Food Issue

Boston's best sandwiches

45 reasons to roll up your sleeves, put your elbows on the table, and get eating.

By Devra First, Alyssa Giacobbe, Scott D. Haas, Doug Most, Shannon Mullen, and Rachel Travers
April 3, 2011

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Red all over

The Chicken Parmigiano at Russo and Sons in Watertown is dangerous – and not only because it’s just about the size of a Buick. The thinly sliced chicken filets are fried to perfection, the marinara has tang, and the sub roll is firm. You tell yourself you’ll eat half now and save the rest for tomorrow, and, well, good luck. Before you know it, your hands are drenched with red sauce, mozzarella cheese is dripping onto the table, and the thing is disappearing. – S.D.H.

560 Pleasant Street

Bon temps burger

Perhaps you’ve had a carpetbagger steak, a filet stuffed with oysters. But you have to go to The Gallows in the South End for a Carpetburger. If the name isn’t particularly savory, the concept is: a humble flat beef burger patty with American cheese that’s goosed with fried oysters and house-made remoulade. Bayou meets Big Mac: How American. – D.F.

1395 Washington Street

Off the hook

A Tuna Club at Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott is worth the $14 price. This is not tuna out of a can, but fresh tuna, seared to just the other side of raw, and it’s served with a side of Asian slaw tossed with ginger vinaigrette. You find these babies in Hawaii, and to discover one in Swampscott? A dream come true. – S.D.H.

141 Humphrey Street

From Lisbon, with love

The lunch-hour star at Newburyport’s new coastal European bistro Ceia Kitchen + Bar is a mouthful in more ways than one. Smothered with caramelized onions and stuffed inside a house-made grilled Portuguese sourdough bun, the Bifana Open-Faced Steak With Caramelized Onion panino – bifana is beef tenderloin marinated in the traditional Portuguese style – is a souped-up, fork-and-knife version of the old corner burger (not to mention a far more suitable companion to an afternoon glass of Garnacha). – A.G.

25 State Street

Saturday special

Run by a pair of Culinary Institute of America graduates, Cutty’s in Brookline is a sandwich shop for connoisseurs. Just about everything is handmade at the restaurant – and it’s all delicious. Cutty’s slow-roasted pork sandwiches are made only on Saturdays, and they’re worth waiting all week for. There are two versions containing the savory meat, both on sesame seed rolls. The Pork Fennel comes with piquant pickled fennel and roasted garlic, the Pork Rabe with pleasingly bitter sauteed broccoli rabe and provolone. – D.F.

284 Washington Street

“It’s peanut butter jelly time!”

You feel guilty ordering the No. 11 at City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain. It’s just PB&J! Oh, but it’s not. It’s peanut butter (smooth), and then your choice of red or blue jam (get the red), and apple or banana slices (go with Granny Smith). To help you swallow the $6.99 price, take heart in knowing the multi-grain bread is from Fornax Bread in Roslindale and the red jam is a tangy mix of strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries (the blue is blueberries) from Deborah’s Kitchen in Littleton. A glass of milk is all you need now. – D.M.

672 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain
66A Boylston Street
Jamaica Plain

Roll on

In a renovated mill, Wichit’s location is pure Lawrence – the name itself, a play on the word “widget,” is a nod to the city’s industrial roots – but the deli’s creative menu and organic ingredients are of a slightly more refined ilk. Served on an organic whole-wheat tortilla, the sushi roll-inspired Spicy Tuna Maki sandwich calls on white albacore tuna, English cucumber, roasted red peppers, scallions, romaine, and wasabi aioli for a kicky take on the humble fish. – A. G.

15 Union Street

Sum of all cheers

If there’s anything sadder than a vegetarian at a cookout, eating a hamburger bun filled with American cheese, ketchup, and mustard, it’s a vegetarian at a Vietnamese sandwich shop. But the Tofu Banh Mi at Mei Sum Bakery can please even a dedicated carnivore. The glorious crisp baguettes are filled with pickled vegetables, cilantro, chilies, and pieces of fried tofu (meat eaters can’t go wrong with the pate and cold cuts, or barbecue beef, either). Mei Sum’s banh mi sandwiches are the best in Chinatown. And the kindly women behind the counter want to make everyone happy. – D.F.

