By Adam Erace
Illustrations by Danica Killelea
Before we go any further, please understand, this is not another best-of list. Yes, what follows is a selection of 50 sandwiches, one for each state, but sandwiches are just too personal, too bound up in devotion and emotion, in regional pride and cortex memory, for us to tell you that our favorite in New York (Bartlett House‘s ham and cheese baguette) or Hawaii (Leoda’s patty melt), for example, is better than yours. We wouldn’t do that to you. Instead, think of this project as a reference guide to an incredible sandwich in each state, one worth going out of your way for.
To fill out this roster, we relied on our own experience eating across the country and pulled in some local experts: chefs, hotel managers and authors. Basically, we’re talking about folks who know food and know where the best sandwich in their respective states might be hiding. This combined brain trust turned out sensible choices (a baller Italian cutlet in Philly; an Alabama BLT where the ‘T’s are fried and green) as well as curveballs. We’ve got a tuna melt in the desert, Aussie barbecue down at the Jersey Shore and more than one meatless Reuben. So scroll down to take in this glorious nation of sandwiches, a whole new meaning of amber waves of grain. (If you’re looking for an indulgence of a particular kind, a jaunt on one of America’s food trails could be in order.)
Rama Jama’s, Tuscaloosa
Named for the Crimson Tide’s stadium-rattling cheer, this scrappy luncheonette in the shadow of Bryant-Denny does all your usual sandwich fare, but the sleeper is the southern twist on the BLT. Tangy green tomatoes in shatteringly crunchy shells elevate this classic to championship status.
Pucker Wilson’s, Juneau
“Pucker Wilson’s is a super-cool food truck where chef and owner Chad Edwards makes incredibly delicious sandwiches,” says Midgi Moore, founder of Juneau Food Tours. “His specials — like the Pucker’s Clucker, fried chicken with all the extras — are legendary. It’s juicy, it’s messy and it’s delicious.”
Geography is just a state of mind at Chula’s, the seafood market-cafe with three locations in the landlocked Phoenix metro. Chula’s fishing boats in San Diego bring impeccable species ashore, including luscious albacore tuna, spiced with Hatch chiles, greened with chimichurri, melted down with Oaxaca cheese and sandwiched between toasted Noble Bakery bread.
Hill Station, Little Rock
The sandwiches at Hill Station have a secret weapon: brother business Hillcrest Artisan Market (AKA HAM), a deli and butcher shop that sources and slices the mortadella, soppressata and Parisian white ham (a cool departure from the prosciutto script) for the restaurant’s dynamite Italian Grinder. Shaved iceberg, pepperoncini, red onion, aioli and vinaigrette add crunch and zing for the parade of lusciously fatty meats. You don’t necessarily expect Arkansas to have one of the best Italian-style sandwiches in the country, yet here we are.
Sol Food, San Rafael
“With all due respect to the banh mi at Saigon Sandwich, Arguello Market’s Dutch Crunch turkey sandwich, and the cemitas at Carnitas El Canelo, my favorite sandwich in California is the Chuletón at the San Rafael Puerto Rican restaurant, Sol Food. There is nothing complicated about it. It’s just pan-fried pork chops, sautéed onions, mayo and jack cheese on pressed French bread. But when it’s all pressed together, the combination of the salty, smoky pork and onions, the creaminess of the mayo and melted jack, and the acid and heat from the house-made pique hot sauce on the side turn the eating experience almost religious. And like any devout follower, I try and make a pilgrimage there at least once a week” — Kevin Alexander, author, Burn the Ice; co-author, California Soul, The Lemon
Roaming Buffalo Bar-B-Que, Denver
“I love the Real McCoy because it’s a wonderfully indulgent nod to Colorado’s culinary traditions. The sandwich is piled a mile high with beef brisket burnt ends’ (barbecue’s currently ‘it’ protein), generous chunks of sausage made from bison (an animal native to this region), green chile (happily adopted from our New Mexico neighbors) and cheddar cheese, a layer of smoked gouda cheese and slices of honey-pickled jalapeños,” says Adrian Miller, award-winning author of Black Smoke. “The good folks at Roaming Buffalo are happy to oblige if you want to double down on the Colorado vibe by adding sublimely smoked lamb or venison sausage.”
