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Philly sandwich tour: What are the must eats?

A month or two ago I posted about Rick's Steaks being closed on a Sunday and the board directed us to Paesano's, which we haven't stopped talking about since. Next weekend we're coming up again but we're staying over night Sat-Sun and we're going to try to do a tour of awesome sandwiches. Since we'll probably share sandwiches at many places we'll be able to pack in a lot of stops! On our agenda so far are Rick's (for the vegetarian steak that I had years ago when I was a full-on vegetarian), probably Beck's Cajun in Reading Terminal Market, and the 10 Arts Lounge for some of their mini sanwiches, to try to see what an upscale sandwich looks like. We aren't big meat eaters but do eat seafood (and might eat a little meat if it's a can't miss) so fire away some suggestions!

We're intrigued by Sarcone's and Tony Luke's and are also really attracted to the whole food cart thing. What's the food cart scene like on the weekend? The philly food cart site seemed to have incomplete info. Mikey's looks like it has an awesome breakfast sandwich but I can't figure out if we'll be able to go there or not. What about the best Vietnamese banh mi sandwich?

Also, is there a killer sunday morning farmer's market with local appeal that we can hit on the way out of town? Or is Reading it? How's the farmer's market there?


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  1. I'd go back to Paesano's and try a couple sandwiches you didn't try the first time, they really make the best sandwiches in the city in my opinion. Their Arista is a better roast pork sandwich than Tony Luke's or DiNics.

    The best banh mi I've had came from Cafe Nhu Y at 8th and Christian, but I'm not a banh mi expert. O Sandwiches (just north of Geno's at 9th and Passyunk) makes good ones too.

    The best Sunday morning farmer's market is at Headhouse Square (2nd and South Sts.). It starts around 10 AM and goes till about 2 PM.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      I just got back from the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market. Despite the heat, there was a great crowd and there a great selection. As for lunch, there are two great sandwich options: Los Taquitos de Pueblo and Renaisance Sausage. You could also stop at Stephen Starr's Stella Pizza, which is across the street from the Headhouse Square.

      Stella Pizza
      2431 Church Rd Ste 1, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002

      1. re: Cruz

        I concur with the Renaissance Sausage rec, it's worth it to grab sausage sandwiches to go. Lunch service starts there at 11am, before that they do a breakfast sausage sandwich.

        As much as I love Paesano's, I'd say go to Sarcone's this time around. But I cannot vouch for anything beyond the Old Fashioned Italian. And, you must at least get a medium (no small) to get their sesame, crusty bread. So, if you get a small chicken cutlet sandwich, do not come back here and whine that it wasn't that good. Stick with Paesano's for everything else, but hit Sarcone's for the Old Fashioned Italian.

        As far as food carts on the weekend, there aren't that many great choices. I've read about and seen the Dapper Dog cart at 2nd and Poplar in the No Libs, but haven't tried it. If you're looking for a late night dog: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/07/ho...

    2. a local sports-radio guy just did a philly sandwich competition (cheesesteaks and hoagies excluded, as he'd done each in previous years).
      some related links:

      5 Replies
      1. re: Bob Loblaw

        Nick's Roast Beef is a great place to go. Make sure you hit the one at 20th & Wolf, not the old franchise locations in Old City and the Northeast. The guess the location that Macnow reviewed is ok, too.

        1. re: barryg

          I'd have to agree with Sarcone's and Nick's Roast Beef... I don't know if I hit them on a 'bad day' but the last roast pork italian I had at Tony Luke's on Oregon wan't that great, the roll is always fantastic but the broccoli rabe was tough and stringy and the meat was 'meh'

          Personally, the fact that Macnow has the Schmitter as second place on his ranking is very disappointing to me...

          1. re: cgarner

            Dissapointing because it's too high, or too low?
            I had one once and didn't like it, but I'm a picky eater, and it did have a lot of flavor.

            I just feel like I tuned out of this whole season of food quest on wip... probably because (until this week) hearing about the phils was too depressing.

          2. re: barryg

            20th and jackson for nick's. :)

            1. re: barryg

              20th and Jackson, not Wolf. Still wonderful and birch beer is 'Standard' brand and great. Been going there so long , and this is the truth, was there when Kennedy got shot..

