HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


Looking for Italian sub in SF, specific requirements

Every once in a while, I get a craving for a specific type of sandwich that I haven't been able to find since moving out here from the east coast. Of course, I've had lots of great sandwiches here -- but my craving will only be satisfied by some very specific requirements:

First of all, I'm looking for the classic mixed Italian sub, typically found at any deli in NY, NJ, etc. Nothing gourmet or fancy (I like those sandwiches too, but again, looking to satisfy very specific craving), several different meats, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions, maybe hot peppers and olives and most importantly -- *oil and vinegar*. All on good crusty Italian bread (not sourdough, or dutch crunch, or foccacia, or anything else. Again, I love those breads too, but not for this specific sandwich). Meats should be Boar's Head or something similar quality.

No mayo or mustard, or garlic spread, or hot sauce, or anything else. I keep trying a lot of deli recommendations, and they want to put mustard and mayo on my sandwich, and don't know what I'm talking about when I ask for oil and vinegar.

The ideal place for me would be one where I walk in, ask for a mixed Italian sandwich, and all the above requirements are met by default.

Can anyone help out? I live in SF, work in South SF, so anything in the city, or even the peninsula would be fine.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't know if you will be able to get exactly what you are looking for at the Little Lucca deli (on El Camino Real in Millbrae/South SF), but I would definitely put it on the list of SF Bay Area sandwich shops to try. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

    By the way, living in the SF Bay Area, you will have a hard time finding NY-style pizza, pastrami or bagels as well. Get over it!

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT

      Thanks, I will try Little Lucca, but have already tried Roy's Deli and Darby Dan's, and Little Lucca sounds similar?

      Also, I am definitely not complaining about the food here -- since moving out, I've discovered so many new things food-wise that I will never be able to do without (good Mexican food, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, etc, etc, etc,)

      But for some reason, the sandwich craving remains. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion.

    2. I'm from NJ originally and feel your pain. Gambino's at Embarcadero One in SF does a decent sub - oil and vinegar, but no hot cherry peppers! I usually get their salami & provolone. They also do a good sausage & pepper sub.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Concetta

        I thought Gambino's offered hot cherry peppers? They're menu refers to "hots" being available at no extra charge. Maybe they're not the right peppers, though.

      2. Palermo Delicatessen in North Beach does a pretty good job for a Italian Sub.

        Nothing like-
        If you are ever in Santa Barbara a Tino's Italian Grocery is a must get sub- my dad use to take me there when it was on Olive street in a little house in the late 60's, then I went there all through high school order the Super Deluxe, they have the most amazing olive oil and vinegar dressing ever!!
        415 E. De la Guerra St

        1. I'm on a similar search, with no really fantastic results to report. However, I have been known to make do with an italian combo at Genova's Deli in Oakland (on Telegraph at 51st). I have them hold the mustard/mayo, and do oil and vinegar. They use balsamic vinegar, however, which does change the flavor. They have a wide assortment of breads to choose from, none of which is *exactly* right, but at least you can make your own selection.

          Other places I've tried: The sub shop in West Portal in SF, Lucca's on Valencia St. in SF, Ratto's in Oakland (not in a long time though, as they don't have much selection anymore), and recently, East West Deli on Polk Street. East West's sub description sounded just right, using all the words that would push my buttons, but the reality didn't match the prose.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jillyju

            I had similar impression of East West, which I tried a few times when I used to live in that nbhd. Somehow, it always came close, but never quite hit my expectations. I still think it's a great place though, albeit a bit pricey for what is essentially deli food.

          2. Since you live in SF, at least try Andiamo deli on Elizabeth and Diamond in Noe Valley. The guys who run it are both from NYC and you can "train" them to make the sandwich the way you like it. I always have to remind them to NOT put mustard on my sandwich (always the Italian combo by the way). Other than that, the end result is quite good. Great bread, great meats, I'm pretty sure you can even ask for the peppers. Once they know you you can just say my (Plambert's) usual sub and they'll know, but always follow with "no mustard" darnit !!! Maybe they will already know if you say "Jersey-style."

            1 Reply
            1. re: NoeMan

              This sounds perfect, especially since I live in Noe Valley. Will definitely be hitting this soon. Thanks for the suggestion.

            2. I second Little Lucca's and a huge value to boot. Also Ratto's on Washington and 8th/9th in downtown Oakland has the ingredients you're looking for (oil, vinegar, selection of breads, selection of meats) and will make it how you want. Been around for 100 years plus.

              1. I spent 5 years in Rhode Island and have been very disappointed in the Grinder situation in SF. I think you should try Molinari on Columbus Avenue. About two weeks ago I had just what you are looking for. The counterman asked me if I wanted mustard and mayo and didn't blink when I asked for oil and vinegar.

