In Chicago, you can't swing a lunchbox without hitting a sandwich counter. Chicago is filled with sandwiches of all sorts, from local sensations like the Italian beef to international staples and hybrids in between. In honor of National Sandwich Month (hint: August), here's a list of some of the city's most superb sandwiches.
Nini's Deli (543 N. Noble St.)
One of the coolest sandwich shops in town can be found nestled on a quiet corner in Noble Square. Nini's Deli offers an array of Cuban-focused dishes, along with some curious Middle Eastern additions. It's a unique assortment to be sure, but it works wonderfully. The burlier Cuban sandwiches are great, but my favorite is the Cuban PB&J, an exhilarating refresh of the childhood favorite made with housemade guava jam, peanut butter and fried plantains. It's like an Elvis sandwich that went on vacation and got a tan.
Chop Shop (2033 W. North Ave.)
Part butcher counter, part bar, part restaurant, and part event and music space, Chop Shop is definitely one of the more unique places to score a sandwich. The deli sandwich selection is perhaps the best example of refined American classics, especially exhibited in Chop Shop's incomparable roast beef. This humble sandwich achieves a new stratosphere here, made with bottom round roast with mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil, and vinegar. As rich and decadent as beef tartare, it's meat at its most succulent.
Duran European Sandwiches (529 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
For a slice of something special in Chicago, head to Vienna via West Town. Duran European Sandwiches focuses on open-faced Viennese-inspired sandwiches in a gorgeous array of flavors. Aesthetics, layering, textures and flavor balance are paramount here, as evidenced in the artistic sandwiches, twee little creations ideally mixed and matched for a full meal. Flavors range from the Hungarian salam with French salad, Hungarian salam, spring garnish, cucumber, egg and green olive to crab salad with puda spread, lettuce, tomato, egg, peppers, dill and Creole seasoning, with a plethora of both vegetable and meat-centric options in between.
Nhu Lan Bakery (2612 W. Lawrence Ave.)
The greatest example of food fusion is the banh mi, an exquisite combo of Vietnamese and French ingredients married in perfect, toasty harmony. From pâtés and pickled vegetables, the sky is the limit when it comes to banh mi innards, as long as they're sandwiched within warm, crackly baguette. The template is best at Nhu Lan Bakery, a Lincoln Square sandwich shop that has perfected the sandwich formula. Of all the sandwich options, one of the perpetual standouts is the lemongrass tofu, a mildly spicy sandwich that does wonders with a surprisingly meaty tofu composition.
Bari (1120 W. Grand Ave.)
Comfort food reaches an apex at Bari, a grocery store/deli counter rich with old-school Italian charm. And meatballs. Of all the Italian subs to emerge from the well-oiled sandwich counter, the hearty and soulful meatball sub is among the finest. It's the length of a forearm, filled with loosely packed meat morsels, and slathered in tangy marinara sauce, all held firm by a perfectly doughy roll.
Cemitas Puebla (3619 W. North Ave.)
One of the more under-the-radar sandwich sensations in terms of ethnic dishes is the cemita, a sort of jumbo torta filled with hefty meats and served on sesame-laden rolls. The place to go is Humboldt Park's Cemitas Puebla, a diminutive and warming shop that pays dutiful homage to the Mexican behemoth. Most options are porky, notably the incredible milanesa made wit breaded butterfly pork chop.
Leghorn Chicken (959 N. Western Ave.)
Sometimes you crave a fried chicken sandwich but don't want to patronize a chain, especially a particular chain that champions bigotry. In which case you'd be wise to visit Leghorn in Ukrainian Village, a fried chicken sandwich shop that flies in the face of corporate frivolity and thinly veiled disdain for minorities. Here, all are welcome to feast on sustainably sourced chicken, available either spicy or pickle-brined, breast or thigh, on biscuit or bun. Have it your way. The best part is you can feel good about eating it, because not only are the chickens sourced from small local farms, but two percent of proceeds are donated to gay rights organizations.
Mercadito Fish (10 E. Delaware Pl.)
Over recent years, a lot of seafood spots have surfaced in Chicago, most of which offer their own version of a lobster roll. Amidst the sea of lobster rolls to roll into town, one of the best is at Mercadito Fish, the new seafood-centric restaurant from Chicago's revered Mercadito Hospitality. Of note about this lobster roll is how saline and refreshingly oceanic it tastes. Rather than stifle the lobster in mayo and seasonings, Mercadito Fish is bold enough to let the fresh seafood speak for itself. With appropriate support from a killer, buttery bun.
Photos: Chop Shop, Duran European Sandwiches, Cemitas Puebla, Leghorn, Mercadito Fish