With the influx of sandwich shops, you’d think this city’s moniker might go from Beantown to Subtown. Starting in 2012, we’ve seen a torrent of national chains onto the local market: numerous locations of both Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Firehouse Subs. Earl of Sandwich made its debut last year in a formerly vacant restroom building on Boston Common.
Despite the recent surge of national chains, we’ve got plenty of homegrown places. Clover Food Lab, which started as a single food truck in 2008, now has a small army of trucks throughout the city, and brick-and-mortar restaurants in Harvard Square and East Cambridge (with more on the way). Customers cue up for their vegetarian pita sandwiches and, during the lunch rush, very willingly endure a long wait for their order.
Cutty’s sandwich shop in Brookline, open since 2010, has a devout following and offers a wide variety of sandwiches, including the Spuckie: salami, capicola, and mortadella on ciabatta. They’ve also been holding a monthly “super cluckin’ Sunday” event, where they serve fried chicken sandwiches starting at 10 a.m. one Sunday a month, staying open only until they run out.
Also in Brookline is Dorado Tacos & Cemitas, opened in 2010, which has purposely bucked the burrito trend in favor of cemitas, a sandwich specialty of Mexico’s Puebla region. It’s one of the only places in the area that serves them.
A new arrival on the scene is Sa Pa, which opened in late February. Riding on the coattails of the nationwide banh mi trend, this spot on the outskirts of Chinatown offers traditional Vietnamese sandwiches with pork or chicken, but also a version with cured salmon.
Casa Razdora and the new A4 food truck (from Area Four) both offer piadina sandwiches. Piadina, a rarely seen Italian flatbread, is typically stuffed with cured meats and vegetables, but the sky’s the limit. Chicken katsu sandwiches are starting to pop up. Wichit on Newbury Street serves a fine version of this Japanese-inspired sandwich featuring a tempura-crusted chicken cutlet and a housemade tonkatsu sauce. In the Financial District, Asian sandwich bar Foumami serves a version on shaobing, a flaky Chinese flatbread.
When a park bench calls to you and you have but a brief time for lunch, here are some of the newer options you may not know about — but should.
115 Water St., Boston, 617-338-6700,
This Financial District spot opened two years ago and has become a favorite. Here the homemade bread comes rolled in a cylinder and can be filled with a variety of cured meats, cheese, and vegetables, just as it would be in Italy. “[Piadina] started in Italy on the Adriatic coast,” says co-owner Denise Santini, who runs Casa Razdora with her husband, Giancarlo Baldini, and cousin Robert Santini. “It’s a seaside sandwich to eat on the go from stands making them with fresh ingredients.” The aim is to create an authentic Italian lunch experience — so much so that Baldini, a native of Bologna, studied in Italy to learn the proper method of preparing piadina. Sandwiches cost $6.50-
$9. Bresaola (cured aged beef), with capers, roasted peppers, and lemon sauce is a pleasing explosion of salt and tanginess. On Mondays only, Santini braises pork tenderloin in beer, wine, and onions that’s available as a piadina and a stand-alone entree.
Dorado Tacos & Cemitas
401 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-566-2100,
Chef and owner Douglas Organ opened Dorado Tacos & Cemitas in 2010. In addition to tacos, he features cemita, a sandwich that originates in the Mexican state Puebla. This is one of the only places in the Boston area that serves cemita, which differs from the torta — a better-known Mexican sandwich — in a variety of ways. “The bun is what sets it apart, and the ingredients inside it,” says Organ. The cemita bun is basically a challah roll with sesame seeds. According to Organ, it’s what they use in Puebla. Because of the similarity to challah, Organ gets his rolls from a kosher caterer across the street. “We approached them and asked to replicate a roll for us using their challah. All we asked them to do was put sesame seeds on it,” says the chef.
Inside the cemita are a variety of fillings; choices include pork cutlet, grilled steak, homemade chorizo, and several vegetarian options. Then each sandwich gets black beans, homemade chipotle en adobo, Oaxaca cheese (like Mexican mozzarella), and a heaping mound of fresh cilantro. Prices range from $6.50 to $6.75.
