The Best Sandwich Shops in NYC
photo credit: Emily Schindler
New York City has a fantastically wide range of sandwich shops, with corner delis that have been around since before ironworkers took lunch breaks high above the skyscrapers—and new spots that look more like chemistry labs than lunch counters. With visions of drowning in hot marinara, or being pressed between slices of rye (not a bad way to go), we set out to determine the best of the best. Many cross-sections photos later, here’s our list of the top sandwich shops in NYC, and our favorite order at each one.
A West Village staple with an army of employees pacing behind an L-shaped counter, Faicco’s has been on Bleecker Street since the 1940s. Originally, it was just a pork store, but now the little shop sells Italian pantry items, prepared foods, and oversized sandwiches that could sink a small sailboat if thrown correctly. Head to the back, and you’ll see a few whiteboards with signature offerings, like a meatball parm and a sandwich with sausage with broccoli rabe. If you’re feeling like a pioneer, you can customize your order with anything from sundried tomatoes to fistfuls of bacon.
The Order: The sandwich that comes with a stack of chicken cutlets, stretchy melted mozz, and housemade pesto that leaks out the sides.
Defonte’s is the old school Italian sandwich shop blueprint. They serve big fat sandwiches with names like Italian Stallion and The Zio Vito, there's someone who drove in from Jersey standing in line next to you, and the person behind the counter might be a little peeved that you’re trying to order at 3:15pm, even though they close at 4pm. A visit to this cash-only spot in Red Hook is the best Saturday adventure, and if it’s nice out you can head down to Louis Valentino Jr. pier and eat there.
The Order: Absolutely anything that has a layer of fried eggplant on it—which is most sandwiches here. But we like the Italian Stallion, with fried eggplant, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and a half inch thick layer of prosciutto. And yes, the macaroni salad is good.
You may have to wait half an hour on a Lower East Side corner to get your food at Katz’s, New York’s most legendary Jewish Deli. You’ll also need to hold tight to your paper ticket, and know exactly what you want—or get ready to be bullied by the person taking your order at the counter. And yes, that’s $27.45 for a pastrami sandwich. A sandwich that, by the way, could probably sustain the Maccabees through all eight nights of Hanukkah. Play by Katz’s rules, and you’ll be rewarded with Meg Ryan-in-When Harry Met Sally levels of elation.
The Order: If you’re by yourself, get the following combo: half hot pastrami on rye (with a nice schmear of mustard), and matzoh ball soup. That should keep you full until tomorrow.
Ba Xuyen makes some of the city’s best bánh mì, and all eight of the sandwiches on their menu are $7.50. The counter-service spot is take-out only, so head to a bench in Sunset Park for your first bite of the bánh mì thịt nguội. Flaky baguette, a world of pork, crunchy, pickled vegetables, and mayo, plus sriracha if you went spicy (go spicy), all washed down with a Vietnamese iced coffee. Once you’ve come off the pork high, walk 20 minutes to Thanh Dah, another premiere Sunset Park banh mi spot, and do a highly scientific, side-by-side comparison.
Your Order: The #1 (the classic bánh mì thịt nguội). Also the #7 (sardine) or #8 (grilled pork).
You’ll look like Edvard Munch’s "The Scream" when you eat the extra-tall cemitas at this Sunnyside spot, but you’ll enjoy every minute of it. Pork, short rib barbacoa, and even Southern fried chicken cemitas are available, stacked with Oaxaca cheese, chipotle puree, and more delicious stuff. Order at the counter and then hang out at the eight-seat bar, where you can also get one of those frozen margaritas with a beer bottle in it.
The Order: The chipotle puree is the magic ingredient in all the cemitas, but the carnitas version has an extra five-spice kick, and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
Mama’s Too on the Upper West Side does some of our favorite pizza shop sandwiches, and no part of our obsession hinges on the fact that they’re only available for lunch twice a week, and sometimes require waiting in a half-hour line. Instead, it’s all about the sesame-speckled semolina bread, stuffed with the day’s special: a chicken cutlet dripping with vodka sauce and burrata, juicy eggplant parm, cheesesteak or french onion ribeye, meatballs with marinara, or something else entirely. Show up before they open at noon, and check their website—you can sometimes pre-order two sandwiches for pick-up or delivery and skip the line.
The Order: Whatever they have on the Wednesday or Saturday that you can get there. Keep an eye on their Instagram for sandwich announcements.
James Cameron’s Aliens. Bladerunner 2049. Dune starring Timothée Chalamet. You might be wondering, “Why are these crackpots talking about science fiction reboots on a sandwich guide?” That’s because they, like S&P Lunch from the people behind Court Street Grocers, took a beloved 20th-century classic, and revived it. S&P has the look and schtick of classic NYC delis and luncheonettes, but a menu that has the creativity that put Court Street Grocers on the map in the first place.
The Order: For novelty, try the Dinkelburger—a burger with a piece of pastrami on top. But we actually like the classic pastrami on rye even more.
