A sub sandwich is the water of food. That is a very stupid sentence, and I’m sorry you had to read it, but it’s true. That’s not meant to denigrate the sub by any means — quite the opposite, actually. For most who grew up in America, the combo of thinly sliced cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomato and some sort of preferably mayonnaise-based condiment in a long, soft roll has the familiarity and ubiquity of Earth’s most abundant resource.
The sub sandwich is the most basic utility food. On a 30-minute lunch break, a road trip pit stop, an I-don’t-wanna-try-at-all picnic or a Thursday or something, the sub sandwich will always be there for you. Like water, a sub sandwich will never be transcendent, and it doesn’t want to be. Sub sandwiches are very self-aware sandwiches.
It might be hard to mess up a sub sandwich, but anyone who’s ever had a sweet onion chicken teriyaki sub where the sandwich artist miscalculated the microwave time and you end up with a mouthful of ice-cold sugar chicken knows a bad one can ruin your day. That’s why it’s important to have a go-to sub sandwich spot: somewhere inviting and tasty and reliable, where the employees don’t look as if they’re waiting for the sweet release of death.
Brothers Sandwich Shop in Koreatown is the perfect neighborhood sandwich shop, for literally every reason. I love me a good $15 sandwich with sous vide beef shank and shishito romesco and artisanal arugula or whatever, but that’s not what Brothers is going for, nor is it what its mustachioed, hipster-signaling logo might imply. Brothers does your average $6 subs served on white or wheat bread (the only two options a sub sandwich needs) and stuffed with the finest Boar’s Head deli meats (the finest deli meats a sub sandwich needs) with one or two fancy-ish flourishes that make you feel special and loved.
Consider the Beefeater sub, my current twice-a-week lunch-wich. With hot roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, Russian dressing and wasabi coleslaw, it has the ethos of a Langer’s #19. The bread falls somewhere between Subway’s supple cake-iness and Bay Cities’ teeth-pulling leatheriness, and the accoutrements are in perfect proportion with nothing to distract you from the fact that, yeah, this is just your basic-but-delicious sub sandwich.
Realistically, a Brothers sandwich could pass for one from any major chain or Vons deli counter, but it’s not, and that’s a huge part of what makes it special. When you walk into Brothers, you’re not blasted in the face by fluorescent lighting and the overwhelming smell of bleach that comes standard with every Subway visit. The employees are slicing meats fresh, joking around with customers, and probably lip-syncing to Metallica’s Master of Puppets playing on the sound system. Even if you’re there for a 15-minute speed lunch — which you probably are — the hand-painted red picnic tables and general sense of sandwich exuberance hanging in the ether makes you feel like a human, something that’s often sacrificed with a big-chain sub experience.
Every neighborhood needs an independently owned, life-affirming sandwich shop, just like every human needs water. And Brothers Sandwich Shop is like the coldest bottle of Evian you’ve ever had.
3278 W. Sixth St., Koreatown; (213) 297-5658.