Gaetano’s Deli, Stratford, Westport and Shelton
Crunchy house-made cutlets anchor the gloriously saucy and cheesy chicken parm from Gaetano’s, an independently owned trio of Italian American Connecticut delis with origins on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. One bite of this hero, glued together with house-made mozz, and you might be tempted to sing to it a la Peyton Manning in that Nationwide commercial: Chicken parm you taste so good.
Ioannoni’s Specialty Sandwiches, New Castle
“Having lived and cooked in Philly for ten years, I can sacrilegiously but confidently say that this version is at least as good as John’s and Dinic’s,” says Tyler Akin of Wilmington’s Le Cavalier. “The pork, broccoli rabe and bread could not possibly be more perfect. Gild the lily with some house-roasted long hots. These true masters would be operating the best sandwich shop in Philly if it were 20 miles north.”
Chug’s Diner, Coconut Grove
Chef Michael Beltran mashes up his Cuban heritage and Miami birthplace and upbringing at his colorful Coconut Grove diner, and the killer breakfast sandwich (served till 5 pm) is an ideal ambassador: gooey fried egg, Taylor ham, American cheese, Duke’s mayo and crispy yuca matchsticks on a plush Cuban roll.
Heirloom Market BBQ, Atlanta
Twenty minutes north of downtown Atlanta, Heirloom bridges its owners Korean (Jiyeon Lee) and Southern (Cody Taylor) backgrounds. To wit: This flavor-bomb smoked pork sandwich sauced with fiery gochujang, topped with kimchi slaw and sweet pickles, on a soft round roll.
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, Lahaina
Leoda’s is a sunny luncheonette tucked in a turn-off on the rippling coast road between Wailea and Lahaina, making it an ideal stop for an individually sized pie (chocolate macadamia nut, guava chiffon) and a Kobe beef-ed upgrade to a classic patty melt. The glistening fat of the superrich patty seeps into the toasted rye, merging with melted Swiss and caramelized onions into a warm, almost molten filling. Not recommended before surfing. (Note: Lahaina, the town where Leoda’s is based, was affected be the Hawaiian wild fires, and while the restaurant itself survived, many of its nearly 300 employees have either lost their homes or been displaced. Consider donating to their Employee Relief Fund.)
Lemon Tree, Boise
“You can’t go wrong with any sandwich combo at Lemon Tree, but the Sausage & Pear surprises you from the very first bite,” says Angela Taylor, curator of Indulge Boise Food Tours. “The combination of crumbled sausage, fennel jam, pear and goat cheese on a fresh ciabatta bread from a local bakery is absolutely delicious.”
Dove’s Luncheonette, Chicago
The name couldn’t be more modest: Breakfast Sandwich. But the spicy, sweet, savory and harbeacous concoction Dove’s assembles (on Tuesdays mornings only) surpasses those four self-deprecating syllabes. if there are other spots whose breakfast sandwich involves green chorizo and sticky onion-apricot jam joined with arugula and American cheese on a potato roll, we don’t know them.
Nick’s Kitchen, Huntington
The pork tenderloin sandwich is to the Hoosier State what the Cubano is to South Florida: legend status. Nick’s is the alleged inventor (c.1908) of this behemoth, starring a pork cutlet pounded so thinly it overlaps not only its bun but sometimes also its plate. Lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles accompany but really, it’s all about the crispy pork.
Miles Inn, Sioux City
This Iowa-born sandwich goes by other names (loose meat, tavern, Maid-Rite), but Siouxland Miles Inn calls the star of its beer-splashed menu a Charlie Boy, allegedly named for the original proprietor’s son. Served on a squishy round bun with pickles, yellow mustard and yellow-er American cheese, it’s not quite a sloppy joe, not quite a burger, but something else entirely, with a heap of coarse, well-seasoned ground beef that cements its legend status.
