BEST POCKET OF CRUNCHY WONDERFULNESS
When one sends oneself on a mission to find the best falafel in Los Angeles, one quickly finds oneself on a journey from mediocre to bad to awful versions of the ubiquitous fried balls of ground chickpeas. That’s why we routinely come back to Falafel King, the beloved Westwood home of garbanzo nirvana. The balls, really shaped more like little patties, have a mixture of some dark-green ingredient. (Don’t ask, don’t tell is our policy.) You might think the sandwich is a little heavy on the red cabbage, but once you get the soft, warm falafel crunch with cool cabbage, you’ll see why people have been coming back here since they were UCLA freshmen. 1059 Broxton Ave., Wstwd. (310) 208-4444.
BEST ROAST-BEEF OR PASTRAMI-DIP SANDWICH
If you know the Valley, you know how silly it is when wags from Westwood and Silver Lake rave that the (admittedly) stalwart Brent’s is the best deli on that side of the hill. Please. Country Deli, tucked up in northwest Chatsworth, with its Western motif and murals of old cowboy stars, and its outdoor dining porch that overlooks a lane of 90-year-old olive trees, is the wonderful secret the Echo Park types don’t know about. It’s got the brassy waitresses and front-desk gal, the piled-up blintzes and waffles, the smoked fish, the huge menu. But sandwiches are the thing. The juicy-yet-crunchy, salty-yet-sweet Monte Cristo must have 1,500 calories, so we go for the best and leanest: rare roast beef (get it with added tomato), or lean New York–style pastrami served on rye or as a French dip. God almighty, they pile up about four inches of beef or pastrami. It’s tender and moist. The sandwich is so tall, you have to bite first from the bottom, then the top. There’s no talking at first. The waitresses bring a pickle tray, so ask for pale, garlicky “new pickles.” Unlike the egregiously overpriced and overrated Jerry’s, with its icky, watery milk shakes and pointlessly expensive sandwiches, Country Deli’s sandwiches run about $10 to $12, and the shakes are thick and divine (order chocolate with fresh banana). 9901 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth. (818) 709-5612.
BEST WHO NEEDS MEAT? SANDWICH
Biting into La Brea Bakery’s artichoke heart sandwich is like sipping a wine whose flavorings can only be articulated as hints. With the sandwich, of course, it’s a bit more obvious: the ’chokes, marinated in olive oil and rosemary, are surrounded by ricotta cheese, arugula and pesto, stacked between slices of the bakery’s renowned black-olive bread. The combo is subtly sublime, both lean and robust, the slightly acidic bite of the artichoke providing a tangy oomph, the arugula adding just a slightly bitter edge that is balanced by the sweetness of the ricotta, while the occasional meaty olive makes you forget you’re eating vegetarian. The pesto, somewhat ironically, remains a hint. Add all those textures — from smooth and tender to creamy to leafy to chewy — and, for $8, it’s the difference between bland and bliss. 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A. (323) 939-6813, labreabakery.com.
BEST POUNDED HEADCHEESE SANDWICH ON THE WESTSIDE
If you live in East Los Angeles, you’ve probably come across the cemita, a Mexican sandwich in which a pounded and fried cutlet (chicken, pork or beef milanesa) is placed on a roll of sesame seed–studded egg bread, along with cheese, onions, avocado and red salsa. It’s a combination that’s difficult to dislike, unless you’re on the Atkins diet, or, really, any diet whatsoever. There are few spots on the Westside that make cemitas, but you’ll do well to get yours at the lunch-only Cemitas Poblanas truck on Venice Boulevard in Culver City, which parks every afternoon in front of the Smart & Final. The sandwiches, which originated in the region of Puebla, will run you about five bucks, but are big enough to power you through a 12-hour day of hard, manual labor. The cemita is also a beautiful blend of textures, mixing crunchy, creamy and tender into just about every bite. For the more adventurous, they also offer a headcheese cemita, which will give you a much softer, luscious and more sensual dining experience (if you like to make out with your sandwich, order the headcheese). You can dine curbside, or bring your cemita into the office, where you’ll make everyone eating Subway seem incredibly pedestrian by comparison. 10113 Venice Blvd., Culver City.
BEST STARCH SANDWICH
Porto’s pushes the limits of traditional sandwich making by stuffing a bread roll with a potato. Order up this classic and the masters will take a Cuban roll, add two potato balls stuffed with seasoned ground beef, and top them with Swiss cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce and tomato. In one bite you get a mix of crunchy and smooth textures as the toasted bread gives way to the whipped potato and eventually to the seasoned ground beef. You are not going to want to share. Of course, no one will judge you for getting another sandwich. 315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 956-5996. Also at 3614 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. (818) 846-9100.
BEST DELI SANDWICH
It’s hard to argue effectively with your Italian godmother, particularly if she’s several inches thick around the middle with a tangy bite and a penchant for hanging out with the wrong crowd. That’s where the cold cut–clad sandwich by the same name at Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica comes in handy. It’s a fantastic heap of Genoa salami, mortadella, capicollo, ham, prosciutto and provolone cheese piled onto an Italian roll. The small sub is just shy of $6, although it’s worth the extra few nickels for the “works” (mustard, mayo, Italian dressing, pepper salad and a slew of sandwich veggies). But duly note this is an Old Country Godmother type who doesn’t take kindly to change. There are no substitutions. Call-ahead submarine-sandwich drive-bys, of course, are not a problem. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 395-8279, baycitiesitaliandeli.com.
BEST CUBAN SANDWICH
At Rincon Criollo, the pressed bread is toasty warm, the melted cheese is creamy, the slice of ham and slice of pork salty, the pickle sour. The individual parts melding into a greater, comforting whole. What more could one want from a Cuban sandwich? Oh, yeah … and it’s big, too. I usually eat only half and drag the rest of it home to savor at my leisure. Enjoy it in this popular hole in the wall with a mango shake or Cuban coffee while admiring the original Cuban artwork of Old Havana on the walls. Fidel never had it so good. 4361 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 391-4478.
BEST-VALUE MORTADELLA SANDWICH
The sandwiches at Eastside Deli aren’t pretty but they get the job done — that task being the ending of hunger one belly at a time. No artisan breads, no chopped fresh basil leaves or choice of mustards — just big ol’ minisubs of, say, mortadella, capicollo or turkey, with provolone and shredded iceberg on a French roll. And served for $6.90 a pop in record time by cutters who don’t skimp on the meat or act like you’ve just asked them to jump your car battery. The Eastside Deli’s been around since 1929 and from the outside today looks like a slightly jumped-up corner market. Inside, however, cop plaques, photos of Vin Scully and the Rat Pack line the walls as animated chatter at wooden tables bounces off the concrete floor and ceiling beams. The place is dark, cooled by ceiling fans and packed at lunchtime with law enforcement and emergency types, who tend to favor Eastside’s gigantic hot sausage sandwiches, or maybe the hot roast beef and pastrami. 1013 Alpine St., between Echo Park and Chinatown. (213) 250-2464 or (800) 964-2464.
BEST VEGAN SANDWICH
Crisp onion rings vie with juicy tomatoes for dominance of your mouth in the mouthwatering sandwich from the Veggie Grill called The Stack. It’s crafted just like a steak sandwich, except the “steak” is made of various wheat and legume proteins with beets to give it texture. If you’re feeling good, you can have it served on a bed of kale instead of on a bun. A side of show-stealing sweetheart fries (made from sweet potatoes), and your meal is complete. The Veggie Grill at Plaza El Segundo, 720 Allied Way, El Segundo. (310) 535-0025.