Gallery: Staff Picks: Best Sandwich in Chicago

Fried Bologna Sandwich at Au Cheval
Fried Bologna Sandwich at Au Cheval

I don’t know why this sandwich, or most of the food at Au Cheval, works so well. There seems to be no balance at all, just fatty ingredients added on top of fatty ingredients—in this case house-made bologna in a soft brioche-like roll topped with American cheese topped with mayonnaise. It’s absurd, not to mention absurdly caloric. But when the bologna is griddled until crisp in places, piled high into a juicy and complex tower of meat, I suggest only that you yield. Blake Royer

[Photograph: Blake Royer]

Au Cheval, 800 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-929-4580; aucheval.tumblr.com‎

Milanesa Cemita at Cemitas Puebla
Milanesa Cemita at Cemitas Puebla

I realize I'm the one that asked, but this question is basically impossible to answer. I love variety, and settling on one particular sandwich feels wrong. So, with sincere regrets to all the wonderful options at Xoco, Publican Quality Meats, and J.P. Graziano's, I'll go with the milanesa cemita at Cemitas Puebla. Though it looks stuffed and overloaded, everything—from the crackly sesame crusted bread to the robust and smoky house made chipotle peppers— is crucially important. Loads of sandwiches have cheese on them, but few feature tangy and creamy queso Oaxaca (which the owner claims to import straight from Mexico). As for the crispy fried pork cutlet, it's meaty enough to stand out, but thin enough to not get in the way. Nick Kindelsperger

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Cemitas Puebla, 3619 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-8435; cemitaspuebla.com

Special Bánh Mì at Nhu Lan
Special Bánh Mì at Nhu Lan

My favorite sandwich, the sandwich that rises above all others, is Nhu Lan's Special Bánh Mì. The various incarnations of pork, the crunchy pickled daikon and carrots, the bright and herbal bite of cilantro, and the occasional beautiful pain from biting into a slice of jalapeño all adds up to my perfect sandwich experience. And it comes wrapped up in a soft, crusty, warm baguette. YUM. Debbie Carlos

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Nhu' Lan Bakery, 2612 W Lawrence Avenue Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-878-9898; www.nhulansbakery.com

Ham and Raclette Panino at Lula Cafe
Ham and Raclette Panino at Lula Cafe

Ever one to sing the praises of Logan Square's Lula Cafe, I'd have to pick their Ham and Raclette Panino as my favorite sandwich in the Chicago area (though the Pepito at Irazu is a close, close second). For this menu staple, locally sourced honey ham pairs with mild raclette cheese and is topped with a fried farm egg. For garnish, Lula's cooks throw on a heaping pile of radish slices, salad greens, and pickled onions before pressing everything together between two slices of fresh-baked bread that have been slathered with black currant mustard. Part sweet, part savory, part tangy, this sandwich is a symphony of flavors for the taste buds. Michell Eloy

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Lula Cafe, 2537 North Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-489-9554; lulacafe.com‎

Prosciutto at J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.
Prosciutto at J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.

My undying love for J.P. Graziano Grocery Co. in the West Loop is no secret on this site. In fact, I think that the Bangles' "Eternal Flame" may have been written in anticipation of my feelings about their sandwich menu. Give me an Italian, a Mr. G, or a Graziano Will Special, and I'll walk the rest of my day with a lilted spring in my step. But perhaps their best sandwich is the Prosciutto ($7.25), a sandwich so simple and balanced, I tear up just thinking about it. Everything about this sandwich is just enough: just enough paper-thin Prosciutto di parma, just enough creamy mozzarella, and just enough basil, lettuce slaw, and tomato to brighten the whole thing up. The sandwich is a lesson in tasteful restraint. Ordered in that magic hour when the crackly D'Amato's bread is straight from the source, this is an easy pick for the best sandwich in Chicago. Joe Roy

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

J.P. Graziano Grocery Co, Inc., 901 W Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-666-4587; jpgraziano.com

Three Little Piggy Sandwich at The Silver Palm
Three Little Piggy Sandwich at The Silver Palm