1900 Barker, Lawrence
Did you know one of the best bakery-cafes in the country lives in the little college town of Lawrence, Kansas? The fluffy egg patty, peppery mustard greens, smoked cheddar and smoky chipotle aioli are contribute to a legit-delicious breakfast sandwich, but this beauty really hinges on the ultra-flaky hybrid roll, one of Barker’s many incredible house-baked breads.
The Cafe, Louisville
“I’ll probably be doxxed for not saying the hot brown, but my heart and stomach belong to The Cafe’s Rubino,” says Fitz Bailey, brand ambassador for Coopers’ Craft Bourbon. “Their take on the classic Reuben is a deli hound’s delight. Salty and peppery, the thin slices of corn beef nestled with tomatoes, coleslaw and Swiss lovingly tucked between artisanal Milwaukee rye. Throw a ramekin of scratch-made Dijonnaise, and you’re good to go.”
Stein’s Deli, New Orleans
“The Sam sandwich is pastrami, swiss, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on rye bread,” says Mason Hereford of Turkey and the Wolf, Molly’s Rise and Shine and the upcoming Hungry Eyes in New Orleans. “I order mine with extra coleslaw on seeded rye bread. I love the sandwich because it is everything. When I was getting ready to open Turkey and the Wolf, three blocks from Stein’s Deli, I called Dan Stein, the owner, and said ‘Hey man, I found a spot for Turkey and the Wolf, and it’s three blocks from you.’ Instead of him being like, ‘Shucks, new sandwich competition,’ he said, ‘You’re gonna need a good slicer. Do you know anything about slicers? Probably not. I’m going to fix up a slicer for you. Pay me back for it when you start making money.’ I currently have a tab at Stein’s Deli that I pay off every couple months, but Dan still hasn’t let me pay for the slicer. It just sits on my tab. He’s a nice and caring person. I have a tattoo of Dan next to the one of my wife on my arm.”
Red’s Eats, Wiscasset
As cliché as a Maine lobster roll sounds, the overloaded one that’s served at the little red-and-white shack that Red’s has been operating out of for decades is worth seeking out. Served with locally made butter or mayonnaise on the side, Red’s sandwich is piled high with succulent tail meat and comes on a roll that’s been buttered and grilled. Sweet and salty, Red’s lobster roll is a staple for tourists and locals alike for a reason.
The Point Crabhouse and Grill, Arnold
Maryland might be synonymous with crab, but that definitely doesn’t mean every crab house is serving native blues, even when they’re in season. The Point, in the canal-laced Annapolis-adjacent borough of Arnold, is one of the good guys. Their crab cake sandwich features a meaty, golden-seared softball of lightly bound, MD-or-die crustacean, plus bibb and tomato on a remoulade-dabbed potato roll. Bonus: the thicket of house-made waffle chips.
Hot Box, Somerville
Roast beef is religion on the North Shore, and Hot Box in Somerville, where they slice the rose-pink Angus round as thin as tissue paper, is fine a temple as any. The griddled, sesame-seeded bun tries valiantly to control the pile of savory beef served “three way,” local parlance for mayo, barbecue sauce and American cheese. (Yes, we know Somerville isn’t on the North Shore, but that’s where Hot Box’s owners grew up. It’s legit.)
Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Ann Arbor
No disrespect to the peppery house-made pastrami, but the best Reuben rendition at this Ann Arbor legend stars brisket, slowly braised in Zingerman’s own sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Between the ends of the Zingerman’s Bakehouse Paesano roll, the supple shreds of brisket contrast against crunchy coleslaw, and provolone gives each bite a deliciously sharp edge.
Every museum should hope to have a cafe as thoughtful and accomplished as Fika, located just off the light-washed lobby at Minneapolis’s American Swedish Institute. The Nordic-style menu includes open-faced sandwiches like the silky house-made gravlax layered on sturdy, spiced Danish rye.
