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Making a sandwich is easy. You take a couple spices of bread, slap something in between them, and call it lunch. But making a truly great sandwich, one where the bread, fillings, and condiments all work in perfect harmony, is no small feat. Thankfully, we live in a country that’s home to great sandwiches from coast to coast, and we tracked down the best sandwich in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Though just about everything on the menu at pitmaster Chris Lilly’s temple of Alabama-style barbecue is outstanding, the real claim to fame is the smoked chicken, dunked into the definitive version of tangy mayo-based Alabama white sauce. When shredded and tucked into a soft bun, it makes for one of the best chicken sandwiches you’ll find anywhere.
This sandwich shop is a big hit with the locals, partially because it’s open until 2 a.m., partially because it serves the best sandwiches in the state. The sandwich named Wilbur’s Fate — Black Forest ham, bacon, jalapeño Jack cheese, and Dijon mustard pressed and melted on multi-grain bread — is porcine perfection.
The owner of Pane Bianco, Chris Bianco, originally opened a small pizzeria in 1988, simply called Pizzeria Bianco. In 2005, following the success of his pizzeria, Bianco opened up this restaurant, which quickly became one of the premier sandwich shops in the Southwest. The shop was originally takeout only, but upgraded to a full-service restaurant in 2012.
Pane Bianco is known for its split focaccia sandwiches. The bread, made to order in a wood-fired oven, is thin, crackery, and crispy, and the real star of the show. The best way to enjoy it is with some thinly sliced housemade fresh mozzarella tucked into it along with some basil and olive oil; rotating add-ins include fresh tomatoes, wood-roasted peppers, and prosciutto.
Yelp/ Michelle Lynn S.
Pimento cheese is one of the stars of the menu at Matthew McClure’s showstopping Bentonville restaurant The Hive, located in the 21c Museum Hotel. The four-time James Beard Award semifinalist makes his pimento cheese with shredded mixed cheeses, mayo, sriracha, garlic powder, salt, cider vinegar, and roasted bell pepper; he serves it with toast, on a burger, or griddled with bacon jam between two slices of white bread. The latter option (only available during lunch) is the one to try: The toast is soft and crunchy, the cheese is melty and gooey, and the bacon jam (made with bacon, onion, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and maple syrup) kicks it into the stratosphere.
Countless restaurants serve French dip sandwiches, but the definitive version can still be found at the restaurant where it was invented: Los Angeles’ Philippe the Original. Because it’s been around for 105 years, the exact origins of the sandwich are disputed. (The most commonly held belief is that it was created as a way to soften up day-old bread, but nobody knows where the “French” part came from.) However, the process behind this masterpiece is no mystery: Bottom round is seasoned with salt, pepper, and mashed garlic, slow-roasted with a mirepoix until medium-rare, and sliced and placed onto a fresh French roll from a local bakery that’s been dunked into jus made with homemade stock and the intensely flavored pan drippings. (The “single dip” means that just the top half is dunked, but the more popular “double dip” includes both halves.)
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This legendary BYOB counter-service restaurant on the Mystic River has been steaming lobsters since 1947 in cast-iron low-pressure steam ovens, and it’s only open during the summer months. Its lobster rolls come in a few varieties: First, there’s the lobster salad roll — cold lobster tossed with celery and a mayo-based dressing in a toasted split top bun. Then, there’s the piece de resistance: its Famous hot Lobster Roll, a full quarter-pound of lobster meat (a little more than what you'd get out of one whole small lobster), drenched in butter and heaped on a toasted sesame seed-topped hamburger bun. Want more lobster? Get the OMG Hot Lobster Roll, which packs in almost half a pound, or the LOL Hot Lobster Roll, which contains a full pound of lobster meat.
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Ioannoni’s is a lot more than just a sandwich shop. The Italian hoagies are well-balanced and full of freshly sliced meats, and the Italian roast beef is slow-roasted and juicy. But it’s the Italian Roast Pork Supremo that’s truly put this place on the map: Slow-roasted pork, dripping with jus, topped with tender broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone. It can go head-to-head with any of Philly’s best.
