The Braised Braciole at Rubirosa
Braciole, the Italian dish of thinly sliced meat rolled around a cheese, herb, and bread-crumb stuffing, is a staple of the Italian-American Sunday gravy. Made with garlic-and-Parmesan-stuffed beef, the tiny involtini get seared and braised in tomato sauce until rich and tender. Like the meatball before them, it was only a matter of time before they got reinvented in sandwich form, and what a sandwich they make! At Rubirosa, our neighborhood go-to for sandwiches, they stuff a few fat rolls of the tender beef into a soft, toasted roll of buttery garlic bread, smothering the whole thing in their awesome signature tomato sauce and large flecks of real, honest-to-goodness aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The Italiano at Bierkraft
Bierkraft's version isn't just the salty ham and spicy capicola, say, you'd get on any old oil-drenched hero. It starts with the classics, sure: prosciutto di Parma, hot sopressata. But then you've got the tender, deliciously fatty-edged ham Bierkraft roasts in house; the coarse-ground "Petit Jesu" salami; and, my favorite part, a generous shower of Pecorino Sardo to lend a slightly sweet, slightly sheepy bite. It's lightened up with just enough fresh arugula, roasted peppers, and bright red tomato, and finished off with a little olive oil and balsamic.
Roasted Turkey Sandwich From Stellina
It's unlike your conventional turkey sandwiches, either the over-stuffed Thanksgiving variety or the cold-cut deli version. It's a compact, neatly layered creation on buttermilk bread, with a deeply flavorful (and markedly sweet) jam of shallot and bacon. Garlic aioli follows to finish it off. It's prepared hot—the bread toasted, podda cheese melted—and all those flavors integrate, giving you an awful lot going on in every bite.
Avocado and Sweet Potato at Nectar
The avocado and sweet potato is filled with an array of vegetables, including the titular ingredients—plus tomato, sprouts, and red onion—but it's saved from spartan healthfulness by the additions of jack cheese and a spicy horseradish mustard vinaigrette. The toasted multigrain bread is sturdy enough to stand up to the fillings and tasty enough to eat on its own.
Tuna, Egg, and Anchovy at Bklyn Larder
It starts with a caper-studded tuna salad, with just-set hard boiled egg slices laid atop. A generous shower of olive oil keeps it from getting too dry, and man, they're not shy with the anchovies. It's all sandwiched neatly by a soft Grandaisy stirato loaf. It's a drippy, indulgent sort of tuna salad, but made so by powerful flavors and lots of olive oil—a way better kind of indulgent, in our book, than sloppy with mayo.
Jack's Club at Russo's Mozzarella and Pasta
A sizable sandwich of sweet coppa, sweet soppressata, smoked mozzarella, and sundried tomato. The chewy, salty meats were sliced paper-thin and combined lovely notes of spice and smokiness. Excellent smoked fresh mozzarella added a creamy flavor and texture, nicely balanced by the bright sweetness of the tomatoes. Also welcome was the healthy pour of Italian vinaigrette (good quality olive oil and balsamic) which soaked into the porous, crackly-crusted roll.
Croque Madame at Buvette
It must be the most elegant version of this French classic in town. Paper thin cuts of prosciutto are piled high above the fried egg, its edges golden brown and crisp. Cut in half and the yolk slowly oozes out over the very thin grilled sandwich—a compact creation, restrained and graceful. Béchamel sauce is applied with a light hand, as are the thin slices of ham and grated gruyere.
Grilled Cheese and Plantain at Pilar Cuban Eatery
Grilled cheese sandwiches and stewed plantains are two of our favorite foods on the planet, so ordering the Pilar Grilled Cheese—that'd be a grilled cheese with plantains in it—at Pilar Cuban Eatery was a forgone conclusion. A good grilled cheese requires an ample hand of fully melted cheese and a crazy amount of butter, and Pilar delivered—a heaping mound of shredded cheddar and Gruyère melted into an oozy pool kept in check by butter-soaked grain bread, and the soft fried plantains added sweetness and heft.
Prosciutto Cotto, Mortadella and Provolone at DiPalo Selects
They won't always make sandwiches at DiPalo, but if they're willing, take them up on it. This guy contains thinly sliced prosciutto cotto, mortadella, and and a thin slice of provolone cheese. The meat is delicate, flavorful, and perfectly salty; it's all stuffed within a soft piece of pizza bianca that works just right for this sandwich, allowing the meat to be the star.
