Tell someone you want a sub sandwich, and it's generally accepted that you want a sandwich served on a long roll or baguette. Say you want a po' boy, hoagie, banh mi, grinder, hero, spuckie, cubano, spiedie, or wedge, and you're getting into specific geographical, cultural, and stylistic differences between those sandwiches — which doesn't make them any less filling or delicious. Whatever you call them, find out where to get the tastiest across the U.S.
SHRIMP AND OYSTER COMBO
Where: Verti Marte, New Orleans
There are a lot of places vying for the po' boy crown in New Orleans, and we aren't going to insert ourselves into that mess. This little corner store in the French Quarter, however, has an expansive menu of po' boys and other sandwiches and is open 24 hours. Get this combo coated in Marte sauces and be prepared for an absolutely delicious mess.
Where: Big Stash's Sub House, Kearny, New Jersey
A sub in just about any corner deli in any town in New Jersey is going to be a master class in the style. The rolls are from nearby Italian bakeries, the meats and cheeses come through local distributors, and the lettuce, tomato, onion, and other veggies are all run though the slicer ... not chopped, as if by some murderer. Big Stash's has been on Kearny Avenue for 50 years selling sandwiches, cartons of Clinton's iced tea, and the occasional pack of Linden's cookies to workers and school kids. The Bellybuster — ham, prosciuttini, cappicola, salami, and provolone cheese, all preferably topped with oil, vinegar, and oregano — is a showcase of what this shop does best.
Where: Lupo's S&S Char-Pit, Binghamton, New York
"Spiedie" comes from the Italian "spiedino," meaning "skewer," so these sandwiches were typically made with seasoned lamb, as you'd find on a skewer. While there are chicken, pork, and even Buffalo-spiced spiedies, order the traditional lamb spiedie at Lupo's — it's been serving them since 1951.
Where: Thundercloud Subs, Austin, Texas
Founded back in 1975, Thundercloud has grown to locations in 11 cities throughout Texas — including more than 20 in Austin itself. Priding itself on fresh bread, ingredients, and "ThunderSauce," Thundercloud built itself on sandwiches such as this one. Featuring turkey, avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, sprouts, olives, and hummus (or cream cheese), the Turkish Delite can be a lighter, refreshing change from a pile of cheeses and cured meats.
PORK MEATBALL BANH MI
Where: Lardo, Portland, Oregon
Chef Rick Gencarelli bounced between restaurants on the east and west coasts before opening his food cart in 2010, but this sandwich has been with him the whole ride. Now expanded to two Portland restaurants and a location in Las Vegas, Lardo is still slinging this take on the classic Vietnamese sandwich, complete with pickled vegetables, sriracha mayo, cilantro, and cucumber.
Where: Mudgie's Deli & Wine Shop, Detroit
It's a fussy artisanal sandwich shop that roasts its own corned beef and tinkers with nontraditional ingredients in traditional sandwiches. But its Saliba — top-sirloin meatloaf with roasted peppers, provolone cheese, and house-made marinara on an 8-inch Italian roll — is delightful in its simplicity. That the ingredients are local, the cocktails are plentiful, and the beer and wine is made to travel makes Mudgie's an even more vital stop in bar-saturated Corktown.
TOM'S SILVER MEDAL
Where: Publican Quality Meats, Chicago
Publican, chef Paul Kahan's carnivore temple in the West Loop, is a fine stop in its own right, but this butcher-shop offshoot is a work of genius. This sandwich combines spicy capicola, lonza cotto, and ham with provolone, pickled peppers, piperade, and aioli on a hoagie roll. It doesn't just aspire to be an Italian sub, it shows other subs how to be Italian.
Where: Morris' Deli, Liquor, and Catering, Louisville, Kentucky
It's easy to get lost in the bitterly cold beer cooler here and think of this place primarily as a booze stop. But the "deli" portion of the name is emphasized for a reason. You can get house-smoked turkeys, country hams, and cured meats with baby swiss, hot pepper cheese, smoked gouda, or myriad other cheeses, top it however you like (try the hot pickle), spice it with mustards and horseradishes, and follow it with a side of house-made pimento cheese. This would seem like a lot of effort to sell beer and liquor.
