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The pambazo at Estilo Chilanga: potatoes, chorizo, and Cotija cheese on a dipped and griddled telera roll Luke Tsai

14 Iconic East Bay Sandwiches

From the meatiest torta to the most flavorful banh mi

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At its core, a sandwich is a simple thing. You have some kind of bread. You put some (preferably delicious) stuff inside of it. And voila: one of the most versatile and conveniently portable foods known to mankind. The East Bay, in particular, is a treasure trove of sandwich goodness in all of its diverse forms — the usual categories of deli meats piled in between sliced bread and fried chicken on a bun, but also sandwiches that show off the breadth and depth of the region’s international cuisines: destination-worthy tortas, arepas, and banh mi. The East Bay is home to a kick-ass Japanese noodle sandwich. It’s home to vegan Singaporean sandwiches served on house-baked shaobing.

Here, then, are 14 of the East Bay most iconic sandwiches — the perfect foods, really, for this time of casual, takeout-oriented dining.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Carnitas Torta at El Mexicano Deli y Taqueria

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779 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 230-4087

El Mexicano (or Los Mexicanos, as it was previously known, though it appears to still be run by the same friendly folks) is one of the most reliable taco spots in a city full of great taco spots. But the best thing on the menu might be this gut-busting carnitas torta, a sandwich best split with a friend or ordered when you’ve got an especially large appetite. This monster of a sandwich comes overstuffed with tender, crispy-edged pork and fresh lettuce, tomato, and avocado, and it tastes especially delicious when you drizzle some of the taqueria’s good red salsa over the filling periodically.

Carnitas torta at Los Mexicanos Luke Tsai

2. Pambazo at Estilo Chilanga

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686 4th St
Richmond, CA 94801

This family-run, Mexico City-focused pop-up has been one of the stars of Richmond’s burgeoning quesabirria scene since 2019, but head taquera Laura Rivera’s best dish is actually her pambazo, a kind of sauce-soaked sandwich — loaded with chorizo, soft-cooked potatoes, fresh lettuce, and Cotija cheese — that’s popular in Mexico City. The beauty of the sandwich is that the telera roll gets soaked in a flavorful red chile sauce before it’s toasted on flat-top, so it winds up equal parts crunchy and soggy — a true textural delight. The pop-up’s exact hours and location are subject to change; check Instagram for pre-ordering information and the latest updates.

The pambazo at Estilo Chilanga: potatoes, chorizo, and Cotija cheese on a dipped and griddled telera roll Luke Tsai

3. Reina Pepiada Arepa at El Patio

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2056 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 548-2222
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One of Berkeley’s most underrated restaurants, this half-Mexican, half-Venezuelan spot might serve the Bay Area’s best arepas. El Patio’s classic reina pepiada (or “curvy queen”) comes so shockingly overstuffed with shredded chicken that it resembles a small tower, or a football, more than it does a sandwich. But what a sandwich it is — the outer surfaces of the corn cake griddled until they’re crispy, spotted brown, and unbelievably fragrant; the chicken tender and abundant, tossed with avocado that has been mashed into a pale green dressing of sorts. The wonderful thing is the contrast, in every bite, between the coolness of the filling and the warm crunch of that griddled shell.

Luke Tsai

4. Daily Sandwich at Standard Fare

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2701 Eighth Street #118
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 356-2261
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Recently reopened for lunch service, this West Berkeley takeout spot offers two sandwich options — one meaty one and another that’s vegetarian — that rotate every day, but what’s consistent is former Chez Panisse chef Kelsie Kerr’s wholesome, hyper-seasonal approach. The sandwiches all come on Standard Fare’s house-made focaccia bread, and even the meat options — say, a saucy meatloaf sandwich — come loaded with a thoughtful medley roasted and pickled vegetables, and enough greens to build a whole separate salad. There’s a half-sandwich option, or you can opt for a brown bag lunch, which comes with a garden salad and a bag of cookies.

5. Fat Albert at Star Meats

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3068 Claremont Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 652-7712
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Butcher shops often double as excellent sandwich shops, which has long been the case for this popular Claremont neighborhood gem, which sits in the back of the Star Grocery grocery store and sells a variety of carefully constructed cold-cut sandwiches with goofy, mostly Italian-American-inspired names: the Raging Bull, the My Cousin Vinny, and so forth. Anything that features the house-roasted roast beef is a good bet, especially the Fat Albert: plenty of that pink, perfectly rare roast beef, cheddar, arugula, and chipotle aioli, all served on a good crunchy baguette. During the shelter in place, Star Meats is currently only offering a single sandwich variety each day; call in at 510-652-7712 to see what the day’s option is and to place a pre-order.

6. Le Montroyal at Augie's Montreal Deli

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875 Potter St
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 985-4500
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If sandwiches were judged purely on the basis of the height of their respective meat stacks, the Le Montroyal would stand in a class of its own. It’s a preposterously tall pile of Augie’s Montreal-style smoke meat crammed between two slices of rye, with no adornment other than, perhaps, a swipe of brown mustard — you won’t find a speck of lettuce or other vegetable matter to distract from that pastrami-like smoke meat, which is wonderfully rich, especially if you ask for a fatty cut. There are smaller sandwiches on the menu (this one weighs in at a whopping 12 ounces of meat), but the real pro move is to go for the Le Montroyal anyway, split it with a quarantine buddy, and get an order of Augie’s classic poutine on the side.