The Grilled Pork Bánh Mì from Paris Sandwich
The banh mi we prefer to Paris's cold cut versions. It fares better under the heat of the toaster, and is not overly sweet like the ones at Bánh Mì Saigon down the street can be. Secondly, ask for extra cilantro, which gets applied to the sandwich after it comes out of the toaster. It's like a completely different restaurant when you taste this side-by-side with a cold cut bánh mì. Great bánh mì are all about contrast. Crisp crust against tender interior (Paris Sandwich's could be softer inside). Spicy peppers against cool, sweet pickled carrots and daikon. Hot grilled pork against the cool crunch of cucumbers and cilantro.
The Goat Cheese Panino at Balaboosta
A really good split ciabatta with a nice crisp crust and tender crumb with just enough chew gets stuffed with goat cheese, sweet roasted red peppers, grilled planks of zucchini, and kalamata olives with a tasteful smear of pesto (I can't stand an over-pestoed sandwich). It's nothing groundbreaking in its conception—you'll probably find a similar sandwich on a quarter of the lunch menus in the city—but it's exceptional for its balance and execution.
Pork Bracciole from Zito's Sandwich Shoppe
So far, out favorite sandwich at Zito's has been the 8-Hour Slow Cooked Pork Bracciole. They take a butterflied loin of pork (from the West Village's Faicco's Pork Store) that's lightly stuffed with provolone, garlic, parsley, and a sparing hand of bread crumbs to bind that stuffing together; it's the pork that makes the sandwich, of course, and it's delicious, falling apart on first bite, quite lean but not tough in the slightest.
Samosa Sandwich at Rajbhog
A samosa gets split in half, then smooshed into a toasted bun that's been painted green with mint chutney and sprinkled with chopped onions. For all their outward portability, samosas can be messy things to eat on the go; in this sandwich you get all of the flavor of a samosa---soft, spicy, starchy, crunchy---but in a neater, more texturally interesting form.
Sausage, Broccoli Rabe, Mushroom and Taleggio Panini at Bocca Lupo
The sausage, broccoli rabe, mushroom, and taleggio panino at Cobble Hill wine bar Bocca Lupo just might be the perfect sandwich. The crisp, pressed crust gives way to a tender interior packed with mild sausage, earthy mushrooms, and plenty of well-chopped, tender, bitter greens (no large, tough leaves to reckon with here!). It's combined with just enough pungent, tangy taleggio to bind them together into a tasty, cohesive whole.
'Famous Steak Sub' from The Wing Bar
Not unlike a cheesesteak on different bread, it's got thin ribbons of steak cooked on a griddle with a mighty, mighty helping of onions, all covered with cheese and topped with a lid so everything steams and melts together in the heat. It's piled on a crusty, seeded roll that's just thick enough to sop up all the drippings. (Extra jus comes alongside.)
Ham and Fontina Sandwich from Sigmund Pretzelshop
The pretzel roll is mildly sweet and chewy, not salty or difficult to chew through. The ham is cut to a toothsome thickness but there aren't too many layers, making the meat filling substantial but not overpowering the other ingredients. The key move? The sandwich is heated before the mustard greens are added, meaning that the greens stay fresh and sharp. We liked how their slightly bitter flavor cuts through the fontina, which comes out oozing hot. A final dose of honey mustard ties the sandwich together.
Duck Sandwich at Egg
The Duck Sandwich at Egg reminds us why we love the flavorful bird so much. The tiny Williamsburg restaurant is not shy with their meat, layering on thick slices of perfectly pan-seared duck breast on a crusty French baguette that's slathered in duck liver pate. A handful of fresh greens, Colman's mustard and sweet onion jam add a spicy sweetness that ties the whole sandwich together.
Arepa at Coppelia
Reina Pepiada is a traditional South American sandwich in which grilled cornmeal arepas are filled with shredded chicken, mayonnaise and avocado. In this version from Coppelia, a large mound of shredded chicken is smothered in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce. At first the tomato flavor seems to overpower the sandwich, but with a second bite the spicy chipotle begins to assert itself. The chicken was moist and plentiful, and pieces of avocado provided a creamy and cooling element. Best of all, the crispy arepa shell is a great change-up from bread.
Red's Dead at the Deli and General Store
Cardiologists might want to avert their eyes from the Red's Dead, which combines bacon, soppressata, capicola, and asiago cheese, but everyone else should head straight to Bushwick and order it. A hefty portion of greens and tomatoes along with thinly sliced pork keep the sandwich lighter than all that meat would suggest, while banana peppers and a mustard-and-vinegar-glaze on the crunchy baguette give it a pleasing tang.
Gouda Grilled Cheese at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria
Nutty gouda is reinforced by an earthy black bean spread and sweetened by guava jam, all piled on more brioche. It'd be an overbearing combination, save for the ample sprinkle of pickled jalapenos, a reprieve of sour and spice to pop in each bite. This is sandwich architecture at its finest: powerful flavors, well balanced, delivered in the perfect package.