ROAST PORK AND BROCCOLI RABE
Where: Tommy DiNic's Roast Pork, Philadelphia
On your first visit to DiNic's, which began in 1918 as a butcher shop called Nicolosi's, you're going to want to go right to this roast pork, served in it own juices, and add sharp aged provolone and broccoli rabe (which no one around you will call rapini). The pork will melt the cheese, but not soak the semolina roll, while the bitterness and garlic coating of the broccoli rabe will combine with the sharpness of the provolone in a lovely combination. Is it a hoagie? Probably not, but it's the best sandwich on a sub roll Philly has.
Where: Versailles, Miami
The simple combination of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on sub-style Cuban bread is pressed in a plancha until melty and crisp. If you taste salami, it means you're in Tampa and should get over to the coast and down the interstate ASAP. Everyone has their favorite spot — the best is always where the tourists aren't looking — but Versailles bakes its own bread, coats its own ham with a brown sugar/pineapple juice/clove before baking, and slow-roasts its own marinated pork legs.
STEAK & ONION
Where: Big John Steak & Onion, Flint, Michigan
Big John Steak & Onion first served sub sandwiches in Flint back in 1978. Now with 16 locations throughout Michigan, Big John still banks on its thin-sliced ribeye steak grilled with onions and served on an Italian sub roll with banana peppers. There are other subs on Big John's list, but why mess with success.
THE RICHMAN'S PO' BOY
Where: Ranelli's Deli & Cafe, Birmingham, Alabama
This Italian-flagged shop has been doling out sandwiches since since 1971, but none match this one.There's ham, corned beef, peppered beef, Genoa salami, pastrami, swiss cheese, provolone, mustard, and the signature house olive salad (tapenade, if you will) on an 11- or 16-inch Italian roll. There isn't any seafood in this, but as Ranelli's can attest, the name "po' boy" is whatever you need it to be.
Where: Banhwich Cafe, Lincoln, Nebraska
For around $5 apiece, you get ribeye, chicken, grilled pork, ham, pork ear, bulgogi, pork meatball, sardine, fried egg, or just vegetables served with pickled vegetables and aioli or soy vinaigrette. The menu is extensive without being expensive, which makes this cafe indispensable in a town filled with hungry, cash-strapped students.
Where: White House Subs, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Though it now has two locations, the original's been going since 1946 and is worth the trip. Its centerpiece sandwich is served on a chewy Italian loaf, packed with Genoa salami, provolone, ham, and capicola and topped with lettuce, tomato, sliced onion, chopped roasted peppers, Italian seasonings, oil, and vinegar. The line stretches around the block, so you'll have plenty of appetite for the full-length, foot-and-a-half sandwich, or the Special with double fillings.
Where: Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, Santa Monica, California
The filone bread comes out of the oven every 20 minutes. The Genoa salami, capicola, mortadella, ham, and prosciutto are piled high. The provolone, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, dressing, and your choice of mild or hot peppers are all traditional and plentiful. This is a monster Italian sub, and it's developed a following.
CHASED AND CONFUSED
Where: Ike's Place, San Francisco
Ike's Place has locations throughout California, but got its start in San Francisco and made its name catering to all portions of that city — vegan, or looking for every meat known to humans, or for a sub made of mac and cheese. Ike's covers all the bases, especially with this San Francisco exclusive containing bacon, Flamin' Hot Cheetos, ranch, red pesto, and stuffed jalapeño poppers. The stuff that would make you crave such a thing? Not included.
Where: J.P. Graziano Grocery Co., Chicago
Want to taste what this grocery store has been all about since 1937? The imported sharp provolone, hot sopressata, prosciutto di Parma, and volpi Genoa salami is topped with house-sold truffle mustard, balsamic vinaigrette, hot oil, Roman-style artichokes, fresh basil, lettuce, and a mix of red wine vinegar and oregano. Named after the owner's father, it's the daddy of all Chicagoland Italian subs.
Where: Zunzi's Takeout & Catering, Atlanta and Savannah
Expect a wait for these giant sandwiches. This French-bread sub is loaded with baked chicken breast with lettuce, tomato, and a "special sauce" with a name we can't publish.
Where: Lee's Sandwiches, various locations
Lee's is in multiple states and selling various types of subs and sandwiches, including some on croissants, but the ones skewing closer to Vietnamese banh mi are still the strongest. This sandwich is loaded with grilled pork and crunchy pickled veggies and herbs.