                1. How about Molinari's in North Beach? Or Freddies' also in North Beach?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: SoMaHound

                    You know, it ain't exactly it ... but Submarine Center in West Portal somehow satisfies the itch. Molanari's is sort of ok, but just not it. Freddies Sandwiches in North Beach (300 Francisco) is good and a fine fix.

                    1. re: rworange

                      No one has the crushed cherry peppers and as much as I love the bread in San Francisco, you really need the soft crusty italian roll that only seems to be found on the East Coast. My experience is much like jillyju's. Genova has the meat down, but they use balsamic vin and the bread is close, but just not quite there.

                      So, after 16 years in the bay area, I simply look forward to trips back East for a really good grinderhoagiesub.....

                      1. re: jdm

                        Wow, thanks to everyone for all the great suggestions. I will definitely try to get to all the places mentioned, at least those on this side of the bay.

                        1. re: jdm

                          Acme in the Ferry Bldg has soft crusty rolls that my husband and I have recently fallen in love with. I never noticed them before, but they have had them consistently for the last several weeks and they are great for those types of sandwiches!

                        2. re: rworange

                          That was going to be my rec. too. The Submarine Center does a great job...and they're nice, too...bonus.

                      2. Don't laugh, but the Quizno's Classic Italian makes a pretty good approximation when liberally doctored with banana, jalapeno and pepperoncini peppers from their pepper bar. I say this as someone who also misses the East Coast style sub and brings home several jars of B&G crushed red peppers each time I go back.

                        And if you happen to find yourself in LA, try Giamela's (just off the 5 east on Los Feliz) and get a large Italian combo. Specify "no mustard no mayo, Italian dressing on the side" then dress to your liking.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: otis

                          On the peninsula, Little Lucca will do, and A. G. Ferrari will be decent.

                          In LA, much better is Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica: 1517 Lincoln Blvd.

                          1. re: gigondas

                            For the first time, I tried Little Lucca today -- long line even at 3pm, but moved pretty well. What a bargain!! They have 2 kinds of turkey, I got the fresh roasted with cranberry, cream cheese and all the other stuff they put on it -- what the hell. It was only $6.50 total and would feed 2 normal people.

                        2. I'm not from the East Coast, but Lucca Deli on Chestnut does a good job with sandwiches. They don't bat an eyelash if you ask for oil and vinegar, they stock just about all the Italian goodies you'd want in your sandwich (not 100% sure about your crushed red peppers, though I've had little tiny red peppers stuffed with something or other out of their deli salad section), and they have other tasty food items like cheeses and pastas. They're not cheap, but I think the price is fair for the bread (Acme) and meats. They get busy on weekends, but you can call in your order and you don't have to wait in line.

                          Note that Lucca is not related to the Lucca on Valencia St., which may also be worth a try. I like the Chestnut Lucca over Molinari's, but neither compares to my hometown Giugni's Deli, with their "Giugni Juice" which is essentially oil and vinegar with herbs in a big bottle that they shake up and dribble all over your sandwich. Giugni's isn't super fancy, in that they don't use better products than boar's head meats or organic heirloom tomatos, but their sandwiches are much greater than the sum of their parts.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: SteveG

                            Lucca on Chestnut: Sandwiches are good and not too pricey but LOOK OUT -- I was in there last week and the prices are really out of this world. Coleslaw and other salads were about $7.50 lb and Tuna salad and lemon chicken were about $13.50 lb. The one thing I can't resist there is the frittata made with swiss chard -- it's up to about $8.50 lb.

                            1. re: SteveG

                              I could swear that Lucca's on Chestnut has the peppers but maybe it's not exactly what you are looking for. They do have an incredibly broad range of bread choices and you can even order online: http://luccadeli.com/sandwiches/

                              1. re: chaddict

                                I'm virtually certain Lucca's has both hot and sweet peppers.

                            2. Molinari's is my fave - great meats and cheeses, only oil and vinegar, some roasted peppers, and the bread is pretty crusty. Their sister restaurant at the Ferry Building, Mastiacelli's (whose name I always murder) will work in a pinch.

                              1. If you can venture down to Redwood City, try the Woodside Deli on Woodside Road. (try the Godfather, hold the artichoke hearts): http://woodsidedeli.net/sandwiches.htm

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: mspea

                                  I was just going to pipe in with the EXACT same comment! a godfather from woodside deli is the best damned deli sandwich. I get acute physical cravings for it.

                                  1. re: mspea

                                    Swung by Woodside today and had the Godfather -- hold the artichoke hearts, substitute cherry peppers for pepperoncini, and hold the vinegar (just my taste).

