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Sure, anyone can make a sandwich. But the best require so much more than some meat, cheese, and veggies slapped together. Some D.C. chefs agonize over the texture and density of their bread, spend months curing their own meats, and get far more creative than mustard and mayo with their condiments. In City Paper’s first Sandwich Issue, we’re exploring all the elements of the area’s must-try sandwiches. You’ll want to leave that brown bag at home. —Jessica Sidman

More from the Sandwich Issue:
Tinker Taylor Sandwich Guy: How Taylor Gourmet Develops New Hoagies
Behind Lyon Bakery Owner Alan Hakimi’s Quest to Make the Perfect Bread
Where to Get Deli Meats That Are a Cut Above the Rest
Garden Variety: Less Conventional Vegetarian and Vegan Sandwich Options
Local Producers Step Up Their Condiment Game
D.C. Sandwich Superlatives

Stachowski’s Market’s Hot Pastrami

1425 28th St. NW, (202) 506-3125, stachowskimarket.com
Price: $14.99

Very few sandwiches contain meat flavorful enough to be the only thing between two slices of bread. But the pastrami from Georgetown’s Stachowski’s Market is no ordinary deli meat. Fork tender and coated in a black crust of pepper, the thickly sliced pastrami is piled five inches high on pumpernickel toast slathered in yellow mustard. That’s it. Creating the pastrami requires a lot of care: Wet cured for a week, smoked for 11 hours, and sliced to order, the sandwich you’re served feels heavy with both meat and importance. The most critical thing required to consume this enormous offering, however, is someone to share it with. Weighing in at over a pound, this sandwich takes a village to consume. —Caroline Jones

Maketto’s Cambodian Num Pang

1351 H St. NE, (202) 838-9972, maketto1351.com
Price: $9

Sandwich lovers have long hailed the glories of Vietnam’s banh mi. Now it’s time for Cambodia’s sister sando, the num pang, to get some much-deserved attention. It all starts with a tubular baguette made in house by baker Erica Skolnik of Frenchie’s. Crunchy on the outside, the golden casing contains a soft core that’s scooped out to make way for fillings that contrast beautifully. Grilled pork and a swipe of pâté find balance in fresh jalapeños, basil, cilantro, and matchsticks of pickled carrots and radish. Each satisfying bite layers together an acidic pop, tiny jolts of spiciness, and meaty richness. —Nevin Martell

The Italian Store’s Prosciutto and Mozzarella Sub

5837 Washington Blvd., Arlington, (571) 341-1080, italianstore.com
Price: $8.99 for small, $9.99 for large

Beeline for the sandwich station and take a number as soon as you walk into the new Italian Store location, which opened nearly a year ago in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood. It’s twice as big as the 36-year-old original in Arlington’s Lyon Village and busy nearly all day long. Come well before noon on the weekends to get housemade mozzarella for your prosciutto sub. The salty cheese is made fresh Thursday through Sunday, but they often run out early. I order mine on a soft roll with shredded lettuce, sweet peppers, and sticky Honeycup Mustard. “Hope it tastes as good as it looks,” my smiling sandwich maker says as he hands it over, tightly wrapped in white butcher’s paper. It does. —Jessica Strelitz

Chase the Submarine’s Pork + Pickles

132 Church St. NW, Vienna, Va., (703) 865-7829, chasethesubmarine.com
Price: $10

If you invited someone who has pressed Cuban sandwiches all her life to a Hawaiian luau, chances are she’d create a stack like Chase the Submarine’s Pork + Pickles sandwich. “We take a whole shoulder and braise it in a shit-ton of pineapple juice and spices like cinnamon and allspice,” says chef Tim Ma. The pork gets three soaks in the juice, including when it’s heated in a pan to order. Ma’s team spreads a thin layer of Dijon mustard on a sesame bun from Lyon Bakery before topping it with pickled apples, dill pickles, lychees, Gruyere cheese, and bacon. The finished product hits a panini press for a warm, juicy finish that necessitates lots of napkins. —Laura Hayes