Where: Storto's Deli & Sandwich Shoppe, Haleiwa, Hawaii
If you've gone up to catch waves on the North Shore, you've definitely gone by or visited Stortos. For four decades, this place has been stuffing locals and visitors alike with huge sandwiches. While this is just ham, turkey, and salami, adding some horseradish cheese, sprouts, veggies, and papaya seed dressing gives it local flavor.
THE 505 FILTHY
Where: Slow Roasted Bocadillos, Albuquerque, New Mexico
We aren't big fans of the school of thought that says "Guy Fieri ate here on 'Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,' so it's great," but Guy got this one right. Building all its dishes off of slow-roasted meats, Slow Roasted Bocadillos fills its area-code masterpiece with chicken breast, bacon, green chile, house-made chipotle mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Finished off with melted asadero cheese, it's a mess made with love.
Where: Rondo's Sub Shop, South Boston
From outside its West Broadway location near the Broadway T stop, it looks like a bunker. But when you don't go frilling up the joint, you can keep a sandwich price under $10 and still give folks a lot for their money. The steak combo comes with cheese, peppers, onions and mushrooms — make it a New England-style "bomb" and Genoa salami comes either as topping or lining for the roll.
Where: Mike's Deli, Los Angeles
Mike's has made its name on high-stacked, overstuffed sandwiches with Boar's Head meats and cheeses, fresh veggies, and bread since 1996. But this fried chicken cutlet with grilled onions, melted American cheese bacon, romaine lettuce, barbecue sauce, cajun mayo, and ranch is exceptional. If that trio of sauces grosses you out a bit, swap them out for balsamic vinegar and change the cheese to provolone and you'll be ready to go.
THE FAT DARRELL
Where: RU Hungry, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Somehow the only place open 24 hours on and in the immediate vicinity of Rutgers University's campus, "fat" sandwiches began served from a truck in the 1970s, rising in popularity after moving to a school-owned lot in the '90s and getting later hours. This classic concoction of chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, french fries, and marinara sauce on a roll tells you all you need to know.
Where: The Pickle Barrel, Montana
This shop has been in Bozeman for more than 30 years, but spread around the state after feeding huge hot and cold subs to Montana State University students. This pile of turkey, roast beef, swiss, and Monterey jack cheese is a tribute to the original MSU faithful, but also a reminder of just how far hungry college students can take any business willing to feed them.
Where: Salumi, Seattle
Founded in 1999 by Armandino Batali's (Mario's dad), Salumi is a cured-meat haven where the sandwiches serve only to showcase the wares. The porchetta is stuffed fennel seed, carrot, and celery-seasoned slow-roasted pork, and we'd advise it on a baguette with sautéed onions and green bell peppers — and with one of Leonetta's meatballs picked up a la carte for about $3.
Where: Alpha Delta Pizza, New Haven, Connecticut
The Northeast, and especially a Northeast college town, is littered with pizza places better known for sandwiches. In Alpha Delta's case, one student who ordered a chicken cutlet, coated with hot sauce, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise turned that sandwich into a staple, a pizza, and even a sauce that Alpha Delta bottles and sells. And, because it's available right outside of Yale, students have created a One Button Wenzel app that orders the sandwich with one touch of the screen.
Where: El Palacio de Los Jugos, Miami
What do you get when you put roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, and sweet pickles on a sandwich and grill it on a plancha? Using a crustier white roll, you made a Cubano. If you used a sweet, eggier bread, you just made a medianoche, which really is the Cubano in its peak form.
Where: Italian Store, Arlington, Virginia
In the pre-internet world, The Italian Store wasn't a "concept" that spawned lines around the block: It was a place where Italian families could get pasta, cheese, meat, and wine in Northern Virginia. More than 30 years into the shop's existence, however, it gets lunchtime lines for its sandwich menu, which includes this mix of prosciutto, capicola, salami, and provolone on an Italian roll.
Where: Phorage, Los Angeles
Priding itself on fresh ingredients and sustainable meats, Phorage set out to make the banh mi all others should emulate. It marinates Berkshire pork shoulder and pork belly in lemongrass and slow-roasts it, putting it on a baguette with cucumbers, cilantro, craft pickles, and mayonnaise. It's street food without cutting corners, and it's brilliant.