Fayard’s, Ocean Springs
“Finding the best sandwich in Mississippi isn’t easy, but I’d put the Roast Beef Po’ Boy from Fayard’s Po’ Boys in Ocean Springs at the top of the list,” says chef-caterer Michael Paoletti. “This roast beef sandwich is the perfect ‘dressed and pressed’ Southern sandwich that has always been a staple in the Gulf Coast region. At Fayard’s, located inside a Marathon gas station here on the coast, their roast beef sandwich is dressed perfectly with gravy, lettuce and tomato and then put back on the griddle to be pressed — creating the super crispy breading that every sandwich should have. The roast beef sandwich has been around for years and years, but no one has perfected it quite like Fayard’s.”
Mai Lee, St. Louis
The Tran family does a crustacean-crammed version of the classic St. Louis sandwich whose origins allegedly lie in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s essentially an egg foo young patty on white bread with LTO, pickles and mayo — crunchy, soft, sloppy and delicious.
The Wich Haus, Whitefish
Triple the smoke (sliced chicken, house-made bacon, gouda), triple the flavor at the Wich Haus, a sunny counter-service cottage and garden where Ellie and Orion Heyman apply their fine-dining, from-scratch culinary pedigrees to the art of sandwiches. Served on a fluffy house-baked wheat bun, the Smoked Chicken also includes onion jam, garlic mayo and a tuft of greens, resulting in a sandwich you’ll be thinking about all day while hiking in nearby Glacier National Park.
The pupusas get a lot of attention at this snug Salvadoran-Mexican spot, but the torta Salvadoreña is worth traveling from anywhere in Nebraska to devour. Ham and beef, beans, lettuce, salsa, avocado, squiggles of crema, all pressed together on a canoe of a long white roll.
Pho Thanh Huong, Las Vegas
Vegas is stacked with terrific banh mi, but this sandwich stuffed with crispy Chinese sausage and fluffy eggs (plus all the typical Vietnamese hoagie accouterments) stands out as particularly dynamite—not to mention a solid hangover cure en route to the airport.
Gusto Italian Cafe, Center Harbor
The Firenze is a very basic yet incredibly elegant assembly of quality ingredients: prosciutto di Parma and Toscana salami with fresh mozzarella and arugula on olive-oiled focaccia. What I love most about it is the way that all the ingredients come together in a playful rotation of sensations and textures, like a gustatory juggling act of sweet, salty, sour and bitter on the palate. The bread is wonderfully fluffy and gives perfect space for all the fillings to have a voice without tasting too busy.” —Matt Power, Tamworth Distilling
Wildwoods BBQ, North Wildwood
During the pandemic, Aussie pals Joel Romano and David Gill (formerly the pitmaster at Brooklyn’s Hometown BBQ) relocated to the Jersey Shore and opened Wildwoods BBQ, where they’re smoking the most luscious, fat-rippled, heavily black peppered brisket this side of Texas. It’s incredible on its own, but maybe even better as a sandwich joined with house-made cucumber and onion pickles and a dab of sauce on a soft potato roll.
Manko Native American Fusion Truck, Santa Fe
“This Native American-owned food truck uses only pre-contact proteins such as bison and turkey,” says Cheryl Alters Jamison, Santa Fe resident, prolific cookbook author, and host of the Heating It Up radio show. “The chef-owner, Ray Naranjo, mashes up other ingredients, though, as he sees fit to come up with imaginative flavor bombs. This off-the-hook sandwich, which has a filling of turkey, cheddar and New Mexico green chile, is dipped in a tempura-style batter and fried crisp, then drizzled with fuchsia prickly pear cactus syrup and dusted with powdered sugar. It resembles a Monte Cristo sandwich, but veers off in a totally Chef Ray way. Worth the drive, 10 ten miles north of Santa Fe.”
Bartlett House, Ghent
Housed in a former circa-1870s railroad hotel, the handsome redbrick Bartlett House is the kind of casually stylish daytime situation haunted by folks weekending in and who’ve relocated to the Hudson Valley. There’s not an ounce of pretense in the straightforward, expertly rendered ham and cheese: crusty house-baked baguette that makes your molars work, smears of tangy cultured butter and grainy mustard, good ham and Gruyere. Nothing else is required.
