Few culinary trends have exhibited the staying power of the classic sandwich.
In the creative hands of chefs all across the United States, this simple fare has morphed from meat, cheese and bread to a culinary art form. Here are eight iconic sandwiches, each as reflective of its city as the must-see sights on a traveler’s agenda.
The Philly Cheesesteak
On a visit to Philadelphia, a city in the Northeast state of Pennsylvania, you’ve got to do three things: take a picture of the Liberty Bell, run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art just like Rocky and eat a Philly cheesesteak. A crusty baguette filled with thinly sliced sautéed ribeye steak, onions, peppers and melted cheese, this classic sandwich is available all over the city, from food trucks to gourmet restaurants. For a local favorite, try Dalessandro’s Steaks & Hoagies in Roxborough-Manayunk, northwest of downtown Philly.
The Lobster Roll
If you’re ordering a lobster roll in Maine (and you should), you’d best drop the r and pronounce it “lobstah” if you want to fit in with the locals in this most northeastern state in the Northeast. There are many variations on the sandwich, but a classic lobster roll is made of chilled lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise and served atop iceberg lettuce in a split (possibly toasted) bun. In the tony resort town of Kennebunkport, try the Clam Shack, a homey mom-and-pop joint where you can pick up a stellar lobster roll for $17.95.
The Clam Shack
Known for its proximity to the white-sand beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, urban Tampa features delights all its own in Ybor City, founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers. Originally home to large numbers of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants, the neighborhood is also home to one of the city’s best Cuban sandwiches at the Stone Soup Company, made with ham, roasted pork, salami, Swiss cheese, pickle and a mustard-mayo mix on Cuban bread.
Stone Soup Company
The Muffuletta and the Po’Boy
New Orleans, Louisiana
Sitting on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain deep in the South, New Orleans, Louisiana, is known worldwide for around-the-clock nightlife — and not just during the famed Mardi Gras celebrations. Nola, as the city is also called, is the birthplace of not one, but two famed sandwiches: the muffuletta and the po’boy.
The old-timey Central Grocery, a small Italian grocery store with a lunch counter, is to thank for the invention of the muffuletta. It’s also still one of the city’s best spots to pick up the sandwich, which features marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, ham pepperoni, capicola, Swiss and provolone cheeses on a split muffuleta loaf (similar to focaccia but lighter in texture).
As for the po’boy — a split baguette holding meat (usually roast beef) or seafood (usually fried oysters or shrimp), lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise — visitors can find them all over the city. But one of the best spots is Avery’s on Tulane, where you can get all manner of fillings from catfish to turkey.
This town on the high plains of eastern Nebraska, a state in the Midwest, owes much of its historical growth to the opening of the Omaha Union Stockyards in 1884, which rivaled the Union Stockyards of Chicago for sheer number of cattle it processed. That is, until 1955, when it finally became the nation’s largest livestock market, a title it held until 1971.
It’s no surprise then that the classic Reuben sandwich, made of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on grilled marble-rye bread, was likely invented here in 1925 at the Blackstone Hotel, now called the Blackstone Center. Almost directly across the street from the former hotel is the Crescent Moon Alehouse, where its delicious Blackstone Reuben lives up to the original.
Hugging the banks of the Mississippi River in the southwest corner of the Southeast state of Tennessee, Memphis is — and was — a hot spot for blues music. The city’s most famous son is the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, who died at his Graceland estate in 1977.
He lent his name to one of his favorite meals, the peanut butter and banana sandwich, often referred to as “the Elvis.” Bacon has also become a popular addition to The King's recipe. Just over a kilometer from Beale Street, the family owned Arcade Restaurant has been in business since 1919, and serves up a mean fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, with bacon added at your request.
The Hot Brown
The Southeast state of Kentucky is known for horses, bourbon and bluegrass music. The state’s largest city, Louisville, is home not only to the Kentucky Derby but also to the city’s signature sandwich, the hot brown.
Originally created at the Brown Hotel in 1926, the hot brown is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and Romano cheese broiled until the cheese begins to brown and the bread gets crispy. J. Graham’s Café in the Brown Hotel is a great spot to try the filling fare.
The Hot Brown