Whether it’s a PB&J tucked into your “Six Million Dollar Man” lunchbox or a juicy Reuben served at a New York deli, sandwiches likely figure into many of your munchable memories. And why not? Sandwiches come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re eminently portable. You can tote them to work, on a picnic or on a cross-country road trip, all with minimum mess.
Best of all, sandwiches come in all flavors and utilize all ingredients. Spicy? Saucy? Meaty? Healthy? Sandwiches are as individual as their eaters. And Americans are lucky to have a variety of tasty choices, many representing diverse cultural backgrounds
There’s no national Sandwich Hall of Fame, but if there were, these offerings would each gobble up a prime spot.
Sure, your basic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is designed for a preschooler’s palate. It’s normally just peanut butter spread on one piece of (usually white and nutrition-free) bread and strawberry or grape jelly spread on the other. But don’t argue with preschool perfection — mash the two together and you’ve got the most compatible couple since eggs and bacon. And you don’t need to craft your PBJ for a toddler. Fancy crusty bread, gourmet small-batch jelly, and classed-up nut butter — try almond — will transform your PBJ so that it’s A-OK for an adult.
2. Philadelphia cheesesteak
Thank you, City of Philadelphia, for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and, last but not least, the melty and delicious Philly cheesesteak. You can get one almost anywhere in America, but devouring a Philly cheesesteak in its hometown is a bucket-list bite, for sure. Thinly sliced beef is topped with melted cheese and served up in a hoagie roll. Onions, mushrooms and green peppers are sometimes added, and the cheese might be American, Provolone or that classic jarred favorite, Cheez Whiz. Something about how it all melds together is mouth-watering magic, whether you’re in Philly or Pasadena.
You likely know a Reuben sandwich: tasty corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing, all grilled together on rye bread. But who’s Reuben? Maybe it was Reuben Kulakofsky, a hungry poker player in Omaha, Nebraska. Or maybe it came from New York’s Reuben’s Restaurant, where some claim it was invented for Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady. The history is debated, but the sandwich’s popularity is not. It’s a staple of Jewish delis, but because it mixes meat and cheese, it is not kosher. A variation on the Reuben that uses turkey instead of corned beef is called the “Rachel,” said to be based on the children’s song, “Reuben and Rachel.”
A Cuban sandwich is a ham-and-cheese sandwich turned up to 11. In addition to ham and Swiss cheese, the sandwich features roasted pork, pickles and mustard. Then, it is toasted until the bread is crispy and the cheese delightfully melty, and the whole thing is served on baguette-like Cuban bread. While the sandwich may have roots in Cuba, nowadays, two Florida cities, Miami and Tampa, fight over who makes the best. (Tampa’s version adds … salami.)
5. Po’ boy
Head down south to Louisiana for a po’ boy sandwich (the name, of course, is “poor boy” said with a Southern drawl). Reportedly invented to feed hungry streetcar workers who were on strike in 1929, the sandwich is stuffed with anything from roast beef and gravy to oysters and fried shrimp. It’s served on New Orleans-style French bread, which is delightfully crusty outside and soft and fluffy inside, and it can be served “dressed,” which means with such add-ons as shredded lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise — or spicy remoulade sauce if you’re down New Orleans’ way. While there, check out the region’s other iconic sandwich, the muffuletta, served on round bread and stuffed with meat, cheese and olive salad.
6. Italian beef
Chicago is famous for its Chicago-style hot dogs and its famed deep-dish pizza, but don’t overlook the Italian beef sandwiches. The meaty treat made headlines recently thanks to a 2022 Hulu series “The Bear,” which focuses on a New York City chef who returns to the Windy City to run his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop. The sandwich itself consists of thinly sliced roast beef au jus, often topped with giardiniera, a tasty pickled-vegetable relish, and served on a long French roll. My kind of town, Chicago is.
7. Lobster roll
Envy those lucky New Englanders who grew up with tasty lobster rolls as everyday fare. The seafood sandwich has even been offered at some McDonald’s locations in New England states. It’s simply chopped lobster meat soaked in butter and served on a long grilled bun. It nearly became the state sandwich of Maine, but because the sandwich apparently originated in Connecticut, Mainers said shell, no — at least for now.
Sandwich eaters, join the club — but you’ll need a big mouth and an even bigger appetite. Club sandwiches feature multiple meats (usually ham, bacon and turkey or chicken), all dolled up with tomatoes, lettuce and mayo and with an extra piece of bread separating the sandwich into two layers. Think of the giant cartoony sandwiches loved by comic-strip icon Dagwood Bumstead. There’s even a Thanksgiving leftovers version, with a smashed dinner roll serving as the layering bread.