Despite our reputation as carb-shamers, we Angelenos have a soft spot for a stellar sandwich. The city has a long tradition of delivering a unique take on meat-between-bread, stretching back at least a century — to when either Cole’s or Philippe’s (not touching that debate again) started slinging roast beef on baguette with a side of au jus. Although we can proudly proclaim the French dip as our own, it's but one in a sea of sandwiches styles distinct to their respective American region. And since L.A. is a city defined as much by its transplants as its natives, its culinary landscape must cater to one and all.
Pleasing eaters from all corners of the country is an ambitious mission, but an exhaustive expedition into L.A.'s sandwich scene suggests that the city has done justice to honoring the cheesesteaks, po' boys and lobster rolls originating in far-off regions. Here’s proof, in no particular order:
Pittsburgh-Style (With Fries and Slaw): Steel City Sandwich Truck
More than 75 years ago, Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh opted to put french fries and coleslaw inside its cold-cut sandwich rather than serving them on the side, as had been the custom with all seemingly rational humans before. The world took notice. Today, Western Pennsylvanians rave endlessly about this regional speciality as if it were some sort of earth-shattering innovation. You can judge for yourself at the Steel City Sandwich Truck, which we named the Best American Regional Food Truck last year. Steel City is devoted to the delicacies of its namesake metropolis. The colossally sized Steel Curtain is the one worth getting to know. It’s a deluge of pastrami, salami, bacon, ham, provolone, fried eggs and, of course, Italian slaw and hand-cut fries, all smashed betwixt thick-crusted white bread. Irresistible in all its glutenous, gluttonous glory. steelcitysandwich.com.
Southern-Style Fried Chicken: Salt’s Cure
The fabulous fare of the South reaches its comfort-food crescendo with the fried chicken sandwich. Salt’s Cure in WeHo has a $10 weekly special built around free-range chicken broken down to cutlets in-house. A crisp buttermilk crust contrasts against the juicy, tender white meat. Its bright supporting cast includes slaw studded with carrots and spicy peppers, dill dressing and organic greens, all pinned by toothpick within a plump brioche. Plated with homemade potato crisps, its sole drawback is the limited availability; it's served on Wednesdays only. 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 850-7258, saltscure.com
Texas-Style Brisket: Bludso's Bar & Que
Kevin Bludso traces his barbecue heritage back to the Lone Star state. You can taste that pedigree in each bite of his slow-cooked, smoked brisket sandwich. A spiced char encases the dark pink meat hiding beneath; it's an uncanny re-creation of Texas' finest 'cue. Served on a simple, untoasted potato bun with raw onions and pickles, the thick-sliced brisket take centerstage. The $8 menu staple showcases Bludso's superior know-how — and will demand that you believe the hype. A welcome kick of jalapeño is worth the 50-cent upcharge. 609 N. La Brea Ave, Fairfax; (323) 931-2583, bludsosbbq.com
South Carolina–Style Pulled Pork: Boneyard Bistro
South Carolina is known for a specific style of barbecue, incorporating vinegar and mustard into its rubs and sauces. The ensuing tang and spice play particularly well with pulled pork. Easy to learn yet nearly impossible to perfect, pulled pork requires proper preparation lest the meat dry out before it hits the plate. Even though Sherman Oaks is a couple thousand miles from South Carolina's Midlands, you'll feel transported when you bite into the pulled pork sandwich at Boneyard Bistro. A generous serving of exceptionally moist, gently shredded swine is piled atop toasted brioche and joined by pickles, raw onions, slaw and sauce. The full flavors and ample juices unite in a Southern symphony. 13539 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 906-7427, boneyardbistro.com
New Orleans-Style Po' Boy: The Little Jewel of New Orleans
The Little Jewel of New Orleans is the closest you can get in L.A. to the Big Easy; its owner is a native Louisianan, its bread is flown in fresh from just outside the French Quarter, and its po' boys nail down every element that distinguishes the sandwich as a venerated delicacy. Dressed in proper proportion with pickles, tomatoes, shredded lettuce and spiced mayo, the cornmeal-crusted oyster po' boy is the real deal. Topped with creole seasoning and Crystal hot sauce, every mouthful guarantees equal parts spice, brine and creamy sweetness. And the textural variations are mind-blowing. The grit of the cornmeal crust and silkiness of the underlying oysters are balanced by the crunch of the lettuce and the optimal chewiness of the fresh-baked baguette. The good times, on a roll. 207 Ord St., Chinatown; (213) 620-0461, littlejewel.la
