When I was growing up, there was a little mom-and-pop supermarket in my town called Rainbow Market (over Thanksgiving I learned it had been recently replaced by a Wal-Mart, so it goes). As the main grocery in a small suburban town, it was the hub of most food shopping, and before any dedicated sandwiches shops opened, the spot to pick-up a cold-cut sandwich was at Rainbow's deli counter in back.
Looking back, I'm sure there was almost nothing remarkable about them: A standard hoagie roll, a stack of dark brown roast beef or pink ham, shredded iceberg, styrofoam-textured tomatoes, a few floppy pickle chips and a smear of mustard and mayo. Nevertheless, I adored those things. On field trip days, while other kids would beg their parents for Lunchables, I would pry for a sandwich — and the one's at Rainbow were cheap enough that my mother would usually relent.
These days, even while living amongst the country's most wondrous sea of banh mi, tortas, and gua bao — all of which can be had at scandalous bargain — that deep, intrinsic craving for a dirt cheap, no-frills hoagie returns every so often.
Whether you're cash-strapped, or just like to eat as if you were, there's no need to settle for the soggy cardboard at the local fast food joint — instead try these tasty substitute subs, which might remind you of the simpler times when the cold-cut was was king.
6. Turkey and Cheese at Tang's Donuts:
Not a good way to start a sandwich list, you might say — but hold one just a minute. Although Tang's in Silver Lake might be best known as the place for late-night cruller runs, it turns out that the sandwiches, which are made-to-order with freshly toasted bread and come in at around $4 each, are quite tasty. The tip on Tang's came via Thrillist food editor and rock-n-roll frontman Jeff Miller, who has spent enough time looking for post-concert grub near Hollywood to know what's up. 4341 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; 323-662-4085.
5. Mortadella at Lanza Brothers Market:
Lanza's is one of the few remaining Italian delis in Lincoln Heights (it's been around since 1929, where the neighborhood was home to a sizable Italian population) located just over the Main St. bridge east of downtown. For $4.75 you can pick up a rather decent sub, made with Boar's Head meat and a pungent drizzle of Italian dressing. Make a day of it and have them wrap it in butcher paper and walk across the bridge to enjoy the city vistas near L.A. State Historic Park. 1803 N Main St., Lincoln Heights; 323-225-8977.
4. Combination at Sorrento Italian Market:
For over 50 years, Sorrento's was Culver City's answer to popular Italian delis like Bay Cities, Roma's and Eastside Market. It's still a place where you can pick-up a quart of good olive oil, some fresh cannolis, or a tray of meatballs swimming in marinara. For $3.95 a mosaic of salami, capicola, mortadella, provolone — all sliced in front of you — is tucked into a soft foot-long Italian roll and dabbed with a bit of red sauce and spicy mustard. Regulars know to not ask for lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, or mayo; there's not a speck in the house. (Note: Bay Cities' also has a 6″ small Poor Boy sub for $4.50, but you probably already knew that.) 5518 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; 310-391-7654.
3. The Original at Galco's Soda Pop Stop:
Galco's in Highland Park is best known for it's staggering collection of over 400 craft sodas, many of which you can't find any where else in the state (try the spruce beer, it tastes like a Christmas tree), but there's also a deli counter in the back that makes some rather dynamite sandwiches. The “Original,” a combination of ham, mortadella, and salami, served on a 8″ roll, is still only $4.50. Make sure to say hello to owner and soda guru John Nese while you're there. 5702 York Blvd., Highland Park; 323-255-7115.
2. Turkey and Avocado at Sandwich Island:
This Trojan-beloved gem is tucked inside a small food court near University Village, but that shouldn't dissuade non-students from dropping by for massive sandwiches made by the Korean husband-and-wife owners. Just under $4 will get you a “regular” sized sandwich — their large is enough to split among two — with a stack of white turkey meat as thick as a deck of playing cards. Add on another dollar, and a whole avocado slipped in, putting you just under five bucks. Cash only. 3333 S. Hoover St., L.A.; 213-748-7650.
1. Ham and Cheese at Vince's Market:
Located across the street from a elementary school in a historic Glassell Park suburb, Vince's has been open since 1939, which you might not guess expected for the old-timey mural painted on its exterior. Prices haven't changed much since then, though: Vince's is famous for its incredibly priced $1.50 ham and cheese sandwich. That's right, cheaper than the parking meter at most places. It's a staple of about every downtown blue-collar worker wise enough to know the secret. A buck-fifty will get you about a six-inch hoagie roll, stuffed with ham, waxy American cheese, shredded lettuce, pickles, and a wave of mayo and mustard. Tomato and onion are 15 cents extra. Big spenders can upgrade to sandwiches made with carnitas or Italian cold cuts for a few dollars more (the Mortadella is terrific). 3250 Silver Lake Blvd., Glassel Park; 323-664-4798.
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