The Best Sandwiches in San Francisco

This post originally appeared in The Bold Italic on 10/22/14. 

(My Between Two Slices column in SF Weekly is a result of version 2.0 of this post which was slated to come out less than two weeks after The Bold Italic ceased operations. Enjoy!)


Oct 22, 2014 at 6am

Warning: reading this will make you hungry.

San Francisco is #blessed with some of the finest sandwich shops in all of the land, thanks in part to the blend of cultures that are so close to each other geographically. You could take a leisurely stroll to North Beach for a classic Italian number-one day and hit the FIDI for roast-beef amazingness for the second. You can stop at a signature Jewish deli in Nob Hill or walk another few blocks to a place with “the best Vietnamese sandwich in America.” There are Korean steak subs in the Mission, and the turkey sandwich of your life is a stone’s throw away from Golden Gate Park. Is your mouth watering yet?

The SF Sandwich List is a collection of the finest offerings in town. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

1. Molinari’s

373 Columbus Avenue (North Beach)

This is what an Italian-deli experience should feel like: take a number, choose your own bread, wander around aimlessly looking at Italian-market specialties while you wait your turn, and have your order figured out by the time you’re up (this last part is very important). Molinari’s famous white-skinned salami is a national staple. Their prosciutto tastes like Italy, and sandwiches like their Renzo Special (prosciutto, coppa, fresh mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes) and the Molinari Special “Italian Combo” are just to die for. Molinari’s lives up to the hype. Period.

2. Cafe Bunn Mi

417 Clement Street (Inner Richmond)

Take everything you know about traditional bánh mì sandwiches, and throw it out the window when you order the Crispy Duck Bánh Mì here. It’s quite possibly the most perfect sandwich in the city and represents a new-school twist on a Vietnamese classic. Everything about this sandwich is crispy, from the carrots and the slaw to the jalapeños and lightly fried duck with sweet sauce (oh, the sweet sauce!). It’s the holy grail of the sandwich lineup for the largely collegiate crowd that comes to the cafe.

3. The Sentinel

37 New Montgomery Street (Financial District)

Don’t be afraid of the long lines during weekday lunches at this FIDI staple. The Sentinel is a well-oiled machine of an operation, cranking out daily rotating sandwiches like curried lamb and eggplant with chickpeas and herb pesto or the best damn rare roast beef sandwich in the world with ridiculously amazing horseradish cream cheese, smoked onions, and frisée.

4. Lucca Delicatessen

2120 Chestnut Street (Marina)

DISCLAIMER: you might want to buy everything in sight at this classic Italian deli. Family operated since 1929,Lucca features classic sandwiches such as the #1 Italian Combo (salami, ham, and mortadella) or a traditional muffaletta (Genoa salami, mild coppa, mortadella, provolone, and muffaletta mix on Acme focaccia) and even has a sandwich named after Giants playoff legend Pat Burrell. This place has sodas, a marble slab with over 50 kinds of cheese, homemade minestrone, and more.

5. Ike’s Place

3489 16th Street (Castro) 

The most media-famous sandwich shop in SF, Ike’s is a survivor and a cultural staple of sorts. After they were almost evicted in 2010, SFers rallied to save the shop, and IKE’S LIVED! A move to 16th Street a year later saw Ike’s embodying the resiliency that personifies San Francisco. The most creatively saucy sandwiches on SF sourdough or Ike’s famous Dutch crunch draw a line out the door daily. Try the Ménage A Trois (BBQ, cheddar, halal chicken, honey mustard, pepper jack, honey, and Swiss) or the “secret” Don’t Fuck with EK (chicken, teriyaki, wasabi mayo, mushrooms, and Swiss). If you’re feeling crazy, there’s the Kryptonite (avocado, bacon, onion rings, EXTRA pepper jack, ham, mozzarella sticks, pastrami, pesto, roast beef, salami, jalapeño poppers, and turkey). Yes, you read that correctly.

6. Deli Board

1058 Folsom Street (SOMA)

“Chairman of the Board” Adam Mesnick’s Midwest-inspired sandwich shop is can’t-miss stuff. While their sandwiches are the most expensive on the list ($11–$14), they have the kind of sandwich that you eat slowly, because every bite brings so much joy. Try the “$$$” (brisket, corned beef, kosher salami, Muenster cheese, cheddar cheese, cherry peppers, cole slaw, and Board sauce on a French roll). Deli Board’s sandwiches are truly a work of art, and they linger on the palate long after you’re done.

7. Saigon Sandwich Shop

560 Larkin Street (Civic Center) 

A traditional slice of Vietnam, right here in the city. The New York Times said that the humble Tenderloin sandwich shop’s bánh mì “may be the best in America.” No frills, no talk, no credit cards. Order your $3.75 sandwich to go, and walk down to UN Plaza to eat it on the grass on a sunny day. The three ladies behind the counter are focused and do this well. The spiced pork and pork meatball bánh mì are highlights, and the cabbage, carrots, jalapeños, and other vegetables are as fresh as can be.