Rosetta’s Kitchen, Asheville
“I could never forget the vegan reuben at Rosetta’s Kitchen,” says Clarence Robinson, who runs Asheville’s Cooking with Comedy catering and food truck. “That tasty, grilled, marinated, local Smiling Hara Tempeh with classic house-cultured kraut and herb-walnut sauce on rye focaccia—NICE! Makes sure to get the chili cheese fries, too.”
Red Pepper, Grand Forks
“The Everything Grinder consists of ham, turkey, salami, Swiss cheese, Colby cheese, taco meat, hot sauce, white sauce and shredded lettuce,” says Stephanie Miller, chef at Bismark’s Butterhorn. “I went to college in Grand Forks so this sandwich is great because it is delicious (of course), cheap, quick and cures a wicked hangover.”
Larder’s Jeremy Umasky literally wrote the book on koji (Koji Alchemy), which he employs at his neo-Jewish deli (housed in an old firehouse) to cure the beef for this showstopping umami-and-spice pastrami sandwich. Grainy mustard and red kraut play the supporting cast on Jewish rye, but this one is really all about the meat.
30th Street Market, Oklahoma City
“I stumbled upon this place while out walking and feeling really hungry,” says Andrew Black of Oklahoma City’s Grey Sweater, Black Walnut, and Gilded Acorn. “I went in without knowing anything about it, and this sandwich was so incredible. Every single ingredient is great: really good turkey, fresh focaccia, chimichurri mayo, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini, spicy onions. Every flavor is well thought out. This sandwich gets straight to the point in the best way possible.”
“This is a unique and savory sandwich that features a lot of technique, from the smoked and roasted beets to the ruby kraut,” says Gregory Gourdet of Kann in Portland, one of the hottest restaurants in the country. “I enjoy the gluten-free option of this plant-based sandwich, which features great local, gluten-free bread from New Cascadia Traditional. My good friend Aaron Adams, the owner of Fermenter, was working fine dining and then went vegan, and Fermenter was born. He does an exceptional job with fermentation – probably the most advanced and delicious fermentation program in town.”
Angelo’s South Philly Pizzeria, Philadelphia
What other noise could this legendary, elusive, supersonic South Philly sandwich make? Fresh mozzarella, stay-crisp chicken cutlets and deadly stuffed long hots gather on a house-baked seeded roll. It might have pizza in the name, but Danny DiGiampietro’s Italian Market shop is sandwich heaven.
Aunt Carrie’s, Narragansett
There are lobster rolls and there are crab rolls, but to us, the king of New England’s roll club is the whole-belly clam, flash-fried and piled high like they do it at Aunt Carrie’s, a Rhode Island institution that dates to 1920.
Old Daufuskie Crab Company, Daufuskie Island
Not gonna lie: This extraordinary sandwich takes some work to experience. Daufuskie Island is accessible only by boat, either private craft or ferry from Hilton Head. On the north end of this torpid atoll, Ernestine Smith fries meaty May River softshells to a crackly crisp and slips them between slices of country wheat with bark-like bacon, sweet tomatoes and tender lettuce. The BLT is nearly as transporting as the setting, a ragtag collection of picnic tables, umbrellas and bars facing the Freeport Marina.
Wandering Bison Coffee, Hot Springs
“My favorite sandwich in the state is a gluten-free breakfast sandwich from Wandering Bison Coffee in Hot Springs,” says Rebecca Christensen, whose restaurant, Buffalo Dreamer, is nearby. “It has sausage, egg and cheese and is served on a gluten-free English muffin. It’s a simple breakfast sandwich, but everything is cooked to perfection, seasoned well and always served on a super soft, warm gluten-free English muffin. Super delicious and satisfying.”
