The 10 Best Panini in America

Love pressed Italian sandwiches? These places are must-visits

Photo Modified: Flickr / snowpeabokchoi / CC BY 4.0

The 10 Best Panini in America

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.

#10 Panini Republic, Chicago

Located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, this salad and sandwich shop makes its panini assembly line-style, and is a popular lunchtime destinations. Nine panini are on the menu, all toasted to order on your choice of multi-grain loaf, pretzel bread, or a white Italian loaf. Options include the Meat Lover (roasted chicken, pastrami, smoked turkey, bacon, chipotle and garlic sauces, tomato, red onion, and mozzarella), the Little Italy (roasted chicken, smoked turkey, pesto, Thousand Island dressing, spinach, and mozzarella), Bacon Bacon (double bacon, smoked turkey, Thousand Island dressing, pesto, tomato, red onion, and Cheddar), and Chicago Fire (pastrami, roasted chicken, hot harissa, chipotle, tomato, red onion, spinach, and mozzarella). These guys clearly know how to kick the flavor up to 11. 

#9 Seb’s Panini, San Diego

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Marseilles-born chef Sebastien Delan launched Seb’s Panini stand at the Ocean Beach Farmers Market in San Diego in 2007, and it’s developed a devoted and loyal following since then. Today, he can be found during breakfast and lunch hours at Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays, Hillcrest Farmers Market on Sundays, and the La Jolla USCD Farmers Market on Tuesdays. Folks line up in droves to sample his variety of nearly 20 panini, which are made with fresh-baked ciabatta and toasted for exactly seven minutes. Popular menu items include prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, olives, and herbes de Provence; grilled chicken breast with tomatoes, spinach, Cheddar, and aïoli; French Brie, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and aïoli; and mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, olives, and herbes de Provence. Breakfast panini are made with eggs, Cheddar, spinach, basil, aïoli, and your choice of bacon, black forest ham, turkey pastrami, soy chorizo, or Provençal tomatoes; and dessert panini fillings include Nutella and marshmallow or banana; and green apple, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. 

#8 Joe Fassi Sandwich Factory, St. Louis

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Joe Fassi has been around since 1926, and they’ve been turning out great sandwiches for nearly as long. Their homemade sausage and meatballs are legendary in St. Louis, and so are their panini, which are served on a grilled large oval sourdough loaf. Eight panini are available; we’d suggest the Joe Fassi Combo (roast beef, ham, Genoa salami, Provel cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and house-made Italian dressing), the Sicilian Surge (Genoa salami, melted Provel and American cheeses, onions, black olives, pepperoncini, and Italian dressing), or the muffaletta (baked ham, Genoa salami, pepper jack, tomato, and homemade olive salad). They’re not authentic Italian, but they’re about as classic Italian-American (and St. Louis) as it gets. 

#7 Il Massimo, San Francisco

Photo Modified: Flickr / Elsie Hui / CC BY 4.0

This spacious panini shop located in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown bakes their own bread, and all ingredients are all-natural and organic. Their panini are a good combination of traditional and cheffy, and are available in nearly 20 varieties. Popular options include chile-lime chicken breast with baby arugula, provolone, avocado, and spicy salsa rosa; prosciutto di Parma with fresh mozzarella, baby arugula, and sundried tomato-basil pesto; rosemary ham, smoked mozzarella, butter lettuce, and rosemary mayo; and soppressata with baby spinach, provolone, marinated artichokes, and pesto. 

#6 Ballaro, New York City

This East Village small plates and wine bar prides itself on using only the highest-quality ingredients, which make for some truly stellar panini. Sixteen panini are available here, all made on your choice of ciabatta or focaccia from the acclaimed Balthazar bakery. They include Crudo DOP (prosciutto crudo di Parma, fontina, and tomato), Tartufo (roast beef, tomato, arugula, and lemon vinaigrette), Tirolo (Alto Adige speck, fontina, and grilled eggplant), Calabria (soppressata picante, sun-dried tomatoes, and primosale cheese), and Garibaldi (bresaola, mozzarella, tomato, arugula, and lemon vinaigrette). If you’re looking for something more breakfast-y, opt for the Galina, with scrambled eggs, fresh ricotta, and rosemary olive oil; and if you’re in the mood for an amazing meatball parm, try the Nonna Pina, with beef meatballs, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil. 

#5 Nica’s Market, New Haven, Conn.