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The Cuban sandwich actually originated in Florida, not Cuba, and in many ways it’s the unofficial sandwich of Miami. Just about all Miami Cuban sandwiches contain the same ingredients — ham, roast pork, Swiss, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, pressed until melty (salami also works its way into it in Tampa) — but quality can vary from place to place. The definitive version can be found at Versailles, located in Miami’s Little Havana. Fresh Cuban-style white bread loaves are baked in house; ham is glazed with brown sugar, pineapple juice, and cloves before being baked; whole pork legs are marinated and slow-roasted for three hours daily; and imported Swiss is sliced thick. A good Cuban sandwich depends on the quality of its ingredients, and the ingredients at Versailles are just about perfect.
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Texas-born pitmasters (and identical twins) Justin and Jonathan Fox opened Fox Bros. in 2007, and since then it’s rightfully gone down as one of the top barbecue spots in Georgia with two locations, a brisk catering business, and a retail line of rubs and sauces. Their sandwiches are things of beauty, especially their unique “Burger”: chopped brisket topped with bacon, tomato, red onion, pickles, melted pimento cheese and jalapeño mayo on a buttered and toasted brioche bun. Who needs a burger when you can have one of these?
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Established in 1989 in Maui’s North Shore, today there are two additional Maui locations of Paia Fish Market in Lahaina and Kihei. As the name might imply, it’s where you’ll find some of the freshest fish in Hawaii, prepared simply and with care. The best way to try the fish there, as a “burger,” might be a little counterintuitive, though: a fillet of fish on a bun, topped with cole slaw, tomato, cold shredded cheese, and housemade tartar sauce. It may seem weird, but try it with fresh-caught simply grilled ono and tell us it isn’t the best fish sandwich you’ve ever had.
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Run by the husband-and-wife duo of Sarah and David Kelly, this quaint sandwich shop focuses on making creative sandwiches with only the highest-quality ingredients. The menu changes regularly based on what’s in season, but The Italian isn’t going anywhere: It’s filled with speck, Genoa salami, pickled peppers, pickled green tomato, greens, and a garlic-herb aïoli, and it’s seriously a winner.
Way back in 1939, Al’s #1 Italian Beef started as a small food stand, later morphing into an iconic Chicago franchise with 11 locations in Chicago and shops in Las Vegas, California, and Texas. During the Depression, owner Al Ferrari and his family began slicing roast beef very thin and placing it on small fresh loaves of Italian bread, unintentionally creating a legendary sandwich.
To make this beauty, sirloin is rubbed with a secret spice blend, dry-roasted, thinly sliced, made into a sandwich, and then dunked in Al's signature “gravy” (more similar to au jus). Customers can choose how much or little they want, but Al’s encourages customers to get their sandwiches “wet.” When topped with the signature giardiniera, a tart and spicy pickled vegetable blend, this sandwich is a masterpiece.
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Shapiro’s is an Indianapolis legend. The corned beef and pastrami there are certainly praiseworthy, but it’s the housemade peppered beef that’s gone down in history, a must-eat for any gourmand passing through town. To make this Indianapolis specialty, lean beef round is salted and cured before being peppered, smoked, and seasoned with a little sugar and paprika. There’s nothing else quite like it, and all it needs is a smear of mustard and a couple slices of rye bread.
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An Iowa staple that’s a true Midwestern regional specialty, the “loosemeat” sandwich (also called a tavern sandwich) can be thought of as a sloppy Joe without the sauce: crumbled seasoned ground beef on a bun, topped with mustard, pickles, and chopped onions. Even though you can find it in plenty of small local restaurants, the one to visit is Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown. Going strong since 1928, it’s a truly historic institution; there are franchised locations all across the Midwest (just called Maid-Rite), but the original is the one to visit.
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Kansas City has no shortage of great barbecue spots, but if you’re looking for a true taste of KC barbecue on the Kansas side of the city, head to Joe’s Kansas City, formerly known as Oklahoma Joe’s. Slow-smoked pulled pork is the house specialty, and there’s no better sandwich around than a pile of that on a bun.
