The Best Cities For Sandwich Lovers
Ah, the humble, universal and delicious concept of the sandwich. Meat, vegetables, cheese and sauce between two slices of bread or on a roll. And, each of those categories has dozens of options, all combined to create a million permeations of a final product. From the simple turkey and swiss on rye to the ludicrous Croque Monsieur, every culture, every taste and every economic class has not only a love for sandwiches but styles to call their own.
We all know the story of John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. What sounds like an aristocratic urban legend is (mostly) true. The modern-day sandwich indeed came about in England in 1762. It then came to America in 1837 by Eliza Leslie in her cookbook “Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches.” And then, it spread to every corner of the nation like mayonnaise all the way to the crust.
Americans have been eating sandwiches for nearly 200 years. In that time, we’ve come up with scores of ways to make them. And, along the way, every city has taken the art and made them its own. Many are known for their sandwich specialties. New Orleans has po’boys. Baltimore loves its pit beef. Philadelphia is famous for both its cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches. From Italian beef in Chicago to lobster rolls in Portland to spiedies in Binghamton, every city has its fave and its fave spots for it.
But, among all these varieties of sandwiches, subs, hoagies, melts, grinders, heroes, dagwoods and clubs, what cities stand out?
The best cities for sandwiches and sandwich lovers
There are 700 cities and towns in the U.S. with a population of more than 50,000, and every one of them loves its sandwiches. But, we needed to find out which of them were the best cities for sandwiches. Now, this isn’t where the best sandwiches are, but where access to and availability of sandwiches are second to none. So, for each of those 700 cities, we researched and uncovered every single deli and sandwich shop within the city limits. That’s an incredible 56,000 sandwich spots in all.
From the 3,000 in New York City on down, we then calculated the number of sandwich joints in each city per square mile and per capita, ranked and averaged them. From that list of most ubiquitous spots to shop, the following are the top 10 best cities for sandwiches and their biggest fans.
10. Washington, D.C.
There’s a legend surrounding one of Washington, D.C.’s most famous sandwiches, the G-man at Mangialardo and Sons on Capitol Hill. The story of its creation dates back to two FBI agents in the 1970s. One day, the agents stopped in and asked for something new and special. The owner whipped up this original Italian sub with ham, salami, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone, fontina and hot peppers. They loved it so much, the word quickly spread and the small shop was soon overrun by other G-men wanting a taste.
In such a diverse city with many transient residents from around the country and numerous foreign lands, you must have a diverse food scene, as well. But, one thing that transcends culture and history is the sandwich. And, you can find some of the best (with or without mumbo sauce) at one of its 700 spots like A. Litteri, Capo Delicatessen, Lee’s Sandwiches, Bub and Pop’s or the original Wagshal’s on Massachusetts Avenue.
9. Marietta, GA
No one knows downhome, made-to-order, piled-high, stick-to-your-ribs food than cooks, chefs and sandwich artists in the South. From muffalettas to brisket sandwiches, hot chicken to hot browns, sandwiches are comfort food and a way of life. Such is true in Marietta, GA, an edge city that’s Atlanta’s sixth-largest suburb. A combined military, industrial and commuter town, Marietta is a city that knows its food. And, as the city with the fourth-most delis per capita in the entire nation, it also knows its sandwiches.
That’s one of the reasons why Alton Brown, celebrity chef and one of the world’s foremost food history experts (and California native), chose the northwest suburb as his home. And it’s where you can find some of his favorite sandwiches like Jake’s Sloppy Slaw Burger at Red Eyed Mule and anything on a roll at The Butcher The Baker. Or, discover spots on your own like The Lunch Basket, Canvas Café & Bakery and McAlister’s Deli.
8. Berkeley, CA
Berkeley is small — the 10th-smallest city by area of the 700 in our survey — but it’s mighty. Inside its diminutive borders, there are 12½ delis per square mile, fourth-most in the nation. The Bay Area town serves many — grad students, economists, hippies, baristas, football fans — but one thing they have in common is a love of sandwiches. Where better than a college town to find great sandwiches to grab on the way to class, for a big study session or late at night after bars close?
One long-time favorite is the Daily Sandwich at Standard Fare. The beloved spot only offers two sandwiches, one meat, one vegetarian, but the ingredients stuffed inside two slices of house-made focaccia rotate daily. Elsewhere, you have to grab heaven in between bread at Star Meats, Augie’s Montreal Deli, Café Panini downtown or Stuffed Inn, just across from UC Berkeley’s North Gate Hall.
7. Albany, NY
New York City gets all the sandwich glory. The pastramis on rye, the Reubens, the corned beefs, the chicken parms. But, just two hours up the New York State Thruway is the state capital of Albany, which is also New York State’s sandwich king. Albany is chock full of former New York City transplants who brought their trade north, making the government town also a sandwich town.
Albany has a long sandwich history, much of it dating back to 1967 and Mike’s Neba (“nicest eating beef around”) in Albany. While the shops don’t exist in Albany anymore, many fondly recall the iconic Mike’s Submarines and Neba roast beef sandwich shops. Today, Albanian sandwich lovers can find their own favorites at spots like Pellegrino Importing Co., Ragonese Italian Imports, Cardona’s Market and DiBella’s Subs.
6. Pensacola, FL
Picture this. A brioche bun filled with a full softshell crab, fried shrimp and pork belly topped with crab remoulade, parmesan crab mac and cheese and two hush puppies. That monstrosity is the Crabzilla. Originated at Pensacola’s, Blue Wahoos Stadium, the sandwich is the best New Ballpark Food Item in the country, according to Ballpark Digest. Don’t think the Florida Panhandle is a hotbed for sandwiches? Think again.
