Breakfast Banh Mi at Jack Flaps (3900 Lorain Ave., jack-flaps.com)
Every joint in town that serves breakfast and/or brunch has some edition of the breakfast sandwich, and pretty much all of them feature some combination of pork, egg and cheese. Sure, the bread or bun changes, and maybe the garnishes and sauce, but when your three main ingredients stay put, there's only so much possible deviation. That's why we can't stay away from the Breakfast Banh Mi at Jack Flaps, tricked out with Vietnamese-spiced sausage, lightly fermented kimchi, everything bagel cream cheese and a fried egg. Fire Food & Drink (firefoodanddrink.com) shakes things up by tucking local fried eggs, bacon, lettuce and tomato into smoky Indian flatbread. Breakfast sandwiches served on a fluffy croissant, as is the case with XYZ Tavern's (xyzthetavern.com) BLT & A, are always appreciated. This is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sando with a fried egg and avocado. Bonbon Bakery (bonboncleveland.com) has been winning the breakfast sandwich category thanks to the housemade English muffin that supports maple syrup-scented sausage, over-easy egg and cheddar cheese.
Corned Beef at Slyman's Restaurant (3106 St. Clair Ave., slymans.com)
What's left to say about this sandwich that hasn't already been said? When it comes to sliced-meat deli sandwiches in Cleveland, corned beef immediately comes to mind. And when it comes to suppliers of said beef, Slyman's owns the field. The model of the category, these jaw-busting towers of plush, rosy-red beef are ridiculously savory and satisfying, destroying our cravings for the beasts for a solid month. Culinary tourists travel far and wide to visit this bustling midtown deli for a taste of one of the best CB on ryes in the country. We also wouldn't turn our noses up at the versions sold at Danny's Deli (dannysdeli.net), Superior Restaurant (9108 Superior Ave.) and Tal's Bakery & Deli in Parma (talsbeverageanddeli.com).
Hot Pastrami at Mr. Brisket (2156 South Taylor Rd., Cleveland Heights, misterbrisket.com)
For eons, Mister Brisket was known best as the butcher shop to the stars — or at least to chefs and home cooks who demanded the best quality meats and chops. It was only in recent memory that the small Cleveland Heights shop began making and selling sandwiches starring house-roasted meats, and the response has been almost unanimously positive. While the corned beef is spot-on delicious, the luscious, peppery hot Romanian pastrami on soft rye is the deli's true treasure. Notable runners up can be enjoyed at Corky & Lenny's (corkyandlennys.com) and Ontario Street Cafe (2053 Ontario St.).
Reuben at Jack's Deli (14490 Cedar Rd., University Heights, jacksdeliandrestaurant.com)
Technically, the Reuben ain't kosher given the verboten mix of meat and dairy, but it is one of the best things to come out of a delicatessen since the dill pickle. What sets the sandwich apart from your typical corned beef on rye is the unholy marriage of corned beef, swiss cheese, crunchy, tangy kraut and creamy Russian dressing, all of which get griddled up to a crunchy, melty, amazing mess. You won't find many better than the one served at Jack's Deli, but Lucky's Cafe (luckyscafe.com) in Tremont does a truly fine job, as does Joe's Deli (myjoesdeli.com) in Lakewood and Jaworski Meats (jaworskimeats.com) in Middleburg Heights.
Banh Mi at Superior Pho (3030 Superior Ave., superiorpho.com)
Vietnamese cooks manage to pack more flavor, texture and satisfaction into a crusty French-style baguette than any other culture on earth. The love child of French and Vietnamese cuisines, this addictive sandwich's charm lies in the contrast of ingredients, like creamy chicken liver pate and mayonnaise set against the crunch of pickled veggies, the satisfying meatiness of thin-sliced roast pork against the summery shine of fresh cilantro and the kick in the teeth from jalapeños. Excellent versions are also served at Bac in Tremont (bactremont.com), Pho Thang downtown (phothangcafe.com) and On the Rise Bakery (ontheriseartisanbreads.com).
Cubano at Caribe Bake Shop (2906 Fulton Rd.)
