New York is a town of strong opinions, particularly when it comes to food, be it best pizza or best steak or best burgers or the topic at hand: the best sandwiches.
After all, like any modern metropolis, New York is filled with fine dining experiences. But tucking into a sandwich – a really great sandwich – is a quintessentially NY past-time which brings you back to ground zero.
Here are the top picks from a gaggle of chefs around the city that showcase the city’s multicultural delights of carb-cradled conveniences.
West-Bourne: 137 Sullivan St, SoHo
Sandwich: Mushreuben (recommended by Suzanne Cupps, executive chef at Untitled in New York)
Heresy or homage? Made with roasted maitake mushrooms instead of corned beef, West-Bourne’s Mushreuben has become the favorite of Untitled chef Suzanne Cupps.
“The mushrooms add unique umami flavor,” she says. “It’s so good, I would say I like the Mushreuben more than a traditional Reuben.” Besides making destination sandwiches, the vegetarian all-day cafe donates 1 percent of its profits to The Door, a hospitality training program that’s backed by Wall Street’s favorite charity, the Robin Hood Foundation.
Ferdinando’s Foccaceria: 151 Union St, Columbia Street Waterfront
Sandwich: The Panelle and Croquette Special (recommended by Billy Durney, chef/owner of Hometown Bar-B-Que in New York)
Ferdinando’s has been around since 1904 and recalls a time when the neighborhood was thoroughly Italian – in fact, Martin Scorsese used it for a scene in The Departed. The specialties, like the pictures on the wall, are Sicilian including the combo of fried chickpea flour patties (panelle) and potato croquettes.
“They’re both different levels of crispy, served on a soft roll with parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese,” says Billy Durney. “It’s ridiculous, and it’s perfect.” Ask for tomato sauce on the side.
Court Street Grocers: 485 Court St, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Sandwich: The Italian Combo (recommended by Amanda Freitag, Chopped and Food Network star)
Name an Italian deli staple, and it’s probably been loaded into this combo at Court Street Grocers, which has a cult following beyond its Brooklyn flagship. “It’s one of my latest obsessions,” says Amanda Freitag, of Chopped fame.
Within the seeded hero roll, mortadella, soppressata, Swiss, mozzarella, and pecorino Romano are all represented, along with arugula, red onion, mayo, and the store’s own CSG hoagie spread.
The last is “an olive salad that is salty, fatty, and acidic enough to stand up to the soppressata without taking over,” Freitag says. “It’s wonderfully reminiscent of a muffuletta sandwich – addictive.”
Lolo’s Seafood Shack: 303 W. 116th St, Harlem
Sandwich: Crispy Shark and Bake (recommended by Marcus Samuelsson, chef/owner of Red Rooster in New York)
“Shark and bake is something that you eat all over the Caribbean,” says Marcus Samuelsson of Harlem’s Red Rooster. “Being at Lolo’s and eating this sandwich transports me to the beach.” The “shark” in the name is actually whatever inexpensive white-fleshed fish is available, such as whiting.
And at this engaging, colorful “shack” (it’s in an apartment building), the sandwich pairs the pan-fried fish with pickled cabbage slaw, tomato slices, a drizzle of tangy salsa verde, and house hot sauce tucked inside a crispy, round fry bread. After a few bites, it loses its structure, so you must carefully devour it piece by tasty piece.
Katz’s Delicatessen: 205 E. Houston St, Lower East Side
Sandwich: Pastrami on Rye (recommended by Thomas Keller, chef/owner of Per Se and TAK Room in New York)
If New York has a sandwich holy ground, it has to be Katz’s, the Lower East Side staple that’s been serving juicy, fatty pastrami – piled high on rye bread - to celebs and plebes alike since the 1880s. “Order it with a side of coleslaw, full sour pickles, and Cel-Ray soda,” advises Thomas Keller, chef and owner of Per Se.
Cheeky Sandwiches: 35 Orchard St, Lower East Side
Sandwich: Fried Chicken and Biscuit (recommended by Jeremiah Stone, chef/co-owner of Contra in New York)
Jeremiah Stone, co-owner of downtown restaurant Contra, delights in the way fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, slaw, and gravy come together in this messy, New Orleans-style pile. “I love it because it falls apart right away,” he says, “but also stays humongous.”
Banh Mi Saigon: 198 Grand St, Little Italy
Sandwich: Pork Bahn Mi (recommended by Nick Kim, chef/partner of Shuko in New York)
What was once a spot for in-the-know New Yorkers has relocated from a counter in a tiny Chinatown jewelry store to a dedicated space on Grand Street. And what makes the banh mi here the best in the city?
Shuko chef Nick Kim says it’s the freshly baked baguettes, which are unusual for most New York places that serve the classic Vietnamese sandwich: “Like the rice with sushi, the bread is often overlooked, but it’s so important.” Kim favors traditional toppings: tender pork, a layer of pâté, and bright pickled vegetables
“When you walk into the space, you don’t see a box of pickled vegetables,” he says. “They’re making everything themselves – and the crunch of the baguette is second to none.”
