Madison is a sandwich town.
We love sandwiches because they’re familiar, have history, and they resonate deeply in our memory and psyche. They’re a comfort food–easily devoured and complete unto themselves.
Food allegiances are forged deep in childhood. Preferences are tribal: there are egg salad people, French dip lovers, BBQ folks, grilled cheese freaks, reuben maniacs. There’s an aficionado for every type of sandwich.
While far too many Madison restaurants offer dull takes on familiar classics, there are still oodles of exciting options available for sandwich hounds looking for something spectacular.
Here’s a list of what’s worth the carb intake, in no particular order:
1 Gotham Bagels – Spanish Harlem, or V, or G
Maybe they’re technically bagelwiches, but Gotham Bagels has epic offerings . The Spanish Harlem is a savory legend, while both the G and the V are obsession-worthy. The latter is a spicy vegetarian option that can go head to head with any bagel sandwich anywhere. Spicy Poblano pepper, scallion tofu, arugula and avocado.
2 Stalzy’s- The Rachel, or The Corso, or The Big Weck
Stalzy’s arguably makes the best sandwiches in the city. Everything they do is top quality, made with precision and care. The Rachel– a pastrami sandwich with slaw –can be life changing. But other contenders are the Corso and, on Wednesdays, The Big Weck. Rest assured that any Stalzy’s sandwich will be one of the best you’ve ever had.
3 Marigold – “The Beetnik”
Marigold has had a number of great offerings over the years. Once upon a time they were famous for a slightly spicy, barely creamy, red cabbage slaw that appeared on a few of their sandwiches. These days the thing to get is The Beetnik: roasted beets, whipped goat cheese, cucumber, orange marmalade.
4 Weary Traveler Free House – West of the Andes
The home of the Bob’s Bad Breath Burger also sports the West of the Andes Sandwich, which is served a few ways. It’s great with tuna. But it’s just as good with beef or veggies. If you’re so inclined, it’s even good without the bun.
5 Tornado Club – French dip
It’s easy to think French Dips are boring. Just bread, beef, and jus. But a good one reveals what all the fuss is about. The Tornado’s French Dip is brilliant: baguette, tender beef, and salty jus. Especially good after a few Old Fashioneds.
6 Mickey’s- World’s Greatest Sandwich
It’s true, The World’s Greatest Sandwich at Mickey’s could be the world’s greatest sandwich. Essentially a BLT with a fried egg, it is somehow more than the sum of its parts.
7 Pizza Brutta -Caprese Sandwich
It’s the oven-fired foccaccia that puts this quality go-to on the map.
8 Alchemy – Stuffed Grilled Cheese, or BLFT
A war rages between partisans of the Stuffed Grilled Cheese and the BLFT, which blows minds with bacon, lettuce, and fried tomato. Your choice, but the stuffed grilled cheese has sweet onions, broccoli, and will deliver you to SGC (stuffed grilled cheese) nirvana.
9 Mermaid – Mighty Isis or Banh Meatless
The mighty Isis is one of Madison’s iconic sandwiches: egg, avocado, curry sauce on a toasted focaccia. The Banh Meatless is a really good vegetarian Banh Mi.
10 Roast Public House - Hammer’s Famous Ham Sandwich
Roast is new this year, and it is helping redeem lower State Street from all the chain sub shops. Cherry smoked hand-carved ham, Meunster, ham jus. Get it.
11 Nostrano – Mortadela Panino
Nostrano sandwiches are a bit of culinary heaven. Try the mortadela with kumquat mustard.
12 New Orleans Takeout – Fresh Oyster Po’ Boy
Sometimes that Oyster Po’ Boy just calls your name. Run. Don’t forget the hot sauce.
13 Crema Cafe – Bluebird
Steve Buckholtz makes one of the city’s most iconic sandwiches, dubbed the Bluebird. It’s chicken salad with Blueberries. And you want it.
14 Fromagination – Salami
The trick with Fromagination sandwiches is to let them warm up for a while once they’re out of the cold deli case. When they relax, they’re all yours.
15 4&20 Bakery – Cuban
4 & 20 is essentially a bakery with a former L’Etoile chef (Evan Dannells) on savory duty. Get the best Cubano in town (even though it’s not quite classic). However, because it’s difficult to recommend a menu item that doesn’t arrive on one of the bakery’s massive biscuits, I suggest you eat one of those too.
16 Harmony Bar - Hot White Whitehouse
The thing to get here is the Walnut Burger. But the other thing to get here is the Hot White Whitehouse. It’s the sandwich you never knew you needed. Rye, fried onions, smoked turkey, Thousand Island.