Luke Tsai

7. Sabich at Holy Land Restaurant

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677 Rand Ave
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 272-0535
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This tiny Israeli restaurant near Lake Merritt is probably best known for its soul-warming matzo ball soup and its garlicky falafel (also available in delicious sandwich form), but the sleeper hit of the menu might be the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Israeli sandwich known as the sabich: hummus, tahini, soft fried eggplant, chunks of hard-boiled egg, and bright cucumber-and-tomato salad, all loaded until overflowing into a warm pita. Wash it down with a glass of Holy Land’s excellent icy mint lemonade.

8. Yakisoba Pan at Masabaga

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2022 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
(401) 216-6121
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At star sushi chef Masa Sasaki’s casual Japanese-leaning burger joint, the headliner of the menu is a crispy, katsu-style tuna belly burger that might be the Bay Area’s most luxurious fried fish sandwich. Just as enjoyable, though, is Masabaga’s take on yakisoba pan, the noodle sandwich that is a staple of Japanese convenience stores. Sasaki’s version of this carb-on-carb classic features stir-fried noodles and grilled pork belly tossed in tangy-sweet yakisoba sauce, half a hot dog, Sriracha mayo, and a scattering of scallions and sesame seeds — all served on a nicely toasted hot dog bun. It’s a full-on meal.

A yakisoba pan in a takeout box: a fat torpedo roll overstuffed with stir-fried noodles and garnished with scallions and sesame seeds Luke Tsai

9. Hot Chicken Sandwich at World Famous HotBoys

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1601 San Pablo Ave
Oakland, CA 94612

Among the dozens of Bay Area sandwich shops that have jumped on the Nashville hot chicken sandwich bandwagon, the HotBoys stand in a class of their own — for the outrageous crunch, juicy flesh, and no-joke heat of that boneless thigh, and for the way the whole sandwich comes together: chicken, slaw, pickles, bun. Only the foolhardy, or those with iron stomachs, should even think about going for the spiciest version, the “Hot Hot,” which comes with a no-refund policy and multiple bold-faced warnings. Pre-order online only.

10. Shaobing Sandwich #36 at Lion Dance Cafe

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380 17th St
Oakland, CA 94612

The shaobing sandwiches are the most famous offerings at Oakland’s buzziest new restaurant — a menu staple for longtime vegan pop-up chefs Marie Chia and Shane Stanbridge. Like the rest of the Singaporean menu at Lion Dance Cafe, the #36 is a meatless dish: a thick slice of creamy coconut-lemongrass Hodo Soy tofu that’s been grilled and then chilled, a spicy peanut sauce, and a pile of tangy slaw. It’s a spicy-sweet symphony of flavors and a cool contrast to the toasty, sesame seed-flecked shaobing, which has a wonderful crunch and chew that’s worth seeking out all on its own. For now, the restaurant is taking online pre-orders only for Friday and Saturday pickup — place your order right at noon on Wednesdays to snag a sandwich before they sell out. 

11. Egg Salad Sandwich at Lane-E Kefa Coffee

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77 8th St STE 182
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 628-0814

This little coffee shop, located halfway between Chinatown and the Laney College campus, serves a solid cup of drip coffee and some of the best, unfussy breakfast sandwiches in town — it’s a go-to spot if what you want is a simple bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin. But the best sandwich on the menu might be the egg salad, which is served extra-chunky, with crisp bacon and pieces of green olive that give the sandwich a delicious, briny punch. Kefa’s original Jingletown location, just across the bridge from Alameda, is also open, but it’s only serving breakfast sandwiches — no lunch offerings — during the shelter in place.

12. Meatball and Egg Banh Mi at Banh Mi Ba Le

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1909 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 261-9800
Visit Website

You can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches at Oakland’s top banh mi shop, where the high quality of the food is matched only by the brisk, unsentimental efficiency of the service. But the signature offering is the meatball-and-egg banh mi: one of the shop’s crisp baguettes filled with juicy, savory chunks of ground pork and a fried egg (with a slightly runny yolk, if you’re lucky) — ideal counterpoints to the sweetness of the pickled carrots and daikon and the heat of the sliced jalapenos.

13. Italian Combo at Domenico's Italian Deli

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1407 Webster St
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 865-5558
Visit Website

This old-school Italian-American deli has been a fixture in Alameda, just a few blocks away from the waterfront, since 1982. The menu isn’t strictly all-Italian at this point (you can also get a pretty good Reuben, for instance, or a turkey-and-cranberry), but the highlight might be the East Bay’s most delicious version of a classic Italian combo: mortadella, ham, bologna, a couple of different kinds of salami, provolone cheese, and all the fixings — lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, mayo, mustard, and oil and vinegar — piled high enough to satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. Get in on a hard sourdough roll for a satisfying extra crunch, and maybe don’t plan on eating any other meals fir the rest of the day.

