I have extremely generous friends. Friends who have recently let me stay with them, eat with them, and completely invade their personal space while I’m not on tour. Nestled in a neighborhood bordering Manhattan’s Little Italy (aka Nolita), their apartment is very close to some of my all-time favorite food finds. In particular, most of my favorite sandwich spots. How did I discover them? Months of grueling research, dedication, and a passion to give back to the greater bread, meat & cheese-loving community. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. For such a simple concept, a great sandwich with the proper ratio of quality ingredients is truly a rare work of art. A mathematical, architectural culinary masterpiece. And navigating through countless options in a big city like New York can start to feel more like tackling The Louvre Museum. So, as my time off comes to an end before SWMRS gets back on the road, I’ve come up with the 5 best sandwiches in lower Manhattan that WILL live up to your expectations (unlike the Mona Lisa).
When most people think of Italian sandwiches, they think of Italian subs. Big, meaty, greasy, delicious beasts that make you feel like Luke Skywalker and like the sub is the Death Star… While this type of sandwich rightfully has its place, I’ve found something different (…dare I say better?). From a charming hole in the wall on E. Houston street, Gaia brings you the “Classico”. This take on the Italian sandwich goes COMPLETELY against its stereotype and embodies the true core of Italian cuisine – using only the freshest, simple ingredients and letting the real flavors do the talking. Rather than a thick, white, Italian roll, they make very thin slices out of incredible homemade focaccia (I’ve definitely gone to this place and begged them to give me extra when they were closing up). The texture and thinness let you appreciate the incredible flavors inside. Which leads me to the mozzarella. Never in my life have I tasted mozzarella as fresh and light as this. To add some saltiness to the equation, they top it with a perfect portion of prosciutto, and follow that with the freshest arugula and tomatoes you’ve ever had. That’s it. Four of the most beautiful and simple ingredients that melt in your mouth in an almost sexual way. The best part? It’s not too big and it’s pretty cheap. Your stomach will thank you. Because you are not Luke Skywalker conquering the Death Star anymore. You are Han Solo and you’re about to get your chance with Princess Leia.
251 E. Houston Street
Hours: It varies, so call ahead to check if they are open 646 – 350 – 3977.
Fried Chicken? Pickled cabbage? Homemade gravy? Homemade biscuits?! Yes please. This Louisiana-inspired joint in the Lower East Side not only has fantastic service, but their sandwiches are out of this world. Like Gaia, Cheeky Sandwiches is a hole in the wall and also cheap as hell. My friend Josh and I have tried all of their sandwiches and poboys, and we’ve decided this is the best. Marinated in buttermilk and Louisiana hot sauce, the chicken is smothered in biscuit bread crumbs and then fried to golden brown perfection right in front of you. Having grown up on Bakesale Betty’s and Merrit Bakery in Oakland, I am extremely picky when it comes to fried chicken. This place is completely legit. The pickled red cabbage gives it an extra tanginess, perfectly complimenting the luscious gravy. You’ll want to grab plenty of napkins by the way. Sink your teeth into the homemade buttermilk biscuit and embrace the juices from the chicken dripping down your hands (hungry yet?). And if you really feel like going for it, ask for an egg on top. Enjoy with a bag of Zapp’s chips, a cup of chicory coffee and you’re going to be one happy camper.
35 Orchard Street
Hours: Open every day from “kind of early to kind of late” (7 or 8 am to 9pm weekdays and open till midnight on weekends)
The minute you walk into this place you feel hella cool. They usually blast some kind of gangster rap and chef/owner Eddie Huang’s Viceland show “Huang’s world” is playing on a loop on a flat screen. Known for its out of the box Taiwanese bun creations, Baohaus is a weekly visit for me. My favorite is the “Chairman Bao”, a pork belly-filled bun that will melt in your mouth. The pork is first braised and then coated in Taiwanese red sugar, which gives it this sultry glazed layer. After placing in their homemade bun, they top it with peanuts, “Haus” relish, and cilantro. It’s only $4, but it’s small, so you’ll want to order more and keep the flavor party going. Everything on their menu is top notch. Try the “Bird Bao”, a fried chicken bun with a lemon garlic aioli that will send your taste buds into drop-the-mic mode once again. Pair this with some homemade taro fries or sweet bun fries. You will thank me later. Seriously this place is so good. Finish it off with a cookie from Milk Bar around the corner if you’re looking for dessert.
238 E. 14th Street
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11:30 am to 11:30 pm, friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 3 am.
Getting a pastrami sandwich in New York is like getting sushi in Japan. Pastrami is everywhere, and places like Katz’s or the late Carnegie Deli have an old school monopoly dominance within the scene. However, I’ve found a true gem off the beaten path. Harry and Ida’s is a small “general store” located near Tompkins square park in the Lower East Side, and it is some of the best pastrami I’ve ever had. When you walk in, you’re immediately transported to another era (picture small town in the south in the 1950’s, except without the racism). Antique wood and pickled vegetables line the walls, along with an assortment of old school soda pop for purchase. I always get the Ida, a “smaller” version of their house pastrami sandwich, complete with a heap of fresh dill, homemade pickles, and thick spicy mustard. They have a few other kinds of sandwiches, but this is the best one. Their slow-cooked pastrami is extremely delicate and fall-apart tender. No chewy, borderline-jerky pastrami here.
189 avenue A
5. “Queso Oaxaca Torta” from Miscelanea
Growing up in California meant Mexican food at least once a week, twice a week whenever we went to So Cal. Tacos, burritos, or quesadillas by the beach in 75-80 degree weather wearing swim trunks is generally what comes to mind (Queue Let’s Go Surfing by The Drums). Never in my life had I taken the time to explore the delicious world of tortas. That is, until Josh discovered Miscelania and gave me a new-found appreciation for East Coast Mexican food. This little market near NYU specializes in these savory Mexican sandwiches, and I’m absolutely hooked. My favorite is the vegetarian option with Oaxaca queso. Unlike queso fresco which is creamy and soft, Oaxaca queso is semi-hard and has more of a string cheese-esque texture, like mozzarella or monterey jack. Layered between black beans, avocado, watercress, caramelized onion, and salsa verde, the cheese pairs perfectly with their signature crusty bread.
63 E. 4th street
If you’ve found love and comfort in that footlong from your favorite local American chain that starts with “sub” and ends with “way”, that’s your prerogative. But if you’re ever in Lower Manhattan, please take my advice. And be on the lookout for future sandwich guides tailored towards a city near you.