36 Beach Street

Mexico meets Massachusetts

Just about every sandwich at Mike & Patty’s in the Back Bay is one of Boston’s best. Pick just one? These people are sandwich gods, killing it at both breakfast and lunch with turkey Reubens, croque monsieurs, and bacon and eggs. But a Torta is a concoction of particular genius, for it allows the indecisive to sample the joys of tacos and sandwiches simultaneously. You get pork, chicken, or sweet potatoes and poblanos with avocados, refried beans, jicama slaw, and goat cheese. Oh, those flavors. – D.F.

12 Church Street

Hold the tortilla

Yes, the tacos at Dorado Tacos & Cemitas in Brookline are delicious. But don’t miss the cemitas, Mexican sandwiches that are a specialty of Puebla. The Pork Loin Milanesa is a favorite, featuring crisp breaded pork on a sesame seed roll similar to challah in texture. Nestled with the meat are the additions that really lend this sandwich its flavor: black beans, chipotle sauce, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and cilantro. – D.F.

401 Harvard Street

Tapas to go

Tapas bar Estragon and Spanish grocery and sandwich shop Las Ventas sit side by side in the South End. Perhaps it’s this proximity that inspired Las Ventas Bocadillo, which puts a tapas bar classic between bread. Tortilla espanola, that lovely omelet of egg, potato, and onion, goes into a good, crusty loaf with caramelized peppers and aioli. It’s like an entire breakfast in one sandwich. – D.F.

700 Harrison Avenue
Boston 617-266-0905

Who needs ketchup?

There’s nothing organic, sustainable, or molecular about this gastronomic treat. A thick slab of ground beef singing with the flavor of sauteed onions, covered in gravy, and served on a bulkie roll, the Meatloaf Sandwich at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in the South End is home cooking at its best. – S.D.H.

429 Columbus Avenue

Famous for a reason

The upscale French-Cuban restaurant Chez Henri in Cambridge may be most popularly known for one item: the Pressed Cuban Sandwich available at the bar. It’s condensed goodness, an addictive parcel of roast pork, ham, gruyere, pickles, and chipotle aioli. If you order it with a mojito, you’ll be a Chez Henri cliche, but don’t let that stop you. – D.F.

1 Shepard Street

Anything but ordinary

Chicken salad may sound like no big deal, but, oh, the Dried Cranberry and Chicken Salad Sandwich at Isabella Restaurant in Dedham is a special – it rotates on and off the menu – for good reason. Made with nice chunks of fresh chicken and dried cranberries, and flavored with sage, red onion, and cashew paste, it’s tucked into a pita that’s piled high with thin strips of iceberg lettuce for crunch. – R.T.

566 High Street

Now that’s civilization

Paying homage to its owners’ heritage, the All Star Sandwich Bar’s Alexander the Great is a little bit of Greece in Inman Square. Three fat lamb-bacon meatballs redolent with cilantro, mint, and lemon zest sit on a grilled ciabatta roll spread liberally with whipped feta cheese. They’re lightly coated with a tomato Alfredo sauce made with a touch of ouzo, and the whole thing is topped with the pale green shavings of fresh artichoke and fennel that’s been marinated in lemon, parsley, salt, and pepper. – R.T.

1245 Cambridge Street

The brunch bunch

Are you sitting down? Found on the weekday lunch and weekend brunch menus at The Biltmore Bar & Grille in Newton, the S.S.B.L.T. is made with smoked salmon, Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, and a crispy cornmeal-encrusted fried green tomato, piled on Texas toast. Basil mayo rounds out the flavors, and for a buck you can add a sunny-side-up egg. Could breakfast be better? – R.T.

1205 Chestnut Street
Newton Upper Falls

South in the mouth

Blue Ribbon Barbecue in West Newton serves a North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich you dream about. Pork shoulder is smoked for 14 hours until it falls apart, then simmered in a vinegar-based sauce. It’s all piled on a soft bulkie roll, which soaks up the juices without falling to bits. – D.F.

1375 Washington Street
West Newton

Fantasy Island

The chicken in the Jerk Chicken Grilled Cheese at Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury tastes of the classic Jamaican jerk marinade: allspice, black pepper, coriander, cumin, chili powder, thyme, garlic, hot sauce, and more. It has sweet heat. Served between two thick slices of grilled wheat bread, covered with melted cheddar cheese, and topped with sliced tomatoes and caramelized onions, this is the real thing. – S.D.H.

