We are a nation of sandwich eaters, as deli counters everywhere from Grafton Street to Dingle will attest. Every cafe, counter and hatch does its own variation, with ingredients ranging from withered ham to slow-roasted pork and from slathered mayo to lemon basil aioli. But which is the best? Is that too personal a question, or is there an answer?
We took to the streets to find, but before that, we took to the internet. With the burrito craze, the number of available options makes it possible for cliques to form around favourites, but with sandwiches, it’s a mess. People feel strongly about the one they buy, but it tends to be closely linked to where they live, work or hang around. There are places that are cool and places that are institutions, but there’s no true king. And, as Ray from Achewood says in the Achewood cookbook: “Everybody is like ‘oh no thanks man I already got my sandwich, I already know how I like my sandwich. I always have the same sandwich which I have been proven to love.’” That’s a fair assessment but, as curious as we were hungry, we had to find out for sure.
Pastrami and Gorgonzola, Pig and Heifer (€6.50)
Where? Pearse Street, Amiens Street, City Quay and Charlotte Way
What is it? Thinly sliced pastrami with gorgonzola cheese and spinach salad.
It’s hard to pick out an individual sandwich from a place like Pig and Heifer. It’s a New York-style deli; you can tell because it’s got Italian and German meats in big stacks on sandwiches. You’ll have your own favourite, and the menu is huge, but this one, ordered from a person displaying traditional New York deli gruffness, is our pick, not only because it’s so different to what you get elsewhere in Dublin, but because it seems like the kind of thing Joey would’ve gone wide-eyed over in Friends.
Porchetta, Fumbally (€6.00)
Where? Fumbally Lane in the Liberties
What is it? Slow-roasted pork, caper mayo and spiced apple sauce on a ciabatta bun.
Much of the Fumbally’s appeal is the atmosphere – it’s a den of quirk, located just the right distance from town to sustain its personality while still drawing in customers. But they do serious lunch, too. Our favourite item on the relatively small menu, and a popular choice among readers, is the porchetta sandwich. Slow-roasted pork is a strong contender for best meat, full stop, but the artful simplicity of the delivery lets the flavour shine, and it’s just hearty enough to do as a meal. Apple nods towards tradition as an accompaniment to pork – even if your grandmother was suspicious of the motivations behind a ciabatta or caper mayo, she’d recognise the flavours at play. It’s a notch cheaper than some of the other ‘artisan’ stuff on this list, too, which can only work in its favour.
Marino, Dublin City Food (€6.50)
Where? 7 St Andrew Street
What is it? Roast sirloin beef with horseradish mayo and red onion on your choice of granary bread or sourdough
It’s always pleasing to find something that does exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak, when it comes to food, and Dublin City Food obliges. Not only is it a place in Dublin that sells food, it also serves food named after places in the city – food *about* the city, if you will. And like Dublin, at times, there’s not too much going on. The Marino, for example, could have four more ingredients, but it doesn’t need them. There’s good quality hot meat (roasted in the kitchen downstairs), texture, flavour and a little lubricating sauce, combining to good effect. It’s served in a bussing tray with some salad, a nice touch that you can eat or choose to ignore as you wish.
Grogans ham and cheese toastie
Where? On the corner of South William Street and Castle Market Street
What is it? A ham and cheese toastie
Cheese and toasted bread. You’ve been drinking Guinness all day, arguing with a grey-bearded Englishman with a Moleskine who insists that the works of James Joyce were secretly written by the Church. You’re starting to wobble. The stomach is empty, but the place is filling up and it’s murder to get a seat in here once people with day jobs start to arrive. You could get up, leave and go somewhere else to get something more substantial. But why bother? Just ask for the Grogans toastie, as simple as sandwiches come, here to save the day. It’ll never let you down.
El Magnifico, Pablo’s Tortas (€7.50)
Where? 4 Clarendon Market, just off South William Street
What is it? Sliced steak, Mexican pickled onions, rocket and spinach on a bed of jalapeno alioli and black bean puree, served on a crispy ciabatta-style roll
Over the course of our research, we encountered dozens of enthusiastic citizens throwing out recommendations willy-nilly, losing sight of the cause at hand. “Burritos are kind of sandwiches aren’t they?” they’d shout, deaf to reason, looking for any excuse to get back into the traditional wars over wrap texture. Burritos are not sandwiches. Luckily, if you were in Pablo Picante on Clarendon Row, you’d be seconds away from Pablo’s torta place. Tortas are sandwiches, but they’re beguiling different to the sandwiches we know. Hearty and filled with (relatively exotic) ingredients, they do what burritos do in terms of the dinner-on-the-move function, and El Magnifico, named with all the bravado of the champion luchador himself, lives up to its name: well-judged, complex, different and good.
Pear, bacon and cheddar, The Pepperpot (€5.80)
Where? Powerscourt Centre, South William Street
What is it? Roasted pear, bacon and Mount Callan cheddar, with greens and “a cunning amalgam of mustard and mayonnaise”, with bread that’s baked on-site.
You might balk at the idea of putting fruit in a sandwich, but there is a long tradition of banana sandwiches in Dublin (ask your dad), so hush. The pear, bacon and cheddar sandwich is the pride of the Pepperpot, the cafe that overlooks the central steppe of the Powerscourt centre from the mezzanine level. Waitress Isadora Epstein, schooled in the art of making sandwiches seem delicious, tells us that “the pear transcends the dated gimmick of fruit in sandwiches and is a sincerely integral ingredient in a singularly succulent sandwich”. She adds that “bacon is good”, which is true. Without the pear, the bacon and cheddar combination could be too strong, but with it, it’s excellent.
Bacon blaa, Hatch & Sons (€4.50)
Where? 15 St Stephen’s Green, below the Little Museum of Dublin
What is it? A bacon blaa.
Scorn not its simplicity but rather love it all the more. It’s bacon, on a blaa. The blaa is a square roll from Waterford, not dissimilar to what we would broadly call a bap. The bacon is bacon, from Kettyle in Fermanagh. There’s some butter ease things up a little, and a bottle of Heinz ketchup plonked beside the slab of meat on which the sandwich is served, but otherwise there’s nothing to it. No pickled fig mayonnaise, no sake sauerkraut, just bacon on a roll. There are other more elaborate options, including the Waterford-favourite spiced beef, but there is literally nothing to knock about the bacon blaa, so it takes the spot here.
Chargrilled Chicken, Juniors (€6.50)
Where? Bath Avenue, Dublin 4
What is it? Spiced chicken, backed up with slow-roasted tomatoes, rocket and lemon basil aioli, served on ciabatta bread.
This particular delight drew the strongest response in our straw polls of sandwich-eaters citywide. Juniors sandwiches are spoken of in baited breath by those who have eaten them, with some people claiming that “they don’t really count as a sandwiches”, ostensibly because they’re too good. Juniors, in the evening, is an excellent little Italian-influenced restaurant, but by day it puts that level of care into its hand-sized lunches.
The chargrilled chicken sandwich is vastly popular, selling more than one hundred a day (and more a quarter of a million to date), speaking to the restaurant-style care put into the components. There are many other Juniors sandwiches worth investigating, no doubt, and they have specials every day, but this one is a classic and, as of now, the reigning champion.