The biggest food story of Philly in 2016? The upscaling of quick cuisine. Philly chefs are turning their attention to sandwiches, salads and tacos, Philly restaurant owners are dreaming up killer concepts, and Philly eaters are demanding that every meal is just better — better tasting, better quality. The result is our new fast-food revolution, where takeout is as exciting as a meal at Vetri. This week on Foobooz, we’ll be publishing our guide to this new world of cheap eats. (There’s not a cheesesteak mentioned!) Or pick up the October issue of Philly Mag, on newsstands this week, to see it all in one place.
Woodrow’s Sandwich Shop: House Roasted Turkey, $9.75
There are so many lovely things happening inside the roll — the herby turkey, the crisp greens, the bacon-cranberry jam — that it’s no surprise to learn this spot is owned by a trained chef. Everything at Woodrow’s tastes exactly like the lunch you’ve always imagined cooks whip up for themselves on their days off. 630 South Street, Queen Village.
Bait & Switch: Port Richmond Surf and Turf, $9.50
This new dinner-only seafood shack has a great sense of humor (it claims it was founded in 1818 by Captain Merrill Stubing), but it also has a solid menu of (mostly fried) sea creatures to back it up. And while the easiest sandwich here is the buttermilk-marinated hake, the best is this combination fish-cake-and-hot-sausage monster. It comes on a long roll, topped with pepper hash, with pickles and fries on the side, and it reps Philly’s seafood heritage more accurately than any other sandwich in town. 2537 East Somerset Street, Port Richmond.
Meltkraft: Somerset with Bacon Grilled in Bacon Fat, $10.75
The regular menu is fine if you’re a rookie or some kind of indecisive wimp unable to think for yourself. But if you want the best of what Meltkraft does, you have to customize. The Somerset, which has aged gruyère, cured ham, cornichons and whole-grain mustard, is a fine base to build on, but to truly bring out its awesomeness, dabble in the “Extras” portion of the menu. Throwing on bacon and grilling your sandwich in bacon fat? That helps. But if you feel like adding Jersey tomatoes or some truffle oil, or maybe just mashing potato chips into the whole thing, those are options, too. 46 South 17th Street, Rittenhouse, and Reading Terminal Market, 51 North 12th Street, Market East.
Malvern Buttery: Daily Toasts, $5 to $8
Looking for the menu? There isn’t one. The Buttery cooks put out the day’s offerings — croissants, sandwiches, salads in a crock — and you choose what looks good. Which, if you know anything, would be the toasts, like whipped goat cheese with bacon marmalade, or maybe blue cheese and heirloom tomatoes piled high on house-made bread. You’re not going to find their like anywhere else and might not even see them again tomorrow. 233 East King Street, Malvern.
The Blue Duck: B.B.B.L.T., $9
That’s not a typo; there are three different forms of bacon (Garlic Insanity bacon from local business 1732 Meats, straight-up smoked, and bacon-tinged mayo) in an otherwise perfectly simple sandwich at a sandwich joint that has quickly become a local favorite. And now Blue Duck might be closer to you: A Center City location (with a bar) is set to open soon. 2859 Holme Avenue, Northeast Philly.
High Street on Market: Roast Pork Sandwich, $12
Just when you were sure this was a sandwich that couldn’t be improved upon, you discover this nouvelle roast pork from the disrupters at High Street, which gets a kick from broccoli rabe that’s fermented and is all so sharp, it still tastes great after a turn on a delivery bike. 308 Market Street, Old City.
Hungry Pigeon: Egg and Cheese, $7
The jack cheese is local, the egg is buttery, the English muffin is homemade. This duplicitously simple breakfast sandwich put together by Scott Schroeder and his crew at Hungry Pigeon is so life-changing that we’d eat it every day if we could. Add the $2 crispy-edged slab of hash browns to your order and they’ll put it right on the sandwich. 743 South 4th Street, Queen Village.
Beefsteak: Beefsteak Tomato Burger, $4.99
José Andrés, the very famous Spanish chef out of Washington, D.C., recently opened a restaurant in Philly. Sure, it might be a healthy fast-casual operation in a basement dining hall on Penn’s campus, but you should still seek it out, if only for the slider-sized Beefsteak Tomato Burger, which is just a fat, perfectly ripe slice of tomato on a brioche roll with pickled red onions, herbed mayo, olive oil and sea salt. Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce Street, University City.
Wursthaus Schmitz: The Bavarian, $8
No one knows tube-shaped meats the way the Germans do. This Reading Terminal spin-off of Brauhaus Schmitz serves a bunch of different sausage sandwiches across the counter, but if you’re looking for an excellent introduction to the pleasures of German lunching, the Bavarian, with its smoked, spiced beef-and-pork bauernwurst, coleslaw and fried onions, is a good place to start. It’s the horseradish sauce that really ties it all together. Reading Terminal Market, 51 North 12th Street, Market East.
Philly Style Bagels: Classic Lox, $9
Bon Appétit named this the best sandwich in America, and the reasons for its greatness are numerous — the small-batch scratch cooking, the beer-boiling, the wooden planks the bagels get baked on, and the smart combination of high-quality ingredients. But this is one of those more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts sandwiches, and if you’re a bagels-and-lox person, this beautiful palm-sized version is one you’ve just got to try. 1451 East Columbia Avenue, Fishtown.
Paesano’s Philly Style: Gustaio, $10
Paesano’s can be credited with bringing excitement back to our sandwich scene when it first opened in Northern Liberties in 2007. And it still slings some of the best. (The original lamb sausage Gustaio, which gets sweetened up with cherry mostarda, needs no update.) Some new menu items have been added (like a fried chicken sandwich with prosciutto and lemon butter), and a location at Temple recently opened. Multiple locations.