          3. I'm not sure where you're staying, but how about KOCH'S? It's on 43rd and Pine(no matter where you're staying it's worth the drive), in my opinion they make some of the best sandwiches in the city. Their selection and quality of meats is second to none. I personally love their corn beef special, it's quality, quantity, and a great atmosphere it's the best place to start or finish your sandwich tour.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Hungrierthanever

              Koch's is a unique experience, and they make pretty good (and huge) sandwiches, but I have to dispute the description of the corned beef as quality. Is it cold-cut style corned beef, like you might get at a supermarket deli. The bread they use is mediocre, as well (I think it's Amaroso's for the hoagies). The real delis, like Famous 4th St, Kibbitz Room, and Herschel's, serve much higher quality corned beef that is kept in a steam table and has superior texture and flavor. Koch's is worth a visit, maybe, but not for corned beef. Of course we all have our own preferences and tastes.

              1. re: Hungrierthanever

                I wonder how much Koch's Deli rides the past reputation of its late owner(s). I believe Bob Koch passed away in '05, and now the place is outside of the family's hands. Personally I didn't care much for either of the sandwiches I had there in recent years, but again, as barry mentioned, we all have our different tastes.

              2. If you like Paesano "style" sandwiches, I'd try Jake's Sandwich Board which just opened up in center city. Chickie's deli in South Philly does an amazing vegetarian hoagie, while Q.T. Sandwiches in Chinatown and O Sandwiches in South Philly do great Banh Mi's.

                Sandwich Board
                319 E Jimmie Leeds Rd, Galloway, NJ 08205

                4 Replies
                1. re: AgentRed

                  AgentRed, have you been to Jake's? I haven't heard any reports.

                  1. re: barryg

                    I'd pass on Jake's. The people there are nice, the pig head is right in front of you, and then you are presented with a sandwich that's mostly roll, some flavorless hunks of pork, and some shredded (?) provolone. Even trying to drown the thing in extra jus did not help.

                    1. re: bluehensfan

                      I've been to Jake's twice. I sort of agree with bluehensfan - I had to drown my roast pork with siracha hot sauce - but their turkey sandwich was pretty good and not just your typical Boar's head meats.

                      Some people have complained that Paesano's puts too many contrasting flavors in each sandwich so for them Jake's will be perfect, it focuses more on simple ingredients presented in comfortable surroundings.

                      As always, my recc is: try it out, it's a convenient location and reasonably priced. If it was in the middle of Conshohocken I'd skip it, but it's above average fare for center city. Sort of like what Slice is to Pizza, Jake's is to sandwiches.

                      1. re: bluehensfan

                        Agree on the flavorless roast pork at Jake's.

                  2. Wow, thanks for all the great suggestions! We're going to go over them in the next couple of days while we plan our tour.

                    I'm not sure that anyone addressed this yet but does anyone have any info on the whole food cart/ food truck thing? Mikey's breakfast sandwich sounds so good: http://www.gourmet.com/restaurants/20... but I don't know how to find out if/when he'll be open...

                    1. You can also check these links out for inspiration:

                      Sandwich Tour 2010 (maybe you should team up?): http://citypaper.net/blogs/mealticket...

                      Philly Sandwich Register: http://philadelphia.grubstreet.com/20...

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: barryg

                        Wow, that's a LOT of info! Thanks! That fried green tomato hoagie might go on the list, for sure.

                        But why no love anywhere for food carts? Are they out of season, with school being out of session?

                        1. re: kukubura

                          The reason no one has mentioned food carts is that they are pretty much a weekday event because they feed all of the workers looking for a quick lunch. The only place you're likely to see more than the stray pretzel vendor is around the Penn campus, and even then, there will be far fewer carts/trucks than there are during the week. You'll have to come back on a Tuesday or Wednesday to get the full truck food experience!

                          1. re: drjane

                            You've confirmed my greatest fears! Oh well.

                      2. BTW, I'd try the peppers and eggs sandwich at Tony Luke's--best I've ever had. Good for breakfast or lunch!

                        1. Just checking in to say thanks for all the advice. We're here now and just stopped by the hotel to drop off our stuff. Traffic was a beast and we were starving by the time we hit town but one of your suggestions has already turned out great. I'll let some suspense build up over what it was...

                          We saw a Vietnamese shopping center on Washington st with a bunch of restaurants and groceries on the way in when we were just sort of cruising around. Any suggestion of which place has the best banh mi there? There was one that had a fairly robust banh mi menu with everything in the $3-$3.50 range (and buy 5 get 1 free, but I don't think we're up for that!)

