If the back end of the 20th century’s culinary personality was dominated by discovery—of new foods and spices and cooking styles—then the 21st century so far is about liberation: unfettering familiar foods so they adopt those new influences and become richer. Nowhere has this been more evident than with sandwiches. Like burgers and soups and other previously predictable categories, sandwiches are being continually reborn.
At the same time, the definition of a sandwich has broadened and globalized. It now includes Mexican cemitas and tortas, falafel in pita bread, Spanish bocadillos, piadas wrapped in Italian thin-crust dough and more.
Gathered here are 50 examples of how a sandwich can be defined by creative culinary minds. All have been on menus in the past year, either as permanent additions or limited-time offers.
The origins of some of these American-born and bred sandwiches are in dispute. Two restaurants, for example—both in Los Angeles—claim to have invented the French dip with its sliced beef and au jus dipping sauce (the “French” part likely coming from the baguette commonly used), and the bickering over the true Philly cheesesteak is never-ending.
Others, from the classy club sandwich to barbecued pulled pork, are just quintessentially and simply American. What differentiates them today are the memorable spins chain restaurants and independents put on these popular builds.
Layers of sliced meats and cheeses and a signature bread—the basic equation for these delicatessen staples, which include reubens, roast beef sandwiches and Italian subs, doesn’t really change much as they migrate onto chain restaurant menus. In some instances, though, the ingredients and condiments may be more ambitious, adding extra flavors to the standard.
Just like mom used to make
Nearly everybody’s mother made one, and it was the best—that perfect, buttery, gooey grilled cheese or PB&J with just the right ratio of peanut butter to jelly. But that doesn’t mean restaurants can’t fiddle with these at-home favorites. Creative ingredients help take these sandwiches from nostalgic to craveable.
Restaurant: Erik’s DeliCafe; San Jose, Calif., area
What’s on it: Tuna salad made from Erik’s family recipe, cheddar cheese, fresh avocado, Erik’s “Secret Goo” (said by some to have 20 ingredients), slivered red onion and fresh tomato on freshly baked sourdough.
A twist on: Tuna sandwich
Worldly sandwiches—banh mi, tortas and Cubans, along with gyros, falafel and others—have become full American-menu citizens. Whether originating overseas or just over the border, or even in the rich ethnic cultures of communities within the U.S. (like Cuban sandwiches, which historians agree hail from Tampa, Fla.), the current appeal of global sandwiches knows no boundaries.
Fat Banh Mi-Ki
Restaurant: Fat Sal’s Deli
What’s on it: Sweet-and-spicy soy-marinated, thinly sliced rib-eye steak; Vietnamese pickled vegetables; onion rings; Szechuan slaw; tomato; sliced jalapeno; cilantro; Sriracha-teriyaki glaze; and mayo. Served on a garlic hero roll.
A twist on: Banh mi
Hot right now
Breakfast sandwiches and chicken sandwiches (and sometimes breakfast chicken sandwiches) are getting buzz on menus, driven by recent menu moves at big chains—including McDonald’s making breakfast an official all-day daypart.
Muscling in on the popularity contest are all-veggie sandwiches. As respect for healthy eating beyond vegetarian and vegan diets and Meatless Mondays grows, so too does demand for flavorful, meat-free options.
Here’s what’s on the menu in these trending areas.
Frick’n Chick’n Salad Roll
Restaurant: Pork & Mindy’s, Chicago
What’s on it: Brined, mulberry-smoked, hand-pulled chicken mixed with candied pecans, celery, green onion and cranberry on a buttered New England-style split-top roll with hot giardiniera and balsamic drizzle.
A twist on: Chicken sandwich