Off the Eaten Path

New York City’s Best Secret Sandwiches

Served in unlikely spots with little or no fanfare, these 10 stealth sammies magically alter what happens between bread.

Photo courtesy of Cemitas El Tigre

Katz’s sky-high pastrami on rye. Sal, Kris, and Charlie’s behemoth known as “The Bomb.” The “under-the-radar” Cubano at Margon. (Hate to break it to you, but it’s been above the radar for more than a decade.) By now you’ve eaten all of NYC’s beloved sandwiches, but the best ones are hidden in plain sight. You just have to know where to look—that unassuming corner bodega, say, or a spot that appears to be closed but actually isn’t. It’s bittersweet to disclose some of my most treasured places to the carb-loving masses, but I’m a giver by nature and so: You’re welcome. Oh, and, yes, a burrito is a sandwich. There, I said it.  

The Bodega B.E.C.

My weekly bodega B.E.C. (that’s bacon, egg, and cheese for you non–New Yorkers) at Naty Foods has that special oomph—a secret sauce reminiscent of In-N-Out’s, perfectly toasted Cuban bread, American cheese melted into buttery scrambled eggs, and a location that you can’t even find on Google Maps. 7 Hillside Avenue (off Broadway), Washington Heights

Photo by Jess Bender

The Southern-Fried Cemita

Our government may try to separate Mexico from the U.S., but Cemitas El Tigre unifies us with its mashup honoring both worlds: the Southern fried chicken cemita. The 10-layer mammoth consists of the usual Mexican sandwich standbys (smooth black bean puree, crumbled Oaxaca, avocado slides) along with the aforementioned buttermilk-fried poultry and criminally underutilized papalo herb, which tastes like a blend of cilantro, arugula, and lime mixed into one glorious green. 45-14 48th Avenue, Sunnyside

The Sauerkraut-Smothered Hot Pastrami

There’s no other place that speaks to my inner old-school New Yorker than a Jewish deli—and Ben’s Best is both no-frills and special enough to take your grandparents, plus every sandwich it serves is made with plenty of heart and a ton of coleslaw. My usual order is the hot pastrami with a loving smothering of house-made sauerkraut in between two pieces of rye; it should most certainly be yours, as well. 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park

Photo by Mike C./ Yelp

The Deconstructed Cuban

If you’re the sort of person who commemorates special occasions with sandwiches (and really, you should be), Coppelia’s Alambre would be the one to do it with. It flips the script on the quintessential steak dinner and transforms it into a hefty Cuban-style handful with medium-rare sliced skirt steak, sautéed peppers and onions, and Chihuahua cheese sprinklings. This has been my standard order when I’ve celebrated friends’ weddings, much-needed breakups, and quitting dead-end jobs. 207 West 14th Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), Chelsea

The Vesuvia Tuna

The sandwich maestros at Pisillo turned me into a firm believer of pairing fresh tuna with buffalo mozzarella, hot peppers, and balsamic vinegar; it also doesn’t hurt that the semolina hero they use for their Vesuvia is the length of my forearm. Eat one half immediately and save the other for the next day; the bread will soak up the juices from the peppers and balsamic by then and transform the sandwich into something even better, if that’s possible. 97 Nassau Street (between Fulton and Ann Streets), Financial District

Photo by Jess Bender

The Patacon de Pabellon

Bread is great and all, but I’d sandwich all of my food in between two slices of fried plantain if I could. Venezuelan hot spot Patacon Pisao caters to those cravings particularly well; its Patacon de Pabellon (stuffed with heapings of shredded beef and queso blanco, black beans, and sweet plantains) is the culinary equivalent of a loving gut punch. Locations in Washington Heights and Elmhurst, and on the Lower East Side

The Shrimp-Oyster Po’boy

It may look like Cheeky Sandwiches has been long shuttered, but don’t be fooled by its exterior. Inside is a bustling kitchen and one hell of a shrimp-oyster po’boy that stays true to its N’awlins roots—it even ships the bread straight from Gentilly. Order a round of beignets and chicory coffee for the complete Louisiana experience. 35 Orchard Street (between Canal and Hester Streets), Lower East Side

Photo by Michael Y/ Yelp

The Painfully Pleasurable Soppressata

In a sea of Italian flags, cannoli-filled bakeries, and penne, Tino’s Delicatessen remains one of the true-blue destinations on that foodie boulevard, Arthur Avenue. Make like a cafone and order the Godfather; a homey pile of hot soppressata, fried eggplant, hot peppers, and provolone that’s hard to refuse—and perhaps harder to digest. But worth the pain! The price is also particularly astonishing: $8.95 for a handheld feast that could easily sustain you for three days. 2410 Arthur Avenue, Bronx

The Burrito Sandwich

You thought we were done arguing about whether a burrito qualifies as a sandwich? Nope! Let’s discuss after you have the Cali-style burrito at Reunion Surf Bar; what type of floury vessel can handle the heft of beef chili, guacamole, and french fries (yep, these geniuses add fries to their masterpiece) other than a sandwich? 357 West 44th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues), Hell’s Kitchen 

Photo courtesy of Reunion Surf Bar

The Pleasant Finest Chopped Cheese

What native New Yorker would ever expect the humble chopped cheese to get its own New York Times profile, let alone its own gourmet cart inside Whole Foods? But you don’t need anything fancy when the best version is made at East Harlem’s Pleasant Finest Deli. There, the short order cooks’ love of mayonnaise takes this sandwich to a different level; the condiment is copiously slathered both before toasting the roll and during final assembly. And all you mayo haters can rest easy: The sammie is just fine without it. 375 Pleasant Avenue (at East 120th Street)

Have a “secret” sandwich you’re ready to share with the world…or at least me? Let us know!