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: kukubura

                            You should try the pho from pho ha! and the giant supermarket on the next door has live (edible) waterbeetles and other assorted Asian culinary obscura

                            1. re: AgentRed

                              Yikes! Might pass on that. We love food but...

                              We were in that supermarket yesterday though. Pretty awesome place. Picked up a few dry goods.

                              As for pho, that sounds awesome (and probably would help with my hangover right about now) but we are sandwich obsessed!

                              1. re: AgentRed

                                The Banh Mi place you saw is, I think, Ba Le (picture of Eiffel Tower on sign). It's good--I'd go there. Here are some more Banh Mi ideas:

                                If you like Asian markets, you might consider the Banh Mi at Viet Huong at 11th & Washington (not on the map--they have a takeout counter in the back), which is another Vietnamese shopping center. Not quite as good as Ba Le IMO, but definitely good.

                                I haven't been to QT Sandwiches, but the reports and positive and it would be an excuse to get into Chinatown. A lot of people like O Sandwiches by Pat's & Geno's but the last sandwich I got there (last summer) was inedible--it was drenched in black pepper--so I haven't been back. YMMV.

                                1. re: barryg

                                  Actually the ones we saw were on the other side of Passyunk, in the shopping center by Wash and 10th. But I've read about the Eiffel Tower joint elsewhere and might need to check that out. Thanks! You guys sure have a lot of killer food in this town!

                                  1. re: kukubura

                                    Ok, that was probably Viet Huong. You won't go wrong with either, but Ba Le bakes their own bread--I think that puts them over the top.

                                    1. re: barryg

                                      Yeah, the in-house bread baking makes it VERY attractive. It's definitely a strong possibility! Thanks!

                                      1. re: kukubura

                                        O Sandwiches at 9th and Federal (2 blocks south of Washington) have great Bahn Mi and also bake their own bread. I get about 1 Bahn Mi a month from them and have never had the bad experience barryg did. Also the little store whose name is escaping me at 8th and Christian on the south side of Christian has really good Bahn mi

                                        1. re: Bigley9

                                          The place on Christian is Cafe Nhu Y.

                            2. Thanks to everyone for an amazing experience. We had sandwiches at seven places worth mentioning between lunch Sat and lunch Sun. I won't do a full wrap up yet because (and this is the big secret ulterior motive) my wife is a Baltimore food writer and is going to do a Philly road trip sandwich extravaganza article that I'll link for your reading pleasure in a few weeks. But I will say that every place we went to was amazing and unique in its own way, with some being absolutely out of this world great.

                              There was ONE major exception that I can mention since she's not gonna bother mentioning it in the article: What the HELL is up with Rick's? I have been talking about the amazing peppers, onions and mushrooms on the veggie cheesesteak since I had it at their old Reading Terminal Market location in 2007. Their new location is down right depressing and the food was without a doubt less flavorful than something you'd get at Subway. It was brown mush whereas I remember the peppers and mushrooms have beautiful distinct flavors the other time. Really sad! That was the first thing we got rolling in to town (after traffic on 95 left us a couple hours late and bellies grumbling.) We trashed the leftovers and headed far better joints from there for sandwiches of infinitely higher quality... Anyway, thanks again, love your town, will be back asap. We can't stop talking about the places we want to revisit and the ones we missed...

                              1. Great article. Maybe in the future you can do an all pork sandwich tour to dispel the myth that Philly is all about cheesesteaks. Or, if your wife's company is underwriting the food, a Garces\Vetri\Starr tour?

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: gaffk

                                  Well, without getting too far into it (since even though it's the web there are general space issues) she did sort of suggest that we were looking beyond the cheesesteak. I like that it was a mix of places that Philly locals rave about and even a few places that locals might not be as familiar with. I swear, no one knows about Beck's even though it's right next to DiNic's, and from the various samples we had there at the counterwoman's urging they are cooking some of the best Louisiana food in the region. The pics of the egg and peppers po-boy didn't come out great unfortunately so they didn't run but it was tasty - and a miracle hangover cure to boot!

                                  And I doubt they'll do another philly issue (although we will do other area roadtrip issues now and then) but, as I said, we will be back. We're going to want one high-end dinner. But that's for another thread...

                                  Glad you enjoyed it! The research sure was a chore! :)
                                  Also, feel free to leave a comment there. A local voice would be a fun thing to have there.

                                  1. re: kukubura

                                    Beck's is OK, but on your next trip stop by Cajun Kate's on your way up 95.

