If you hadn’t heard, it’s the holiday season – a season synonymous with the word “indulgence.” Oh, and the word “drinking,” of course. For frequent diners and homebodies alike, ‘tis the season to throw down hundreds of dollars for that one special meal that just wouldn’t seem sane at any other time of the year. And, having recently indulged in things like foie gras, pink champagne, and extravagant chef’s tasting menus, there’s no denying that fine dining holds a very special place in my heart. But you know what also holds a special place in my heart? A damn good sandwich.
There’s enough talk about the luxurious side of dining, so rather than throw those posts into the throngs of holiday write-ups, I’m saving those articles for a later date. Instead, let’s bring it back to the basics: bread, meat, cheese, veggies, and condiments. 5 components, 50 million different variations of the same basic concept. Although you can find a sandwich on every corner, certain restaurants have a gift for turning these mundane items into sandwiches that can stop you dead in your tracks. Here are the ones that consistently force me to stop everything and think, “Dear God that’s good!”
A Pressed Cubano at Ironside
I first declared my love for Ironside’s sandwich mastery in July when I outlined the reasons why, generally speaking, their sandwiches are a cut above the rest (i.e. the importance of the bread-to-meat ratio). Now, after having sampled most of the menu, it’s the Pressed Cubano ($12), with its moist, thinly-sliced layers of country ham and slow-roasted pork that is the ultimate show-stopper. Flavorful, juicy mixed meats paired with gruyere cheese and briny pickles, and then finally squished inside a perfectly-sized, toasted bun seems to be Ironside’s recipe for success. Although, I kick it up a notch by adding the accompanying side salad and pickled onions to the mix – maybe I like to fool myself into thinking that adding greens makes it healthier. Greens or not, this sandwich sets the standard for thoughtful, well-executed new-American style sandwiches in the City.
Bahn-Mi at Saigon Sandwich
Did you know that in the San Francisco land of “upscale,” high-priced sandwich shops, there exists a tiny, hole-in-wall eatery that serves incredibly flavorful, sizeable, sandwiches for $3.50 or less? No, I swear I’m not lying! It’s true! You just have to venture into the Tenderloin before 6 p.m. to find them. Although Saigon Sandwich isn’t putting many twists on this classic Vietnamese sandwich, there’s something about their combination of roast pork (which I order with the addition of pate), carrot, radish, onion, and cilantro that makes them special. Maybe it’s the freshness of the ingredients? Is it the perfectly crisp bun that brings it all together? Or maybe it’s just that extra shock you feel when you compare what you’re eating to how low the prices are? We may never know. But, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Really, the only thing you need to know is how to get as many as possible into your belly.
Pressed Focaccia at Mario’s Bohemian
Fatty salami. Warm ham. Melted cheese. Hot-pressed between two substantial slices of fresh focaccia bread. If that kind of unhealthy, dangerously delicious temptation doesn’t make your mouth water just a little bit, then you’ve clearly been missing out on some critical life experiences. Primarily those involving the consumption of far too much alcohol and the next-day’s subsequent desire to devour the fattiest, carb-filled food you can get your hands on. Only a few months ago in a post on Mario’s Bohemian, I described the absolute indulgence that is the Combo Hot Focaccia Sandwich ($7.75), using words like, “squishy, fatty, spicy, drippy, crispy, warm, salty, etc…” Should I go on, or are 7 adjectives enough? In a nutshell, this particular sandwich is both the epitome of overindulgence as well as being a perfect example of everything that’s right in the world. Just do it.
680 2nd Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
560 Larkin St. (btwn Eddy and Turk)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
566 Columbus Avenue
(between Green St & Stockton St)
San Francisco, CA 94133