12 Dade Street

Hello, Dagwood

Sheila Fee, co-owner of Nantucket sandwich stalwart Something Natural, unabashedly plays favorites, and she’s not alone. Her pet concoction, Sheila’s Favorite, draws repeat customers with its sweet-tart combination of pickles, carrots, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, and mayo, piled (extremely) high on supersized homemade oatmeal bread. A real scale-tipper – a half requires two hands – this is a vegetarian sandwich built for a carnivore. – A.G.

50 Cliff Road

Cuban libre

The Nat Queen Cool at Hi-Rise Bread Co. adds so much to the sometimes tired Cuban sandwiches you find elsewhere, it could convert you to a regular at its Huron Village bakery and cafe. The roasted pulled pork has great texture, the avocado is creamy, the cilantro fresh-tasting, and the tomatoes and onions add depth. Two ingredients clinch the deal: harissa, which balances the flavorful fat of the pork, and the spectacular grilled slices of the bakery’s Concord loaf, a mild sourdough bread, keeping it all together.– S.D.H.

208 Concord Avenue

Wrap star

At Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge, the Lamb Shawarma rolls together braised lamb, pickled cabbage, and tahini for a perfect combination of flavors both earthy and sprightly. – D.F.

1 Belmont Street

Haute ham

The Ham and Cheese at Local 149 in South Boston starts with fresh rye bread smeared with a creamy mix of mustard and homemade mayo – instant Dijonnaise. Then you get two salty hams – Johnston County country ham rolled in brown sugar and Johnston County smoked prosciutto – and a slab of Spanish Manchego, which is topped with pickles made in-house. It’s bursting with flavor. – R.T.

Old Farragut House Space
149 P Street
South Boston

Hot off the press

El Oriental de Cuba is as much a part of this corner of Jamaica Plain as Hi-Lo Foods was, and far less likely to disappear. (It demonstrated its staying power when it reopened after a 2005 firebombing.) Its Cuban Sandwich is the perfect way to break in a Sunday afternoon. Generous portions of roast pork, ham, and Swiss cheese are heaped on French bread, then pressed until the bread is toasty and the cheese melted. Mustard and pickles offer just enough counterpoint to keep you from falling too deeply into your dreamy food coma. – D.F.

416 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain

In the raw

While other valiant raw-vegan attempts fail – cashew gnocchi, anyone? – Revitalive Cafe’s vegan, gluten-free (and mostly raw and nut-free as well) creations taste like real food, and that’s because they are. Stuffed into a coconut flax wrap, the seed-based Un-Tuna at this Newburyport spot – gussied up with dill, loads of pickles, and lettuce and tomato – easily passes for a delicious version of the deli staple. – A.G.

Tannery Marketplace
50 Water Street

Hitting the links

It’s the only Boston hot dog as famous as a Fenway Frank. Publications local and national sing the praises of the Boston Speed Dog, sold from a cart in a parking lot in Roxbury. These giant beef links are marinated in apple cider and brown sugar, then cooked over wood. Get yours topped with everything: mustard, barbecue sauce, relish, chili, and onions. And a brick-and-mortar Speed Dog might be opening this summer – in the Fenway, of course. – D.F.

42 Newmarket Square

Dominican delight

It’s probably best known for its rotisserie chicken and plantains, but the restaurant is called Alex’s Chimis for a reason. The Dominican chimichurri is quintessential street food, a sandwich generally known by its abbreviated name. At Alex’s in Jamaica Plain, the one to try is the Chimi de Pierna, roasted pork shoulder with cabbage, green tomatoes, and a special sauce on a crusty sub roll. – D.F.

358c Centre Street
Jamaica Plain

Grill, baby, grill

Comfort food nonpareil, the Grilled Ham and Cheese at Rolly’s Tavern on the Square in Lynn, served simply on white or wheat bread with melted American cheese, is a happy throwback. The feeling you get as you dig in evokes pleasant memories: Before you thought about food, you thought about mom. Add the soup of the day. – S.D.H.

