Katz’s Delicatessen
Michelle W./Yelp

20 Historic Sandwich Shops That Changed Lunch Forever

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Katz’s Delicatessen
Michelle W./Yelp

Grab a Bite of the Past

What’s on the menu for lunch today? Whatever your answer, chances are that it’s very different today than it would have been roughly a century ago. In that time, many sandwich shops have tempted our taste buds with dishes that would go on to become legendary, and some even changed the way we get lunch — drive-thru, anyone? Here’s a look at some of the places that have changed what, and how, we eat.

Related: The Surprising History of the Humble Hamburger

Louis’ Lunch
John O./Yelp

Louis’ Lunch

New Haven, Connecticut
This unpretentious little hole in the wall, founded in 1895, is recognized by the Library of Congress as the birthplace of the burger. It’s also one of the nation’s oldest family-run businesses, with fourth-generation owners. Loyal patrons say time has stood still inside, and the burgers are cooked on cast-iron grills dating to 1898. Just don’t expect traditional buns — they’re served on toast — and the only allowable garnishes are cheese, tomato, and onion so that the five-meat blend shines through.

Related: The Best Hole-in-the-Wall Diner in Every State

Italian Beef, Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, Chicago
Al's Beef/Yelp

Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Chicago
No list of history-making sandwich shops would be complete without Al’s, long-standing inventor and king of the Italian beef sandwich. A street peddler named Al Ferreri opened up a humble family beef stand in Chicago’s Little Italy in 1938, and that stand morphed into an institution that has earned endless kudos for its signature sandwich. But don’t take our word for it: Just check out the endless list of awards and TV show appearances on their website.

Related: Mouthwatering Roast Beef Sandwiches Across America

Red’s Giant Hamburg
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Red’s Giant Hamburg

Springfield, Missouri
What makes this retro Route 66 restaurant a game-changer isn’t necessarily its food, though the burger-joint fare certainly harkens back to a simpler time. Red’s earns a spot on this list because it changed how we grab lunch: It had the nation’s first drive-thru, which opened in 1947. It was quickly followed by a West Coast competitor you might have heard of: In-N Out Burger, which opened in California in 1948.

Related: Route 66: Then and Now

Central Grocery
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Central Grocery

New Orleans
The muffuletta, made with a mouth-watering combination of ham, salami, provolone, onions, olives, and more, is closely associated with the Crescent City. And locals will tell you there’s one place to go to get the real deal: Central Grocery. It was there that Salvatore Lupo slapped all this together on Italian bread in 1906, in an attempt to ease the lunchtime rush for nearby market workers and farmers. Today’s sandwich remains largely unchanged, with meat sliced and bread baked in this family-owned store.

Related: Beloved Local Eats That Can Be Shipped to Your Doorstep

Philippe the Original
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Philippe the Original

Los Angeles
Though a rival restaurant, Cole’s, also lays claim to inventing the French Dip sandwich, most experts agree that Philippe the Original was where this iconic, au jus-slathered comfort food was born. The story goes a little something like this: In 1918, Chef Philippe was making a sandwich for a policeman when he accidentally dropped a French roll into a pan filled with juices fresh from the oven. The policeman agreed to take the soaked sandwich anyway — and returned the next day with friends, wanting more. Today, patrons can choose from French dips made with roast beef, pork, ham, lamb, turkey, or pastrami. Just don’t dare ask for ketchup.

Related: Legendary Restaurant Rivalries That Divide America

Melt Bar & Grilled
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Melt Bar & Grilled

Cleveland
Melt is a newbie compared with many of the legendary shops on this list, but any comfort food-lover can argue the store has made history. When it opened in 2006, Melt elevated the humble grilled cheese into a gourmet dish that could carry an entire menu (nay, an entire chain, as there are now a dozen Melt restaurants scattered across Ohio). Just don’t expect a measly slice of cheese between a couple pieces of bread. As the chain’s beloved Mighty Macaroni sandwich shows, you’ll need to bring your appetite — and probably your elastic-waist pants.

Related: Ways to Make an Ordinary Grilled Cheese Extraordinary

Prince's Hot Chicken
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Prince’s Hot Chicken

Nashville
You can get hot chicken at KFC these days, but if that’s your first taste of this sinus-clearing sandwich, well, you’re only cheating yourself. For the real deal, head to Prince’s. As the story goes, Thornton Prince’s jilted lover tried to exact revenge on her man by cooking up a devilishly spicy chicken sandwich that would make him beg for mercy. But he loved it, and turned it into a full-fledged restaurant. Feeling extra spicy? Try the “XXX Hot” — if you dare.

Related: Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in America

Red’s Eats
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Red’s Eats

Wiccaset, Maine
Red’s Eats didn’t invent the lobster roll — that honor goes to a restaurant named Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut, that’s no longer around — but plenty of New Englanders might say this seasonal seafood shack has perfected it, and the long lines are proof. Open for more than 80 years, Red’s plunks an entire lobster’s worth of meat on every roll, and is the first spot to offer lobster rolls plain (butter or mayo comes on the side here, so as not to distract from the main attraction). In an average summer, it serves a whopping 14.5 tons of lobster.

Related: Eateries That Are Famous for One Amazing Dish

Nick’s Kitchen
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Nick’s Kitchen

Huntington, Indiana
Chances are good you can fill any hole in a Midwesterner’s heart (or stomach) with a pork tenderloin sandwich. To find the original, head to Nick’s Kitchen in the Hoosier State to chow down. Nick’s has been around since 1908, and its massive pork tenderloin has remained largely unchanged, served simply with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo, and fries on the side. (Not up to a plate-sized slab of pork? Go for the mini version.)

