Editor's note: Welcome back to Fast Food International, where we explore fast food chains from around the world that have landed in New York.
Country of origin: Spain
Locations worldwide: Over 300 in Chile, Colombia, France, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, the US
NYC locations: One, in the West Village
From a distance, the tiled mosaic sign announcing 100 Montaditos in a vaguely Basque font and diners standing around the marble-topped bar could almost fool a passerby into thinking this isn't a typical West Village watering hole. The Spanish being spoken inside doesn't shatter the illusion, but listen closely and you'll hear both Castilian and Caribbean. And if you happen to show up on a Wednesday, as I did inadvertently, it will be dollar night, catnip for the NYU crowd and Bleecker Street fray. The cheap eats Spanish chain couldn't have picked a better location for its recent New York City debut.
Even on a regular night the montaditos, tapa-sized sandwiches, top out at $2.50, putting five-dollar foot longs to shame (as long as you order more than one). And yes, there really are 100 varieties, from the simple and traditional like Spanish tortilla to American-only options like five variations on a Philly steak. In exchange, you won't see any anchovies or squid on the menu like you would in the home country.
This is imported fast food done right. In addition to the low-priced namesake , there are also $2 fries and patatas bravas, and house wine is a ridiculous $4 a glass (and to add further authenticity the restaurant also serves cola sangria, a.k.a. kalimotxo, and clara, a beer and soda combo, for $3). The production is a well-oiled machine for only being open a few weeks. You fill out a form; five sandwiches are recommended per person, which is more or less correct if you are treating this as a dinner rather than a snack, and then the assembly line goes to work.
#88 Triqui Triqui ($2.50) is considered a premium montadito. It was also one of the most successful because the flavors were all distinct yet compatible. The mild ham (American deli-style, not jamon) paired well with the strong blue cheese and arugula, and received a surprising sweet note from a touch of strawberry jam.
#3 The Chorizo ($1) was on the opposite end of the complexity scale. It was advertised as containing tomato, but the fruit was neither noticeable nor missed, frankly. Olive oil was the only other ingredient.
#70 The Philly Steak and Cheddar ($2) wasn't anything special, but it had to be tried for the sake of novelty. The predominant flavor was salt with beefy undertones.
#90 El Albondiga ($2.50) was a mini meatball sub, saucy and mushy. The parmesan and marinara made sense; the bacon probably wasn't necessary.
Going one ingredient too far appears to be a hallmark of 100 Montaditos once you get above the $1 category. This pulled pork sandwich ($2) also contained bacon, but in this case the unexpected extras were cream cheese and aioli. The thing is, that with the proportions being so small, these flourishes are barely detectable.
The standard rolls (also available in chapata, i.e. cibatta, cereal, which is whole grain, and chocolate for the five dessert offerings) are crackly with a soft interior, and the fillings are mostly more exciting than sliced turkey breast padded with iceberg lettuce even if some of the combinations seem slightly misguided. Even if 100 Montaditos isn't masquerading an artisan operation, it's still a step up from Subway.