The 50 states have so many hyper-varieties of the lunchtime favorite that we might as well be called the United Sandwiches of America. Here is just a small sampling of the wonders happening between slices of bread from coast to coast.
1. Beef on Weck // New York
Primarily found in western New York, the “weck” in this sandwich comes from the bread it’s served on: a kümmelweck roll. The German-style roll topped with salt and caraway seeds is loaded up with thinly-sliced beef, topped with horseradish, with half of the bun taking a dip in some salty, delicious au jus.
2. Cuban Sandwich // Florida
Like many of these regional delights, this Florida variation on ham and cheese has dubious origins. It likely originated in either Tampa (where it comes with salami) or Key West (where it doesn’t) where factory workers were eating them for lunch in the 1800s. It then later made its way to Miami through Cuban immigrant communities. Ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard are sandwiched between Cuban-style bread and then hot-pressed to create a warm, compact flavor vehicle.
3. French Dip // Los Angeles
The French dip sandwich is about as simple as anything between two slices of bread, but that doesn’t mean it’s basic. Similar to the beef on weck, this sandwich consists of thinly-sliced beef on a roll served au jus. And like the Cuban, there’s a beef about who gets credit for its existence. Cole's Pacific Electric Cafe and Philippe The Original in Downtown Los Angeles claim ownership, and they do the sandwich slightly differently—Cole’s serves it with a side of au jus while Philippe's dunks the whole thing for you ahead of time. A little bonus sandwich action: the Italian beef is another shaved beef regional favorite. It’s served with sweet or hot peppers on an Italian-style roll, topped with Chicago-style giardiniera relish and dipped in au jus. There’s also Baltimore’s pit beef sandwich, which is thinly-sliced char-grilled beef served on a bun with horseradish. The point is, Americans love thinly-cut beef on a roll, no matter what name it goes by. It’s a fact.
4. Chow Mein Sandwich // Massachusetts
Most of the country is content to chow down on chow mein all by its lonesome, but at some point, Bay Staters realized that you can make a great thing even better by turning it into a sandwich. Voila! The chow mein sandwich was born. It’s served in Chinese-American restaurants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and consists of fried noodles in a brown gravy sauce with pork, chicken, or vegetables on a hamburger bun.
5. The Gerber // St. Louis
The Gerber was invented at Ruma’s Deli in the early 1970s. Legend has it a customer named Dick Gerber had it made to order, and some say this sandwich isn’t truly a Gerber unless you’re at the source. It’s a toasted, open-faced ham and cheese sandwich on crispy Italian bread with garlic butter. The special ingredient is the cheese—a processed Provel cheese that’s a hybrid of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss, and specific to the area. Doesn’t get more regional than that.
6. The Horseshoe // Springfield, Illinois
Another open-faced sandwich, this one starts with two slices of toasted bread (some specify Texas toast but it’s not law) upon which a thick slice of ham or two hamburger patties and a bucket of french fries are topped before getting doused in cheese sauce. Pretty it ain’t (well, it’s kind of pretty—if you love cheese fries), but that’s not what we’re here for anyway. For the calorie-conscious there’s even a “Pony Shoe” sandwich that’s basically just 50% of the original, with one slice of bread and one hamburger patty. The Horseshoe was invented in the 1920s as fancy hotel food. Back then it contained ham, fried potato slices, and a Welsh rarebit sauce.
7. Hot Brown // Louisville, Kentucky
Speaking of Welsh rarebit, the Brown Hotel is responsible for this spin. The original 1926 hot brown was an open-faced white bread sandwich with turkey and bacon, smothered in Mornay sauce (a Béchamel with shredded cheese) and broiled to a crisp. It’s still served there, and other variations around town add tomato or ham, or replace the Mornay with American or cheddar cheese.