Need further proof? The military town, more Deep South than a sunny resort, has the second-most delis and sandwich shops per capita of any city in the country. Among its 112 sandwich joints are favorites like Fatboiz, Costello’s Butcher Shop, Hub Stacey’s and Kingfisher.
5. Jersey City, NJ
Call it pork roll (like they do in South Jersey) or Taylor ham (as they do up here), it doesn’t matter when it comes to the taste of the Garden State’s favorite meat product. Put the salty, sweet pork round on a breakfast sandwich or a hoagie and you’ll beg for another taste. That’s just the tip of the deli meat scene here in Jersey City’s, largest city.
You better bring the goods if you’re going to sit right across the river from sub haven New York City. Jersey tomato sandwiches, fat sandwiches, Jersey Sloppy Joes (not what you think) and traditional subs and hoagies are abundant. Its 243 delis are the second-most per square mile anywhere in the nation. Don’t miss the eats at many of these, including Andrea Salumeria, Second Street Bakery and Salumeria Ercolano.
4. Miami, FL
Sandwiches in Miami only fall into two categories: Cuban sandwiches and everything else. That is a big part of the reason that Miami, with its 569 delis – third-most among the top 10 – ranks third in the nation in the density of sandwich joints. And, along with the turkey subs and roast beefs, nearly all of them serve an outstanding Cuban: ham, pork and Swiss panini laced with pickles and mustard.
Sitting at the intersection of Latino and Caribbean cultures, particularly Cuban, food is integral to Miami’s social society. Check out some of the best Cubans in the world at spots like Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop, Sanguich De Miami and Sarussi Subs. But, don’t sleep on other deli sandwiches from Hungry Bear Subs, Babe’s Meat & Counter and popular local chain La Sandwicherie.
3. Wilmington, DE
In many ways, Wilmington mirrors its neighbor Philadelphia, just smaller. The cities — just an hour from each other down I-95 — both lie on the Delaware River, have similar vibes, are full of history and are abundant with trendy shopping and innovative eateries. And, they both love their sandwiches. The city in Delaware has an abundance of sandwich jawns. It ranks fifth in delis per square mile and third in delis per person. That’s the top average in the nation. Wilmington, DE, sandwich mecca.
This is still the greater Philadelphia region, so the king of the sandwiches is the cheesesteak. The top of the line is Yatz’s Subs and Steaks served on a thin roll. Others highly regarded include Scalessa’s ‘My Way’ Old School Italian Kitchen, Gaudiello’s Italian Hoagies and Little Vinnie’s Pizza. But, like in Philly, the true city classic is the roast pork sandwich, done fabulously at Goodfella’s Steaks & Subs.
2. Sarasota, FL
What is the top city in the country for the most delis per person? If you guessed Sarasota well… you didn’t. No one would. But this city of 55,000 has one deli for about every 400 residents. That’s a lot of sandwiches. And, the formula is easy. First is the influx of residents from the sandwich-loving north. It’s one of the most moved-to cities in the nation. And second, the Tampa Bay region is a hotbed for Florida’s cherished Cuban sandwich, though theirs has salami whereas Miami’s does not.
For proof, just drop by JR’s Old Packinghouse Café, serving one of Florida’s best Cuban Sandwiches. Elsewhere, there is a number of Sarasota sandwich shops that have been at it for a long time. Main Bar Sandwich Shop has been in the game for nearly 65 years. And, Anna’s Deli has been serving deli faves for over four decades. But, also don’t miss out on the Normand at C’est La Vie! or the Harbor Master at Michelle’s Brown Bag Café.
1. San Francisco, CA
It might surprise you to see San Francisco atop this list. Sandwiches are often workaday and on-the-go simple. Despite ranking among the most expensive cities with the highest average rents and the highest cost of living, San Franciscans are like anyone else. They love their sandwiches. Just the 17th most populous city, San Francisco has the sixth-most delis, with over 950 across the city. That gives it the top spot in the country for the number of delis per square mile.
One of just two West Coast cities among the top 19 best cities for sandwiches, San Francisco knows the California take on sandwich love. Sandwiches here have eclectic spreads and toppings, salty and sweet profiles and crisp textures. It enjoys an abundance of locally-grown meat, cheese and toppings. Varieties are endless, bay to ocean.
One of San Francisco’s OGs is Freddie’s Sandwiches, an institution for nearly a century and a long line of celebrity fans. But there are plenty of other beloved sandwiches to experience, including the Turkey Butta at Le Beau Market, Black Forest ham and Swiss on popular Dutch Crunch at Molinari, Mortadella at Lucinda’s Deli and The Ron at Deli Board.
The top 50 cities for sandwich lovers
As you expand the list out to the top 50, you start to see some of the more populated regions and the nation’s most important sandwich cities. Here’s where spots like New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Pittsburgh (and its fries-on-sandwich claim to fame) rank among the best cities for sandwiches.
To determine the best cities for sandwich lovers we looked at every city in the U.S. with a population of more than 100,000 and at least one deli. From there, we divided the total number of deli establishments by the total population and multiplied by 100,000. This gave us a list of cities with the most number of delis per 100,000 residents.
We then repeated the calculation for the number of deli establishments per square land mile, which gave us a list of cities with the most number of businesses per area calculation. The cities with the highest combined scores, weighted equally, were deemed to be the best cities for deli lovers in our quantitative report.
Data used in this report comes from the following sources:
- Total deli-related establishment counts are from a database of commercially-available business listings. These listings are from September 2022 (the most recent data available) and may not reflect recent closures due to the pandemic.
- City population comes from the U.S. Census Bureau 2022 population estimates.
Rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.