You need a good sandwich place or two in life, both a spot around the corner from your apartment, and a destination place you’re willing to go out of the way for because it’s that good.
But what a sandwich place? What are its essential qualities? Is a deli a sandwich shop? What about a restaurant known for its sandwiches? Do bagels count? (No, they do not). Don’t think too hard about it. These places don’t just serve fantastic things like subs, bánh mì, and jibaritos, but in the sacred art of the sandwich. You will find cafes, family-run spots, delis, and 100-year-old institutions on this list.
This iconic family-run Italian deli and sub shop in the West Loop has been around since 1937, long before the West Loop was the Disney World of restaurants. The industrial-looking exterior hasn’t changed since the neighborhood was full of meatpacking warehouses, and inside they’re making some of the most delicious Italian subs and sandwiches in the city. And now that J.P.’s takeout window is open until 1am on the weekends, it provides a way better late-night option than we deserve.
Good luck walking away with less than six sandwiches per person from Tribecca’s. This counter-service sandwich spot in Avondale has nine to choose from, and each one we’ve tried has been unique and delicious. Their flavorful version of a Cubano is made with mojo pork, ham, chipotle aioli and mustard butter on pressed ciabatta. The horseshoe—an open-faced sandwich on Pullman bread topped with two beef patties, cheese sauce, and fries—will obliterate any hangover. And they have a sloppy and perfect “Maidwrong” made with steak sauce aioli. The sandwiches are all filling enough to qualify as a three-course meal on their own.
If you don’t think sandwiches are exciting, Tempesta Market will change your mind. For one thing, most of the options at this counter service restaurant and specialty market have about 841 ingredients that somehow all work together. Then there’s the quality of the individual components, like the house-cured meats. They have sandwiches like The Dante (which has an entire deli counter worth of meat and a spicy ’nduja aioli) or the Beet Streets (thinly shaved beets and apples with homemade almond butter). Along with some of Chicago’s best sandwiches, you can also pick up prepared foods like potato and pasta salad.
JT’s Genuine is a sandwich shop in Irving Park with a menu of about 13 sandwiches that are so meticulously constructed it seems like they were engineered by NASA. There’s a breaded pork tenderloin that’s beautifully tender, and thinly pounded so that the meat is sticking out of the buttery bun like one of Saturn’s rings. The “roast turkey” is actually a Thanksgiving sandwich, a perfect balance of cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mayo on thick, toasted white bread. The counter-service space is small, but there are a few tables if you want to eat there. And if you get your sandwiches to go, everything is carefully wrapped and travels very well.
Like politics, Malort, and choosing which Lollapalooza headliner to see, Italian beef allegiances can easily ruin friendships. We’re here to fuel the debate—the Al’s in University Village makes the best in the city. The fluffy bread perfectly soaks up everything—the meat juices from the tender slices of beef marinated with a decades-old secret spice recipe and their robust jus. Make sure to order some of that liquid gold on the side for mandatory dunking.
This Puerto Rican spot has some of Chicago’s best jibaritos. Their crispy plantain sandwiches come with all sorts of fillings like tender steak with grilled onions, blood sausage, or juicy roast pork. Plus, at around $10 each, they’re affordable. But what completes each sandwich is their potent garlic spread that adds flavor, and also ensures that no one will want to ride the elevator with you. They have three locations: Dunning, Logan Square, and Lincoln Park which has a full bar and is more of a sit-down restaurant.
Hermosa (located in, you guessed it, Hermosa) is a Cambodian tasting menu restaurant at night, but a sandwich shop by day. Their motto is “Can you sandwich it?” And the answer appears to be yes because everything we’ve tried here isdelicious. Like the moo ping with tender pieces of pork, chili sauce, and toasted rice on a roll. Or the incredible Cambodian fried chicken. The thigh is brined with lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric, tossed in fish sauce, and then fried in rice flour. After that, it’s topped with sweet and spicy pickled papaya and put inside a brioche bun. Please, go order from here immediately.
Loaf Lounge is most famous for its sausage, egg, and cheese, but there’s more to get excited about at this Avondale bakery, particularly in the sandwich department. Their BLT kicks things up a notch with savory and slightly spicy housemade jalapeno cheddar bread. Then there’s the turkey sandwich, known as the Stanley. It’s savory and herby—the ramp pesto, manchego, arugula, and cheesy focaccia are a wake-up call to never settle for a boring turkey sandwich. Just know that these are only available starting at 11am and seating is limited—but hopefully, the hordes of breakfast sandwich-eaters will have left by then.
Not only does this New Orleans-inspired Hyde Park spot have the best po’boys we’ve encountered in Chicago, but it’s also a blast. The spacious counter-service restaurant has a full bar, live music, and makes boozy hurricanes that aren’t too sweet. Along with the aforementioned po’boys (like fried shrimp, fried green tomato, and a peacemaker-fried oyster and roast beef) the menu has classics like boudin balls and a rich seafood gumbo.
