eggplant-parmigiana sandwiches, but its lunch-only BLT is top-notch, too. The thick-cut bacon is from Faicco’s, the heirloom tomatoes come courtesy of the Greenmarket, and the mayo is Hellmann’s. It’s served on crisped-up Grandaisy Bakery pizza bianca.”–New York Magazine
“There’s a reason Manhattanites make a mass exodus on the F train to Frankies Spuntino in Carroll Gardens every weekend – and that reason is the BLT. Frankies puts the run-of-the-mill bacon, lettuce and tomato to shame with their thick-cut, juicy bacon slices, which are wedged between ripe red tomatoes and crisp green lettuce. Stacked between two pieces of focaccia, this crunchy sandwich concoction – served for lunch only, at $10 – takes the midday meal to a whole new level.”–New York Daily News
“Sometimes, less is more. Frankies starts with Sullivan Street Bakery flatbread and adds only the three ingredients that correspond to sandwich culture’s most famous acronym: bacon, lettuce, and tomato. The chef clearly scours the region for the very best exemplars of B, L, and T: the lettuce is lush, the tomato slices sing with fresh flavor, and the bacon has been cooked to the Platonicly ideal balance of flex and crunch. However, it is only as the tastes combine in the mouth the full wonder emerges. With a hint of mayo, Frankies’s BLT is a stunning accomplishment.”–The Scout Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I ordered the BLT. Hands down best BLT I ever had. These are not your $3 grocery store bacon strips that every other place serves on their BLTs. These were thick-cut bacon, not dry or overly salty. They went perfectly with just the right amount of mayo and the bread. Heaven in my mouth. I will never look at BLT the same way again.”–Jen J.
“My friend’s bf didn’t believe us when we told him that this place serves the best BLT. She took him here once and he was sold. Thick, crispy bacon on a crunchy fococcia bread spread with a thin layer of mayo. I’m still not really quite sure why they only serve it at lunch, but that seems to be the reason why I only make it here during lunch time. They have great salads and great crostinis too. They also made one of the best cups of cappuccino I’ve had in New York, it even came donned with caffe art.”–Yvette W.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!