By: Andy Kryza and Kevin Alexander. Photo: Sebastian Davis/Thrillist
No matter what that bloke Earl tells you, sandwiches are the quintessential American food: meat, cheese, bread, and moxie are what this country was founded on. That’s why it’s your duty – nay, your destiny – to eat as many different varieties of your birthright food as humanly possible.
With sandwich-fest destiny in mind, we’ve developed this bucket list of 50 sandwiches across America that you should eat before you die (probably from eating so many sandwiches). No burgers, sausages, or gyros here. Just sandwiches that will enrich your soul while also showing you all the corners of the country and yourself. Bring napkins
Credit: Flickr/Bryce Edwards
Tony’s is a legend, and everybody should eat a Philly made in actual Philly at least once. But if not Tony’s, just go to a Philly sandwich shop named after a dude – John, Geno, George – who sounds like he works in the mill.
John’s Roast Pork
And while you’re already in Philly, the roast pork sandwich – an explosion of juice-soaked pig and sharp provolone – is their other, less-nationally-touted – and arguably better – signature sandwich, and John’s just might be the original. If it’s not, it’s still the best. Oh, and they also make a hell of a cheesesteak. So maybe get both. It’s not like it’s gonna kill you. (Editor’s Note: it might kill you.)
The Clam Shack
It’s not served in a hot dog bun, but a round roll. But other than that small twist, the lobster roll served at The Clam Shack is a simple, delicious Maine dream: mayo, a little melted butter, and fresh lobster meat. Bonus points if you’re wearing an L.L.Bean backpack as you take it down.
Credit: Mike Gebert/Thrillist
Elmwood Park, IL
The Chicago institution is our favorite source of gravy-soaked beef perfection. But you can get a great one anywhere in the city and still be pretty happy. Just be sure to eat it before the roll disintegrates, and chase it with an Old Style.
Joey’s Shrimp House
Much like the Italian beef, the jibarito is a Chicago-created sandwich that was inspired by a foreign land – in this case, Puerto Rico – whose residents might be heard to say “huh?!” if you ordered it. Basically, it’s a sandwich made with fried plantains, which can be filled with everything from lechon to gyro meat. Well, Joey’s does it with shrimp, and it might just be the best of all of them, especially now that the original Borinquen is no longer with us.
The Tipsy Texan
Yeah, you’ll wait in line. A long line. Yeah, it’ll be worth it. And while some people will argue that the meats at Franklin needn’t be bogged down with sandwich fixins, this sucker comes with chopped brisket, smoked sausage, and slaw. It’s big enough to feed two. But you waited in line for a long time, so you’re advised to get this as a side order with a mound of brisket.
Credit: Flickr/Brian Child
Essentially a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, but everything tastes better at this Delaware joint that has been expanded to 17 states. Probably because Capriotti’s cooks are better than your mom, and don’t end up drying out the turkey because they drank four mimosas for breakfast.
Birch Run, MI
Because sometimes, when you’re in the middle of Michigan, it makes perfect sense to consume 1lb of crispy bacon in sandwich form before you get back on the freeway.
Say it with us now: fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, mozzarella, olive-carrot salad on fresh ciabatta. Even if you grew up in the North End and have an Italian flag tattoo covering your entire torso, this is still going to be the best Italian sandwich you’ve ever had in your life.
Credit: Flickr/Luca Ohman
Club sandwich from an actual country club
Cut into triangles, with a little club sauce, just for Lucille II. If you can charge it to the Underhills, please do.
A fancy grilled cheese
Melt Bar & Grilled
Cleveland’s Melt Bar and Grilled takes grilled cheese so seriously that their cultish followers get discounts for sandwich tattoos. It’s also the place that will inspire you to up your grilled-cheese game at home, though we’re never going to fault you for falling back on the simple tradition of a diagonal-cut American cheese gut-bomb.
Beef on weck
East Aurora, NY
Fun fact: when your boy Chad calls Buffalo Wild Wings BW3’s, the extra “w” is for “beef on weck,” another Buffalo, NY mainstay that isn’t nearly as popular as those wings. Probably because it’s just slow-roasted beef on a special kummelweck roll, and it’s easier to say “Jamaican jerk” than “kummelweck.” But it’s still delicious, and at Bar Bill, you can get it with wings.
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The Reuben, in its city of origin
That’s right, we said Omaha. And Crescent Moon has the best, based on the original Blackstone Hotel recipe. Suck it, New York.
The Crab Happy Chesapeake Chicken Sammy
Giant lump crab cakes are a Baltimore specialty that come on everything from Benedicts to, well, just plates. Miss Shirley’s ups the ante with chicken sausage, cheese, a fried egg, and veggies, then smashes it all between an English muffin.
A fried brain sandwich. Seriously.
