As the story goes, John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, popularized his eponymous lunchtime staple in the 18th century by asking his cook to create a snack he could eat without pausing a 24-hour gambling streak. The cook’s solution: meat served between two pieces of toast.
Since then, sandwich-making has become an art, with purveyors the world over seeking the perfect bread-filling-condiment combination. We’ve scoured customer and professional reviews from each state to settle upon these 50 sandwiches worth the trip.
1. ALABAMA // BBQ SANDWICH WITH WHITE SAUCE
Location: Homewood, Alabama
Ask a Texan and a South Carolinian what “barbecue” means to them and you’ll get two very different responses (and possibly a brawl). In Alabama, “barbecue” usually means a meaty sandwich slathered in a “white sauce” made from mayonnaise and vinegar. For a mouthwatering sample of the regional treat, head to Saw’s BBQ in Homewood, Alabama, and order the smoked chicken sandwich with white BBQ sauce.
2. ALASKA // HALIBUT BLT
Location: Seward, Alaska
Fresh fish is synonymous with Alaskan food. And if you’re looking for just-off-the-hook halibut, head to a town called Seward, a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Anchorage. At Chinooks, located right on the Seward waterfront, you can find halibut cheeks, beer-battered halibut, and a halibut BLT—pan-roasted halibut topped with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion jam.
3. ARIZONA // ZOOKZ SANDWICHES NO. 60
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
The sandwiches at Zookz are so unique that they’re patented. Owner Carole Meyer, who grew up in North Africa, recreates the disc-shaped sandwiches her grandmother used to make by baking the bread in a custom-made, cylindrical Zookz press. Meyer got her start selling her own brand of sauces and dressings in markets, and each of her hot sandwiches come with house-made condiments like sweet heat mustard and mild curry sauce. The sandwiches run the gamut from familiar favorites (the No. 60’s pulled pork and coleslaw) to pasta-stuffed specials—one recent offering involved ham, ricotta, Parmesan, and penne pasta all in one hand-held pocket of bread.
4. ARKANSAS // THE GARDEN SANDWICH
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
No matter your usual sandwich preferences, when you’re at Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches, go for the vegetarian option. Sure, the Little Rock mainstay serves steak hoagies and turkey subs, but it’s most famous for The Garden, a mushroom, three cheese, and spinach-paté special on pumpernickel. It won the National Sandwich Contest in 1979, back when submitting a meat-free dish was almost unheard of. Jimmy used his award-winning recipe to launch his restaurant in 1984 and has been serving up seriously super sandwiches in the same location ever since.
5. CALIFORNIA // FRENCH DIP
Location: Los Angeles, California
Despite the name, there’s nothing French about the “French dip” sandwich—it was invented in Los Angeles. And though two competing restaurants claim to have created it first, the title is often awarded to Philippe the Original, a Chinatown lunch counter that first opened in 1908 (by, OK, a Frenchman). These days, the meaty sandwiches are virtually identical to their early 20th-century counterparts, according to one of the current owners, and the au jus that tops them is still prepared using the same proprietary, two-day process. At Philippe’s, French dipped sandwiches aren’t limited to beef, though; you can choose between beef, pork, ham, pastrami, turkey, and lamb. Don’t forget to top it off with the restaurant’s spicy house mustard.
6. COLORADO // FOOL’S GOLD
Location: Golden, Colorado
In 1973, the 16-year-old Nick Andurlakis was working as a cook in a Denver-area restaurant when a hungry Elvis Presley showed up. Andurlakis whipped him up the Fool’s Gold, a sourdough loaf packed with a pound each of peanut butter, jelly, and bacon. Presley was so impressed by the sandwich he later flew in from Memphis on his private jet just to pick up some of the sweet-and-salty sandwiches. Andurlakis opened up his own restaurant in the ’80s, and Nick’s CaféCafé has been serving up the Fool’s Gold ever since. The whole thing clocks in at 5600 calories, but don’t worry—you probably can’t eat the whole loaf at once, anyway.
7. CONNECTICUT // HOT LOBSTER ROLL
Location: Clinton, Connecticut
Maine may be a better-known destination for lobster, but southern New England has its own claim to shellfish sandwiches. Unlike the traditional lobster roll that’s served cold with mayonnaise, Connecticut’s lobster rolls come hot and tossed in butter. For a truly authentic Connecticut lobster experience, head to Clinton’s waterfront seafood shack, Lobster Landing. Attached to a retail fish market, the seasonal restaurant is open from the spring to the fall each year (it opens in mid-April for 2017). There are only a handful of items on the menu, so all the focus is on those hot lobster rolls, each of which comes with exactly a quarter pound of hand-picked meat drizzled with butter and just a little splash of lemon.
8. DELAWARE // THE BOBBIE
Location: Wilmington, Delaware
While Capriotti’s is no longer headquartered in Delaware, the chain got its start in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood back in 1976, and one of their signature sandwiches, The Bobbie, has become one of the most famous in the state. Named for the aunt of the restaurant’s founders, it’s a loaded post-Thanksgiving sandwich: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mayo, just like you’d make from leftovers—but better, and year-round. It’s been winning “best sandwich” awards around the country for decades [PDF].