Related: You Have to Try These Famous Sandwiches in Every State

Langer’s Deli
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Langer’s Deli

Los Angeles
Langer’s, which opened in 1947, is famous for good reason, including delicious classics like the #19: Hot pastrami, cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on double-baked rye bread. But a more recent innovation helps cement its place in history even more. In 1990, it started offering curbside pickup for customers who wanted to order in advance, drive up, grab their food, and go. Today, especially during the pandemic, curbside service is as ubiquitous as the drive-thru.

Related: Old-School Dishes Making a Comeback at Restaurants

Pat’s King of Steaks
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Pat’s King of Steaks

Philadelphia
In the famous battle of Pat’s versus Geno’s, the flashy rival across the street, Pat’s is the more classic choice, and it has history on its side. Founded in 1930 as a hot dog stand, it was here that Pat Olivieri himself decided to cook up some chopped meat, plunk it on an Italian roll, and top it with onions. In later years, cheese was added, officially beginning the era of the cheesesteak. Planning on making the pilgrimage? Just make sure you have your cash ready, and know how to order: “Whiz wit,” for instance, means with Cheez Whiz and onions.

Related: Iconic Restaurants to Try Before You Die

Parkway Bakery & Tavern
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Parkway Bakery and Tavern

New Orleans
Between the muffuletta and the po’ boy, New Orleans sure has cemented its place in the sandwich hall of fame. The latter concoction, traditionally made on French bread piled with roast beef or fried seafood like shrimp or catfish, plus all the fixins’, has been around for at least a century. Parkway has been serving them since at least 1929, and the restaurant and sandwich have practically become synonymous.

Related: Signature Cheap Eats From Every State

Katz’s Delicatessen
Michelle W./Yelp

Katz’s Delicatessen

New York City
If you want a pastrami on rye, this is the temple of all that is holy. Additionally, many consider Katz’s, established in 1888, as the best of New York’s many kosher-style delis – it’s certainly one of the oldest. Bring cash and expect a crowd, not least of which because tourists still flock here to see where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal famously dined in “When Harry Met Sally.” The corned beef and pastrami served here can take up to a month to cure, the deli says, so you know you’re getting the real deal.

Related: Best Delis Across America

Matt’s Bar  Minneapolis
Mindy B./Yelp

Matt’s Bar

Minneapolis
If you’ve never had a Jucy Lucy, it’s time to take a trip to the Twin Cities, where this twist on a cheeseburger originated. Instead of plunking the cheese on top of the meat, the cheese is surrounded by the meat, oozing out when you bite down. Matt’s Bar lays claim to the original Jucy Lucy (yes, no “i”), which was invented shortly after the bar opened in 1954 by slapping cheese in the middle of two patties for a customer. The rest, as they say, is history, and the sandwich can be found all over, but especially in the Midwest.

Related: Where to Find a Good, Cheap Burger in Every State

St. Louis Bread Company
Lucky C./Yelp

St. Louis Bread Company

St. Louis
St. Louis Bread Company isn’t exactly some decades-old mom-and-pop sandwich shop. In fact, outside the St. Louis area, it’s better known as Panera Bread. In the mid-1990s, this small regional chain of bakeries became the framework for Panera, one of the nation’s first and most successful fast-casual chains. And while the fast-casual concept itself has changed the way we grab lunch, so has Panera’s drive to be not just a restaurant, but a gathering place — with food as “the price of admission.”

Related: Secret Menu Items and Hacks From Your Favorite Restaurants

The Italian, White House Subs, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Mike F./Yelp

White House Subs

Atlantic City, New Jersey
The appearance of the first submarine sandwich is open to some debate, as is the name itself: Depending on where you live, you may call it a hoagie, a grinder, a hero, or something else entirely. What’s not up for debate is that Atlantic City’s White House Subs is one of the most iconic spots to grab a sub in all of the U.S. This James Beard Classic award-winner has even served the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones, to name just a sliver of the celebrity clientele. For the most authentic experience, dig into the No. 1 seller, the Italian.

Did you know you don’t have to journey all the way to Jersey to get a taste of one of these famous subs? You can get White House, and many of these other iconic delights, delivered across the country and direct to your door with GoldBelly.

Related: Best Subs, Hoagies, and Grinders Across America

Iowa: Enjoy a Maid-Rite Sandwich
Brittany S./Yelp
Cafe Versailles
Vivianne C./Yelp

Versailles

Miami
“The world’s most famous Cuban restaurant” may also have one of its most famous Cuban sandwiches. Versailles, opened in 1971, can’t lay claim to the sandwich itself, which likely originated with cigar-factory workers who came to Florida from Cuba more than a century ago. But this Little Havana landmark certainly can make a case for having helped popularize the tasty concoction, a combination of pork, glazed ham, Swiss, mustard and pickles, all pressed into mouth-watering, specially baked bread.

Related: Where to Find a Good, Cheap Lunch in Every State

Slyman’s Deli | Cleveland
©TripAdvisor

Slyman’s

Cleveland
What Katz’s is to pastrami on rye, Slyman’s is to corned beef on rye: A place more than worth a pilgrimage. This mom-and-pop deli opened in 1964, quickly earning a reputation for its mountains of mouth-watering meat; the restaurant still attracts a line, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. And while you may choke a little at paying $15 for a corned beef sandwich, the heaping portion will easily feed you for a few days.

Related: Restaurants With Crazy Lines That Are Worth the Wait

White Castle: Super Sack
Toan H./Yelp

White Castle

Topeka, Kansas
Again, not exactly a tiny little independent restaurant, but it was when it got its start in the Sunflower State in 1921. White Castle, in fact, had a lot of firsts that changed how America lunched: It was the first fast-food burger chain, it pioneered carry-out, introduced promotional coupons, and even had the first website for a quick-service restaurant starting in 1996. Whew!

Related: Things You Didn’t Know About White Castle