A recent survey from YouGov attempted to determine the favorite sandwiches in America. Not surprisingly, their choices were rather on the bland side with grilled cheese, grilled chicken and turkey topping the list. There were also some regional favorites like lobster rolls and French dips that were popular in certain locations. No doubt there were areas where dishes like the Hot Brown in Kentucky would have made the list there but were a bit too hyper-local for the rest of the country.
Since we talk a lot about sandwiches, we started thinking we probably need a list of sandwiches that would be popular here in Houston. In fairness, we aren't going to get into fast, deli-counter type sandwiches because, sure, Subway's biggest seller is probably the turkey, but that doesn't really make it representative of H-Town. Also, no burgers. As we have said before, they absolutely deserve their own category.
One of the nation's faves does align with ours, however.
Houston is nearly synonymous with barbecue. Ask anyone who visits and they want to immediately be pointed in the direction of the best brisket. We can't really blame them. It is great. So, it makes sense that barbecue sandwiches would be on the list. In Houston — and lot of Texas, really — the classic is sliced or chopped brisket on a bun with a little sauce (frequently on the side), maybe some raw onions and pickles. No need to adulterate the meet with a bunch of nonsense. Hell, we've been handed sliced brisket on a white bun with nothing else on it as if to say, "If you are going to screw with the meat by adding bread, this is all you get, yankee."
If we were advising someone here for a visit, we might point them to the Rueben at Roegels (only served on Thursdays), which is a nice blend of traditional, smokey barbecue and a classic deli sandwich.
4. Grilled Cheese
Ok, so we admit that we would be nuts to not include a classic grilled cheese on our list. Perhaps the ultimate in comfort food, it's also one of the more deceptively easy sandwiches to make (and make poorly). There are plenty of variations, some of which include tomatoes (pass) and others that turn a grilled cheese into...well, NOT a grilled cheese. But for a great American dish, it's pretty hard to beat it no matter which way you slice the cheese.
Our favorite in town is at the Classic All Day, which blends cheddar and pimento with pickles. Yes, pickles. Try it, we swear.
Part one of the "things we owe to our blended heritage" portion of the list is the wonderful Mexican torta. For the uninitiated, a torta is some kind of meat — chicken, beef, pork — with, typically, sour cream, refried beans, avocado, lettuce and tomato on a soft, oval talera roll. It's really a remarkable sandwich you should try if you have never had one.
And, in Houston, it's hard to top the Pechuga Torta at La Tapatia.
2. Po' Boy
Sometimes, your imports are owed to more than immigration. In some cases, the blending of cultures that is so seamless in Houston, yet so painful in other places, produces some incredible food. That is the case of the Houston po' boy. Unlike the seafood varieties you'll find in New Orleans (even though we have a few of those ourselves), the tradition here is a mixture of Cajun and Italian. The classic is a perfect sub roll/baguette made at Royal Bakery filled with sliced Italian deli meats and topped with "chow chow," a sweet and spicy relish that has to be tried to be believed.
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Of course, for this we have the Original from Antone's. If you had to make a billboard and put on it a picture of the "sandwich of Houston," this might be it.
1. Bánh Mì
It is a tribute to our vastly diverse population that the sandwich probably most representative of Houston was born of both Vietnamese and French cuisine. Here in the most diverse city in America, it has taken over, becoming basically its own sub-genre of sub sandwich lore. We've featured quite a few of them here and will certainly feature more in the future. They pop up everywhere now with a variety of meat options (and vegetarian versions) to go with cucumbers, pickled carrot and/or daikon, jalapeño and mayo on a baguette. Most of us could eat one every day — which makes it so great they are often really inexpensive.
Our personal favorite is the Chopped Ribeye at Roostar. We would eat the bread all by itself, but we are thrilled we don't have to.