When a sandwich is toasted in a hot panini press, it takes on a magical quality. But while every panini is a pressed sandwich, not all pressed sandwiches are panini. These 10 shops and restaurants are where you’ll find the best panini in America.
First things first: In Italian, panino is singular, and panini is plural, so that’s what we’ll be calling them. Second, what exactly is a panino? While there are a couple definitions in Italy (the direct translation of panino is “bread roll”), for today’s purposes we’ll be sticking with the most common definition in America: a sandwich that’s been prepared on a long roll (or anything that isn’t sliced bread) and pressed and toasted in a sandwich press. While you can technically call even a Cuban sandwich a panino, we’re talking specifically about pressed sandwiches served at Italian shops and restaurants.
To make a great panino, you can’t just take any old sub and put it in a press. Many of today’s subs are gargantuan, and the ratio of bread to fillings would be thrown off if the bread were compressed. Also, careful thought must be given to panini fillings: Lettuce will wilt and sog the bread, there can’t be too much of any filling because it’ll make for an uneven sandwich, the cheese must be completely melted, and everything else inside it must be warmed, but not cooked. And while technically an Italian sandwich shop can make a panino with turkey and American cheese, we believe a great panino needs to incorporate traditionally Italian ingredients, like prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and basil pesto. The bread also needs to be soft enough to compress and get toasty, but firm enough to hold up to flavorful ingredients.
Because there have been no previous national rankings of America’s best panini, in order to assemble our list we first took a deep dive into existing regional and citywide rankings, then sorted through hundreds of shops from across the country on review sites. We ranked our shops in accordance with the following criteria: Quality of ingredients, level of local acclaim and popularity, and the variety of panini on the menu, in both traditional Italian as well as creative interpretations.
In the end, we’re content that these shops and restaurants are serving the best panini in the country. Read on to learn which ones came out on top.
#10 Panini Republic, Chicago
#9 Seb’s Panini, San Diego