Let me begin by clarifying that this is about sandwiches; I’m not talking about burgers or wraps here, those are different beasts. And what is the exact line between a burrito and a wrap? Or a quesadilla and a panino for that matter? The lines get too blurry. Technically even spam masubi could qualify as a sandwich. It’d be chaos, and we haven’t got all day.
Pasadena (I’m including South Pasadena and Altadena in this) is a great town for sandwiches, and the city seems to have agreed on some of the best we have to offer. This list isn’t that. I’m not going to talk about The Sandwich from Roma Market, or Sandwiches by Connal, or Pasadena Sandwich Company, or the egg salad from Euro Pane. I’m not going to talk about The Hat or Tops or Heirloom Bakery. You know, I know, we get it. They’re great, but there’s more out there, man.
5. Turkey, Avocado, & Swiss on a Sesame Seed Roll, Vince’s Deli 111 W. California Blvd, Pasadena 91105
I’ll admit this one has a strong base in nostalgia, but it’s the nostalgia of the whole city, not just my own. Vince’s is a tiny mom and pop in the Vons plaza directly across the street from Huntington Hospital. I was eating lunch there one day and there was a young couple beside me. “I can’t believe you’ve never been here,” she said. “I know, I know,” he replied. And then he took a bite of his sandwich. And then two more bites in rapid succession. “Why is this so good?” he asked through a mouth full of food. “I don’t know,” she said honestly, and they wolfed the rest of their lunch down without talking much more than that. I don’t know why it’s so good. Maybe it’s that they’re so busy it’s impossible to get something that isn’t fresh. Maybe it’s the consistency of quality.. Maybe it’s the association of the satisfaction of finally getting something delicious to eat when you’ve been sitting and waiting at the hospital for hours or days. Who knows? Who cares?
4. French Connection a la Press on a Baguette, Father Nature Lavash Wraps 17 N. De Lacey Ave, Pasadena 91105
Even meat eaters should go meatless sometimes, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include one of the city’s best vegetarian sandwiches. It can easily be made vegan as well by holding the feta, but if that isn’t a concern, then let it be. They take a fresh French baguette and smear it with roasted red pepper spread, a little fluffy garlic sauce, and top it with grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, grilled bell peppers, and grilled onions. That gets a sprinkling of feta and parsley, and the whole thing gets pressed on a panini grill. It’s earthy and tangy and garlicky and not too rich. The grilled vegetables are silky inside that toasty baguette that’s hot and crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy within.
*Note: Father Nature is temporarily closed for remodeling; follow them online @fathernaturecafe_since1984 for info on the grand re-opening.
3. French Dip, Houston’s 320 S. Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena 91105
I know, I know. But we’re not talking about the entirety of LA, this is ‘dena talk. Houston’s does things restaurants aren’t supposed to do. It’s essentially a steakhouse, but there’s also sushi? And it does ribs better than any place in LA trying to pass itself off as a BBQ joint. The French Dip here seems like a somewhat innocuous addition to the menu, but mother of mercy, it is flawless. Paper thin sheets of very rare prime rib are loaded up onto a hot, buttered, house-baked French roll. Dunking it in the generous serving of hot au jus cooks the meat just a tad bit more, bringing it to the perfect color, texture, and flavor. It comes with another generous serving of creamed horseradish. It’s traditional but modern in a town where “French Dip” usually means your bread comes already dunked and you slather the thing in spicy mustard.
2. Grilled Salmon Sandwich, Lincoln 1992 Lincoln Ave, Pasadena 91103
A fresh, hot, perfectly cooked salmon filet and cold, tangy jicama slaw on a buttery, feather-light brioche bun. It’s so simple. It’s so beautiful. Even in my full-stomached condition, I’m salivating just thinking of how to describe it. It comes with a side of lightly dressed mixed greens and a grilled lemon wedge you’ll want to squeeze all over that salmon filet. Pair it with whatever the hell you like to drink, you’re not going to be able to mess it up.
Roast Chicken Sandwich, Fiore Market Cafe 1000 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena 91030
I’ve never seen a photo of the food at Fiore Market Cafe that does it any justice. When you pick up your sandwich, you may begin to understand what the fuss is about. The bread is thick and springy and warm and fresh and dense. It feels like no other bread. You can buy loaves of it to-go, and you should. It seems bafflingly simple. The perfectly roasted chicken breast served warm will make you weak in the knees. It comes topped with homemade walnut pesto, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and burrata- the most erotic of Italian cheeses. I add a slice of tomato and I suggest you do the same. Don’t take it to go- eat it there on the patio. There’s usually live music, and even if there isn’t, you’ll catch yourself humming gleefully as you eat.