From the crackly housemade baguette, to the large variety of delicious proteins, our heads make an turn whenever we hear someone talking about Nhu Lan’s bánh mì. Plus, this Lincoln Square bakery sells great Vietnamese sandwiches for less than $10. We like to alternate between the Nhu Lan special topped with ham and fatty head cheese, or the #2 made with chunks of sweet roast pork. Both also get plenty of flavor from pate, crisp vegetables, and a sweet mayo that’s made in-house.
Chicago has a ton of Mexican restaurants, so at any given moment you’re just a short walk away from a torta. But Torteria San Lenchito in Albany Park might be the most prolific torta-maker in the city. This small spot has 26 different types, with a framed photo of each one on the wall. There’s no such thing as a bad choice here—from simpler tortas like al pastor or carne asada, to the San Lenchito: slow-roasted pork, ham, poblano peppers, onions, and melty American cheese.
PQM is a butcher shop, cafe, bakery, and mini market. But its best role is as a casual cafe from morning until early in the evening, where you can get some great sandwiches . The selection changes, but there are a few staples, like the “Parm # 2” – a chicken parmesan sandwich with fried sage, and a tomato basil sauce.
This classic Italian sub spot holds a special place in our hearts. During our former life, we used to eat at Fontano’s minimum once a week. Our usual location on Jackson St. has since moved to fancier digs around the corner on Michigan Ave., but you can still count on an excellent, no-frills sandwich on the cheap.
Manny’s is a classic Jewish cafeteria and deli in the South Loop, and they serve great deli-style sandwiches, particularly the corned beef. Add a giant potato pancake for $1 more.
Xoco is from the same team as Frontera Grill, and located right next door in River North. Well, it’s also located in Terminals 1, 3, and 5 at O’hare, but this is the one we’re going with. Xoco specializes in delicious tortas, like the ahogado made with carnitas, black beans, and pickled onions submerged in a tomato-arbol chile broth, or the pepito that has short ribs with caramelized onion. It’s one of our favorite spots for an affordable lunch in the neighborhood.
Ba Le Sandwiches in Uptown is perfect for a quick bánh mì pick me up. There are 16 different sandwiches on the menu of this counter-service spot, including vegan and vegetarian options. You can eat your way through the entire menu (we have) and count on your bahn mi being great—served on crusty french bread, and paired with crisp pickled daikon, carrot, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. Plus, they have deli cases full of buns, sausages, meats, and pastries so you can grab pre-packaged food to take home.
One of our go-to spots for a quick sandwich in the Loop. We like rotating between the classic Cubano and the Guava with tender roasted pork or chicken, covered in a tangy guava BBQ sauce.
As its name suggests, Southtown Sub serves up a bunch of different subs (and a pretty good Italian beef). But the main reason to visit this take-out-only spot in Greater Grand Crossing is for Chicago’s underrated icon: the Gym Shoe (or Jim Shoe, though no one knows who Jim is). It’s a behemoth, with roast beef, gyro meat, and corned beef all stuffed in a sturdy French roll. But the fun doesn’t stop there—it’s loaded with a messy-but-delicious combination of cheese, tzatziki, mustard, mayo, and grilled onions. Both hands and a bunch of napkins are a necessity, but it’s a sandwich that makes ending up with tzatziki-painted eyebrows worth it.
Lucky’s is one of our favorite stops in Wrigleyville for a sandwich and a beer in a bar setting. They have thick-cut, soft white bread that’s stuffed with your choice of meats, cheeses, and french fries. The whole french fry in the sandwich situation might not be new, but it’s still great. Make Lucky’s a go-to stop before or after any Cubs game. Tomatoes, coleslaw, and fries come standard on top of every. Not with, on.
Bari comes from the same mold as JP Graziano’s in that it’s also a small, family-run Italian market serving up delicious sandwiches. It’s right on on the border of West Town and River West, and has been around for over 40 years. In addition to cold subs, there are a few hot sandwiches. Opt for a 3-foot sub and feed your friends, or, just eat a 3-foot sub.
Wyler Road is definitely a sandwich place, but it’s also very much a restaurant you want to sit down in. By day, Wyler Road is a cafe. But at night, Wyler Road feels like a combination of your neighborhood cafe and local dive bar, except with great sandwiches, great service, and wonderful cheese curds.
An old-school, casual pizza place in Bridgeport that’s famous for it’s sandwiches. Actually, more like one sandwich in particular. The massive breaded steak sandwich with a giant, breaded piece of steak topped with a ton of melty cheese and marinara on french bread. Add giardiniera and you’re good to go.