Coppelia: 207 W. 14th St, Chelsea
Sandwich: Cubano (recommended by Harold Moore, chef/owner of Bistro Pierre Lapin in New York)
Like all time-honored diners in New York, Coppelia is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but with Latin American DNA to set it apart – a meal there is like taking an instant trip to South Florida.
“The restaurant feels like a party all the time,” says Harold Moore, who seeks out the Cubano, made with tender, garlicky roast pork, ham, Swiss, house-made pickles, and a gentle brush of mustard. All that gets pressed hot and caramelized. “The mojo flavor of the pork is perfect with the cheese and bread. It takes time to make it, just the way it does at Versailles in Miami.”
Faicco’s Italian Specialties: 260 Bleecker St, West Village
Sandwich: Chicken Cutlet Parmigiano Hero (recommended by Alex Guarnaschelli, chef at Butter Midtown in New York)
Native New Yorker Alex Guarnaschelli is passionate about the selections at Faicco’s, an old-school deli that’s been selling cured meats and aged cheeses in Greenwich Village since 1900. It also does a side business in subs. “I love all of their heroes and hot sandwiches,” she says.
Her favorite, though, is the chicken cutlet parm hero. “Tomato, mozzarella, and pecorino on a roll with freshly breaded, fried chicken cutlets.
Why is it so good? It’s the flavors. The sauce. The chicken.” Guarnaschelli notes that while it tastes homemade, it’s professionally assembled. “It’s too much food – every great sandwich is – but not absurd,” she says. “And I love the experience of going to the store, the Italian American-ness of it.”
Kalustyan’s: 123 Lexington Ave., Kips Bay
Sandwich: The Mujadara (recommended by Michael Anthony, chef of Gramercy Tavern in New York)
Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony has a history with the Mujadara sandwich: “In my first job as a sous chef at March restaurant, chef Wayne Nish introduced me to Kalustyan’s, which has always been a treasure chest of ingredients from around the world. On my way to the restaurant, I would stop by and grab a sandwich because I was starved most of the time.”
The falafel-like Lebanese vegetarian pita is stuffed with warm seasoned lentils (instead of fried ground chickpeas), iceberg lettuce, tomato slices, and a swath of tahini. It’s hearty, healthy, and, to a busy young chef, easy to eat on the go.
Sant Ambroeus: 1000 Madison Ave., Upper East Side
Sandwich: Tuna Panini All’Olio With Marinated Artichokes (recommended by Geoffrey Zakarian, chef/partner of the Lambs Club in New York)
In the early 1980s, Sant Ambroeus brought refined Milanese cafe life to the Upper East Side when it opened on Madison Avenue. It has since branched out to rarefied towns like Southampton and Palm Beach, offering airy spaces for a macchiato, the Italian croissant cornetto, and gelato.
Chef Geoffrey Zakarian favors a more savory selection: chopped, briny artichokes and chunky canned Italian tuna on tender olive oil-infused rolls. “They’re slider-size petite, so you order two or three at a time,” he says. “Italians have mastered the art of simplicity, and that’s what this sandwich is.”
Hi-Collar: 214 E. 10th St, East Village
Sandwich: Berkshire Pork Katsu Sando (recommended by Dominique Ansel, chef/owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York, Los Angeles, and London)
At night this compact cafe in the East Village’s Little Tokyo is a sake bar with a line to get in. But during the day, Hi-Collar serves coffee and an extraordinary sando – the precise Japanese-style white-bread sandwich that’s bewitched Manhattan.
Only 10 are made a day; Dominique Ansel, founder of the eponymous bakery empire, grabs one when he can.
“The tender Berkshire pork is panko-crusted and fried until perfectly crispy,” he says. “It’s served with bulldog sauce [Japanese-style Worcestershire], a side of pickles, and potato salad. When it comes to sandwiches, for me, it’s about simplicity, not something overstuffed and overwhelming. Just one key ingredient with good bread.”
Bang Bar: Time Warner Center, 3rd Floor, Columbus Circle
Sandwich: The U With Spicy Pork (recommended by Mark Rosati, culinary director of Shake Shack worldwide)
This Momofuku kiosk at Columbus Circle specializes in bangs, or tender Asian flatbreads, served hot with a handful of fillings, including pieces of lacquered pork.
Shake Shack’s culinary director Mark Rosati describes the experience of eating one: “Everything about this sandwich hits so hard, from the contrasting textures of the soft bang and crisp and juicy pork to the assertive flavors. For $5.79 each, they’re an incredible deal.”
Tramezzini: 309 E. Houston St, Lower East Side
Sandwich: Prosciutto di Parma (recommended by Max Ng, executive chef of Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York)
This little shop started life as a stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg flea market/foodie incubator before opening in a white-brick-walled space in 2017. Its eponymous Venetian-style sandwiches – crustless soft white bread, pressed together to hold a mound of fillings in the middle – use imported Italian products, including an indulgent 24-month-aged prosciutto.
“Along with the prosciutto comes fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil,” says Ssam Bar’s Max Ng. “It’s pretty much an amped-up tomato and mayo sando, and it’s like biting into different layers of tenderness.”