The Cubano — or Cuban — is the Latin version of the Italian panini, a crusty, lusty pressed sandwich that oozes melted cheese around its waist. Sure, it's meaty and savory thanks to sliced roast pork, ham and, if you're lucky, crispy pork skin. But it's also bright and tangy thanks to the schmear of yellow mustard and sliced dill pickles. At Caribe, deep in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, you'll find one of the best versions around, thin as a cheap seat cushion in the fourth quarter and dense as a celestial black hole. In Valley View, hit up the Oak Barrel (theoakbarrel.com) for a ridiculously good version, while in Berea, head to the Latin-run Campus Grille (thecampusgrille.com).
Fat Italian at Fat Heads (24581 Lorain Rd., North Olmsted, fatheadscleveland.com)
There are sandwiches, minimalist and beautiful with spare ingredients, because those few choices should be the focus of your gastronomy. And then there are sandwiches, whole meals and layers stuffed between two slices of bread or buns, the carbs simply the easiest and most effective way to hold all of the goodness together. Behold, if you're talking about the second philosophy, the sandwiches at Fat Heads. And, specifically, behold the Fat Italian. Yes, they're called headwiches — as big as your head, natch — for a reason. The Fat Italian holds ham, salami, capicola, pepperoni, crumbled hot sausage, provolone cheese, banana peppers, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayo. It's a mouthful in every sense of the word.
All Ohio at The Grocery in Ohio City (3815 Lorain Ave., thegroceryohc.com)
Local, local, local. The tastiest ingredients are the freshest and come from just down the street. In the case of The Grocery in Ohio City (SoLo, whatever), the whole store does. And while you're picking up some local bagels or salsa, take advantage of The Grocery's menu, which unsurprisingly is filled top to bottom with Cleveland-made goodies. One of our favorites? The All Ohio, which layers on roast beef from the lady butchers of Saucission with Cleveland Kraut, Middlefield Amish Swiss, Stone Oven bread and Montana Girl mustard (which is made locally, don't be confused by the name).
Pig Mac at Crop Bistro (2537 Lorain Ave., cropbistro.com)
Think about the Big Mac for a second, and then remember that you probably shouldn't eat a Big Mac. Well, in the case of Crop, you take the simple structural elements and instead of burgers you throw in three kinds of pig. You improve it. You de-Micky D it. Thus was born the Pig Mac, which layers braised pork, bacon and pork loin between three buns with the usual Big Mac accouterments — pickles, onions, special sauce, etc. It's decadent, it's piggy, and it's just about the best thing you can get on three pieces of bread (challah bun, in this case.) It's on the lunch menu, but don't bank on going back to work after you finish it.
Falafel at Cafe Falafel (3843 Riveredge Rd., mycafefalafel.com)
Cafe Falafel's falafel will ruin you for other versions. Generous amounts of minced parsley and cilantro in the batter keep the patties light, moist and airy while last-minute deep frying in peanut oil provides the perfect crunch. The falafel is rolled in a thin lavash-style pita with tahini sauce, pickled turnips, pickles and fresh herbs, creating one of the most satisfying vegetarian sandwiches in town. Praiseworthy versions of this Middle Eastern classic also can be found at Maha's Falafil (mahasfalafil.com) at West Side Market, Frank's Falafel House in Detroit Shoreway, and numerous Aladdin's Eatery (aladdinseatery.com) locations around town.
Shawarma at Ferris Deli (13507 Lakewood Heights Blvd.)
Walk into Ferris and you'll spot a trio of spinning-meat towers, each stacked with marinated pieces of chicken or beef as opposed to gyro's seasoned chip-chopped meat mixture. Order the beef shawarma wrap and the owner shaves off thin slices, bundles them up tightly in a thin lavash-like wrap with Arabic pickles and creamy garlic sauce, slaps it on the griddle until golden brown, before slicing it up into easy-to-eat rounds. We are pretty certain that it's the best shawarma wrap in town, though we also make frequent visits to Sahara Restaurant (saharacle.weebly.com) and Nate's Deli (natesohiocity.com).
Arepa at Barroco Grill (12906 Madison Ave., Lakewood, barrocogrill.com)
The good folks at this Colombian-themed eatery didn't invent the arepa sandwich, but they did introduce many a grateful Clevelander to the genre. The thick corn flour tortillas smell amazing, and when griddled and split, make an ideal chassis for any combination of Latin-inspired ingredients. We're partial to the chorizo and cheese with onions. El Arepazo y Pupuseria in Fairview Park makes a similar dish, with fragrant arepas sliced and stuffed with chorizo, onions, green peppers and little bits of cheese.
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