“There’s a juxtaposition of a lot of things,” says Organ. “The bread and the saltiness and the creaminess, all these things together, it’s the sum of its parts. The sandwich needs all these components. If people start taking them away, it’s like, no, you need to have this all together. It’s designed that way for all the flavors to work off each other in a very playful manner.”
92 Bedford St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-303-7000,
Area takeout shops and food trucks serving banh mi sandwiches, traditionally made with pork, pate, and pickled vegetables, are increasing in popularity. At $6.54, Sa Pa’s banh mi are several dollars more than what you’d pay elsewhere, but only here can you get a cured salmon option. Owner Ky Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who also owns nearby Kingston Station, aims to re-create the tastes of his childhood. “I grew up with Vietnamese flavors,” says Nguyen. “With Sa Pa, I wanted to get people to try Vietnamese flavors but make it more approachable.” The restaurant is a collaboration with Kingston Station chef Dana Love, who helped develop recipes.
For the cured salmon sandwich, a crusty baguette is slathered with miso or red curry mayo, then topped with mushroom pate, sliced cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon. The salmon has been cured for 24 hours in sake, star anise, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel. The result is a dense, ruby-colored fish, and each bite of the sandwich is salty and peppery, tempered by the substantial baguette. “The magic of banh mi is it’s a really balanced sandwich,” explains Nguyen. “You get the pickled element, you get the pate, the fresh vegetables, the cilantro. With that combination, any protein can work well.”
CHICKEN KATSU SANDWICH
244 Newbury St., Back Bay, Boston, 857-277-1708,
This sandwich spot relocated from Lawrence in December. “Our goal is to make the best sandwich humanly possible,” says chef and co-owner Chris Young, a native Bostonian who operates Wichit with his aunt, Rose Young. A customer favorite is the chicken katsu ($8.99). Shortened from the traditional Japanese ton-katsu, the traditional version begins with a cutlet of meat that is breaded and fried. At Wichit, a chicken cutlet is dipped into tempura batter first, which results in a crisp cutlet akin to Southern fried chicken. Crispy sweet potato fries are tucked inside an egg-washed soft bun.
“When I create the recipes, I look for texture, flavor, and aesthetics all in one,” says Young. “Especially deriving it from Japanese cuisine, from a tempura you can get slices of crispy sweet potato. So why not put some crispy sweet potato fries in it?” The cutlet and sweet potato are served with shredded carrot, lettuce, and ton-katsu sauce — a mash-up of East and West with ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire, and soy sauce. To this, Young adds sake, mirin, and Asian pear. The result is equal parts smoky, salty, sweet, and tangy.
KATHI ROLL AND “NAANWICH”
485 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-643-0943,
Kathi roll (sometimes spelled “kati”) is street food in northeast India. It consists of meat or vegetables grilled in a tandoor, which are wrapped in a paratha — a dense flatbread cooked on a griddle in oil or ghee — along with a variety of vegetables, chutneys, and seasonings. This is India’s version of a burrito. Kathi rolls, dubbed “kathi kebab rollups” on the Punjab menu ($9.50) come with either chicken, lamb, or paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. Diners choose the level of spice. Be cautious if ordering anything hotter than medium, which we found hot enough that our lips were stinging an hour later. Have a mango lassi or a side order of raita to cool you down.
Also available is a “naanwich” ($7.50-
$9.50), similar to a kathi roll but served in traditional grilled flatbread that’s less dense than paratha. Fillings include tandoori chicken tikka, lamb sheesh kebab, and grilled vegetables. All are wrapped with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a curried yogurt dressing.
Grilled lamb naanwich is mildly spicy, loosely rolled and loaded with fillings, so though it’s technically street food, eat it sitting down. It couldn’t hurt to wash it down with a bottle of Kingfisher beer.
Other spots that offer kathi rolls include Chutney’s, 36 JFK St., The Garage, Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-491-2545; and 350 Longwood Ave., Longwood Galleria, Cambridge, 617-264-2100, www.chutneysma.com; and Dosa Factory, 571 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-868-3672.Matt Barber can be reached at email@example.com.