St. Louis, MO
Avoid any temptation to make a Walking Dead joke and just go for it. Brain sandwiches are a tradition in St. Louis so endangered, they’re like the white rhino of lunch. Schottzie’s has the best. Unlike rhinos, you don’t have to feel bad for eating them. And fried brains (pig, usually, since mad cow disease ruined everything) taste better.
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Anything that could score you a T-shirt, or a picture on the wall
Maybe it’s a Big Fat Ugly from Madison’s Fat Sandwich Co. filled with all the meats and sides, or a race to finish the 27in Big Fat Fatty at Fat Sal’s in San Diego. When there’s a T-shirt or a Polaroid on the line, no risk of diabetic shock is too high.
Loose meat sandwich
Chuck and Edna’s Maid-Rite
It’s like a Sloppy Joe. Except it’s not sloppy, because it’s basically the state food of Iowa, and in Iowa, you do a lot of driving. We like the one at Chuck and Edna’s spot in Cascade, but you can get them all over the place. Getting loose meat all over your lap sucks enough when it’s not covered in sauce.
Rocky Mountain oyster sandwich
Best experienced amid the crowds of Clinton’s annual Testicle Festival, but perfectly fine at most saloons where you can find ‘em. Yeah, they might be bull ‘nads. But they taste like – well, do you have the balls to find out? (Fun fact: they’re delicious.)
Credit: Flickr/Sandor Weisz
A sandwich with fries and slaw in it
Preferably in Pittsburgh proper, but if you’re lucky enough to have a Primanti’s near you in Florida or West Virginia, that’ll do. We’re partial to beef, but even if you get it was bologna, it’s a hell of a French fry- and slaw-topped thing to behold.
Yellow, crunchy, mustardy slaw. Hot peppery sauce. Some burnt bits and some juicy bits. Lots of napkins. Eat and repeat.
A PB & J made by a mother
Any mom will do. Just make sure she cuts it diagonally.
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That combination of ham, roasted pork, Swiss, pickles, and mustard is as synonymous to Miami as body-image issues are to tourists. Score the real deal at Enriqueta’s, or from any hole-in-the-wall where great music and delicious smells waft out. Seriously. How is Miami in such good shape?
Wall Drug Cafe
Is it good? Hell no. It’s Wall Drug. It’s cafeteria roast beef on a slice of Wonder Bread covered in mass-produced gravy and an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes. But then you throw in the free ice water and $.05 coffee you’ve seen signs for every 10ft for the past 600 miles, and you kind of have to. Because you’re in the middle of South Dakota’s Badlands, and there’s literally nowhere else to stop. And the animatronic T-Rex isn’t scheduled to roar again for 15 minutes, so you might as well eat something.
Kansas City, MO
Once you eat the burnt ends from LC’s, you’re a changed person. You are not the same. You will consider camping out just outside the restaurant to keep coming back for that meaty, crispy, beautiful bark. This is a good thing.
Credit: Flickr/Matthew Mendoza
New York, NY
Then, after you’ve gotten that out of your system – literally and figuratively – the same thing at one of New York’s myriad less-iconic, less-expensive, and possibly better Jewish delis.
The Fat Mystery
Sometimes, you just have to play Russian roulette with your arteries. At this drunchies oasis, the Fat Mystery puts your life in the cook’s hands. You’ll get a mystery meat – steak, perhaps, or maybe chicken tenders. And you’ll get four sides, which might include mozz sticks, poppers, or pierogies. They’ll all be tossed in a bun. Zoinks, Scoob.
La Torta Gorda
San Francisco, CA
Several blocks over from some of the best burritos in the world sit perhaps the best tortas. Come hungry: They don’t call it “the Fat Sandwich” for nothing.
Credit: Flickr/Carnaval King 08
New Orleans, LA
There are better places to get New Orleans’ traditional Sicilian sandwich than the place where it was invented, the locals will tell you. Suspiciously, those locals are in line at Central Grocery.
Porchetta from any Italian joint’s a thing of fatty, savory beauty. But at this Seattle institution, Mario Batali’s dad takes it to the next level, cramming the roasted pork with meatballs and spices and braising it to perfection.
Bacon, egg & cheese from a nameless NYC bodega
Extra points if the resident cat has a name, but the store doesn’t.
Credit: Andy Kryza/Thrillist
Green Street Pub
Green Street Pub’s version is delicious, but if you really want to start a ruckus, go anywhere in Indiana and say the best you’ve ever had was at Smitty’s in Des Moines. The two states have a bit of a rivalry, and the chances of them really trying to give you the best you’ve ever had is worth the chance of you getting punched for heresy.
The Arcade Restaurant
If you want to be extremely morbid, you can get the sandwich that killed Elvis at the Rock & Roll Café right across from Graceland. But the fried peanut butter & banana monstrosity is way better at the Arcade. You have the option to add bacon. Say yes. Do it for the king.
The Taos Style
Santa Fe, NM
You’d think by its name we should’ve went with a place actually in Taos, but we prefer the sandwich made at this Santa Fe spot, thanks to its mix of roast beef, provolone, chopped green chile, caramelized onion, and mayo on panini-pressed sourdough.