Where: Ruma's Deli, St. Louis, Missouri
For more than 40 years, Ruma's has been dishing out big, filling sandwiches on French bread and making itself a St. Louis area staple. It's hard to call an open-face sandwich a "sub" in the true sense, but this sandwich's use of a sub roll and Provel — a processed blend of mozzarella, provolone, and Swiss cheeses native to St. Louis — over grilled ham and garlic butter is a strong argument for giving it a pass.
Where: Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli, Astoria, New York
You could walk by this corner store without blinking. It doesn't have a website, and it isn't as famous as its Manhattan and Brooklyn counterparts. But it has a sandwich that became legend thanks largely to the ConEd workers who eat it. Just some of its ingredients: ham, turkey, salami, pepperoni, mortadella, American, Swiss, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, roasted peppers, dressing (oil and vinegar), mustard, and mayo. It's nearly 2 feet long and as thick as a utility pole.
Where: Lee's Bakery, Duluth, Georgia
The banh mi has evolved during its generations-long trip through the U.S., and Lee's has made perhaps the ideal version of it for Southern audiences. The bakery builds its sandwich around a crisp, chewy bun unlike most French baguettes getting the banh mi treatment, and it's stuffed with tender barbecued pork and pickled vegetables that have felt right at home during this shop's nearly two decades in Georgia.
THE REAL ITALIAN
Where: DiPasquale's, Baltimore
DiPasquale's expanded throughout Baltimore behind the strength of sandwiches such as this. Teeming with salami, pepper ham, mortadella, capicola, and provolone, this sandwich goes all-out on the Italian sub concept. Get it with "everything" means also olive oil and vinegar, a special blend of grated cheeses and spices, lettuce, tomato, onions, and hot peppers.
MEATBALL, SAUSAGE, CHEESE AND PEPPERS
Where: Riccotti Sandwich Shops, Bristol, Rhode Island
The meatball sandwich has been done dirty by chains making it a flavorless economy sub at the bottom of their list. Riccotti not only makes a fine meatball and marinara, but maintains the New England tradition of making spicy Italian sausage one of the best hot sandwich meats available. Combine them on a baguette, add mozzarella, and you have one of the top sandwiches in the region, never mind the state.
Where: Cutty's, Brookline, Massachusetts
Derived from spucadella, a pidgin Italian term meaning "long roll," the spuckie is basically a sub by another name. This shop, which made a fine name for itself cranking out faithful renditions of Philly's roast pork and broccoli rabe as well as other regional sandwiches, gets to the core of the spuckie by filling it with fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, fresh mozzarella, and an olive-carrot salad. Don't be pedantic about Cutty's using a ciabatta roll instead of a baguette.
SOUTHERN POT ROAST
Where: The Southern General, Johns Island, South Carolina
We aren't going to traipse into the minefield that is the recent debate over Southern generals. This particular General, a "craft sandwich" shop with an extensive menu, is just looking to feed folks. Its Southern Pot Roast is a whole mess of slow-cooked sirloin, gravy, pan-roasted vegetables, and Bourbon-infused mushrooms on local-honey-tinged hoagie roll.
THE MONDAY SPECIAL
Where: Fiore's House of Quality, Hoboken, New Jersey
Hoboken prides itself on its mutz. Not some store-bought mozzarella: The house-made mutz that turns sandwiches into stuff of legend. With more than 105 years of tradition behind it, Fiore's has been serving Hoboken's born-and-raised and politically connected for longer than most of you have been alive. While the classic move is to just get a sub roll full of mutz and roasted peppers, wait until Monday and add some Virginia ham to that mix.
Where: Gaglione Bros Famous Steaks & Subs, San Diego
These siblings really wanted to start a Philly cheesesteak shop in San Diego, and even imported Amoroso's rolls from Philly to help out. But the best sandwich at this chain is The General: a pastrami sandwich with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw that forsakes rye bread for the sturdy roll built to contain juices and not oversaturate. You can get one up to 18 inches, but a 9-inch version will do just fine.
Where: Beaverton Sub Station, Beaverton, Oregon
Oregon isn't a state that prides itself on subs, which makes a place such as the Sub Station — in one of Portland's light-rail suburbs — a true gem. Sure, it'll occasionally use cream cheese on a sandwich in a way that would disgust most people, but this sandwich's use of roast beef, turkey, or ham with avocado, provolone cheese, cheddar cheese, tomato, green pepper, onion, lettuce, mayo, and spices shows what an Oregon sub shop is capable of when it applies itself.