9. FLORIDA // CUBANO
Location: Miami, Florida
Competition for Florida’s best Cuban sandwich is fierce. No two “best of” lists can agree on which restaurant serves up the absolute best Cubano in one particular city, much less the state. But you can’t go wrong at Versailles, a 46-year-old Miami institution. Its version involves slow-roasted pork, bolo ham glazed in pineapple juice, brown sugar, and cloves, imported Swiss cheese, and airy, fresh-baked bread.
10. GEORGIA // CHICKEN CONQUISTADOR
Location: Savannah, Georgia
Not only the best sandwich in its home state, the Chicken Conquistador at Zunzi’s in Savannah was named one of the Travel Channel’s Best Sandwiches in America. The Conquistador—named for its impressive size—is quite simple in its construction: a crusty baguette layered with baked chicken, fresh lettuce and tomato, and a generous slathering of Zunzi’s secret sauce.
11. HAWAII // KĀLUA PORK
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
A staple of luaus and picnics across the islands, kālua pork also makes an awesome sandwich. The tender, slow-cooked shreds of meat are a treat on their own but are even more delightful when paired with sweet pineapple salsa and a soft bun, as they are in Honolulu Burger Co.’s Kalua Pig Burger.
12. IDAHO // MEAT YOUR MAKER
Location: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
If your idea of heaven is a French roll piled high with sausage, pepperoni, steak, peppers, and onions, take a trip to the Best Sandwich Shack in Coeur d’Alene and prepare to Meat Your Maker. It may be the only sandwich on this list that comes marked with a pseudo-medical warning (“This one is over two pounds of sandwich—it may kill you”). As one reviewer said, the whopping, sizzling sandwich is “not for the faint of heart, but it’s DEFINITELY worth toughening up for.”
13. ILLINOIS // ITALIAN BEEF
Location: Chicago, Illinois
You’ll find no fancy sandwich names here. Chicago’s classic Italian beef sandwich is exactly what it sounds like: thinly sliced and seasoned beef served with peppers, gravy, and giardiniera (pickled vegetables). Many sandwich shops will boast that their beef is the best, but if you want the original, head to Al’s Italian Beef on Taylor Street.
14. INDIANA // HOOSIER SANDWICH
Location: Huntington, Indiana
In Germany they make it with veal and call it schnitzel; in Texas, it’s beef and chicken-fried steak. But Indiana natives will tell you that their Hoosier Sandwich—a thin, breaded, fried pork tenderloin nestled on a pillow-soft bun—could beat them all. Credit for the first Hoosier Sandwich goes to Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington, which has been selling the crispy, filling sandwiches since the 1900s.
15. IOWA // LOOSE MEAT
Location: Ottumwa, Iowa
Somewhere in between a free-form hamburger and a sloppy joe minus the sauce, the loose meat sandwich is as filling, tasty, and no-nonsense as it sounds. Locals bellying up to the counter at Ottumwa’s Canteen Lunch in the Alley know to order their sandwiches “wet” or “dry” (we’re talking about grease levels, here), or with cheese, if they’re feeling wild.
16. KANSAS // BBQ PULLED PORK
Location: Kansas City, Kansas
Nothing says Kansas City like good barbecue. True aficionados know that best barbecue sandwich (and their house-specialty pulled pork) can be found at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, a restaurant that started as a competitive meat-smoking team called Slaughterhouse Five. The team won and kept on winning, and today Joe’s has three locations around the city, all boasting great barbecue and a dose of good humor.
17. KENTUCKY // HOT BROWN SANDWICH
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
In 1926, Fred Schmidt, a chef at the historic Brown Hotel, became famous for inventing a unique sandwich he called the Hot Brown. Schmidt’s culinary creation was a variation on the traditional Welsh rarebit: an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, smothered in Mornay sauce, and broiled until bubbly.
18. LOUISIANA // PO’ BOY
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s hard to find a bad po’ boy in New Orleans, but foodies seeking the regional staple can’t go wrong with Parkway Bakery and Tavern. Opened in 1911, the local institution first began serving po’ boys in 1929; Parkway closed in 1993 but re-opened a decade later. Since then, they’ve served countless customers—including President Barack Obama in 2010—clamoring for their classic meat or fried seafood sandwiches, served on French bread.
19. MAINE // LOBSTER ROLL
Location: Wiscasset, Maine
Most people go to Maine to escape the crowds, but they’ll likely encounter a big one at Red’s Eats, a roadside take-out restaurant located on U.S. Route 1. Red’s Eats moved from Boothbay, Maine to its present-day location in 1954, and became known by locals and vacationers alike for its signature lobster rolls. They’re stuffed with more than an entire crustacean’s worth of meat, with a side of butter or mayo. The upside to Red’s infamously long lines? While waiting, you’ll work up the appetite to finish it.
20. MARYLAND // CRABCAKE SANDWICH
Location: Baltimore, Maryland