8. Porcellino

1550 Church Street (Noe Valley) 

Chris Cosentino is a master in every sense of the word. The reigning champion of Top Chef Masters openedPorcellino in the wake of his wildly popular Incanto at the same location. Porcellino is a scaled-back version of Incanto, but with prominent shades of the adventurous menu of old. Walk in and order one of their traditional hoagies and grinders, like the Boccalone Combo (meats vary daily, but generally it contains some blend of prosciutto cotto, salami, coppa, etc., with provolone, arugula, and hoagie dressing), the life-changing meatball dip, or the unbelievably overflowing porchetta sando. Sit at the bar or grab a table after ordering. It’s a great vibe.

9. Fat Beli Deli

106 Burrows Street (Portola)

This is a gem in the outskirts of the city, a no-nonsense deli with Giants and 49ers swag adorning the walls. Order the Al Capone (salami, pastrami, pepperoni, provolone, peperoncini, olives, pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato, Italian dressing, and garlic spread on a sourdough roll) with a cup of one of their delicious rotating soups. If you become a regular, they’ll even keep a punch card for you on file. Now THAT’S local.

10. Arguello Super Market

782 Arguello Boulevard (Inner Richmond)

The best turkey sandwich in town. The minute you walk through the market’s doors, you’ll notice a dozen-plus golden turkeys spinning in a rotisserie oven. You can choose white or dark meat or both on your choice of roll. Walk around the market, pick your favorite drink while your sando is being prepped, and then sit outside on the edge of Golden Gate Park to eat the divine creation you ordered.

11. Miller’s East Coast Deli

1725 Polk Street (Nob Hill) 

A taste of the East Coast in Nob Hill? Yes, please. A traditional Jewish deli, complete with hunks of cured pastrami, brisket, and corned beef right before your eyes, ready to be sliced to order. The Reubens and Mile Highs reign supreme here. Pull up a chair and marvel at “a whole bunch of crazy crap on the walls” (c. “Uncle” Moe Szyslak), or get it to go. If you’re under the weather, get a half pastrami and some chicken noodle with matzo ball soup. Jewish penicillin and cured meats will put a smile on your face.

12. Gilberth’s

2427 3rd Street (Dogpatch) 

Gilberth Cab has been making fresh daily roasts and braises in the Dogpatch for over four years. He and his wife, Julia, owned Oralia’s Cafe before expanding into the brand-new chic space down the block on 3rd Street. On any given day, the braised sandwiches can range from pulled baby back ribs to peanut-braised duck confit. The daily roasts vary from pollo encebollado to slow-roasted lamb, or you can always fall back on the triple pork Chancho Sandwich (pork loin, prosciutto, bacon, Gruyère and red-wine-braised fennel). You can’t make this stuff up.

13. La Torta Gorda

2833 24th Street (Mission) 

La Torta Gorda’s Poblano-style tortas never met a hangover they couldn’t cure. The harmonious mixture of meat and queso fresco, refried beans, avocado, onions, just the right amount of mayo, and jalapeño on a torta roll is a late-Saturday-morning favorite. Once inside, you’ll feel as comfortable as if you’d just stepped into a humble Mexican diner in the state of Puebla.

The pierna enchilada is succulent pulled pork and a go-to choice. La Torta Gorda can even keep it simple with classic carnitas or carne asada and still be the best torta in town.

14. Guerra Deli & Meats

409 Taraval Street (Sunset) 

Who better to make a meaty sandwich than a butcher, amiright? Open since 1954, Guerra’s is the sandwich jewel of the Sunset district. With Italian-style hoagies named Toscano (salami, coppa, and pepperoncini) and Roma (roast turkey, pesto, and mozzarella), you can’t go wrong.

15. Rhea’s Market and Deli

800 Valencia Street (Mission)

This Mission staple in the heart of the Valencia Street Corridor has a wide selection of subs and offers bench seating outside to eat your sando while people watching. The Korean steak sandwich is epic Mission fare: Bulgogi beef, cheddar cheese, house pickled red onions and jalapeños, lettuce, chili sauce, and garlic aioli on an Acme sweet roll. Nomster. Oh yeah, Rhea’s is also a full-service liquor store, so grab a tall boy or a flask of hooch while you’re at it.

16. Lou’s Sandwiches Cafe

5017 Geary Boulevard (Central Richmond)

Wanna know a secret? Lou’s has the best bread of any sandwich shop in the city. Brought in daily from Bordenave’s Bakery in San Rafael, it’s the epitome of what Dutch crunch should taste like: not too thick, but just thick enough to provide flavor and hold together a sandwich that’s truly an essay in balance. Lou’s brings together cold cuts, fixins, and an incredible jalapeño spread without taking the focus away from any item. Try the Ultimate Club with roast beef, ham, turkey, salami, AND bacon!

17. Little Lucca Sandwich Shop

724 El Camino Real (South San Francisco) 

A bonus listing here outside of SF, Little Lucca’s in South City is in a small house with a deck that looks like it’d be right out of Rainey Street in Austin. The sandwiches are absolutely massive and come with a unique marriage of hot pepper sauce and what they claim to be the “original” garlic sauce. If you find yourself down on the peninsula, stop in for a Lucca Combo (mortadella, ham, and salami) or a Lucca’s Chipotle Bird (chipotle turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, vidalia onion dressing, and roasted red peppers). You won’t be disappointed.

What’d we miss? Tell us about your favorite sandwiches in the comments section.

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