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The Hot Brown is Kentucky’s most legendary culinary contribution, invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt, chef at Louisville’s luxurious Brown Hotel. The hotel is still going strong, and the best place to enjoy this renowned open-faced sandwich is at its point of origin. (It’s served at the hotel’s three restaurants and in-room dining.) To make the definitive version of this classic dish, toast is topped with sliced turkey and doused in a creamy pecorino-based Mornay sauce before being browned in the broiler. Crispy bacon and sliced tomatoes round it out.
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Going strong since 1924, this neighborhood joint is the best place in the Crescent City to sample its beloved hometown sandwich, the po’boy. As all good po’boys do, this beauty starts with a long and crusty French-style roll from bakery Leidenheimer’s, and it’s topped with a mound of crispy cornmeal-fried Gulf oysters. Order it “dressed” and it’ll come topped with lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
The line is long and, as a New York Times article documented, the wait begins in your car on the one-lane lead-up to Red’s Eats and the bridge. It hasn’t endeared tourists to locals. But that wait will definitely be worth it. The roll itself is heaping with fresh, wet lobster — so much it falls all over. It tastes just-cooked and picked, and it’s a great deal. No dressing. Get butter (warmed in a kettle on the stove) and mayo on the side. Put simply, it’s lobster roll perfection.
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Chaps Charcoal Restaurant came from humble beginnings, but has grown to serve some of the best barbecue-style sandwiches on the East Coast. It opened in 1987 in a 12-by-15 shack with no phones or electricity; fast-forward 25 years and Chaps is still in the same location and thriving (with a slightly larger space). The restaurant was on The City’s Paper “Baltimore’s Best” roundup from 1991 to 2013, and has been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and the Cooking Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Their best-known sandwich is without a doubt the Pit Beef sandwich, for which they take an entire bottom round and grill it whole before slicing it to order. It’s then grilled again to the perfect temperature and placed on a roll with your choice of toppings.
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This tiny sandwich shop has achieved astounding levels of renown since opening in 2010, but that’s what meticulous ingredient sourcing and attention to detail will get you. The slow-roasted beef and roast pork sandwiches here are astounding, but the true masterpiece is the Spuckie: ciabatta filled with fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, fresh mozzarella, and an olive-carrot salad.
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Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982, and since then this quintessential Jewish deli and gourmet food shop has become beloved in the city, so much so that even President Barack Obama stopped in to try one of their famous Reubens.
That Reuben, made on an award-winning homemade Jewish rye with Zingerman’s corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut from The Brinery, and Russian dressing, is easily the restaurant’s best-selling sandwich, and with good reason: It’s the best sandwich you’ll find in the entire state.
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Manny’s Tortas is a Minneapolis legend with two locations in town and hordes of regulars flocking there on a daily basis. A wide variety of traditional Mexican tortas are available, but there’s nothing in Mexico quite like the super-popular Manny’s Special: steak, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, and jalapeños, all grilled with melted cheese, then topped with ham, cheese, and avocados for good measure. It’s an explosion of flavor.
Big Bad Breakfast
When it comes to dining in Oxford, John Currence knows what’s best. The renowned chef and restaurateur started his career with the casually elegant City Grocery, located in the heart of town. Since then, he’s opened a catering company along with six other restaurants, one of them being a popular brunch spot with an intimidatingly cool name of Big Bad Breakfast.
Though breakfast here is certainly amazing (as the name might imply), the true star of the menu is the Southern Belly sandwich, loaded with housemade pimento, housemade bacon, bread and butter pickles, local tomatoes, and fresh slaw, piled onto buttery white or wheat bread, and then seared on the griddle. The final result? A crispy, gooey, zesty, and cheesy sandwich that defines what the South is all about.
Popular in and around St. Louis, the Gerber is an open-faced sandwich made with a loaf of Italian or French bread that’s topped with garlic butter, ham, provel or provolone, and paprika, then toasted, and nobody does it better than the place where it was invented, family-owned Ruma’s Deli. The cheese and garlic butter melt, the whole thing gets brown and bubbly, and it’s simple and delicious.
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Pork Chop John’s has two Butte locations, and as you might have suspected, pork chops are the specialty here. Pork chop sandwiches, in particular: A lean slice of boneless pork loin is pounded, dunked in a corn meal batter, and fried, put in a bun and topped with mustard, pickle, and onion. It’s been done the same way since John Burklund first started serving them from the back of a wagon in 1924, and it’s sandwich perfection.
