The 50 Best Sandwiches in Chicago

Our list of Chicago’s 50 best sandwiches, ranked in order of deliciousness

BLT at Old Oak Tap, the No. 1 sandwich in Chicago.   Photograph: Anna Knott; Food Stylist: Lisa Kuehl

For generations, sandwiches were the ultimate guilty pleasure of subcultures that had no patience for guilt: hungry bachelors, school kids, working stiffs, old men in delis. To fridge-foraging rubes like Dagwood, quality wasn’t half as important as quantity. The sandwich was one of the only snacks you were allowed to pile as high as you wanted with anything you desired and cram into your face with both hands—a meal so inelegant and blithely proud of its inelegance that it came in six-foot segments for parties. And we ate it. Standing up.

Now we’ve got French dips made with shaved prime rib, po’ boys with organic shrimp, and grilled cheese with fancy pimiento cheese. Hell, you can get a buttered ciabatta layered with local eggs, house-cured speck, and fontina for breakfast at Balsan if the idea of spending $19 for a ham and egg sandwich does not scandalize you. What in the name of John Montagu is going on here?

The sandwich pendulum has always swung erratically from the treat of the nobility to the fuel of the proletariat. But what we’re witnessing now is the sharpest swerve yet toward the land of fine dining—a shift that overlaps, not coincidentally, with the great democratization of Chicago’s restaurants. Ground zero for the boom is Publican Quality Meats, where Paul Kahan regards sandwiches as serious dishes. So does Acadia’s Ryan McCaskey, who makes a mean lobster roll, and Rick Bayless, who offers up a vegetarian stunner at Xoco.

To guide you through the bustling sandscape, we fanned out across the city and suburbs, hitting spots high and low in search of anything delicious between two slices of bread. For the purposes of this story, we defined “sandwich” in the strictest of terms: no wraps, dumplings, or open-faced pretenders. Hamburgers and hot dogs didn’t qualify. Italian beef sandwiches did, but not one made this list. (Face facts: Chicago’s spongy grease bomb is not among the better contributions to the genre.) We gave points to the well crafted, the fresh, and the robust, anchored by bread with enough distinct character to bolster the proceedings without overshadowing or interfering.

The result: our list of Chicago’s 50 best sandwiches, ranked in order of deliciousness. Some are ingenious, such as Scofflaw’s layered masterpiece of braised brisket, pork belly, and pork loin. Others are blunt and glorious classics, done simply and done right. (Meatball sub from Bari, take a bow.)

In our research, we learned that the sandwich is a wily chameleon, soaking up and synthesizing every trend, be it the resurgence of house-cured charcuterie or the sudden ubiquity of arugula. We learned to ask for extra napkins ahead of time. And we learned, above all, that quality and quantity can intersect in restaurants, and there’s no shame in that. Only joy.

Edited by Carly Boers, Penny Pollack, and Jeff Ruby
Contributors: Cassie Walker Burke, Elly Fishman, Peter Gianopulos, Noah Isackson, Maryanne Johnson, Esther Kang, Megan Lovejoy, Graham Meyer, Matt Schur, Lena Singer, Emmet Sullivan, Jennifer Tanaka, Joanne Trestrail

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comments
2 years ago
Posted by Djangogirl

I am not finding the Scofflaw sandwich in the actual list though it says it made the list in one of the paragraphs above. Is it actually on the list?

2 years ago
Posted by lseemann

Scofflaw is not in the top 50, but it is mentioned in our "Around the Clock" sidebar.

http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2012/Best-Sandwiches-in-Chicago-Where-to-Get-Your-Fix-Around-the-Clock

2 years ago
Posted by aficionado

Any chance of placing all these establishments on an interactive map to ascertain where they are located?

2 years ago
Posted by rustybaker2

HOW did the Mr. G from JP Graziano's (not to be confused with Summer Heights High) not on this list?! It sure as heck beats anything you can get from hannah's doo doo bretzel

2 years ago
Posted by cornedbeefguy

Just follow our boys in blue - the corned beef sandwich at Moons (Western & Madison) is superior to Manny's (and delivers to the Loop)

2 years ago
Posted by FredSox49

How can you leave off the turkey salad sandwich at Boloney's in Barrington? Should be in the top 10.

2 years ago
Posted by TimeToChange

These sandwiches help control world population one heart attack at a time.

2 years ago
Posted by FoodieGirl

Big vote for Zenwich! Although I think the Mu Ping sandwich there (an Asian pork) is the best!

