Ranking A Classic Meatball Sub From 12 Sandwich Chains

A meatball sub can really hit the spot. Loaded with gooey cheese, marinara sauce, and hearty meatballs, this handheld meal tends to be extra filling and delicious. That said, there are a lot of factors at play with the ingredients that can make or break this classic submarine sandwich. Ideally, the meatballs should be juicy and tender, yet compact and dense enough to hold together well. If the meatballs are too soft, the sub will lack the proper texture. At the same time, if the meatballs are overcooked or too compressed, the sub can be tough to chew.

The quality of the marinara sauce and the choice of cheese are equally important. If the marinara sauce is applied too lightly, the sub will lack moisture and taste dry. But if the marinara sauce is too thin or ladled on too heavily, the sub will be soggy and hard to handle. The marinara should taste fresh and flavorful, adding a burst of tomato to compliment the richness of the meatballs. Usually, meatball subs have provolone, parmesan, or mozzarella, but some sandwich chains switch it up with different cheeses to varying degrees of success. The amount of cheese used, along with the quality of the bread, are other critical elements to consider.

If you're on the hunt for a great meatball sub, you're in the right place. Read on to see which sandwich chains deliver the goods and which ones drop the ball.

12. Subway

With nearly 40,000 locations across more than 100 countries, Subway is easily one of the biggest chain restaurants in the world. But global domination doesn't necessarily translate to a high-quality meal. In fact, up until very recently, Subway didn't even slice its meat fresh at its stores. Instead, meats were pre-sliced elsewhere and then shipped out to the company's locations. Like most massive fast-food chains, convenience and frugality are often prioritized at the expense of deliciousness. It should then come as no surprise that, according to alleged employees on Reddit, Subway's meatballs are pre-cooked and then reheated in its stores.

This can lead to meatballs that are more tough than tender, depending on how long the meatballs are sitting in the warmer. Although meatballs should definitely have some firmness for the sake of structural integrity, we feel Subway's meatballs are too dense. The texture tastes over-processed and is almost sausage-like. The marinara sauce is often thick and pasty, lacking the tangy freshness that we crave in a good meatball sub. On top of all this, Subway's bread is mediocre at best and there's not enough cheese. Unless you're totally famished and there aren't any other options around you, you can easily score a better meatball sub than this.

11. Togo's

Togo's has been slinging sandwiches since 1971. One thing that elevates Togo's above Subway is the taste of its bread, which has a slightly fresher flavor. The restaurant also has a more interesting menu than Subway. It includes items like a Pastrami Cheese Steak with chipotle mayo and a turkey sub with cranberry sauce. Togo's also has a Hot Meatball sub that features meatballs made with Italian beef and pork. The sub is topped with marinara and provolone cheese. The biggest issue here is the quality of the marinara sauce.

Some customers say the marinara sauce tastes similar to ketchup. Although it's true that both of these ingredients share some similar ingredients, we're sure you'll agree that the notion of a meatball sub with ketchup-like marinara sauce is a bit disconcerting. The sub also comes quite saucy, which makes the bread too soggy. The good news is that the meatballs are a decent size. If the marinara tasted better and the sauce was ladled out with more discretion, this sub might rank a little higher on our list. But as it stands, this meatball sub tastes a bit uninspired.

10. Wawa

Wawa started out as a food market in 1964, then gradually evolved into a gas station and convenience store. The business now has over 800 locations across the East Coast. Over the years, Wawa has earned a reputation for having a surprisingly solid hoagie and sandwich selection. Roast beef clubs with horseradish, Cuban sandwiches, and cheesesteaks are just a few of the available items from Wawa's menu. The company's meatball hoagies are made to order and come in three different sizes (four, six, and 10 inches).

Wawa's meatballs are made with a blend of beef and pork. The sub comes with marinara sauce and your choice of cheese. Wawa also gives you the option to customize your sub with extra toppings. But if you ask us, the best meatball subs only have three interior ingredients: meatballs, marinara, and melted cheese.

Once again, the main problem here comes down to the sauce, as some customers report that it's a bit too sweet. It's fairly common for marinara to have a touch of sugar to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes, but a little goes a long way. When the marinara sauce is too sweet, it throws the flavor of the whole meatball sub off. While Wawa's is still a good spot to score a quick and affordable hoagie, the truth is that there are still better options on the table at other sandwich chains.

9. Potbelly Sandwich Works

Potbelly Sandwich Works got its start back in 1977 and has become well-known for its toasted subs. The restaurant has more than a dozen different subs to choose from. This sandwich chain's bread has a fresh taste that's soft on the inside with a thin, crispy crust on the outside. The smoked ham and turkey subs are both reliably delicious, but the Mama's Meatball sub from Potbelly is another solid pick.