Sort of like a Hot Pocket on steroids, a runza is essentially a long roll that’s been stuffed with meat, onions, sauerkraut, or other fillings, and this Volga German-inspired sandwich is insanely popular in parts of the Midwest, especially Nebraska. That’s the home base of a chain of the same name that has about 80 locations throughout the region, and it serves legitimately good runzas. The original ground beef, onions, and cabbage variety is a traditional standby, but the addition of some gooey American cheese kicks it up a couple notches.
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Located off the strip inside the tiny Eureka Casino, Fat Choy is fusing Asian and American comfort foods with some astonishing results (think pancakes topped with crispy pork belly, bacon, and sausage; Peking duck bao, and burgers topped with short rib and bacon), and is a thing of seriously cultish devotion in Sin City among those in the know. The menu’s ultimate indulgence is the shortrib grilled cheese: melted provolone and Cheddar kicked up with shredded short rib and onion jam, all fused between two thick slices of buttery toasted bread. It’s late-night eats at its finest.
Nadeau’s has been serving high-quality subs since 1969, and today there’s four Manchester locations and one in Exeter. Their Philly cheese steak, barbecue beef, and fried haddock sandwich are all top-notch, but if you go, get their famous steak tip sub, made with USDA Choice sliced sirloin that’s been seasoned with a secret spice blend and seared on the grill with sliced peppers and onions. Go all the way and get it with a few slices of American cheese added.
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No trip to Atlantic City is complete without a visit to White House Sub Shop, now sadly down to just one location (the original) on Arctic Avenue, because the boardwalk location shut down along with the rest of Trump Taj Mahal in October. But that’s OK; it’s been going strong since 1946, and it’s still worth the pilgrimage. When you go, there’s only one sandwich you need to order: the Italian. Genoa salami, provolone, ham, and capicola are piled onto a soft and chewy Italian loaf, topped with lettuce, tomato, sliced onion, chopped roasted peppers, Italian seasonings, oil, and vinegar. A full-length sandwich runs about a foot and a half, so you’ll probably want to share it. And if you want to double the fillings, make it a White House Special. There’s almost always a line around the block at this place, but the wait is well worth it.
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Relish is an indispensable Albuquerque sandwich shop, crafting gourmet sandwiches to order with high-quality ingredients (like organic greens, housemade mozzarella, and bread from nearby Le Paris Bakery), and plenty of care. Stop by for lunch and try the hot Albuquerque Turkey,] made with Boar’s Head honey roast turkey, havarti, tomatoes, chipotle mayo, and green chile (this is New Mexico, after all) on toasted sourdough. This should be the New Mexico State Sandwich.
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Katz’s Deli on New York’s Lower East Side is a New York institution. Its corned beef and pastrami, made on site and sliced to order, are legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot pastrami sandwich.
To make the pastrami, beef navel (a fattier and more traditional cut than the more common brisket) is rubbed with a proprietary seasoning blend, cured for up to four weeks, smoked for up to three days, boiled until tender, and steamed for about half an hour before being hand-sliced to order and piled onto rye bread; a little smear of deli mustard completes the dish. Katz’s isn’t just a restaurant; it’s an experience, and its pastrami is a true labor of love.
It’s all about the pork when it comes to “Lexington-style” North Carolina barbecue, and though countless restaurants are serving their take on smoked pork shoulder sandwiches, none quite compare to Lexington Barbecue, going strong since 1962. You can order yours sliced or chopped (we prefer chopped), but make sure you don’t skimp on the slaw, a tangy mix of cabbage, vinegar, and pepper. It’s a smoky, porky, perfect expression of a beloved regional barbecue style.
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In Grand Forks, Red Pepper is a local legend. A local landmark for more than 50 years, this late-night staple serves a simple menu of beef tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and burgers. The signature menu item, however, is the grinder. You can customize yours with ham, salami, turkey, or any combination thereof, but why stop there? Go all the way and get an Everything Grinder, made with just about everything they’ve got in the kitchen: ham, salami, turkey, taco meat, shredded Colby, slices of Swiss, and lettuce. It’s absurd in the best way possible.