Roast Pork Special at Shorty's
Is there anything better than tender roast pork and melty provolone cheese? The answer, the Roast Pork Special, is found at Shorty's. How do you improve on such a luxuriant and delicious combination as roast pork and provolone? Shorty's sandwich doesn't go the hedonism routine—it goes the traditional Philly route, tossing some greens in there. Bedded down with the chunks of pork and heady layers of provolone is broccoli rabe; the wilted vegetable lends the sandwich some chew and a nice bitter bite, reminding you, with each mouthful, of just how wholesome you are. Sort of.
Eggplant at Kulushkät
At Kulushkät , don't think that ordering the Eggplant a la Yafa is a more virtuous option than the fried falafel. Because it's incredibly, deliciously, oily—a garlicky, acidic marinade that adds flavor to everything it touches, seeping into the eggplant, bleeding into the hummus, further dressing the Israeli salad. A slice of this eggplant garnishes their falafel sandwich, too, but it's smart that they give you the option of letting it take the starring role.
Chicken Shawarma from Karam Restaurant
The juicy shreds of spit-roasted chicken are as good as you could hope for, but it's the lemon-garlic sauce, pungent enough to stay on your breath for hours, that makes this sandwich a real knockout.
Dave at City Sandwich
The sandwich is served on a remarkable Portuguese-style baguette that is rubbed down with garlic and olive oil and then filled with sausage, tomato, melted mozzarella, peperoncini, and a satisfying bundle of broccoli rabe. The fresh Italian sausage is served in that crumbly-bits style, but these bits are flavorful, tender, and taste of sweetness and fennel, bound together in a blanket of melty cheese.
Pernil with a Twist at Sophie's Cuban
The Pernil With a Twist has chunks of roast pork—the kind you want to pick out, pull apart, and relish separately. Deeper in, among the onion slivers and jalapeno-green sauce, there are homely fried lumps of sweet plantain, golden nuggets that cry mine me, mine me!
Eggplant Egg Sandwich at Farm on Adderley
Over a hefty, well-salted and olive-oiled eggplant steak—healthy-indulgent, as opposed to straight-up indulgent—it's got a heaping mound of soft-scrambled eggs under a blanket of melty, super-drippy cheddar that oozes cheesy oils into the toasted ciabatta. After eating this, we don't doubt the version with their house-cured bacon is every bit as tasty, but it's not as often you see a gloriously sloppy, veggie-friendly breakfast sandwich.
Cemita from Estrellita Poblana III
A serious amount of food is stuffed between the light, airy sesame egg roll but, surprisingly, it's not very messy. I'd recommend it with milanesa de res, beef that has been pounded into thin strips, lightly breaded and then fried. Your palate is greeted by a tantalizing range of flavors at every bite: the pungent herb papalo with its mint notes, the biting heat of the chipotle, the stretchy Oaxacan cheese set against crunchy onion, the creamy avocado and the hint of richness from the mayo.
Best Pizza's Meatball Sub
The meatballs themselves are a mixture of Pat La Frieda short rib, spices and herbs that Best would not specify, some pecorino Romano, and a little ricotta. And, get this: They're blasted in the wood-fired oven, giving them a slightly chewy sear with a little bit of charring, with the rendered fat poured back on after the meatballs are nestled in the bread. It's all finished with a little flat-leaf parsley and shavings of aged Romano — all in perfect proportion.
Juancho Cemita at Café Ollin
About the size of a catcher's mitt and packed with enough ingredients to stock a small bodega, the juancho cemita at Café Ollin in East Harlem is closer to a meal than a grab-and-go sandwich. Cactus, potatoes, beans, avocados, onions, tomatoes, Oaxacan cheese, chipotle, lettuce, jalapenos, pungent pápalo, and your choice of meat vie for space in the slightly crunchy sesame seed bun. We went with chorizo, nicely spiced and crumbly; but breaded beef, goat, chicken, and a vegetarian version topped with epazote, an herb similar to fennel, are available.
Cheesesteak at Kwik Meal
While we're skeptical of many cross-cultural dish mashups, the Cheesesteak Pita at Midtown cart Kwik Meal is an excellent, excellent thing. The steak is cooked in that deliciously greasy way, in with the peppers and onions and bound together by totally melted cheese. The pita gets thrown on top so that it, too, is warm, and there's so much stuffed inside that the meat, cheese, and peppers are really what you taste. It's as far from a classic cheesesteak as you can get, but it's still a very recommendable lunch.