Walk into this New Haven neighborhood market and you’ll encounter fresh and local organic produce, a huge selection of cheeses, fresh cuts of meat, and imported Italian goods. But follow the line and you’ll reach the true claim to fame: the deli counter, which is turning out stunning panini made to order on house-made focaccia or rustic bread.  You really can’t go wrong: Opt for the Alpino (bresaola, arugula, red onions, olives, Gruyère, and olive oil), L’Azzuro (grilled eggplant, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, basil, and balsamic), Classico (chicken cutlet, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and honey mustard), Mediterraneo (mortadella, smoked salami, provolone, tomato, basil, olive oil, balsamic), or Pickled Pig (porchetta, baby arugula, pickled eggplant, red onions). If you’re looking for something different, the Thanksgiving (pepper turkey, homemade stuffing, cranberry sauce, and Swiss) definitely fits the bill. Make sure you grab a jar of house-made tomato sauce for dinner, by the way.

#4 Eataly, New York City and Chicago

Eataly is a teeming hive of Italian specialties and hungry shoppers, so it can be easy to overlook their “I Panini” stations at their two U.S. locations, in New York and Chicago. You shouldn’t, however. These panini are about as traditional Italian as it gets, and they offer both cold (panini freddi) and hot varieties (panini caldi). Ingredients are, of course, sourced right from Eataly, so you know you’ll be getting a top-quality sandwich. Hot options include Il Calabrese (spicy soppressata and provolone), Il Boscaiolo (sautéed mushrooms, taleggio, and arugula), L’Alpino (ham, fontina, house-made fig mostarda), Il Valtellina (flatbread with bresaola, toma cheese, arugula, and honey), and Il Tirolese (speck, melted taleggio, balsamic reduction). Hungry yet?

#3 Via Quadronno, New York City

This Italian restaurant and paninoteca with two locations on the Upper East Side is renowned for its cappuccino and panini. It’s all about simplicity here; panini are made to order on freshly baked “Francesino” loaves, which are similar to baguettes, and you’re given two options: Panini Semplici, made with just meat and your choice of butter, mustard, or house-made pâté; or Panini Via Quadronno, traditional Milanese panini. Semplici options include 11 different meats, ranging from cotto (boiled ham) and Beretta prosciutto to mortadella, pancetta, salame ungherese, bresaola, Veneta or Genoa salame, and speck, which is peppered and smoked prosciutto. While letting these shine on their own is certainly a smart move, specialty sandwiches including Praga Completo (smoked Prague-style ham with Brie, fontina, and pâté), Milanese (bresaola, rucola, and hearts of palm), Non Ti Scordar Di Me (speck, Brie, and pâté), and Lo Spazzino (porchetta, rucola, provolone, red onion, and caper sauce) definitely give them a run for their money. This is also one of just a handful of places in the city where you can try the traditional niçoise pan-bagnat, made with tuna, eggs, hearts of palm, lettuce, and tomato.  

#2 Il Tramezzino, Los Angeles

This low-key Italian paninoteca has been a popular destination since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1991, and today there are four locations throughout the city. The restaurant claims to have not only introduced panini to the city, but to have also been granted the city’s first outdoor seating permit. More than 20 panini can be found on the menu, served on custom-baked Italian country baguettes. Favorites include turkey or grilled chicken breast with sundried tomato, avocado, provolone, and basil garlic sauce; prosciutto with arugula, Brie, cantaloupe, and balsamic; bresaola with mozzarella, tomato, arugula, lemon, and oil; and goat cheese, arugula, both grilled eggplant and marinated tomato, and roasted peppers. With nine vegetarian options, there’s something for everybody. 

#1 Il Bambino, Queens, N.Y.

This nine-year-old Italian sandwich and specialty shop in Astoria has been quietly turning out some stunning panini, and with a second location opening soon in the West Village (and more supposedly in the works), word is finally starting to get out. Owners Darren and Michelle Lawless source the highest-quality ingredients they can find, starting with custom-baked ciabatta from Astoria’s Gian Piero Bakery. The panini here are designed like great sandwiches should be, and are given the same attention a chef would give to a new dish. Options include fennel salame with olive spread, piquillo peppers, and provolone; roast chicken with béarnaise mayo, mushrooms, and goat cheese; bresaola with baby arugula, horseradish aïoli, and Asiago; prosciutto with gorgonzola dolce and fig spread; goat cheese with baby arugula, roast mushrooms, fried shallot, and spicy mayo; Italian meatloaf with onion jam, tomato pesto, spicy mayo, and provolone; and porchetta with spicy pickle slaw and rosemary aïoli. Oh, and those are just the lunch panini; come during brunch hours and you can treat yourself to panini like the Pig in Japan (prosciutto, scrambled eggs, rosemary aïoli, scallions, and mozzarella) and the Shrine to Swine (porchetta, scrambled eggs, onion jam, aged Cheddar, cracked pepper aïoli). Any way you swing it, Il Bambino is elevating panini to new heights.