Artisan Boulanger Patissier: Tofu Banh Mi, $4.50
Fresh veggies, authentic flavors and a perfect baguette … this Vietnamese bakery might be best known for its croissants and loaves of crisp French bread, but come for the banh mi and you’ll have a new appreciation for how good this sandwich can be. 1218 Mifflin Street, East Passyunk.
DiNic’s Roast Pork: Roast Pork with Cracklins, $10.50
Think an ancient sandwich staple can’t modernize? Think again. Now you can get house-crisped cracklins on your order on Wednesdays and Fridays, which adds a satisfying crunch to every bite of a roast pork sandwich that we already thought was perfect without them. Shows how much we know. Reading Terminal Market, 51 North 12th Street, Market East.
HipCityVeg: Philly Steak, $9.25
The steak is made of soy and the roll is whole wheat, but this ketchup-splashed sandwich remains a winner and still demands the “Philly Lean,” the 25-degree angle necessary to eat a cheesesteak while standing up. 214 South 40th Street, University City, and 127 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse.
Plenty Café: The New Orleans, $12
Plenty once tried to remove this tasso ham sandwich from its menu because customers complained it was too spicy. And while we want to say, “It’s tasso ham, though, so you know what? Deal with it,” we couldn’t argue with the fact that the new iteration, which has green apples, fig jam and the all-important gruyère cheese, is more balanced. This sandwich deserves to stay on the menu forever, no matter what the whiners say. Multiple locations.
Matt & Marie’s: The Testarosa, $10.25
This take on the traditional roast pork sandwich comes with thinly sliced roast pork, Claudia’s sharp provolone and, in a bit of a twist, pepperoncini aioli. But the whole thing is really revved up by the addition of crunchy pancetta bits and long hots that are spicy enough to get the most thrill-seeking of lunch eaters pumping the brakes. Multiple locations.
Samwich: Smoked Turkey Salad Samwich, $10.50
Your order here comes with popcorn instead of chips, which only leaves more room for the hefty scoop of turkey salad (the turkey is smoked in-house), which gets a tang from pomegranate mayo, pickled red onion and peppery arugula. 1040 North American Street, number 1101, Northern Liberties, and 600 Catharine Street, Bella Vista.
Wishbone: Fried Chicken BLT, $8.95
It makes sense that the classic tastes of the BLT work well with fried chicken. That the bacon here comes peppered, that the mayo is spiked with bacon and onion, that the tomato is roasted and that the chicken is coated in a pretzel-and-spice crust really makes sense. After all, fried chicken is pretty much all this place does. 210 South 13th Street, Midtown Village, and 4034 Walnut Street, University City.
Foodery Rittenhouse: Meatball Grinder, $11
Grab all the napkins for this hefty sandwich (whose excellence is equal parts zesty house-made marinara and meatballs), because that seeded Liscio roll is probably going to stand up to the mess better than your shirt will. 1710 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse.
Knead Bagels: Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bagel Sandwich, $6.50
The daily-special sandwiches are tough to pass up, but the perfectly crispy bacon and fluffy eggs of the classic are reasons to skip the sirens of the chalkboard. Sow those adventurous oats by slapping that goodness on an atypical bagel flavor, like fennel seed and sea salt or togarashi. 725 Walnut Street, Washington Square West.
Essen Bakery: Za’atar Croissant Sandwich, $4.50
This new-ish South Philly shop may call itself a “little Jewish bakery,” but don’t be fooled by the humility. Take, for example, its spin on a breakfast sandwich, which is a palm-sized house-made, za’atar-spiked, fluffy-as-heaven croissant, a thin-sliced hard-boiled egg, a thick spread of tangy labne cheese, and some other spices and flavors that will have you ordering another one before you’ve walked out the door. 1437 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
Farm & Fisherman Tavern: Hand-Carved Turkey Reuben, $12
Walk into this Jersey hot spot. To your right is a takeout market. To your left is the restaurant. Thankfully, you can get amazing, crafted-with-care sandwiches no matter which way you turn. Grab a knife and fork for this open-faced goodie that has thin slices of house-roasted turkey piled high with local kraut and draped with Swiss. 1442 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill.
Stove & Tap: Brisket Dip Sandwich, $10
This Lansdale restaurant knows its neighbors want their food fast, so its very efficient takeout operation runs pretty much all hours of the day. The best way to take advantage of this is with the brisket dip sandwich — stuffed with tender brisket, topped with melted gouda and the hot spike of a horseradish mayo. They’ll give it to you in a bag, with a side of the rich and salty beef jus in a bowl, and you’ll eat it and wonder how you can ever love another sandwich again. 329 West Main Street, Lansdale.
Red Hook Coffee and Tea Shop: The Elvis, $6.50
With a menu more exciting than those of many full-service restaurants in town, this coffee shop (that has a kitchen that’s probably smaller than your master bath) does a bang-up job with breakfast, brunch and lunch. Anything that has egg in it is a sure bet, but order the Elvis, a simultaneously gooey and crispy concoction of peanut butter, banana and bacon on fancy bread, if only to say you did. 765 South 4th Street, Queen Village.
Ai Ramen: Shrimp or Pork Bao, $4
No, we get it. You’re hitting this new spot from the Hai Street crew because of the namesake ramen, or because you’re the kind of person who doesn’t flinch at food-court sushi. (Good for you.) But there’s another option here, and it’s the steamed buns filled with either braised chasu pork or tempura shrimp, a little teriyaki sauce, some lettuce and a sprinkling of scallions. Liberty Place, 1625 Chestnut Street, Center City.
This article first appeared as part of the Cheap Eats package in Philadelphia magazine’s October 2016 issue.