SANDWICH GUIDE

Sandwich Guide
by Joshua Carlucci
Photography by Chip Chockley and Brandon Dill

What makes a sandwich worth its salt? Is it the right combination of ingredients layered with intention? Is it succinct seasoning of each filling to ensure none goes overlooked? Is it the right amount of mayo? The right bread for the right spread? The balance of crunchy-coarse and buttery-smooth? Or, perhaps, is it just using the right tomatoes at the right time of year? The answer is yes.

The gestalt of a great sandwich lingers with you, becoming more than just lunch. It’s a good and binding comfort whose essence exists beyond the five senses. To eat a good sandwich is to be right with the world, if only fleetingly so.

In this roundup you will find a number of places in Memphis where you can eat a sandwich that will make you feel that all is right with the world. From masala-spiked chicken, to a combo of cold cuts, to chorizo and potatoes, the sandwiches at these 12 places around the city are some of the best I’ve ever had. This list is in alphabetical order and is certainly not exhaustive. Use it as inspiration—not a rule—for what makes a good sandwich good. 

A&R Bar-B-Que

With so many barbecue restaurants—and even more barbecue sandwiches—to choose from around Memphis, it’s tough to narrow down the Rolodex. There are plenty of good iterations of smoked meat between bread, but A&R has some of the best with something for everybody: fried catfish, brisket, fried bologna, even burgers and kielbasa (if you consider those sandwiches).

I admire A&R for its range, but even more for its dedication to unabashed simplicity. Would you ever think to put whole ribs—bone and all—in a sandwich? Hell no, I wouldn’t. But A&R does, and it just works. I get the rib sandwich every time I’m there, and every time I’m eating it, I laugh. It’s ridiculous—the methodological requirement to pull the bones out of the meat, one by one—but in the best way possible. 

It’s as entertaining as it is delicious. The impossibly tender slab of rib meat gives no fuss when its structural bones are ripped from the flesh. The tangy housemade slaw and sweet barbecue collate between the spongy, generic white bread to make up an endearingly sloppy sandwich that fills the soul as it fills the belly.

Buster’s Butcher

I’m a longtime fan of the Buster’s brand. Its curatorial finesse—both at Buster’s Butcher and Buster’s Liquors & Wines—is admirable, to say the least. The encyclopedic and thoughtful selection of liquor and non-liquor products in the original store has clearly translated to the butcher shop, which opened last year. In the reach-in fridge, amid the glass bottles of Topo Chico and house-made sauces and dressings, is a small portion of the middle shelf labeled sandwiches. You’ll likely only find it stocked within a couple hours after noon. They go quick.

Buster’s sandwiches are made fresh daily and for ultimate convenience—they’re grab-and-go, but not to the detriment of their quality. Each of the three varieties—spicy Italian, jambon beurre, and roast beef—are built for on-the-move eating. The thick, crusty baguettes they’re built on are sturdy enough to not sog or fold from the ingredients that sit within them, so they hold up with time and can be eaten easily with one hand (anyone else snack and drive?).

But the sandwiches aren’t just easy. They’re delicious, and they showcase the prowess and skill of the butchers behind the counter. The jambon beurre is made with city ham that’s cured in-house. The spicy Italian is layered lovingly with gabagool (capicola) that’s made there too. And the roast beef is—you guessed it—cooked up right there, a few feet away from where it’s sliced. Where else can you get sandwiches with meat cured in the same store? (If that sounds like a challenge, it is).

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Elwood’s Shack

Elwood’s Shack is very much in its own lane—an unapologetic and eclectic purveyor of dishes that bend cuisine and genre constraints. It’s a bizarre bazaar of sorts in the food scene in Memphis—barbecue, but not just barbecue. Southern, but more than that. Comfort food, sure, but that doesn’t do it justice. Whatever square peg you want to try to fit in the round hole of Elwood’s, what’s certain is this joint’s ability to make a mean sandwich, and there’s damn sure an abundance of them.

There are about 36 sandwiches on the menu at Elwood’s Shack’s two locations, and that’s not counting burgers, hot dogs, or tacos. There should be a stamp card or, like, a plaque-on-the-wall prize for trying them all, because it seems near impossible to do so.

Of the few I’ve tried, I’ve been none but impressed by the care, thought, and grandeur of each. The muffuletta is made on bread proofed and baked in-house with prosciutto (great idea) and spicy handmade olive salad that’s teeming with many different pickles. The Red Headed Step Child is a behemoth of a sandwich and not for the faint of heart (seriously, it’s greasy), cascading with mounds of brisket, pulled pork, and smoked sausage medallions.

