So much can happen between two slices of bread. Practical, portable, difficult to define and nearly impossible to mess up entirely, the sandwich offers a broad canvas for the harried parent or the creative chef. John Montagu (aka the 4th Earl of Sandwich) could never have dreamed of the baroque monuments that would be inspired by his modest request for meat served between sliced bread. A staple of pop culture (think Dagwood Bumstead or Shaggy from Scooby-Doo), the sandwich is a touchstone for cuisines and neighborhoods of all kinds. Herewith, a Los Angeles sandwich primer.
10. Al Pastor Torta at King Torta
If you only eat one al pastor torta in Los Angeles, make it King Torta's. At this sandwich shop on the border of Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, the tortas are big and messy, the Sloppy Joe of tortas. The bread is soft and doughy, almost undercooked, layered with chunks of juicy, not too fatty al pastor, shredded lettuce, avocado slivers and tiny chopped onions. The hot sauce is bitter and red; one taste of it and it became essential. What really makes the sandwich is the meat: King Torta's al pastor is tender and rich with a hint of sweetness, bathed in its own juices and flecked with copious chili seeds. At only $5, it's a hell of a deal.
King Torta: 4507 Valley Blvd. L.A.
9. Banh Mi at The Spice Table
In the evening, The Spice Table is all laksa and marrow bones, a Southeast Asian bistro that also spins a global menu of culinary hits. In the daytime, it's a casual lunch spot with bowls of curry chicken, cheeseburgers and bánh mì ($7-$9). The cold-cut bánh mì is the classic choice. Smeared with a mellow pâté and piled with thin, cool layers of housemade charcuterie (sounds better than "head cheese," doesn't it?), it's cradled in chewy French bread. It's not the ubiquitous bánh mì of Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. Lighter and cleaner, it's an ideal lunch.
The Spice Table: 114 S. Central Ave., L.A.
8. The Godmother at Bay Cities Deli
Bay Cities Deli makes two dozen sandwiches, but the one for which it's most famous is The Godmother. Stacked with no less than five kinds of cold cuts -- Genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham and prosciutto -- and a slice of Provolone, the sandwich sits on chewy Italian bread. Should you get mustard and mayo on your sub? Purists will tell you -- and we agree -- NO! This sandwich needs only a dash of oil and vinegar. Order it with the works and ask them to leave off the "mayostard." You can get it small ($6.25) or large ($8.15), but even the "small" Godmother is a mother. It's cool and salty, dense and filling, and definitely the Italian sub to beat.
Bay Cities: 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica.
7. French Dip at Philippe the Original
Once upon a time, Cole's and Philippe's had a French-dip rivalry. These days, the revamped, non-divey Cole's, with its simulacrum of a speakeasy tucked in the back, is a legitimately great cocktail haunt that happens to serve sandwiches. Philippe's is, as it ever was, a genuine, salt-of-the-earth sandwich Mecca. Philippe's French dip just tastes better. The meat is tender, thinly sliced and flavorful. Served on oblong French rolls that are heartily dipped (even double-dipped), the au jus soaks into the soft, springy bread. Lamb, beef, turkey, pork -- Philippe's has them all. The classic beef dip is the best. Whether 'tis nobler on the tongue to add hot mustard or eat it plain, that is still the question.
Philippe the Original: 1001 N. Alameda St., L.A.
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