A Baked Joint’s Veggie #1

440 K St. NW, (202) 408-6985, abakedjoint.com
Price: $10

In a good sandwich, the bread doesn’t distract from the stuffings. In a great one, it adds to them. Such is the case with Veggie #1 at A Baked Joint, Baked & Wired’s sister restaurant, which bakes all of its breads in-house. The sandwich starts with a warm square of focaccia that’s spongy on the inside with just the right amount of crunch in the crust. If it isn’t fresh from the oven, it sure tastes like it. Layered in between are a swipe of smoked eggplant puree, a slathering of goat cheese, thick slabs of roasted sweet potato, tangy peppers agrodolce, and seasoned crispy kale chips. Naming this harmonious combination of ingredients something so basic as Veggie #1 is like reducing the White House to Building #1. Then again, it’s easy to see why this sandwich deserves first place. —Jessica Sidman

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Bub and Pop’s Bolognese Parmesan

1815 M St. NW, (202) 457-1111, bubandpops.com
Price: $8 for half, $15 for whole

A basic error in sandwich making is the careless layering of ingredients. If a sandwich has sauce, it shouldn’t only be in the middle. If it has tomatoes, they should probably make it into each bite. On the other hand, a consistent sandwich can turn monotonous if every bite is the same. Bub and Pop’s has an answer for this dilemma: the Bolognese Parmesan. The main component is a tomato-based ragout that includes large pieces of three distinct meats. One moment, you’re biting into smoky pork belly. A few bites later, you’ve got a mouthful of spicy Italian sausage. Then, suddenly, your sandwich becomes a meatball sub. The arugula and shaved pecorino Romano give the sandwich some extra range, and melted provolone holds it all together. —Zach Rausnitz

Duke’s Grocery’s El Trasero

1513 17th St. NW, (202) 733-5623, dukesgrocery.com
Price: $12

Duke’s Grocery doesn’t do small. Nearly every sandwich on the menu is supersized and bursting at its seams. El Trasero is not only big enough for two meals, it’s big on flavor. Juicy, spicy pork butt dominates the space between the ciabatta buns. Many meat-heavy sandwiches make the mistake of going too light on the counterbalancing acidic component, whether it’s pickles or slaw. Here, celery-fennel slaw, shredded thinner than the Iran-Contra documents, is heaped on in almost equal measure. Aleppo pepper, garlic aioli, and arugula are all the accessories the sandwich needs. The name El Trasero means “the butt.” Who doesn’t like a big butt? —Jessica Sidman

Republic’s Trancapecho

6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, (301) 270-3000, republictakoma.com
Price: $14

Whether you’re looking to have a no-holds-barred meal, are seeking relief from a hangover, or are stoned out of your noggin (bonus points if you hit all three!), this is the sandwich for you. At its center, you’ll find a crispy deep-fried chicken breast, which gets crowned with avocado slices, fried potato hash, and a sunny-side-up egg that pops when you take the first bite. The yellow yolk mingles with the smoked pepper aioli and pickled beet relish, which valiantly tries to cut through all the richness—and occasionally succeeds for a moment. Warning: You will be less productive after eating this, so plan on spending some time on your couch with a good book afterwards. —Nevin Martell

Straw Stick & Brick Delicatessen’s Muffuletta

5111 Georgia Ave. NW, (202) 726-0102, ssbdeli.com
Price: $12

Anyone with thumbs can stack cold cuts and cheese on a sliced roll and call it a sandwich. What makes this spin on the New Orleans classic stand out are its fancified toppings and heaps of housemade meat. An olive salad matches the saltiness of the deli’s soppressata, capicola, and mortadella but also offsets it with a slightly sour tang. Slices of pickled red onion and a healthy slather of mustard cut through the rich and fatty contents. The result is a meaty sandwich that packs a lot of bite with very little mess, making it a perfect sandwich to get delivered via Caviar or picked up for a picnic. —Caroline Jones

Pineapple and Pearls’ Egg Hash

715 8th St. SE, pineappleandpearls.com
Price: $7.50

Egg sandwiches are typically runny, cheesy hangover grub. Leave it to Rose’s Luxury’s new sister restaurant to turn it into something refined and suitable for consumption at all hours of the day. The sandwich starts with an egg hash packed with peppers, potatoes, and onion. Spicy salsa verde and sour curtido, a fermented Central American slaw, lend some brightness. Even the bread gets a fancy update: It’s made with masa and developed like a brioche dough, giving it both a deeper flavor and a soft, tearable texture. Served to-go in gold-colored foil and a gold-speckled white box, it’s the classiest sandwich in town under $10. —Caroline Jones