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack South, Nashville
Long before KFC and other chain restaurants started knocking it off like counterfeit handbags, hot chicken was (is) the specialty of André Prince Jeffries, the queen of Prince’s Hot Chicken on the outskirts of Nashville. Glossed in an oil slick of ferocious spices, this audibly crunchy firestarter is typically served on its own, but consider the lunchtime sandwich named for the matriarch: tangy “sweet heat” sauce, pickles, slaw and a moist-inside, crispy-outside chicken breast dressed in the “mild” heat level. Be warned: Mild at Prince’s still means damn hot.
The Pit Room, Houston
Houston may not be the barbecue capital of Texas, but the sprawling metropolis holds its own with several first-class smokehouses, including the smart, six-year-old Pit Room in the Montrose neighborhood. Here, the sandwiches are build-your-own-adventures on shiny, grilled buns. You choose one or two meats, which is really no choice at all. Our preferred duo: the gloriously juicy pulled pork coupled with slices of the house-made, coarsely ground, Czech-style beef sausage.
Feldman’s Deli, Salt Lake City
“Feldman’s Deli in the Canyon Rim neighborhood of Salt Lake City makes one of the best pastrami Reubens that I’ve had,” says Michael Showers, culinary director of High West Distillery. “The structure of a Reuben is very important. The bread, an amazing Jewish rye, needs to be toasted perfectly; all of the hot ingredients like the sauerkraut, the Swiss cheese and pastrami need to be hot; and the Russian dressing must be tangy and cool, adding the perfect accent of sweetness for the sandwich. Get it with a side of crispy, golden, house-cut fries, and don’t forget to ask for an extra pickle.”
Maple Leaf Tavern, Wilmington
That amber ripple of sweet and smoky crunch hiding in the grilled cheese at the supremely cozy Maple Leaf Tavern in the ski-and-art enclave of Wilmington, Vermont? On-brand maple-glazed bacon. Order this golden, gooey-crunchy sandwich with a local cider and a sidecar of tomato soup.
Sub Rosa Bakery, Richmond
When does a croissant constitute a sandwich? When its flaky cloverleaves hide pedigreed salami and lush cave-aged cheese? When it’s satisfying enough to serve as a standalone lunch? Honestly, it doesn’t matter, because Sub Rosa’s SAC is one of the very best baked goods, from one of the very best artisan bakeries in the country. Call it whatever you like. And call ahead to make sure they haven’t sold out.
Un Bien, Seattle
“Un Bien is a Seattle restaurant run by the family that founded, built, then sold Paseo but smartly kept the recipes,” says Providence Ciciero, the award-winning Seattle-based food writer. “The toasted baguette is mostly capable of absorbing the juicy goodness of that oh-so-yielding pulled pork, grilled onions and gobs of peppery mayo, but it’s best to roll your sleeves just in case some of that top-secret marinade finds its way down to your elbows.”
Coleman’s Fish Market, Wheeling
Not much has changed about Coleman’s since it opened in 1914 in the City Centre Market of the small Ohio River town of Wheeling, least of all its beloved fish sandwich. The legend is incongruously satisfying and craveable for something this dead-simple: perfectly fried fish between two slices of smooshy white bread. We suggest upgrading the protein to flaky Canadian white, a 35-to-60-cent premium, based on market prices.
Chicago’s House of Hoagies, Menasha
Lona Yung got such a positive response when she began posting sandwiches on her personal Facebook, she decided to parlay the attention into a brick-and-mortar and bring some Windy City swagger (and The Bear-famous hot giardiniera) to a town 40 minutes south of Green Bay. Those Italian-style pickled veggies light up the magnificent turkey hoagie, which comes loaded with fresh-sliced breast, tomato, onion, salt and pepper, pepperoncini, mayo, hoagie sauce and your choice of cheese, all on a grilled roll.
Local Restaurant & Bar, Jackson
“I love the blackened trout sandwich at Local here in Jackson,” says Sadek Darwiche, general manager of the Hotel Jackson. “The trout is so fresh, crispy on top, really tender on the inside, with coleslaw and tartar sauce. Just so flavorful.”