Buffalo-Style Beef on Weck: Top Round Roast Beef
Known for Arctic-like winters and sports teams that seldom seem any hotter, Buffalo, New York, is home to a fair share of pain. As a coping mechanism, residents have developed some legendary dishes, for which we all owe them a debt of gratitude. Though every American is acutely aware of the city's trademark wings, far fewer of us are acquainted with Buffalo's other culinary contribution: the beef on weck. Thinly sliced, rare roast beef with horseradish and a touch of au jus are stuffed inside a salted kummelweck roll. Top Round Roast Beef's $6.25 version drives the heartiness of the meat and its juices into a collision with salt and spice, both from the pungent house-made horseradish and the caraway seeds adorning the weck. 1000 S. La Brea Ave, Mid-Wilshire; (323) 549-9445, toproundroastbeef.com
New England–Style Lobster Roll: Nelson’s
If you're craving a lobster roll outside of New England, it had best be left to a professional. Although its list of ingredients is short and simple, the lobster roll is hard to pull off: The lobster must be fresh, the dose of mayonnaise must not overwhelm, the bun must hold up. At Nelson's, perched atop the majestic Pacific bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes, all of those potential pitfalls become selling points. At its core, the sandwich offers copious hunks of fresh crustacean flown in from Maine. It's sensibly dressed in a light bath of mayo, negotiating a slightly creamy sweetness with the subtle tones of the seafood. Rather than abandoning this delicate dance in a deluge of celery, the chef opts for a wisp of chopped parsley. An eight-inch bun is soft on the inside, sturdy throughout, a well-conceived delivery mechanism. With as generous a portion of lobster as you're ever likely to receive, the sandwich — plated with a side of crunchy fries — warrants its $24 price tag. And that doesn't even factor in the sweeping panorama, served tableside. 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes; (310) 265-2702, terranea.com/palos-verdes-dining
Chicago-Style Italian Beef: Taste Chicago
Those Chicagoans will put the darnedest things between their bread. They insist on adding a salad bar's worth of toppings to their hot dogs, and when it comes to their famous Italian beef, they stud their native sandwich with pickled carrots, celery, even cauliflower. But these toppings are a mere afterthought to what lies beneath: thinly sliced, slow-roasted beef drenched in its own peppery juices. It's not unlike our own French dip, save for the Italian-style roll and those wacky pickled veggies. For the most authentic re-creation in town, head to Burbank, where the toughest decision you'll have to make is whether to go with sweet or hot peppers on this $8.50 gutbuster. 603 N. Hollywood Way, Burbank; (818) 563-2800, tastechicagomenu.com
Philly-Style Cheesesteak: Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks and Hoagies
Few cities are audacious enough to call Velveeta a delicacy. Enter Philadelphia, a place that doesn't give a shit what you think. For as long as Kraft has been misspelling the word, Philly has been dishing out its staple sandwich of sliced, top round steak blanketed under a thick molten film of yellow-dyed cheese product. And in defiance of all reason, it's delicious. The only contentious issue is whether you'll take yours with onions, peppers and/or mushrooms. In any event, Boo's has got your back. The hip Silver Lake "hoagie" shop prides itself on sourcing all ingredients from the City of Brotherly Love. That includes deli meats and the inimitable Amoroso roll that your friends from Philly won't ever shut up about. It sponges up ample loads of meat grease and velvety cheese while somehow maintaining its integrity. Good luck doing the same after devouring Boo's $10 pepper steak. 4501 Fountain Ave., East Hollywood; (213) 661-1955, boosphilly.com
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New York–Style Jewish Deli: Wexler’s Deli
Finally we arrive at what is surely the most contentious category of them all. New Yorkers take their delis as seriously as they do everything else. When it comes to the Jewish variety, defined by kosher meats such as pastrami and corned beef, oversized sour pickles and fresh-baked rye bread, our East Coast counterparts scoff at the reputable replicants that have become institutions across Los Angeles. Let them. The more they sneer, the less likely they are to lengthen the queue at Wexler's on their next West Coast sojourn. The highly hyped spot in Grand Central Market cures its pastrami on-site, hand-cutting it thick and warm onto specially made rye coated with a layer of spicy brown mustard. Bonus authenticity points for washing it down with a Dr. Brown's soda. 317 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 624-2378, wexlersdeli.com