More Cubano places should put a slice of salami on their sandwich, like Margon does. This busy counter right off of Times Square is one of the area’s most reliable lunch spots, and they have a few tables where you can wait for your order—which should be that time-tested combo of buttery toasted bread, roast pork, ham and salami, plus pickles, swiss cheese, and mustard. If it’s your fourth visit to Margon this week, the steam-tray options, like red wine-infused oxtail, roast pork, and rice that’s the color of an orange Fanta are pretty great too.
The Order: The Cubano. As a bonus, it’s served with soup or rice and beans.
Your mission at Casa Della Mozzarella is very clear: fresh mozzarella, preferably in between bread. This Italian grocery specializes in stretchy fresh mozz and other pasta filata cheeses. Much of the meat is imported from Italy, as are the cheesemaking techniques, but all the stirring and pulling is happening here in the back, with several batches a day. Plan on taking your sandwich to go—the only standing room inside is in the single file line along the antipasti counter of your dreams. Go ahead and get a carton of spicy olives while you wait.
The Order: The classic Casa—fresh mozz with prosciutto, sun-dried peppers, and balsamic on a sesame hero—lets the mozz shine, but the Carcio with roast pork is good if you need something more filling.
A quick-stop, counter-service shop with locations in the East Village and Midtown, Rowdy Rooster is an Indian-inspired fried chicken joint with five spice levels ranging from a relatively mild garam masala to a tongue-twisting scorpion chili rub. Finished off with some scallion yogurt, red onions, and mint-cilantro chutney, these are among the city’s best fried chicken sandwiches. For you vegetarians—Rowdy also does one of the better versions of vada pao, topped with super spicy thecha,between buttered rolls.
The Order: The fried chicken sandwich comes into two sizes—a Big Rowdy on a potato bun, or the smaller Lil’ Rowdy on a buttered pao roll. Nothing wrong with the potato bun, but we like to get one each of the Lil’ Rowdy and vada pao.
New York has more than its fair share of dedicated sandwich shops featuring artisanal breads, gourmet ingredients, and the lot. Still, roughly 99% of all the sandwiches consumed in the city come from delis and bodegas. But while we’d normally agree that the best bodega is the one closest to you, some are truly better than others. Sunny & Annie’s in the East Village is worth stepping out of your usual radius. Their giant menu of creatively named sandwiches includes lots of Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese ingredients—plus, they’re open 24 hours.
The Order: The Kimchi Bulgogi Sandwich has Korean marinated beef, noodles, kimchi, avocado, and it’s perfect for a big lunch in Tompkins Square Park.
If we had an award on this guide for the most pillowy soft bread made in-house, it would probably go to Taku Sando. It’s a small Greenpoint shop from the people behind Takumen, one of LIC’s best izakayas, and did we mention how good their milk bread is? They use it to sandwich juicy katsu cutlets, creamy and sweet egg salad, and to bread their potato korokke.
The Order: Ton-Katsu Sando. It’s classic, it’s rich, there are textures galore, and it does the best job of showcasing the shokupan.
Little Kirin is, as the name suggests, a little shop. It’s in the East Village, and only has five things on their menu, most of which incorporate Vietnamese and other Asian ingredients. Technically they have 15 things on the menu, because each of their sandwiches can be turned into rice bowls or salads, but you’re here for the sandwiches, which are served on a ciabatta-like bread that soaks up the saucy meats, while still retaining its texture.
The Order: The banh mi is their most popular sandwich, but we’d recommend the Grandma’s Braised Pork. It’s warm with five spice and sesame, and feels light for a porky sandwich.
No, we’re not claiming to have better Italian Beef than they do in Chicago. We know we don’t, just like they know we have the better pizza. But for the best NYC has to offer, head to Bobbi’s, a casual spot in Cobble Hill where you can sit in a pizza parlor-style booth and experience bread melting in your mouth under the weight of hot, wet, glistening beef. Your week probably can’t get much better than that, unless you go for the Cheesy Beef, which has the same bread and beef, but also hot, thick, melty cheese.
The Order: Italian Beef if you appreciate tradition, Cheesy Beef if you’re willing to put it all on the line in the name of a life-altering sandwich. You’re probably also curious about the Chicago Dog. Order it.
This Irish grocery store in Sunnyside sells Cadbury, Tayto crisps, and other UK goods, but the deli in the back is why it's so popular. If you’re staring at the menu of hot food specials—everything from Shepherd's Pie and sausage rolls, to baked ham and roast beef—and thinking, hey, this would be great between some bread, they can make it happen. But they have an extensive sandwich menu if you don’t want to spend time thinking about what else goes well with blood sausage. The sandwich artists at Subway have nothing on these people. (Also, their pastrami is some of the best in the city, but don’t let anyone in the Katz line find out.)
The Order: Roast Beef. Freshly sliced, juicy roast beef with just a little mayo and Coleman’s English mustard.
Carmenta’s is a pretty small space in Bushwick that does technically sell some pasta dishes and things like meatballs and arancini, but you come for the sandwiches. While your first might be to order something classic like their chicken parm or Italian combo, you should know that Carmenta’s has some of the best fried eggplant in New York City–so focus your attention towards that section of the menu.
The Order: The Dom G with fried eggplant, ricotta, roasted peppers, red onion, mint and tomato vinaigrette. Eat it fast, before the eggplant has a chance to absorb any liquid.