Whether a taco counts as a sandwich or not is beyond the philosophical concerns of this article, but whatever your religion, the fish taco deserves a shout-out in here: It’s a tostada-sized mountain of fresh steelhead trout, greens, and plenty of fixins. Great if you want to be satisfied but not feel terrible about yourself.

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Fino’s from the Hill

There aren’t many places to get a real, no-frills, Italian American deli fix around here, but Fino’s from the Hill is one of the few. “From the Hill” refers to the shop’s previous owners’ roots in The Hill district of St. Louis, Missouri, a cultural enclave for Italian Americans in the Show-Me State. While Fino’s has passed through many pairs of hands since it first opened in 1990, it has retained the same levels of quality and authenticity ever since. 

Sandwiches at Fino’s come hot or cold, and there is a separate menu for each. Deli-counter-style cold cut subs, like the South Philly, are layered with thinly sliced cured meat and cheese, olive salad, or iceberg with vinegar and oil. Timeless and classic. Hot sandwiches are saucy and serious, with big proteins like meatballs or chicken cacciatore. Whichever prong of the fork you choose, you’re gonna leave happy and maybe even a little mobbed up.

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Greys Fine Cheeses

Greys Fine Cheeses has been the greatest of news ever since it came to East Memphis. It’s one of the few places in town to get, well, fine cheeses—and the only store that specializes specifically in cheesemongering. Greys is good at what it does. It’s always packed with a full staff of helpful and knowledgeable cheese lovers who serve the adventurous and predictable cheese-lovers alike. They also make some killer sandwiches with their goods.

Greys ain’t your run-of-the-mill deli. You ever had a kimchi reuben before? Me neither, and it makes me mad I hadn’t thought of it myself first. Smoked pastrami, kimchi, and gooey raclette meld together for an umami-packed stack on marbled rye.

Greys also has a few aiolis (house-made with Duke’s Mayo, arguably the best store brand, bases)—buttermilk, Jimmy pepper, and poupon—each of which completes its respective sandwich and pairs seamlessly to complement the fancy cheese tucked in there.

Highland Super Submarine Sandwich Shop

Visiting the Highland Super Submarine Sandwich Shop, colloquially known by locals as the “Chinese Sub Shop,” is like going back in time, thanks to the picnic tablecloths, styrofoam cups, beige faux-leather booths, drop-tile ceiling, and cash-only policy with no ATM. The shop is the same that used to be on Highland Street (hence the name) about 10 years ago. It moved in 2013 to its new location on Summer Avenue, but hasn’t changed much else.

The Chinese Sub Shop, “where a foot is a feast,” is where Ms. B (of Ms. B’s Sub Shop fame) got her chops, and it’s a Memphis classic. There isn’t much more than subs and American Chinese food. I go with the pastrami (typical, I know) or roast beef—sometimes the steak with pepper and onion if I’m feeling fancy. The subs can be ordered 8-inch or 12-inch and come with all the dressings and a free bag of chips. It’s hard to beat a bona fide combo these days, and the Chinese Sub Shop provides.

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Kwik Chek

“THE REAL MEMPHIS,” Kwik Chek says of itself on its Instagram bio. The term real is ambiguous, but if it means “authentic,” then Kwik Chek certainly checks out. Somewhere between a gas station convenience store and a deli counter (or both), Kwik Chek’s idiosyncrasies are numerous. Not only can you cash a check and grab a beer from the fridge while you wait for your food, but you don’t have to choose between, say, an order of dolmas (Mediterranean grape leaf wraps) and an order of mandu (Korean potstickers).

Greek and Korean offerings adorn the eclectic menu, which sometimes draws the two territories close together, like in the kimchi burrito. The muffulettas at Kwik Chek set themselves apart from others around town with spicy garlic habanero sauce slathered between the sesame seed-studded, oversized bun. Other sandos include deli-style clubs and hoagies, Mediterranean-style pitas, and even an absolutely killer Bi Bim Bop Burger with a sunny-side up egg.

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The Mad Grocer & Deli

New to Crosstown Concourse as of late last year is a much-needed refreshing sandwich spot, The Mad Grocer. This sandwich spot is run by a husband-and-wife duo inspired by New Orleans cooking—visible in the unique menu of po’boys. These NOLA-style sammies come in half or whole sizes and are mostly meat forward. The Mess and The Cosmic Debris are filled with shaved pot roast and laden with pan gravy, inspired by the messy and hearty roast beef po’boys of Crescent City restaurants like Parasol’s and Bevi Seafood Co. A Memphis-style muffuletta is, against tradition and custom, meshed into po’boy form with soppressata, capicola, and mortadella for an unorthodox, albeit delicious, mash-up.

