As soon as I plant my keister down on that northeast regional Amtrak headed from New York to Boston, my mind goes to one thing and one thing only. Food. We’ve all got our favorite hometown mini-chains for pizza, coffee, ice cream, and of course, sandwiches. Those secret little sandwich shops planted firmly in the “you wouldn’t know it but you gotta try it” category, that we’re simply dying to go national so we can stuff our faces no matter we are. Or would that totally ruin it? Either way, here are eight beloved regional sandwich chains to hit on that next cross country road trip!
In 1996, “Snarf” Jimmy Seidel opened the very first of his fast-growing sandwich chain in Boulder, Colorado, in what he then lovingly referred to as “The Shack.” Now, Snarf’s empire is more than 20 restaurants strong with locations in Colorado, St. Louis, and Austin, specializing in toasted sandwiches. Snarf’s focuses on classic combos with fresh ingredients and bread in a casual atmosphere. “It’s kind of like Potbellies, but better…somehow,” said one regular I spoke to.
Over its 55-year run, Walt’s has earned regional icon status in the smallest state in the U.S. Incorporated in 1957 in Cranston, RI and serving simple roast beef sandwiches, the company has since expanded to six locations, all in lil’ Rhody. With a famously small and focused menu, the self-declared “Roast Beef Specialists” have added a few other sammies to the menu, like pastrami, ham, and roasted turkey. But for my money, it’s all about the fresh, never frozen roast beef with mustard or mayo, and a side of some of the crispiest fries in the biz.
The name alone is enough to get my attention but this Northern and Central California chain of delis is much more than just a name. With shops located throughout the Bay Area, San Joaquin, Sacramento, and East Bay, customers come in droves for their high-quality meats, cheeses, bread, and cookies! Try the “Mr. Pickle” with chicken breast, bacon, avocado, and Monterey Jack, which one regular assures me is the best thing on the menu!
This Cambridge, Mass.-based company specializes in healthy, Middle Eastern-inspired food made in a highly sustainable way. Founded in 2008 by MIT material science grad and Harvard MBA, Ayr Muir, the company has MIT written all over it from its clean lab-like aesthetic to the mad scientist-looking tea and drip coffee machines. One of Muir’s goals when starting the food lab was to shrink the global environmental footprint of the food industry. Menus at the now 12 locations around Boston and Cambridge are hyper-focused on local ingredients and change daily, but some of the most popular selections include the chickpea fritter, vegan meatball, and fried plantain.
Maybe Portland isn’t the first place you’d think of to score a solid Bahn Mi, the classic Vietnamese street sandwich of meat, julienned vegetables, pate, and fresh herbs on a French baguette. Well, you’d be wrong. With three locations in Portland, Best Baguette has locals dashing in for their Bahn Mis—both classic, like grilled pork and chicken, as well as some more inventive spins, like the Saigon bacon or hot sardine.
I’ve thought about it long and hard and the buffalo chicken steak from Shorty’s has cemented itself on my personal Mount Rushmore (top 4) of sandwiches. This New York-based chain is admittedly Philly-inspired, serving classic cheesesteaks, among other great sandwiches like the aforementioned chicken steak, alongside cold beer in a casual sports bar setting. Shorty’s uses quality ingredients in its chopped meat creations, but what really sets it apart from the pack is some of the best fresh-baked sandwich bread I’ve ever had. With four locations in Manhattan, and one planned for Brooklyn, there’s no tellin’ how big Shorty’s will get.
Dat Dog (Louisiana & Texas)
While science continues to debate whether or not hot dogs are, in fact, sandwiches, we’ll just focus on eating them. This small Lousiana chain has only five locations (four in Louisiana and one in Texas), and has captured the hearts and stomachs of any carnivore within striking distance. Having opened its doors in 2011, and serving gourmet hot dogs, sausages (including vegetarian, vegan, and fish), burgers, and chicken with over 30 toppings available at no extra charge (!), it’s no wonder Dat Dog has expanded as fast as it has. With a craft cocktail menu and cold beer on tap, you’d be wise to make a visit during your next New Orleans jaunt.
If you’re looking for that classic Italian sandwich experience, you know, something Al Capone might have been seen spilling all over his suit, then Fontano’s is what you need, and Chicago is where you need to go to get it. Fontano’s invites diners with big appetites to come in for the famous meatball sub, sausage and peppers, or classic Italian, piled high with meats, cheese, and hot peppers. Established in 1960 in the Little Italy neighborhood, Fontano’s Subs has since expanded to multiple shops around town, much to the delight of hungry Chicagoans.
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Header image courtesy of Walt's Roast Beef