Remember reading the comics as a kid and being in awe of "Blondie's" Dagwood Bumstead, who built those towering and intricate sandwiches stuck at their top with a fat green olive on a toothpick? It was a beautiful thing to behold. One of the best things about the sandwich is that it's a canvas with endless possibilities. In the right hands, that canvas can transform into an artistic assembly session with careful consideration for flavor and texture combinations.
It would be impossible to count the number of excellent sandwiches in Atlanta. Each neighborhood has its stars and locals happily pledge loyalty to their favorite sandwich shops. In Castleberry Hill, it's Elliot Street Pub. On the Westside, Star Provisions. In Old Fourth Ward, Noni's. In Midtown, Cypress Street Pint and Plate. In Smyrna, Muss & Turner's. In Decatur, Sawicki's Meat Seafood and More. Each has excellent offerings. But Atlanta can be a sandwich lover's playground if you just know where to look. Here is a roundup of a few of my favorites.
The Cafe at Pharr
The Liu family's Buckhead sandwich shop continues to be a sandwich mainstay, always consistent and quick. The must-have item here is the curry chicken salad. The chunks of white meat are lightly dressed with mayonnaise and curry powder for a punch of flavor. It's creamy and dreamy and mounded in between two slices of the restaurant's fresh-baked soft white bread. 3145 Peachtree Road, Suite 101. 404-238-9288. Other metro Atlanta locations. www.cafeatpharr.com.
Crawfish Shack Seafood
Even the New York Times has taken notice of Hieu Pham and his Buford Highway seafood shack, so what are you waiting for? Pham's location might seem like an odd destination for fresh seafood done à la New Orleans, but the shrimp-filled display proves things here aren't coming out of the freezer. In the shrimp po' boy, plump shrimp are covered in a nubbly, Cajun-seasoned batter and fried until done just enough to maintain their snap. The French roll draws some of its light and airy crisp from its banh mi cousin. Order the po' boy fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, and onions, and make good use of one of the numerous hot sauces on each table. A side of hush puppies wouldn't hurt. 4337 Buford Highway, Suite 170. 404-329-1610. www.crawfishshackseafood.com.
Las Tortas Locas
When you can't decide between a sandwich and a burger, eat a torta. Mexicanos love a good sandwich and they take them seriously. Las Tortas Locas makes other things such as flautas and tacos, but the tortas are where it's at. The best is the Torta Nortena: beef milanesa, pounded thin, breaded and fried, stacked with creamy asadero cheese, slices of ripe avocado, lettuce, tomato and more on griddled torta roll. Customize your sandwich with salsa and pickled jalapeños from the exceptional and broad salsa selection. 2493 Chamblee Tucker Road, Chamblee. 770-457-0099. Other metro Atlanta locations.
Myrna Perez's colorful Old Fourth Ward shop is a love song to fruits and vegetables. Perez's Mexican culinary skills keep the offerings interesting. Naturally, Lottafrutta has an excellent vegetable "sanduche" called the Just Veggin.' Perez's signature sweet bread is filled with crunchy alfalfa sprouts, hunks of creamy avocado, thinly sliced tomato, and tangy Havarti cheese. It's then grilled until the interior is gooey and the crust of the roll crisp. 590-A Auburn Ave. 404-588-0857. www.lottafrutta.com.
Quoc Huong Banh Mi Fast Food
On any given day, you'll find this tiny restaurant packed with Vietnamese expats and other in-the-know Atlantans lined up at the banh mi counter. A team of women work furiously to assemble barbecued pork, funky pâté, a freshly cooked thin omelet (you have to ask for this addition), cilantro, and a salad of pickled carrots and daikon on a light and crispy Vietnamese sandwich roll. The fresh and flavor packed sandwiches are incredibly affordable: Each is $2.50. Buy five, and the sixth is free. 5150 Buford Highway. 770-936-0605.
The General Muir
Everyone talks about the Reuben here, but the turkey sandwich is the sleeper hit at this Emory Point deli. Instead of thin slices, Chef Todd Ginsberg's turkey sandwich is filled with thick-carved slabs of roasted turkey. The meat is layered with earthy portobello mushrooms, peppery arugula, and Gruyère cheese and then piled onto chewy and soft ciabatta bread slathered with lemony crème fraîche. Yum. 1540 Avenue Place, Suite B-230. 678-927-9131. www.thegeneralmuir.com.
The Mad Italian
Cheesesteak is a controversial sandwich — everyone has an opinion of what makes it authentic. Step outside of Philly and New Jersey, and claims of superiority and authenticity become more difficult to support. Atlantans should only make judgments based on deliciousness and the Mad Italian's is among Atlanta's best. For the 40-year-old restaurant's version, the warm and chewy hoagie roll holds its shape well under the weight of hot-and-greasy shaved beef slathered with cheese. The meat is not too salty or thick, which means it blends well with the sautéed onions and melted white American cheese. Those with heftier appetites can add extra meat and cheese. 2197 Savoy Drive, Chamblee. 770-451-8048. www.maditalian.com.
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