BUCKBOARD BACON MELT
Where: Cochon Butcher, New Orleans
Chef Donald Link's Cochon restaurant expanded into this butcher shop/wine bar/tap room space in 2009, and its combination of house-cured Buckboard bacon and cheese is an absolute revelation. If the use of white bread so offends your "sub" sensibilities, Cochon also has ciabatta, bolillo, and Sicilian rolls kicking around, though the original may be one of the best sandwiches you can carry out of a New Orleans shop in wax paper.
Where: Defonte's, Brooklyn, New York
Red Hook was a different place when Italian immigrant Nicky Defonte opened this place in 1922. Sure, there are still cops, firefighters, and construction workers who need calories to get through the day, but Defonte's has also expanded to Staten Island, bringing this namesake hero with fried eggplant, salami, ham, capicola, provolone, marinated mushrooms, and "hot salad" (hot cherry peppers and pickled veggies) with it.
Where: Butcher and Bee, Charleston, South Carolina
Opened in Nashville in 2011, Butcher and Bee focused on local, sustainable ingredients, but also on the idea a sandwich could be a full dinner. This combination of pulled squash, smoked cabbage, cilantro vinaigrette, barbecue sauce, and B&B pickles not only gives that idea a vegetarian boost but also challenges the notion of what a sub could and should be.
Where: Underground Butcher, Madison, Wisconsin
Underground Butcher's charcuterie board reads like an all-star team: Braunschweiger, Coppa, Culatello, Finocchiona, Genoa Salami, Goat Salami, Landjäger, Lomo, Mortadella, Paté, Pancetta, Prosciutto, Saucisson Sec, Sopressata, Spanish Chorizo, Tuscan Salami, and more. You can get any of that served with gruyere, dijon, and aioli on demi baguette and still break a $10 bill.
STEAK TIPS AND CHEESE
Where: Nadeau's, New Hampshire
You'll find this marinated flap meat all over New England, for reasons still unknown, but seldom on a sandwich and rarely under cheese. Nadeau's rightly found this ridiculous and has been serving them in sandwich form since 1969. Its signature seasoning pairs just fine with the cheese.
Where: Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, Chicago
In 1938, Al Ferrari and his family began slicing roast beef thin and placing it on small fresh loaves of Italian bread just to save money during the Depression, rubbing the sirloin with a secret spice blend, dry-roasting it, and serving it with au-jus-style "gravy" and topped with giardiniera (finely diced pickled vegetables). Al's has opened numerous locations since launching Italian beef into a category all its own.
THE OLD FASHIONED
Where: Philip's Steaks, Philadelphia
To avoid the nonsense and just get a decent steak on your way home from Shop-Rite, Philip's in South Philly gets it done. Just a little red-and-white stand on Passyunk in South Philly, Phillip's serves perhaps the greatest cheesesteak combination this town has devised: sliced-steak sandwich, provolone, grilled tomatoes, peppers, and just a little oregano. No onions, no Cheez-Whiz ... just a roll filled with joy, served beneath floodlights.
Where: MVP Sports Deli & Eatery, Anchorage, Alaska
This isn't some token entry for Alaska: This place makes a 1-pound sub that rivals or outright defeats anything in the Lower 48. Using a corned, dried beef cooked into a homemade pastrami with a secret-recipe dry rub, this place makes a cured cheesesteak by dousing it in white cheddar cheese sauce and and homemade Italian relish. You wouldn't think the roll would hold up, but the evidence says otherwise.
Where: Tub's Gourmet Subs, Seattle
In a sub wasteland, Tub's does enough heavy lifting to carry a state. Its menu spans nearly two pages, but has a local favorite and a great regional stamp on the sub sandwich genre in this combination of mayo, ham, turkey, roast beef, bacon, and cheddar cheese that's toasted on a baguette, topped with lettuce and tomato, and served with hot barbecue sauce for dipping.
Where: Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, Tennessee
Granted, the showstopper on this menu is a club sandwich on sourdough, but that completely discounts what this place can do with a hoagie roll when motivated. Serving braised turkey, jalapeño cranberry relish, honey mustard, brie, and apples on its hoagie, Mitchell's masterfully blends flavors while still offering up a substantial sandwich that draws lines 10 years after this deli opened.