                                    Even though they sell both hot and sweet cherry peppers in the jar, they only had sweet at the deli for sandwiches so I asked for a sprinkle of crushed red pepper to add the bite. Whew doggie !! What a great sandwich.

                                    I took it down the block to the Saddle Room ("Redwood City's Oldest Neighborhood Bar") and washed it down with a Wheat Beer with lemon (shoulda had a Bud I know!) and talked surreal estate prices with the retirees. What a trip down memory lane. Gotta make this trip Plambert !!

                                  2. If you're serious about this, make an effort to try Genova's in Oakland. Still the gold standard for Italian delis (west OR east coast) in my estimation. Make sure to pic up some pesto and linguine, too.

                                    1. I don't think you're going to find what you're looking for out here, but Genova Delicatessen in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland serves a reasonable facsimile. You have a choice of meats, cheeses, oil and vinegar, bread, veggies, but be forewarned the provolone out here isn't the same sharp provolone to which I became addicted on a visit to Philadelphia three years ago.

                                      I usually get mortadella and galantina on a wheat roll with lettuce, onions, muffaletta olive spread, a bit of mayo with pickles and peppers on the side. This gives me a fresh, tangy tasting Italian sandwich, but not the intense flavors of a Rocco's hoagie from Philly. They also have good macaroni and potato salads and small, tasty salami cacciatore.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                        Don't know if this is true of Genova, specifically, but I've found you have to ask for "aged" provolone to get the sharp stuff outside of Philly. Definitely second the potato salad, which is excellent. I also forgot to mention in my last post that I'm a big fan of Genova's marinated mushrooms, artichoke frittata, and (if they still make them) fried artichoke hearts.

                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                          I haven't found a sharp provolone out here that matches what I had in Philadelphia. I tried the Cheeseboard, Market Hall and talked to my longtime Genova sandwich maker. No luck.

                                      2. I am from North Jersey and know exactly what you are talking about. The closest I can think of to a Jersey style deli is Freddie's. It even looks like a Jersey deli. The only caveat is that I always get my sandwich on hard sourdough, so I am not sure if they have anything approximating "crusty Italian bread".

                                        Perhaps you could bring your own bread and have them make it for you.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: MikeW

                                          Aaah, Freddies. Takes me back a few decades to when I lived in the neighborhood, and would pick up a sandwich to take to the Marina Green. Loved the nondescript hole-in-the-wall character of the place, the overcrowded shelves, the overloaded sandwiches, the cheap prices. For nostalgia, this is my definitive Italian sandwich.

                                          1. re: Sharuf

                                            I was there in the early 80's when I was attending middle school next door, lol. I wonder how Freddie's is now? Should pay em a visit since I'm still in SF.

                                        2. Just wanted to mention that I will slowly work my way through everyone's suggestions -- but I am at this moment eating a sandwich from Roma's Deli in San Bruno (based on other Chowhound threads about lunch in/near SSF), and it is pretty damn good.

                                          I was pretty excited when I walked in: Boar's Head meats and a "combination" sandwich on the menu, which turned out to be an Italian combo. Didn't bat an eye when I specified leaving off mustard and mayo, and oil and vinegar instead. The bread is decent, crusty. Strangely, when I asked about peppers, the young man making the sandwich said they only had a hot pepper cheese, so I told him to not worry about it. But when I was looking in the deli case, while waiting to pay, I saw cut up pepperoncinis and jalapenos with the other sandwich fixings, and noticed them listed on the menu as extras. Apparently we had some kind of miscommunication. Also on the menu, I noticed as I was paying, is a New York combo -- Italian meats, provolone, and oil and vinegar. I'll be trying that one next time.

                                          So anyone struck by a similar craving who is in the area should check this place out.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: plambert

                                            That sounds great, I miss those NJ subs. Shredded lettuce?
                                            There's a little deli in MIllbrae, the name is escaping me, on Broadway directly across the street from Starbucks. It feels like an East Cost place and they have the right taste.

                                            1. re: Tabetai yo

                                              You're thinking of Leonardo's. It's very much a neighborhood place, with lots of regulars meeting friends for lunch. I went here a few times for their Italian combo, but ultiimately wasn't that impressed.

                                              My Jersey friend is a huge fan of Gambino's and thinks they're the most authentic in the FiDi, maybe the Bay Area.

                                          2. I don't know if this would fit the bill, but Marina Subs on Union and Steiner in SF makes an amazing sub, as well as any other combo you might want. The owner/sandwich maker has been behind the counter for YEARS snd makes one seriously tasty sandwich. Be ready to wait in line if you go at lunchtime.

                                            I also suggest Palermo Deli in Northbeach.