What's left is what I consider my essential sandwiches. Some are new finds, some are old standbys, a few are exorbitantly expensive, most are dirt cheap; but all are favorites of mine. What's yours? Share them in the comments.
10. French Dip at Houston's
Houston's should be the model for how to run a modern American restaurant. The service borders on impeccable, with an exactness of purpose you'd expect from professionals. And the French dip is glorious in its simplicity, a compact and lusciously tender beef sandwich under a properly toasted butter-soaked roll. It's an expensive sandwich, perhaps the costliest you'll ever encounter, but the meat, all luscious pink and carved from an actual slab of cow, is where all your money went. It also comes with one of the better mounds of fries in existence.
9. “The Wicked” at Which Wich
Thanks to Subway, some people tend to turn their nose at sandwich chains. But here's growing sandwich chain that, in my humble opinion, is actually good. They use a crusty baguette-type bread second only to the ones the Viets use for banh mi. My preferred sandwich is called “The Wicked”, basically almost every meat on the menu, and three cheeses you can choose from a list of seven. As you fill in your choices in their efficient bag-as-ordering-ticket system, you'll think to yourself, “What the hell am I doing? I already have five kinds of meat. Do I really need three kinds of cheeses?” Yes. Yes you do. What results is kind of glorious. The cross section cut shows it all: the veggies are strategically centered in the middle so as not to dampen the precious crispness of the bread, which is further protected by layered rings of the meats and cheeses. In every bite, the sauces intermingle, asserting itself through the sweet and porky clout.
8. Monte Cristo at Disneyland's Cafe Orleans
With Disneyland food, it seems as though that if it's deep fried, you can't go wrong. Case in point: the corn dog, and something we don't talk about as often here on this blog, the Monte Cristo sandwich at Cafe Orleans (it's also offered at the Blue Bayou if you really want to pay more than you already are). It's greasy, crispy, and dusted with powdered sugar. Since it's essentially a batter-dipped, deep fried turkey, ham and cheese, it's probably good that the only place you can get it is behind the park gates, accessible only after you pay the exorbitant ticket prices. Though, if you're currently a Disney Cast Member, I hear that they serve the sandwich somewhere in one of the employee cafeterias at a substantial discount. Lucky you.
7. Crab Roll at Lobsta Truck
It's called the Lobsta Truck because of its lobster rolls, but I much prefer the crab roll, not because it's that much cheaper at $11, but because I've always liked crab more than I've liked lobster. In those strands is a uniform sweetness egged onwards by a subtle seawater brine. The lobster, by comparison, has a bitterness hiding behind its firmer flesh. And then I think about all the labor and effort involved in extracting crab meat. By comparison, disrobing a lobster is child's play. Also, since the crab has a finer grain meat, it's able to fill every available nook-and-cranny with a suffusion of flavor. And of course, it's soaked in butter, shoved into the same griddle toasted torpedo-shaped roll—a vessel that does its due diligence as a transport device to get the meat into your mouth and nothing more.
6. Carnitas Sandwich at The Rider's Club
After the burgers, the second-best sandwich at Riders Club is grand and epic on its own scale, with fistfuls of roasted pork fallen into shreds both crispy and moist; it's so good it's worthy of a lonchera. And because of the fresh jalapeños, cilantro and shredded carrots, it also proves the Mexican torta and the Vietnamese bánh mì can sire an offspring with all of its flavors living harmoniously under a bun.
5. Sashimi Sandwich at North Shore Poke Company
Aside from the poke, the poke-ritto and the chocolate haupia pie, you also need to get the sashimi sandwich at North Shore Poke Company. It's not a Hawaiian dish; it's just good, refreshing, and something you've probably never encountered before or since. The silken slices of salmon sashimi is stuffed within the soft pliancy of a La Brea Bakery ciabatta with sprouts, avocado, and a sugary papaya-seed dressing that enriches every bite the same time its tang invites you to take the next one.
4. Grilled Cheese at The Crosby
The appropriately named Starving Artist Grilled Cheese aims to please its target market of hipsters and penniless bohemians. Even if it weren't priced affordably low at $5, I don't think I could find a finer, more satisfying wedge of pan-toasted bread oozing Gruyère and sautéed mushrooms. Chef Aron Habiger pairs it with an espresso cup filled with what he calls a “tomato shooter” because what's grilled cheese without cream of tomato? This is a grilled cheese so wonderful it deserves its own house. And it is! The Crosby, as we announced, will open a restaurant based on it.
3. Korokke Pan at Cream Pan
Cream Pan makes many wondrous things. The strawberry croissant is legendary; but even their plain white bread is divine. Then, there's the korokke pan, the potato croquette sandwich: a panko-breaded, deep-fried mashed potato patty stuffed inside a roll of their own making, along with leaf lettuce, tomato, a slice of cucumber, a smear of Thousand Island and a drizzle of tonkatsu sauce. From the recitation of the ingredients alone, those who don't know better would think that this would be a dull sandwich, or at the very least, one that defies the rule that you don't put starch inside another starch. But you'd be wrong. This is a great sandwich. Flavorful, filling, and rich, not to mention vegetarian (though not vegan because of the mayo). This is a sandwich that easily surpasses their egg salad and their katsu, which are merely okay by comparison. And oh, that bun. Made in-store, it's a soft roll that any other sandwich shop would kill to have as their own. You could imagine it elevating pastrami, corned beef, chicken salad. But here, it fulfills its truest purpose, hugging the at-once crisp-mushy korokke and everything that surrounds it. The only way it could be better is if it can be had when the korokke has just come off the fryer. But that's like asking for spare change when you've just won the lottery.
2. Dac Biet Banh Mi at Banh Mi Che Cali
After you graduate from Lee's Sandwiches' rudimentary course in Vietnamese sandwiches, come to Banh Mi Che Cali for your advanced training. Even with inflation, the price for one of the best banh mi sandwiches in OC will be lower than the cheapest fast-food footlong you see advertised on TV and by sign-twirlers. The Buy-Two-Get-One-Free deal–the way everyone buys sandwiches–is always offered, working out to somewhere around $5 for three sandwiches. These overstuffed, two-fisted hoagies begin with rice-flour-imbued breads that bite with an assertive crunch and a crumb as light as a cloud. Start with the dac biet, the house special, in which such cold cuts as headcheese, Vietnamese ham and cha lua are layered on thick, tucked among a schmear of liver paté, cilantro, cucumbers, pickled carrots and daikon. For the other two in your threesome, opt for the thit nuong, where you get ruddy strips of well-marinated grilled pork; and then the chicken, where you'll find the meat shredded into a hash prone to absorbing the squirts of Maggi sauce and the slathering of the creamy house mayo.
1. Reuben at Harry's Deli's
There are many things to love about Harry's Deli. One of those is owner Harry Kho himself, as passionate a chef as you'll ever meet. The guy is notable for not taking shortcuts because he believes there should be no other way. And think of this: he's just making sandwiches. Everyone swoons over his Chicken Di Giorgio or his steak sandwich. Those are fine examples of what sandwiches should be. But me? I love his Reubens–a perfect amalgam of corned beef, sauerkraut, cheese, sauce and bread. The pink folds of the meat are stacked just generously enough so that every crispy bite of the griddled rye is accompanied by just the right amount of everything else. Most notably, he doesn't overdo the the sauerkraut, which often tends to overpower other Reubens. Not these. There's no other word but perfect.