8. Dutch Crunch // Bay Area
If you live outside of Northern California, you’ve probably never heard of the Dutch Crunch—a dense, doughy bread with a moist, giraffe-print crust on top that gives it its signature crunch (it’s called tiger bread elsewhere because of its print). While this bread isn’t particular to any one sandwich, it provides the basis for many stackable concoctions in the area and is so specific to the region that we felt it deserved some love. It’s unclear why Dutch Crunch hasn’t escaped the Bay Area, but it’s been around those parts since the early 20th century.
9. Jersey Breakfast // New Jersey
With a name like “Jersey Breakfast” you know this one is going to be serious. It’s pork roll (also called Taylor ham) with egg and cheese on a roll. This regional favorite gets into murky waters because it’s so similar to the New York breakfast sandwich of egg, cheese, and breakfast meat of your choice on a bagel or roll, specific to the bodegas and carts of the five boroughs. Rumor has it that George Washington and his troops noshed on pork roll when they arrived in the Garden State after crossing the Delaware—and if anyone can unify the states over a breakfast sandwich debate, it’s the nation’s first president.
10. Mother-In-Law // Chicago
For years, Chicagoans have been creating the kind of culinary delights that one would need to fuel up to brace oneself for the dynamic climate of the Windy City. Apparently they need food to brace themselves for mothers-in-law too. This sandwich plops a tamale (usually meat-filled) in a hot dog bun and then adds a heaping pile of delicious chili. The origins of the south side junk food treasure are pretty hazy, right down to the name. As with others on this list, historians credit its legacy to it being a cheap, delicious Frankenstein of a sandwich.
11. French Fry Sandwich or Primanti Bros. Sandwich // Pittsburgh
The Horseshoe isn’t the only French fry sandwich the United States can claim as its own (and thank goodness for that). In Pittsburgh, Primanti Brothers wanted to cater to truckers passing through, so they created what became their signature sandwich: meat, Italian dressing-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries sandwiched between two pieces of Italian bread for a monstrous meal you can hold in one hand.
12: Musubi // Hawaii
Now is not the time for a “Is it a sandwich?” debate, so let’s open our eyes and mouths to the beauty that is the musubi roll. Essentially a flattened sushi roll, the musubi is simply grilled or fried Spam, nori, rice, perhaps a thin piece of omelette, and the Japanese seasoning furikake. (The way the rice bookends the Spam certainly looks like a sandwich to me.) And for those who have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of Spam, the musubi roll is the perfect entry point to say aloha (hello, not goodbye).
13: Po' Boy // Louisiana
Po’ boys have thankfully made their way to the different corners of these 50 states, but began (and still have a stronghold) in New Orleans, where the preferred filling between slices of baguette-style submarine bread is deep-fried shrimp and oysters. Elsewhere you can get them with catfish, crab, roast beef, or even chicken or ham. The meat of your choice invariably comes accompanied by lettuce, tomato, and Tabasco.
14. Pimento Cheese Sandwich // Southeast
This sandwich is a tradition at the Masters Tournament, to which it owes some amount of wider popularity. The cheese—known as “the caviar of the South”—is a sharp and spreadable orange cheese made with cheddar, mayonnaise, red chili peppers (pimentos), and other regional ingredients ranging from Worcestershire sauce to cream cheese. Those nuances can be a great thing, but in 2013, controversy erupted when the Augusta National Golf Club changed their food supplier and the resulting pimento cheese sandwich tasted distinctly different. Pickles, jalapenos, and ham are common additions; and while sliced white bread is commonly the go-to, the pimento can accommodate the carb of your choosing.
15: Fluffernutter // Massachusetts
As with any great meal, we end with dessert. Sort of. The Fluffernutter was born in Melrose and is as delightful as it sounds: Marshmallow Fluff with peanut butter on white bread. That’s the basic recipe, but it opens a world of possibility with customization. The sandwich is reportedly the creation of Paul Revere’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Emma Curtis. During World War I, she printed the recipe she called the “Liberty Sandwich.” The name it goes by today was created in the 1960s by (who else?) an advertising agency.