A. Litteri’s Classic Italian Sub

517 Morse St. NE, (202) 544-0183, alitteri.com
Price: $4.95 for six-inch, $6.50 for nine-inch $9.95 for 12-inch

A. Litteri has probably been described to you as “that Italian deli near Union Market,” but it far predates that bourgeoisie paradise. The shop opened downtown in 1926 and moved to an industrial area near Near Northeast in 1932. For the next seven decades, it held “local secret” status. But as more development has moved into that area—and with it, more people—A. Litteri has become something different: a place with time-earned cred. To get a taste of that old-world flavor, try the deli’s Classic Italian Sub, which features super-fresh capicola, Genoa salami, mortadella, prosciuttini, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot peppers, and Italian dressing. I chose the six-inch soft roll, which perfectly contained a tangy assortment of meats and cheeses dressed with just the right amount of Italian dressing. Even my day-old leftovers still had crunch. And really, what’s more satisfying than a hearty $5 sub that stretches across two meals? —Sarah Anne Hughes

Red Apron Butcher’s Porkstrami

Multiple locations; redapronbutchery.com
Price: $10

In Pennsylvania Dutch country, from which I hail, it’s tradition to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. It’s consumed to bring good luck, but also because it’s so damn delicious. Red Apron Butcher’s Porkstrami sandwich tastes like that meal went to New York, picked up some tips from a local deli, then jumped into a perfectly firm white-bread roll to bring you a few minutes of joy. The sandwich has two main components—pastrami-style pork and bacon-braised sauerkraut—and is dressed in mustard aioli and meat jus. It’s salty and rich with bursts of mouth-awakening mustard that cut through the fat. Despite its heaviness, I still had room to try my companion’s sandwich as well. Good luck, indeed. —Sarah Anne Hughes

Sundevich’s Kingston

1314 9th St. NW, (202) 319-1086, sundevich.com
Price: $10

This Jamaican-inspired sandwich is tropical enough to make you forget you’re eating it in a Shaw alley and not on a sunny beach. The shredded jerk chicken is slightly sour and smoky, but a sweet pineapple salsa cuts the flavor. Greens and peppery slaw lend a dose of earthiness, while a swipe of garlic mayo adds the cooling saltiness a sandwich this spicy requires. No one ingredient overpowers any other. The hefty sandwich measures close to a foot in length, but be advised it’s best not to save some for later. It becomes a mushy mess if you don’t eat it right away. —Caroline Jones

Bullfrog Bagels’ Egg, Cheese, and Corned Beef on Everything

1341 H St. NE, (202) 494-2609, bullfrogbagels.com
Price: $7

On a recent Saturday morning, I returned home with a sandwich from Bullfrog Bagels. Barely able to contain my excitement to eat the sandwich but bound by my duties to be a good apartment dweller, I left it in my purse as I went to the basement to put some clothes into the communal dryer. When I returned, my foster dog had consumed the entire thing. I laid on the floor and cried. That’s a very long way of saying that I really, really like Bullfrog Bagels’ breakfast sandwiches. I usually stick with an egg and cheddar cheese combo, but for something more substantial, the addition of corned beef on a everything bagel can’t be beat. The corned beef is tender—which is key, because these bagels are properly chewy—and the bread’s garlic and onion rounds out the salty flavor. This bagel is a complete meal on its own, for just seven bucks. —Sarah Anne Hughes

G’s Roasted Cauliflower

2201 14th St. NW, (202) 234-5015, gbymikeisabella.com
Price: $9

It’s got the heft of a meatball sub with all the juicy, greasy drippings. But the star of this sandwich is… cauliflower. The oft-maligned vegetable is roasted until it’s charred but still has a slight crunch. The sandwich is slathered with a zippy romesco sauce and sprinkled with arugula. Shishito peppers, which add a bit of bitterness and occasional punch of heat, are an unexpected but welcome party guest. And if cauliflower still has you picturing something dainty and unfilling, think again. Just half of this sandwich can easily make a full meal. —Jessica Sidman