In San Francisco, it’s not uncommon for a sandwich to run upwards of $15. At Lucinda’s, a favorite deli near Alamo Square, sandwiches average $17. At Palm City in Outer Sunset, the going rate for anything with meat is $20 or more. At Deli Board in SoMa, you might be able to find something for sub-$20, but your chances aren’t great. All of these sandwiches, with their housemade bread, specialty cuts and sauces, and locally grown vegetables, are, to be clear, well worth the price tag. Sandwiches are arguably the world’s best food; a good sandwich is a transcendent experience, and a great sandwich is… priceless? Perhaps not, but one of the best sandwiches in San Francisco doesn’t even come with a double-digit price. In fact, it costs less than $5.
Tucked away on the corner of Broderick and Oak streets in the Lower Haight, Falletti Foods is a bastion of locally-sourced produce, expertly curated grocery goods, a nice wine selection, and, hidden away in their deli, one of the cheapest, best sandwiches in the Bay. Falletti’s “Poor Boy” sandwich, sold for $4.49, is a craveable comestible that feels like the last surviving relic of a bygone era — a time when one could buy a meal for under $5 in San Francisco. The Poor Boy Sandwich (or PBS) has been a staple of Falletti Foods since the deli’s start in 2012, according to deli manager Ornella Bouchard, though at that time it cost only $3.99. That it’s only increased in cost by 50 cents in twenty years is nothing short of a miracle.
Bouchard said the sandwich originally came about as a means of reducing food waste. The PBS utilizes day-old bread with an interior made from the butts and scraps of sliced deli meats and cheeses. “When a customer wants half a pound, and we go a bit over,” she says, “if they don’t want that extra meat, we put it in the Poor Boys.” As such, the PBS isn’t a sandwich with set ingredients. Instead, it’s a satisfying, rotating mix of misfit ingredients that manage to come together to make magic.
The ever-randomizing assortment of meats and cheeses is what really makes the PBS special. And because the sandwich is wrapped in clear plastic wrap, it gives customers a chance to intuit what each option offers. Peering at the layers, it’s sometimes easy to identify meats such as roast beef or seasoned turkey — a prosciutto slice is also easy to pick out. Cheeses are more difficult to discern: white American, munster, and provolone are all shockingly similar when sealed closed with plastic wrap. The reveal of what the day’s sandwich contains is usually saved for the first bite. Lucky PBS buyers might even discover a slice of chicken rollatini (pounded thin chicken breast, breaded, stuffed with cheese, and sliced thin), hidden on the inside beneath the salami — a real treat. The bread is another rotating variable: some sandwiches are on hoagie rolls, others use ciabatta. If customers get there early enough, they might just find one made on San Francisco’s favorite, Dutch crunch, before someone else grabs it.
The PBS is the platonic ideal of a sandwich. It’s meat. It’s cheese. It’s good mayo and yellow mustard on bread. There are no swaps or substitutions, as the sandwiches are made in advance and wrapped, waiting to be scooped up, right next to the prepared sushi and tallboy cans of Diet Coke. Those looking for more than just meat and cheese can scoop up some pickles, an onion, and maybe a head of lettuce, and still pay less than the cost of a sandwich almost anywhere else. But these additions are superfluous: the PBS is perfect in its simplistic irregularity. Wonderful for its unpretentious variety, not in spite of it.
Other grocers in the Bay sell a similar product. Molly Stone’s Market sells the Poor Molly, although it’ll cost you $10.79, which somehow just doesn’t hit the same way.
The PBS isn’t necessarily a delicacy. But it does get the job done and it’ll never let you down. Walking from SoMa to Golden Gate Park this little (big) sandwich is there for you. Or, biking from the Mission to Baker Beach in need of a perfect beach bite? Guess what? It’s there for you. And it will always be there for you, for just $4.49. Or at least it will, until they run out for the day.
Falletti Foods (308 Broderick Street) is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.