Antone's Famous Po’ Boys – 3 area locations – You are better served going to the two shops sharing the Antone’s legacy, Angelo’z or Paulie’s Poboys, but these can be fine for a decent, quick lunch. Their fresh buns – when ordered from one of the shops not picked up in a grocery store refrigerator – are distinctively a tad dry and slightly crunchy, and the pre-prepared versions are available in a handful of variations including the classic Italian-oriented Original, roast beef, tuna salad, and the unique Piggy. Each is served, in minimalist fashion, only with thin pickle slices, and hot chow chow, a piquant mixture of pickled cabbage, onions, sweet peppers and paprika. In addition to these legacy Houston favorites, there are also other options including hot sandwiches.
Brown Bag Deli – 4 area locations – This suitably casual, but bright and efficient concept for well prepared cold sandwiches is another winner from the folks who own Barnaby’s and Luna Pizzeria. Featuring entirely a design-it-yourself concept with choices for bread, meats, cheeses, and condiments shown on brown bags cutely affixed to clipboards. The breads are slightly sweet and always fresh, and a good starting point. The “meats”, or rather sandwich fillings, are slightly eclectic, and top-notch, and there should be one for nearly every local palate.
Jason’s Deli – 7 area locations – Soups, salads, pastas and even gluten-free and vegan options these days, but the heart of the menu are the several types of warmed sandwiches including their take on the muffaletta, that New Orleans classic that pairs well with the Sicilian heritage of the founder and the tastes of many of us in southeast Texas, and the reason for a trip here.
Jersey Mike's – 18 area locations – Laudably using New Jersey Italian-American sub shops as their model, their classic, tidy cold sandwiches feature rolls that are advertised as being baked in house, quality cold cuts and cheeses finished with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, vinegar and olive oil. There are also hot subs, wraps, salads, and giant-sized sandwiches available at this basic sandwich stops.
Jimmy John’s – 20 area locations – This chain began serving students at Eastern Illinois University in 1983, and the emphasis at their well-polished locations is on quick service and value – more so than flavor, especially in my two very recent experiences. Their sandwiches (and it is pretty much just sandwiches here) are available as slim and smallish subs on a soft French roll filled with a choice of a half-dozen popular combinations, or the larger club sandwiches with either 7-grain bread or the French roll and about a dozen options for fillings.
Lee's Sandwiches – 1 area location – This Vietnamese sandwich chain from California might not craft banh mi as tasty as the homegrown options, but this slick operation have their charms, especially the airy 10,000 square foot space in the heart of Chinatown. Their Vietnamese sandwiches are certainly recognizable to locals, slightly different, but still enjoyable and cheap. In addition to these, there are also sandwiches made with freshly baked, large, light and buttery croissants with a wide-array of fillings.
Lenny's Sub Shop – 9 area locations – Using a fairly familiar, if slightly more limited menu (just two dozen items) rooted in the East Coast sub shop model serving cold and hot sandwiches and salads. With thick, quality rolls, an excellent hot relish, and a more generous amount of meat, these are some of the very best sandwiches of the national chains. The roast beef is especially enjoyable.
Murphy’s Deli – 32 area locations – It’s not Irish heritage, but the first location on Murphy Road that lends its name to this chain best known for ubiquity and convenience. The tastiest thing here is their signature Houston-style muffaletta. A much softer ready-to-eat loaf, a bit of mayo, and smoked ham makes these different than those created at New Orleans’s Central Grocery. There is also a turkey version and a large menu with gyros, wraps, hot and cold subs, and a number of salads that might have a regional or Mediterranean bent.
Panera Bread – 28 area locations – Baking over a dozen types of breads in-house helps to ensure some sandwich options are far from run-of-the-mill. Served both hot and cold, most feature turkey or chicken, but there should be something for everyone. With breakfast served early, soups and a half-dozen salads, individually sized pizzas available later in the day, plus a more welcoming environ than the typical sandwich shop helps make these appealing for more than just short lunchtime visit.
Potbelly Sandwich Shop – 24 area locations – One of the most appealing of the national chains, these assembly line operations with spacious interiors are set up for the lunchtime rush when a savory, modestly sized hot sandwich will hit the spot without providing much of a dent in the wallet, or in the waistline. Made and customized to order from a dozen basic choices on top of quality, crusty bread, there are also some dessert items and shakes, malts and smoothies if more is desired.
Quiznos – 9 area locations – With locations in seemingly every strip center, Quizno’s subs on toasted bread have numerous fans, and were the second stage in the evolution of the sandwich chain. Featuring several choices featuring beef, chicken, turkey and on flatbreads, there are also classic sandwiches such as the basic Italian sub, club, tuna melt and a French dip. Settings are functional, and meant for scarfing rather than lingering.
Schlotzsky's – 45 area locations – This funny-named Austin ex-pat was the first hot sandwich chain that many Texans experienced. Featuring distinctive spongy bread that grew from a limited number of Italian-oriented fillings to a wide range of combinations, small pizzas, wraps, salads and baked potatoes. These functional stops are fine for quick lunch, but don’t satisfy as fully as in the early days, both in terms of quality and quantity.
Which Wich – 14 area locations – Featuring a neat mix-and-match concept with ten different meats or combinations that yield over fifty choices, these vibrant and slick, if no-frills operations are adept at turning out a tasty, small sandwich that should satisfy most tastes. The fresh and sturdy 6” roll in white or wheat provides a proper platform that the well-trained staff can assemble nearly whatever you desire.
Zoe’s Kitchen – 10 area location – Unique among sandwich chains for its Greek and Southern orientation, this Birmingham, Alabama-based fast-casual concept has the most pleasant atmosphere of any of the sandwich chains, and the food seems fresher and healthier. Pimento cheese, egg salad, grilled chicken breast with caramelized onions, and grilled feta are among the fifteen options. It also serves hot plates and several meals and sides to be taken home after work.
This is an update of something I did for My Table over a decade ago, though I thought that the Philly cheesesteak spots were something different: those sandwiches don’t travel too well back to the office.
The Original Italian cold sub from Jersey Mike's