As some of you may or may not know, I'm sort of a ridiculous person, so the first sandwich I thought of is also ridiculous. I'm talking about the Three Little Piggy sandwich at the Silver Palm. Yes, Mister Piggy Sandwich, Anthony Bourdain talked about you, and so did Nick back in March. For the uninitiated, this sandwich is pork three ways—bacon, ham, and fried pork tenderloin—plus an onion ring (you know, because you need a vegetable), gruyère cheese, and to top it off with a big old fashioned helping of "f*ck it," there's a fried egg on top. It sounds like too much. Maybe it is too much. But listen, if you're already sitting inside a weird old train car for your meal, so you might as well go all the way. Dennis Lee

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

The Silver Palm, 768 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 312-666-9322; thesilverpalmrestaurant.com‎

Fried Bologna Sandwich at Au Cheval
Fried Bologna Sandwich at Au Cheval

I love bologna (Smoking Goose's black truffle bologna is to die for) so I think Au Cheval's fried bologna sandwich is a masterpiece. The housemade meat is fried, piled in a towering heap on a soft bun, and topped with American cheese. It'll make you forget the unfortunate school cafeteria versions of your childhood. Amy Cavanaugh

[Photograph: Blake Royer]

Au Cheval, 800 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (map); 312-929-4580; aucheval.tumblr.com‎

Atomica Cemita at Cemitas Puebla
Atomica Cemita at Cemitas Puebla

Its three kinds of pork (breaded Milanesa, Carne Enchilada and Jamon) would probably suffice to make this hefty sandwich one of my local favorites. But the super soft seeded bread, tangy shredded cheese, and delicious in-house salsas add the depth and dimension to this treasure of Chicago sandwichdom that makes it number one in my book. Roger Kamholz

Cemitas Puebla, 3619 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60647 (map); 773-772-8435; cemitaspuebla.com

Short Rib Sandwich at Hummingbird Kitchen
Short Rib Sandwich at Hummingbird Kitchen

Although I am a sucker for the Italian tuna salad sandwich from Bari's, the corned beef on rye from Manny's, and the pork belly gyro from PQM, this year I found one of my favorite sandwiches on Hummingbird Kitchen's food truck. Being the kind of person who craves either hamburgers or short ribs when I drive through the farmland of Wisconsin, if the option of a short rib sandwich presents itself, I'll take it. The short rib sandwich by Hummingbird Kitchen's food truck is hands-down, one of the greatest short ribs I have eaten in this city, and it is my favorite sandwich discovery of this year thanks to an accidental run-on with this food truck at the Aon Building. Considering that Hummingbird has a fully-equipped kitchen with capabilities to cook on board, I can't wait to see what they put on the menu in the upcoming months. Carol Hilker

Hummingbird Kitchen Food Truck, 847-475-6680; hummingbirdkitchen.com

[Courtesy of Hummingbird Kitchen]

Sara's Secret on Whole Wheat Bialy at Chicago Bagel Authority
Sara's Secret on Whole Wheat Bialy at Chicago Bagel Authority

Before bread broke-up with me and I was forced to eat sandwiches wrapped in lettuce, my absolute favorite was the Sara's Secret from Chicago Bagel Authority in Lincoln Park. A steaming hot stack of thinly sliced turkey topped with avocado, tomato and spicy mustard, piled onto a whole-wheat bialy and expertly wrapped in tinfoil to-go. If you added a smear of hummus, it was even better. Rachel Gillman

Not Sara's Secret, but another Chicago Bagel Authority winner, The Muenster Mash [Photograph: Lindsey Becker]

Chicago Bagel Authority, 953 West Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map); 773-248-9606; eatcba.com‎

Meatball Bánh Mì at Ba Le
Meatball Bánh Mì at Ba Le

When Nick first asked us this question, the meatball bánh mì at Ba Le wasn't the first sandwich that came to mind. Instead, I immediately thought of the three great sandwiches I had at Frog N Snail. Soon after I thought of those though, the memory of the meatball bánh mì started nagging me. Slowly I started to remember the satisfying crunch of the baguette and those fresh herbs and veggies, then the complex flavor of the meatballs. All four of those sandwiches are impeccably made and delicious, but the meatball bánh mì wins thanks to its mind bogglingly low price tag of $3.95. Lindsey Becker

[Photograph: Lindsey Becker]

Ba Le, 5014 N. Broadway St., Chicago, IL 60640 (map); 773-561-4424; balesandwich.com