2 years ago
Posted by Matt from Chicago

Nice list, I will personally make it my goal in 2013 to eat every single one of these, but got to plug J.P. Graziano's at Randolph & Peoria in the West Loop. Get the Mr. G and thank me later.

2 years ago
Posted by Tracey S.

Definitely missed the Radical Reuben at the Chicago Diner. My favorite sandwich on earth.

2 years ago
Posted by cubblue11

How can you bypass The Three Little Pigs sandwich at The Silver Palm - Nationally known !

2 years ago
Posted by daisyporter

In the print mag, you have a list of the top five vegetarian sandwiches, which I appreciate - but one of them has salmon!

2 years ago
Posted by Gilbert Z.

What?
A multi-page list of Chicago's best sandwiches mentioning not a single hot dog or Italian Beef.
For shame!

2 years ago
Posted by jonnysincere

Went to Phoebes. The sandwich was so bad I wonder how they picked any of these. The chicken was mushy and fatty, it was not warm, and had little flavor. I don't get it. On top of that, it took forever--the staff was extremely disorganized and confused.

2 years ago
Posted by jleo

I look forward to this list every year. I love it that you do it. I will be trying many of these. However I've gotta ask- no hopleaf ham? (i originally tried this sandwich because you voted it one of the best in the past & I still think it's the best). And no mention of Lady Gregory's Ultimate Grill Cheese. I demand a recount...just kidding- i know it's gotta be a tough job trying all these amazing sandwiches and rating them. Thanks for the list!

2 years ago
Posted by lovesfood

OMG, I went to Olga's deli because you all recommended it and it was horrifying. It was like walking into an episode of hoarders. I have never been to a more filthy restaurant in my life. Olga is an older woman that is very nice and very friendly. It was terrifying. The dust so high on the all the good sold,the broken filthy refrigerator that housed the sodas, the grimy meat slicer that she used over and over again. She never washed her hands when touching one thing to the next, meat was just sitting out, nothing properly stored, counters where she was prepping our food was cluttered. My 8 year old was mortified and he will eat a sucker when it dropped in the dirt. Who in the world recommended this place and who eats here on a regular basis? You have no idea what you are sending your readers into. She was so nice, that I just bought a sandwich and then throw it out after I left. What are you all doing? Why would you not check this out better? Who is responsible? Really and honestly it was that bad. I will never believe any of your recommendations again.

2 years ago
Posted by CMIKES

Dear Chicago Magazine,

I recently began trying some of your "50 best sandwiches in Chicago" and I must say I'm a little disappointed. First, as mentioned previously by Gilbert Z. there is no listing of a single hot dog or italian beef - very disappointing. I'm not saying that since it is Chicago you "must" include one of these items but seriously, there are some delicious Combo Beefs out there. Seriously. Second, I also visited Olga's Deli and boy oh boy was that an experience. Olga is however a very sweet lady so I will not go into the details that Lovesfood has graced us with above. Third, there is clearly a biased towards sandwiches with eggs. I have now visited 11 establishments and 5 of those establishments offer a fried egg on the sandwich. I love eggs and I love sandwiches but an egg on a sandwich does not make it a "best" sandwich. Fourth, we need to talk about your number #1 - the BLT. It was a great sandwich don't get me wrong but nowhere near numero uno. For starters, you cannot nominate a BLT as the best sandwich on any list unless you're ranking bacon related food and then in that case you have my permission to rank a BLT somewhere in the 30's. Fifth, I'd really like to know your ratings scale - I'm currently using a 1 - 10 scale to rate your rankings, so far you are a 6. Sixth, if I were to write your editors a letter, who would I address it to? Seventh, great job on number 2 (I find myself mostly in agreement). Eighth, the bread at Pastoral was real chewy and ruined the sandwich...you failed to mention that in your write up. I think I'll stop here. I look forward to next years list and hope that you can maybe help me with some burrito suggestions in the near future as well.

Regards,

C Mikes

2 years ago
Posted by chitownjuni

Cafe Bella in Logan Square by far the best sandwiches ever!!! hidden lil gem. must check out!

7 months ago
Posted by Delane

I spent 2013 eating all of these.

http://www.awellfedlife.com/2013/12/50-best-sandwiches-as-rated-by-chicago.html

Some were good and some were not. Defiantly think some of these should have been higher in the ratings. Some should not have made this list.

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