Other sandwiches exude similar chaotic creativity, like the triple-decker Mad House, layered with turkey, capicola, and bacon. But classics like the reuben and hot pastrami will please purists and sandwich anarchists alike.

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Ms. B’s Sub Shop

If you are looking for a more classic American deli experience, follow my voice to Ms. B’s Sub Shop. This buzzy and quaint space is run by none other than The Sandwich Lady herself, Bonnie Harris, who got her chops and slices working at Super Submarine Sandwich Shop for over 30 years. Today, she and her daughter Stacy Bizzard pump out many dozens of sandwiches a day to regulars and newcomers alike.

Make your own sub or pick a premade off the menu—either way you can’t miss. The large pastrami, fully dressed, with pepperjack cheese on wheat is my jam, but the cold-cut combo is a well-loved favorite among fans. Call ahead to get your order extra fast, and don’t forget to throw in a homemade soup, salad, dessert, or lemonade when you pick it up. If you’re extra lucky, you might even get your photo added to the collage on the wall.

Phở 4ever

No sandwich list is complete without a good bánh mì, this is certain, and those at Phở 4ever are bangers, without a doubt. I spotlighted Phở 4ever in “Happiness in a Bowl” in the Fall 2023 issue for its hủ tiếu (pork and shrimp noodle soup) but didn’t get the chance to mention the beauty in the restaurant’s sandwich-making.

The bánh mì đặc biệt—also known as a cold cut bánh mì—is just about everything a bánh mì should be. It’s chock full of đồ chua (julienned and pickled daikon and carrots), thin jalapeños and cucumbers, and fragrant sprigs of cilantro to balance out the spongy slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese mortadella) and giò thủ (Vietnamese headcheese). A black-pepper-spiked liver pâté is spread across the crusty crumb of the thick French roll, tying a bow on a beautifully rich and refreshing sandwich.

If pork isn’t your thing, Phở 4ever slings other beautiful bánh mì variants like chả cá (Hanoi-style turmeric fish) and trứng chiên (egg and tofu), all of which stand up to one another.

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Sam’s Deli

The eclectic and de facto fusion spot Sam’s Deli is a bit of a legend around the University of Memphis. Cheap and massive sandwiches, cheaper beer, and a dine-in student discount keep studious patrons returning and new fans streaming in. One of the best things about Sam’s Deli is that you’d be hard pressed to find anything quite like it anywhere else—in Memphis or beyond.

The space is inviting yet funky, with garage sale-chic trinkets and novelty art adorning the walls; my favorite piece depicts a group of crawfish ladies soaking in a jacuzzi and being served champagne by alligator butlers clad in coattailed suits (the owners won’t sell it to me—I’ve asked a bunch). The food at Sam’s matches the vibe. Choose from bibimbap, to Maharashtrian chicken masala, to hot and cold deli sandwiches, all of which are surprisingly delicious for being so unrelated.

My go-to is the Hopgood 65, a sandwich that spotlights deeply spiced pieces of braised chicken and a bright, freshly contrasting mint chutney. It’s a hefty meal—loaded up on a crusty, toasted hoagie with provolone, mayo, and veggies—and a perfect one for those who can’t (and shouldn’t have to) choose between Indian food and a deli sandwich.

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Taqueria Garibaldi

While the pool of Mexican food in Memphis is ever-growing deep and vast, the king of tortas is Taqueria Garibaldi in Hickory Hill. On any given Sunday, look around the dining room and notice the groups of friends, families, and dates chatting the weekend away over pambazos: tortas filled with chorizo and fried potatoes, dipped in guajillo chili sauce, and griddled to a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside perfection.

The sandwich-heavy focus at Garibaldi is off-kilter for the taqueria scene in town, and seldom can you find a menu so wide in range and regional styles of torta. You could ostensibly eat a different torta here every day for two weeks without repeating. Go simple with fried egg or pork shank, or complex with the fried steak Cubana or pineapple and ham Hawaiian.

If the mood’s right, my guilty pleasure is the torta ahogada with al pastor. Pork is shaved off the trompo and stuffed between a telera roll with refried beans, lettuce, and tomato. It’s all drowned in a thick and spicy chili salsa and drizzled with crema. Definitely a soppy fork-and-knife adventure, but the juice is worth the squeeze.

Joshua Carlucci is a food writer and professional cook from rural Central California. He is a Memphis transplant by way of New Orleans and New York City. He has a BA in English from UC Berkeley, a culinary diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education, and is an MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Memphis. @joshuadcarlucci

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais, and his wife and kids. @chipchockley

Brandon Dill has found a home in Memphis. When not planning road trips with his wife or building blanket forts with his two daughters, he likes to take pictures. His photos have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and others. @bdillphoto