17 Froth House – Ben Franklin
It’s so good it’s received press from Milwaukee. Turkey, Provolone, Romaine lettuce.
18 Johnson Public House – Roast Beef Breakfast Sandwich
Arguably the best coffee shop in town, JPH also serves a little food. The Roast Beef is offered during the day — but not with an egg as it is at breakfast. So if they won’t give you an egg, take this sandwich home and fry your own damn egg. It’s worth it. [JPH reports eggs are an option any time of day]
19 Merchant – Egg Salad
Say you need an egg salad sandwich but the idea of boiling a lot of eggs and then peeling them makes you want to cry. This is your best bet, and it goes with Merchant’s cocktails.
20 Graze- Farmer John Provolone
Before it was Graze’s Farmer John’s Provolone, it was Cafe Soleil’s Farmer John’s Provolone. Another icon.
21 Banzo – The Harvest
These Banzo people are on a roll. The Harvest is downright sick: grilled eggplant, spinach, falafel.
22 Mildred’s Sandwich Shop – Blystone or Leadbetter
Mildred’s is a piece of Madison history. Owner Nels Nelson passed away recently. Employees are carrying on the restaurant unchanged until further notice. It’s a get- in- there- and- try- the- Blystone- today situation. ”Turkey breast, provolone, Swiss, onion, green pepper, lettuce, and tomato with mayonnaise and dressing on whole wheat pita.”
23 Old Fashioned – Walley
If you can get a spot to sit, try the Walley Sandwich.
24 Blowin’ Smoke – Three Little Pigs
This is serious BBQ out of a cart. Pig three ways.
25 Fraboni’s – Otto
Fraboni’s deli is a little bit of old school European awesomeness. Pick up some cerignola olives. Ditto the greasy housemade croutons. Then have the fantastic Otto.
26 Le Baguette – Parisien Sandwich
Ham, gruyere, cornichons and butter on a fresh baguette. For $5.75. Plus, you can order in French.
27 Los Gemelos – Torta Milenesa
It’s like a pork tenderloin sandwich on flavor steroids. Crispy pork or chicken, avocado and mayo on a fluffy torta roll. You may not have to eat again for 24 hrs.
28 Osteria Papavero – Panino Pazzo
Osteria Papavero sandwiches are ridiculously good. Try the Panino Pazzo: 18 month old prosciutto di Parma, cow’s milk mozzarella, tomatoes, soft-boiled eggs, Sicilian tuna, and romaine lettuce on a warmed ciabatta roll.
29 Green Owl – BBQ Jackfruit
You’ve probably never had jackfruit, have you?
30 Salvatore Tomato Pies - daily special
Patrick DePula is bringing food made with care and local ingredients to the ‘burbs in Sun Prarie. At lunch, he runs a sandwich of the day special using meat he’s procured from Stalzy’s.
31 Jordandal Cookhouse – daily special
Jordandal Farms doesn’t always have sandwiches, but when they do . . .
32 Redamte Coffee House – Chicken & Brie
Redamte’s food exceeds the normal coffee shop fare. The Chicken & Brie is deeply satisfying, and includes avocado as well as raspberry jam. A delicious combination. The Sweet Potato Pesto is also worth a visit.
33 Underground Butcher – Whitefish Sandwich
In a close tie with the thrillingly tasty Porchetta sandwich.
34 Sardine – Smoked Salmon (brunch)
Here’s a breakfast/brunch sandwich that exceeds the form. Smoked salmon, cucumbers, radishes, hard-boiled egg, arugula, capers and sweet mustard on toasted sourdough.
35 Brasserie V
The burgers are good here, but so are the sandwiches. A version of a pan bagnat at lunchtime is the winner: grilled tuna, Niçoise olive relish, hard-boiled egg, baby spinach, tomato, red onion & aioli on Baguette
36 Saigon Noodles – Roasted Pork (Banh Mi)
A good version of the classic Vietnamese Banh Mi.
37 Willy St Co-op – make your own
All those delicious organic ingredient choices just beg to be built into a massive, healthy, hippied-out extravaganza.
38 Natt Spil – Pork Sandwich
No list is complete without Natt Spil’s Pork Sandwich. Pulled pork piled hot and high straight from the wood-fired oven.
39 Bluephies Downtown Deli – Grilled Lemon Herb Chicken
The best sandwich of its kind downtown? You decide.
40 Number 40 is up to you. What’s your favorite sandwich in Madison? Add it to the comments below!