Mama's Meatball sub comes with homestyle meatballs made with a blend of pork and beef, along with some marinara sauce, provolone cheese, and a light shake of Italian seasoning. The quality of the bread is a step up from some other sandwich chains and the cheese is fairly well-portioned. The problem here lies mostly with the meatballs themselves, as some customers have reported them to be on the dry side. In fact, one customer went as far as to compare their texture to sawdust. They also said that the meatballs in this sub taste more like ground turkey, rather than pork or beef. That said, there are plenty of other subs on Potbelly's menu that are worth your time. 

8. Which Wich

Which Wich is another quick-service chain that specializes in sandwiches. It currently operates around 400 locations. Which Wich has customers take a hands-on approach to ordering, by having them write down what they want with markers on paper sandwich bags. Diners can select from menu favorites or customize their own sub to order.

Some favorites on the menu include the Reuben Wich, a sub that features corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and 1000 Island dressing. The company also has two different meatball subs to pick from. The Meat Balr is the more traditional choice and comes with meatballs, marinara, and provolone cheese. The restaurant also offers the Meatball Grinder. This sub comes hooked up with meatballs, mozzarella, pepperoni, salami, spicy capicola, mushrooms, and marinara on a toasted baguette.

One thing to look out for with The Meat Balr is a lack of sauce. Some customers have been disappointed by the scarcity of marinara on this sub, which leaves it dry. Without the proper amount of sauce, this sub ends up mostly just tasting like meat. Asking for an extra side of marinara is a good way to ensure that your sub has enough sauce. Regardless, Which Wich definitely gets some points on the board for its Meatball Grinder. Mixing meatballs with Italian cold cuts is a stroke of genius that certainly deserves some praise. All things considered, a lack of sauce on its classic meatball sub makes it fall short of greatness in our ranking.

7. Blimpie

This chain's name comes from the idea of a massive airship, the robust size of which would inspire its sandwiches. Blimpie opened in 1964 and now has around 100 locations. While this number is a little disappointing, considering it had around 2,000 stores at one point, Blimpie is still hanging on. Blimpie offers a mix of classic and premium subs, along with hot subs that are made on freshly baked bread. One of the restaurant's hot subs includes The Sicilian, which features ham, melted provolone, prosciuttini, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, and cream Italian dressing. Blimpie also has a Meatball Parmigiana sub that comes with meatballs, marinara sauce, melted provolone, and shredded parmesan cheese.

One thing that makes this meatball sub a little bit better than some of Blimpie's competitors is the cheese. Using two types of cheese (provolone and shredded parmesan) gives this meatball sub some extra flavor. We also dig that Blimpie uses shredded parmesan instead of the powdered variety. The shredded parmesan melts onto the meatballs, which gives the meatballs some extra richness. 

Some customers feel that Blimpie's Meatball Parmigiana sub would benefit from a little more sauce. That said, this sub doesn't suffer from the same level of dryness that some of the other rankings on this list do. This sub would place a little higher here if it had a touch more marinara, but other than that, this is a pretty decent meatball sub for a sandwich chain.

6. Miami Grill

If you want to check out Miami Grill, you'll probably have to head to Florida. As you'd expect, most of the company's locations are there. Miami Grill's menu mainly focuses on handheld fares like subs, cheesesteaks, and burgers. The restaurant also has breakfast sandwiches, fried chicken wings, and more. When it comes to hot subs, Miami Grill has a handful of options, including its Meatball Parm sub.

Miami Grill's Meatball Parm sub comes with meatballs, marinara, and gooey mozzarella cheese. Even though Miami isn't exactly associated with an affinity for meatballs, the truth is that Miami Grill's meatball sub is much better than expected. As one customer on Tripadvisor puts it: "It was surprisingly good." 

The only downside? Some customers feel the food is a little overpriced. That said, with the cost of food rising, it's been increasingly challenging for consumers to catch a deal on a meal just about anywhere. Despite the price, we still feel this is a good meatball sub that's quick and convenient. Still, better options abound.

5. Lennys Grill & Subs

Lennys Grill & Subs has been in business since 1998. One thing that elevates Lennys a bit above some other sandwich chains is its delicious hot pepper relish. This sandwich chain whips up a mix of deli subs, cheesesteaks, grilled subs, and more. Lennys also features a meatball sub, which it dubs the Meatball Classic. The bread, meatballs, and marinara sauce are all quite tasty — but the cheese that Lennys uses is a bit of a misstep.

That's because Lennys puts Swiss cheese on its meatball sub. While Swiss cheese certainly has its time and place — like on a patty melt or a classic Reuben sandwich — we feel pretty strongly that Swiss cheese doesn't belong on a classic meatball sub. The distinctive flavor of Swiss cheese paired with Italian meatballs is a particularly odd combination that just doesn't work well. Instead, a meatball sub should feature provolone or mozzarella. These cheeses have a butteriness that melts well and their flavors taste much better with meatballs.