                                    1. re: Buckethead

                                      Zoiks! We're there!

                                      Clarence's Taste of New Orleans in Edgewood Maryland is pretty solid too. Clarence used to be a cook at Coop's in New Orleans so he knows his stuff.

                                      1. re: Buckethead

                                        Finally got to Cajun Kate's just before Labor Day Weekend. Great stuff! Got the softshell po'boy special, Chowspouse got the catfish po'boy. Both nicely seasoned and well prepared. Took home the red beans and rice, crawfish pie and fried mac and cheese - all excellent and the tomato glaze sauce stuff was to die for! Thanks for the recommendation!

                                      2. re: kukubura

                                        I think Beck's had only been open for a little while when you visited. That's why the locals didn't really know about it. Plus, they haven't had many good reviews.

                                        And as far as I know, a peppers and egg sandwich is a local Philly delicacy, not a Louisiana one.

                                        1. re: Philly Ray

                                          Oh, I know. I wasn't suggesting that pepper and eggs is NOLA. But it was the right sandwich at the right time! We also tasted their gumbo, jambalaya and creole bread pudding and they were all waaaay better than we had reason to expect. And from what I could tell they cook with love, which is the most important thing. Hopefully they'll catch on.

                                        2. re: kukubura

                                          Nothing like a good pepper and egg sandwich to cure what ails you ;)

                                          1. re: gaffk

                                            Seriously, it was like magic. I went from throbbing headache to top-of-the-world with one bite.

                                          2. re: kukubura

                                            Errrr... The link is gone. Just google the exact phrase "heroes, just for two days"
                                            I know, I know, they're not heroes. But come on, it's a good title.

                                        3. Best bah mi is on 8th just before Christian, (on the east side of the street) called Cafe Cuong. They open at 7 am (until 5 or 6 pm I think).

                                          While you check out Headhouse Farmer's Market on Sundays (10-2, May through December), also try the tacos al pastor from Los Taquitos (they set up right across from Renaissance Sausage) and grab a Twisted Lemonaid (fantastic flavors like basil ginger, and they squeeze the combination lemon/lime juice while you wait; your choice of sweetners).

                                          Best chinese truck (reviewed by Craig LaBan) is Yue Kee on 38th street between Walnut and Chestnut. Don't be turned off by its seemingly old and dingy truck. Also check out Sugar, a dessert truck located on 38th a bit further north (nearer to Market).

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: anovice

                                            Thanks. The requests were from a while back, this thread is in the aftermath phase now. HOWEVER,since we're coming back in Oct-Nov for more eating might as well keep 'em coming. We'll check out Cafe Cuong for sure. I will say that I would need to know where the vietnamese banh mi places get their meat before I got anything other than a veggie or sardine one there. I saw something in the vietnamese supermarket in the same strip mall as Ba Le that could easily turn a recent non-meat eater like myself back into a vegetarian - and if that's where Ba Le gets their pork... er... no thanks.

                                            As for the Headhouse Farmer's Market, we got awesome stuff there and took it home for the week. A huge pile of jersey tomatoes, purple long beans, all sorts of other stuff. We stocked up! Baltimore's farmers market is actually one place where Bmore really excels but it was cool to get different produce grown in a different zone.

                                            And we saw Los Taquitos and it really looked fantastic. We almost got some since they're sort of like sandwiches, but we were about to go to Campo's... We'll try them next time.

                                            And, yeah, the trucks are something we're really looking forward to.

                                            1. re: kukubura

                                              this tip isn't timely, but shank's was glaringly absent from this list. their eggplant shanks style is unreal. think paper thin perfectly fried eggplant kissed w/their homemade gravy and smothered in your choice of rabe or spinach. it's equally exquisite with or w/o provolone.

                                              1. re: avocados are for lovers

                                                She did give Shank's a shout-out in the article (specifically for the eggplant) since some of the bartenders we chatted up suggested it strongly, but there's only so many places you can go in barely a 24 hour period! It's definitely on the short list for next time.

                                                1. re: kukubura

                                                  I am so envious! Did I miss it? I can't find the link to the article.

                                          2. I guess this would be considered a sandwich...Johnny's Hots on Delaware Ave. serves the "combo" which is a hot dog nestled in a fishcake on a hot dog roll and comes with "pepper hash" (a tasty slaw). I was hesitant to try it, but it's pretty good. You can get your food and then head across the street to Penn Treaty Park for a "table" with a view.