Credit: Andy Kryza/Thrillist
A gas station sandwich, out of desperation
Best consumed during a rather dangerous rainstorm, on the side of an isolated highway. Just don’t look at the expiration date on the side of the package.
It’s like the tenderloin sandwich, but with beef, because it’s in the South. And while Texan law dictates that it’s served with sausage gravy and eggs, at Norman, OK’s Sonic-esque Del Rancho, it’s just a regular ol’ oversized hunk of fried meat on a bun. And it’s perfect.
Hot BBQ roast beef
The Linden Store
Only available on Wednesdays. Usually sells out by noon. Add American cheese so it gets nice and melty by the time you unwrap it. The LeBrun brothers (who own and run the shop) have recently expanded the space, which is a bonus, so you now have somewhere to sit while smearing BBQ sauce all over your face.
Credit: Andy Kryza/Thrillist
The Reggie Deluxe
Pine State Biscuits
A chicken biscuit is a thing of beauty. The Reggie Deluxe at Portland’s Pine State is the sandwich’s finest hour – a biscuit loaded with fried chicken, bacon, sausage gravy, cheddar, and a runny egg. Hangovers never stood a chance.
The duck club
The Tattooed Moose
A glorious club sandwich from an inconspicuous Charleston bar. On sweet Hawaiian bread. Piled with chunks of duck, bacon, smoked cheddar, and tears of joy. Start eating it with your hands. Finish it with a fork. Repeat as needed.
Scott’s is famous now, like written about in The Grey Lady famous, but that doesn’t really change anything except the length of the line waiting for the pit-smoked perfection. Just make sure you get some skins on the side.
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Bánh mì from a non-sandwich shop
Great Vietnamese sandwiches – packed with daikon, pate, and mystery meat – are often found in unlikely spots like jewelry stores, nail salons, or other strip-mall mainstays. If you see French bread behind a counter, pounce. Word to the wise: anything over $5 is likely hipsterized – and hipsters were run out of Saigon years ago.
Philippe the Original
Los Angeles, CA
This LA joint invented the French dip, reportedly named after a dude name French and not the bread. It gets submerged in a jus made of pork, lamb, and beef drippings that drip from the roasted, fresh-carved chunks. So no matter what’s between that bread, your meal is soaked in the flavors of everything on the menu.
The original Joe
East Orange, NJ
In New Jersey, you can get a pork roll anywhere. Only at Orange’s Town Hall can you get the original Sloppy Joe. And guess what: it’s not just a bunch of ground beef and ketchup. It’s actually more akin to a triple-decker Reuben, with ham, tongue, and Swiss. If tongue makes you nervous, better not look at what goes into your go-to Manwich.
Credit: Flickr/I Believe I Can Fry
The Masters Tournament
There is, perhaps, nothing more simply Southern than a pimento cheese sandwich on gooey white bread. While the sandwich started as a working man’s cheap meal and aged into a ladies-who-lunch (or have dainty tea parties) snack, it’s also a timeless and traditional snack at the Masters. And at $1.50, you can afford to buy quite a few. You just have to get into the Masters first.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Kansas City, KS
Some would argue that Joe’s brisket on its own is simply perfect. And they’d be right. But anyone who argues against complementing it with smoked provolone, onion rings, and a kaiser roll should be promptly shown the door. It’s the stuff of lore, and some suspect it aided the Royals in shaking off their slump. Maybe the Cubs should invest in a franchise.
Hot Leg Quarter Sandwich
Prince’s Hot Chicken
You will sweat. Your eyes will water. Your tongue will swell. It will be the most delicious thing you’ve eaten in two months.
Oyster po’ boy
New Orleans, LA
Any New Orleanian – or just regular visitor – will quickly tell you their po’ boy order, which goes so far beyond just the sandwich: It’s the sandwich type, the shop, and whether it’s ordered dressed or plain. Until you decide on your own so you can proudly rattle it off, take after our associate editor and get the oyster po’ boy, dressed no mayo, at Domilise’s.
It has so many ingredients (10, in total, including four meats). It is a Uruguayan specialty. And it is the greatest thing to ever come out of a DC gas station.
The Clam Box
There are few things better on a hot summer day in New England than driving up to Ipswich, seeing those red- & white-striped awnings, and then eating as many fried clams stuffed in a soft white bun with some tartar sauce as you possibly can. Hello, swimsuit season!
Credit: Flickr/Phil Denton
The Brown Hotel
It only makes sense that this open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich that’s topped with cheesy Béchamel sauce was originally made as a late-night snack. Bonus points if you eat it after the Derby.
The House-Made Mozzarella
Chris Bianco is famous for basically inventing the new age of artisanal pizza. So just imagine what he can do with freshly baked focaccia from a wood-fired oven, house-made mozzarella, local tomatoes, and basil. Hint: good stuff.