Of course, you can always swap out the Swiss for provolone at Lennys. But to keep things fair, we're judging these meatball subs as they come from these restaurants, without customization.

4. Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs has become popular for steaming its meats, which makes them tender and flavorful. The restaurant has been in business for decades and now boasts more than 1,200 locations. One of the company's signature sandwiches on the menu includes the Hook & Ladder, which comes with smoked turkey, ham, and melted jack cheese. Another drool-worthy highlight is the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket sub, which comes with smoked brisket, melted cheddar cheese, mayo, and a slather of barbecue sauce. But Firehouse's Sweet & Spicy Meatball sub might be the crowning jewel of the restaurant's menu. 

The meatballs in this sub are juicy and flavorful. The bread is toasty yet soft, and the marinara has a tangy freshness to it. Firehouse also hooks it up with the provolone, layering the cheese so that it drapes over the sub roll and melts over the sides of the sandwich. We also love that Firehouse offers a Sweet & Spicy version of this meatball sub that comes with a few splashes of hot sauce and some chili flakes. The one thing holding this meatball sub back is some inconsistency. Sometimes the amount of sauce used and the level of toastiness between subs can vary. Other than that, we think that Firehouse Subs makes one of the best meatball subs you can get from a sandwich chain.

3. DiBella's Subs

One of the things that makes DiBella's exceptional is its high-quality bread. The company bakes its bread at least twice a day in order to maximize its freshness. The dough is aged every day, and the bread is scored and seasoned by hand. DiBella's has been in business for generations and has expanded to more than 40 locations across multiple states. DiBella's menu offers an eclectic mix of classic subs and specialty sandwiches along with salads and more. Some favorites include The Godfather, which comes with Genoa salami, capicola, and spicy ham. DiBella's Italian Meatball sub is another memorable all-star on the menu.

This meatball sub features tender meatballs that are simmered in marinara sauce. Since these meatballs are cooked in marinara sauce, the meatballs soak up the tomato sauce, which makes them extra juicy and flavorful. The meatball-to-bread ratio is also impressive since these meatballs are quite large. The mozzarella on this meatball sub is melted along the top and bottom of the bread, which allows for the cheese to be more evenly distributed in every bite. We just wish there were a little bit more cheese in the mix. That said, between the high-quality bread, deliciously sizable meatballs, and tasty marinara, this is definitely a top contender.

2. Primo Hoagies

Primo Hoagies is like a sandwich-lovers paradise. The menu is surprisingly expansive and divided into several sections, including categories like Deli Classics, Philly Cheesesteaks, Cutlets, and Specialities. Those who like a little heat will appreciate the Diablos category, with ten different spicy subs that feature a mix of hot pepper cheese and peppery spice blends. Primo's also has two different meatball subs on the menu: an Old-Fashioned Meatball sub and an Old World Style Meatball sub.

Both of these subs are excellent, but we'd recommend the Old World Style Meatball sub for one important reason: the cheese. The Old World Style Meatball sub comes with sharp provolone, while the Old-Fashioned Meatball sub just comes with parmesan and romano. The addition of sharp provolone gives the Old World Style Meatball sub some extra bite and cheesiness that nudges the sub into greatness. While this sub is fantastic in just about every way, there's nothing truly surprising about it. That's why it's not in the top spot.

1. Dave's Cosmic Subs

With roughly two dozen locations scattered mostly around Ohio, Dave's Cosmic Subs may not be the biggest sandwich chain. But it's definitely one of the greatest. The menu at Dave's includes a lot of unique flavor combinations. Take The Grateful Dave, for instance. This sandwich features ingredients like turkey, avocado, and a surprising drizzle of hot pepper juice. But it's Dave's Best Meatball Ever that truly steals the spotlight, with a simple but clever twist ingredient at this restaurant.

The Dave's Best Meatball Ever sub comes with three massive meatballs, fresh garlic, zesty tomato sauce, and provolone and romano cheeses. This sub also gets topped with herbs and crushed red pepper for a little sparkle of spice. The addition of Dave's Cosmic Sauce (a creamy vinegar-based Italian dressing) is what puts it over the top. While Italian dressing is fairly common on classic Italian subs that include sliced meats like ham and salami, it's not typically an ingredient you see used on a meatball sub. Yet it works wonders in this context, adding a refreshing, briny pop to the sub that helps balance the richness of the meatballs and the gooey baked cheese. The bread is perfectly toasted, the marinara is flavorful, and the meatballs are full-bodied and well-seasoned. This is about as close to tasting homemade as you can hope to get from a sandwich chain. There's no doubt that the Best Meatball Ever at Dave's Cosmic Subs is out-of-this-world.