After making a sandwich, do you ever keep your knife, ingredients, and condiments handy in case you want to make another? I find myself doing this all the time simply because I love sandwiches that much. When I’m not raiding my fridge and putting giardiniera on everything, I’m ordering different creations from spots all over the city - especially from restaurants on the Lower East Side where I live. Here are some of the best sandwiches I’ve had recently from spots in the neighborhood.
This Dominican spot on the corner of Clinton and Rivington has been open in the neighborhood for over 40 years, and is my go-to when I’m looking for a sandwich that’s under $7. Their Cubano comes on a hard, crusty roll that holds all of the shredded pork shoulder, ham, cheese, and pickles in tightly. I’ve had this sandwich for a casual weeknight meal many times, most often when it’s 7:30pm and I’m still “brainstorming” dinner. Add on a side of crispy tostones, and know the spot is cash-only.
If you’re looking to try a newer Cubano contender in the neighborhood, check out Mi Salsa Kitchen. Their roll isn’t quite as crusty as Cibao’s, but the pork shoulder is just as tender and stringy and tastes great in the mess of pickles and thinly sliced ham. I know my colleagues down at Infatuation Miami might give me a hard time for this, but the Cubano is only improved with a dip or dollop of some of Mi Salsa’s other sauces - specifically the chimichurri or the mojo pickled onion-loaded criollo.
Kind-of-fried chicken sandwiches
This Essex Market Thai spot specializes in Hainan chicken rice, and their version involves super gingery rice, tender boiled chicken, and a couple of different sauces to pour on top. But the thing I always find myself ordering is their fried chicken bánh mì. Huge thigh chunks come on a large roll topped with a handful of crunchy cucumbers, carrots, and fresh herbs. Of all the sandwich options in Essex Market, this should be your first priority.
Even though there aren’t any appearances of katsu sandwiches on our best fried chicken sandwich guide, Evil Katsu has the potential to be the first included. This pop-up out of Pretty Ricky’s on Rivington and Ludlow (that has a full brick-and-mortar location in the works) serves their sandos on very fluffy white bread, with shredded red cabbage and carrots, and the perfect amount of nori Kewpie mayo. It reminds me of why I love sandwiches that have so many textures going on - first you get the poofiness of the milk bread that’s miles better than any white bread, then crispiness of the still-juicy chicken, the crunch of the vegetables, and finally the creamy mayo. The creation is quite big, but is one of those sandwiches you just can’t put down.
Depending on your geographical inclinations, this bodega that sells Mexican food on Ave B and 3rd isn’t technically on the LES, but it deserves to be on anybody’s radar in the neighborhood because of their tremendous tortas and tamales. I recently stopped in and opted for a chicken cutlet cemita, which comes on a sturdy seeded roll with crispy chicken, avocado, chipotle mayo, and tons of stringy Oaxacan cheese. I walk by this place every Sunday when I drop off my compost at the Tompkins Square Park farmer’s market, and now that I know about the excellent Mexican dishes here, I can already tell a plate of tacos or a torta are going to become one more thing I look forward to every weekend.
Another tamale and torta destination, Tamal Factory is an ideal stop after running errands, like going to the Canal Street post office, for example. Despite my exciting adventures buying stamps and listening to people yell about paying extra for USPS signature confirmation, the best thing about waiting in the long post office lines is knowing that I have a chicken tinga torta from Tamal Factory waiting for me. It comes loaded with black beans, jalapeños, chipotle mayo, avocado, lettuce, and tomato, has a nice spicy kick, is super filling, and costs under $10. I usually order a tamale or two for later, especially if I’m splitting the torta with my significant other (which is almost every time).