This old-school deli is a Cleveland institution, going strong and serving gargantuan sandwiches for more than 50 years. Only open for breakfast and lunch, it’s most renowned for its massive corned beef sandwich, heaped with a mound of housemade corned beef. For deli aficionados (or just lovers of a great sandwich), this is a can’t-miss.
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“Hot melts and cold beer” is the name of the game at this super-popular OKC restaurant and bar, and as that might imply, the star of the menu is the selection of 12 “sandies.” The very first one on the menu is the one you should order: the Macaroni Pony, chipotle barbecue pulled pork, three-cheese mac and cheese, and pickles on two thick slices of toasted jalapeño cornbread. We want to shake the hand of whatever evil genius invented this one.
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What exactly does it take to be considered a perfect breakfast sandwich? It’s a question that has no correct answer, but The Maple, from Portland’s Meat Cheese Bread, is certainly a good place to start.
This sandwich starts with a homemade sausage patty, crisped to a golden brown on the flat-top. This gets topped with oozy, melting, spicy Cheddar, which gets browned in the broiler, then the whole thing is placed atop some crunchy shaved fennel, which helps cut through the heaviness.
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DiNic’s began in 1918 as a family-owned butcher shop called Nicolosi’s in Philadelphia’s renowned Reading Terminal Market. Gaetano Nicolosi, the original owner, passed the store onto his sons who, in 1954, began offering sandwiches. In 1977, Benny Nicolosi and Franky DiClaudio (Benny’s cousin) joined together to open DiNic’s.
DiNic’s serves a handful of classic hot Italian sandwiches such as slow-roasted brisket of beef and Italian-style pulled pork. The must-order, however, is DiNic’s roast pork sandwich. To make this beauty, a mound of juicy, thin-sliced, falling-apart pork is pulled from a tub of its own juices and added to thick slices of sharp aged provolone on a semolina roll then topped with slightly bitter, garlicky, tender, chopped broccoli rabe. The hot pork slightly melts the cheese below it, and the rabe ties it all together. Order two: one for now and one for later.
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This tiny, no-frills deli is a lunchtime favorite in Cranston, the state’s third-largest city. It’s most famous for its Italian grinder, loaded with salami, capicola, turkey, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato, and oil and vinegar. It’s the bread that really sets this place apart: It’s baked fresh daily so it’s soft and perfect for a hefty sandwich, and the loaves are so long that half is usually more than enough for one person. A word to the wise: Get there early, because when they run out of bread, they close.
At Charleston’s Hominy Grill, chef/owner Robert Stehling has landed upon the perfect formula: comforting Lowcountry cuisine made with the highest-quality ingredients. The perfect expression of that philosophy is the Charleston Nasty Biscuit (formerly known as the Big Nasty): a light and flaky high-rise biscuit, cut in half and filled with a huge piece of golden-brown fried chicken breast, topped with melted cheese and a giant ladle of creamy sausage gravy. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sandwich, but if you have the opportunity to eat it even once, you’ll be very fortunate.
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You might not expect to be able to find Philly-quality cheesesteaks in the Black Hills, but thanks to Philadelphia native Ted English, who opened Philly Ted’s in 2001, you can. English starts with a fresh-baked load from a local bakery and loads it with thin-sliced griddled steak and your choice of cheese and onions. Nearly 20 specialty steaks are available, but the classic is as good as it gets. OK… maybe you should add some bacon to it.
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Rae’s has been going strong in downtown Nashville since 2002, serving made-to-order sandwiches on toasted New Orleans-style baguettes. There’s a wide variety of hot and cold sandwiches as well as daily specials, but the regulars swear by the Black & Bleu, grilled filet mignon with spicy Cajun mayo and crumbled blue cheese on top.
This sandwich, from Austin's Noble Sandwich Company, is a work of art. Start with the bread. It’s your choice of white or wheat, made fresh in house. It gets a light layer of whole-grain mustard and aïoli, both also made in house. Some bacon, cured in house for five days (sensing a trend?), is then added, then topped with a little pulled pork that’s slow-roasted overnight. Then the real star of the show is added: house-cured ham, rubbed in ancho chile, dried chile flakes, sugar, salt, and pepper and brined for six days before being baked and sliced paper thin. Finally, the top slice of bread. This sandwich is a beauty, one of the country’s finest homages to, well, the noble pig.