338 Broadway

Daily grind

Of course there’s a great Italian Grinder on the lunch menu at the South End carnivore destination Coppa Enoteca. Thin slices of salami, prosciutto, mortadella, and provolone are piled on sliced ciabatta along with house-pickled hot cherry peppers. This is a sandwich to remember for your first picnic of the year – it’s as good “to go” as it is in the restaurant. – R.T.

253 Shawmut Avenue

Bun voyage

Chef Phillip Tang’s East by Northeast in Cambridge specializes in Chinese-inspired small plates, a far cry from sandwiches. But amid the handmade noodles, dumplings, and salads, you’ll find Crispy Pork Belly served on mantou bread. Fluffy and sweet, these steamed buns hold rich, tender pork that’s crisp at the edges, pickled onions, sweet bean paste, and scallions. Protein between bready substance? That’s a sandwich. – D.F.

1128 Cambridge Street

Pocketful of dreams

Good falafel is hard to come by in these parts. Few places get both the texture and the spice right. Rami’s in Brookline does. The falafel here is crisp on the outside without being mushy on the inside. Get the Hummus Falafel in Pita with pickles, cabbage, tomato, lettuce, cucumbers, tahini, and hot sauce. For a few minutes, you’ll feel transported to Jerusalem. – D.F.

324 Harvard Street

Sunny side up

The Company Tartine – that’s French for open-faced sandwich – at Sugar Baking Company & Restaurant in Roslindale is a winner. Waffled challah is spread with ginger remoulade and topped with shredded milk-braised chicken, baby arugula, and slices of dried apricots. A beautiful example of more is more. – R.T.

4170 Washington Street

Whole new ballgame

Meatballs are a highlight at Tavolo, the little Dorchester pizza and pasta joint from Ashmont Grill’s Chris Douglass. The best way to order them is in the Meatball Panini, perfectly pressed packages that combine beef and veal with marinara, provolone, and more. It’s essential comfort food. – D.F.

1918 Dorchester Avenue

Leftovers? What leftovers?

The Veal Short Rib Sandwich from Salem’s popular 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar began when chef Antonio Bettencourt put an appetizer of veal ribs on the menu. They were brushed with a vinegar and orange glaze, and by the end of the night, any leftovers were falling off the bone. Those went into sandwiches for the staff, topped with baby arugula and pickled red onions. The results were so good the chef put the sandwich on the menu. – R.T.

62 Wharf Street
(Pickering Wharf)

Clawed it’s way to the top

So much has been written about Neptune Oyster’s Maine Lobster Roll, it’s like trying to write about the Beatles or Marilyn Monroe or Fenway Park. The thing’s an icon. (Sarah Jessica Parker was recently inside seeing what all the fuss was about.) If you’ve never had one from this North End staple, you’re missing what may be the city’s best version – available hot with butter or cold with mayonnaise on a toasted roll. There are no other ingredients to distract you, aside from a pile of salty fries. – D.F.

63 Salem Street

The secret’s in the sauce

It’s hard to go wrong with outrageously rich, crispy pork belly and house-made focaccia. But the blanket of green chimichurri sauce (shallots, red onion, red wine vinegar, mint, and parsley) and a few sprigs of watercress give the Crispy Pork Belly Sandwich at West on Centre in West Roxbury a bright, memorable bite. – R.T.

1732 Centre Street
West Roxbury

Talk about brotherly love

The 1391 Shaved Filet Mignon Sandwich at The Local in West Newton sells out all the time. This modern, slightly exotic take on a Philly cheese steak starts with slivers of filet mignon, adds a bit of bacon, chive, and horseradish sour cream, and tops it with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese – all on roasted onion nan. – R.T.

1391 Washington Street
West Newton

Way beyond bar food

Bergamot makes sophisticated, interesting food. But sometimes you just want a sandwich. Grab a seat at this Somerville restaurant’s tiny bar and order a Lobster Melt. Big chunks of fresh, sweet meat mingle with gooey cheddar, mayonnaise, and scallions, all enclosed in crisp, buttery bread. It will make you forget the tuna melt ever even existed. – D.F.

118 Beacon Street

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Correction: This story has been revised because of incorrect information provided to the Globe Magazine. The article ‘‘Boston’s Best Sandwiches’’ in today’s issue gave an incorrect address for Sugar Baking Company & Restaurant. It is in Roslindale.

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