Caputo’s is a super-popular 19-year-old Italian deli with four locations in town. Tony Caputo and his son, Matt, import high-quality foods from Italy and the rest of Southern Europe, and over the years it’s become one of the best specialty food stores in not just Salt Lake City, but in all of America. A cheese cave is home to more than 200 farmstead cheeses, salami is made in house by a guy who’s family has been doing it for more than 400 years, and crowds line up out the door on a daily basis for their selection of sandwiches and pastas. With that in mind, we present one of their most beloved sandwiches: the meatball, made with housemade meatballs on a fresh Italian loaf. The menu puts it best: “Meatballs, marinara sauce, Parmesan, and provolone cheeses. What more could you want?” Well said.
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Opened in 1964 by Ned and Veda Gilligan and today run by their daughter, Kathy, Gill’s is a beloved Vermont institution that’s turning out some truly spectacular grinders. Bread is baked fresh daily in house, deli meats and cheeses are high quality, and it’s all best experienced in the Hot Italian meats grinder. Spiced ham, peppered ham, and Italian salami are tucked into a loaf and topped with cheese, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, pickles, onions, hot peppers, and mayo or seasoned oil.
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In business since 1952 and still run by the Chiocca family, Chiocca’s is a small, homey Richmond institution that’s turning out some legendary sandwiches made with Thumann’s cold cuts. There’s a wide variety of hot and cold options available, but the one to order is The Dagwood: turkey, roast beef, pastrami, provolone, Swiss, Thousand Island, Dijon, and pickles on rye. The massive gas-fired toaster/ griddle has been in use since the restaurant’s earliest days, and locals swear that it imparts the sandwiches with a flavor that’s impossible to replicate at home.
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In Seattle, Paseo has been a household name for more than 20 years thanks to its Caribbean-inspired sandwiches. Just about everything on the menu is ridiculously delicious (seriously, repeated visits are necessary), but if it’s your first time, you need to order the Caribbean roast: pork shoulder that’s marinated and slow-roasted, pulled and tucked into a toasted baguette and topped (like all of their sandwiches) with aïoli, cilantro, pickled jalapeños, romaine lettuce, and caramelized onions. Hungry yet?
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Since 2008, MGM has been serving some of the finest roast beef sandwiches you’ll find anywhere, slow-roasted and hand-carved. You can enjoy your top round hot or cold, or topped with a variety of additions, but you’ll want to go for the French dip, topped with sautéed onions and melted Swiss, and served on an onion roll with a side of homemade au jus. Calling Guy Fieri: This sandwich is winner, winner, roast beef dinner.
Besides being a great name for a restaurant, Cam’s Ham is also the name of a West Virginia institution that’s been serving legendary ham sandwiches (yes, those exist) since the 1950s. To make these beauties, a toasted bun is topped with lean ham that’s been sliced super-thinly (“flaked”), and simply topped with shredded lettuce and secret sauce.
Its name might be a slightly awkward portmanteau of “fromage” and “imagination,” but we like where their head’s at. One of the country’s finest purveyors of artisan cheese, Fromagination specializes in local cheeses that are very difficult to find out of state, and they also happen to be turning out some spectacular sandwiches. Just about every one they make is a winner, but our money’s on the Great Wisconsin sandwich, a three-cheese miche loaded with Genoa salami, Italian prosciutto, Tuscan salami from Madison’s Underground Meats, and mozzarella and provolone from Monroe-based Roth Cheese. It’s the best of Italy and Wisconsin, all in one sandwich.
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The Bread Basket is Cheyenne’s most popular bakery, baking fresh bread, rolls, and muffins early every morning. The folks here know to keep it simple and let the bread speak for itself, so only a handful of simple sandwiches are available, but they’re nothing short of ideal versions of classic lunchtime fare. The egg salad sandwich, for example, is as fresh as can get, and just about perfect.