14. Bay Area Special at Bara's Deli

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14799 Washington Ave
San Leandro, CA 94578
(510) 352-7117
Visit Website

Don’t sleep on this gem of a family-run deli, which has been holding it down in a nondescript San Leandro strip mall since 1986. These days, the newly renovated deli is known, in part, for creative, customer-inspired specialty sandwiches with names like the “Bam Bam” and the “Heat Seeker.” But this is also one of the East Bay’s top spots if you just want a classic cold-cut sandwich. Its most famous offering is probably its so-called Bay Area Special, a Dagwood Bumstead-like beast of a triple-decker sandwich that’s loaded with sliced-to-order roast beef, turkey, and ham.

1. Carnitas Torta at El Mexicano Deli y Taqueria

779 23rd St, Richmond, CA 94804
Carnitas torta at Los Mexicanos Luke Tsai

El Mexicano (or Los Mexicanos, as it was previously known, though it appears to still be run by the same friendly folks) is one of the most reliable taco spots in a city full of great taco spots. But the best thing on the menu might be this gut-busting carnitas torta, a sandwich best split with a friend or ordered when you’ve got an especially large appetite. This monster of a sandwich comes overstuffed with tender, crispy-edged pork and fresh lettuce, tomato, and avocado, and it tastes especially delicious when you drizzle some of the taqueria’s good red salsa over the filling periodically.

779 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804

2. Pambazo at Estilo Chilanga

686 4th St, Richmond, CA 94801
The pambazo at Estilo Chilanga: potatoes, chorizo, and Cotija cheese on a dipped and griddled telera roll Luke Tsai

This family-run, Mexico City-focused pop-up has been one of the stars of Richmond’s burgeoning quesabirria scene since 2019, but head taquera Laura Rivera’s best dish is actually her pambazo, a kind of sauce-soaked sandwich — loaded with chorizo, soft-cooked potatoes, fresh lettuce, and Cotija cheese — that’s popular in Mexico City. The beauty of the sandwich is that the telera roll gets soaked in a flavorful red chile sauce before it’s toasted on flat-top, so it winds up equal parts crunchy and soggy — a true textural delight. The pop-up’s exact hours and location are subject to change; check Instagram for pre-ordering information and the latest updates.

686 4th St
Richmond, CA 94801

3. Reina Pepiada Arepa at El Patio

2056 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
Luke Tsai

One of Berkeley’s most underrated restaurants, this half-Mexican, half-Venezuelan spot might serve the Bay Area’s best arepas. El Patio’s classic reina pepiada (or “curvy queen”) comes so shockingly overstuffed with shredded chicken that it resembles a small tower, or a football, more than it does a sandwich. But what a sandwich it is — the outer surfaces of the corn cake griddled until they’re crispy, spotted brown, and unbelievably fragrant; the chicken tender and abundant, tossed with avocado that has been mashed into a pale green dressing of sorts. The wonderful thing is the contrast, in every bite, between the coolness of the filling and the warm crunch of that griddled shell.

2056 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702

4. Daily Sandwich at Standard Fare

2701 Eighth Street #118, Berkeley, CA 94710

Recently reopened for lunch service, this West Berkeley takeout spot offers two sandwich options — one meaty one and another that’s vegetarian — that rotate every day, but what’s consistent is former Chez Panisse chef Kelsie Kerr’s wholesome, hyper-seasonal approach. The sandwiches all come on Standard Fare’s house-made focaccia bread, and even the meat options — say, a saucy meatloaf sandwich — come loaded with a thoughtful medley roasted and pickled vegetables, and enough greens to build a whole separate salad. There’s a half-sandwich option, or you can opt for a brown bag lunch, which comes with a garden salad and a bag of cookies.

2701 Eighth Street #118
Berkeley, CA 94710

5. Fat Albert at Star Meats

3068 Claremont Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

Butcher shops often double as excellent sandwich shops, which has long been the case for this popular Claremont neighborhood gem, which sits in the back of the Star Grocery grocery store and sells a variety of carefully constructed cold-cut sandwiches with goofy, mostly Italian-American-inspired names: the Raging Bull, the My Cousin Vinny, and so forth. Anything that features the house-roasted roast beef is a good bet, especially the Fat Albert: plenty of that pink, perfectly rare roast beef, cheddar, arugula, and chipotle aioli, all served on a good crunchy baguette. During the shelter in place, Star Meats is currently only offering a single sandwich variety each day; call in at 510-652-7712 to see what the day’s option is and to place a pre-order.

3068 Claremont Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705

6. Le Montroyal at Augie's Montreal Deli

875 Potter St, Berkeley, CA 94710
Luke Tsai

If sandwiches were judged purely on the basis of the height of their respective meat stacks, the Le Montroyal would stand in a class of its own. It’s a preposterously tall pile of Augie’s Montreal-style smoke meat crammed between two slices of rye, with no adornment other than, perhaps, a swipe of brown mustard — you won’t find a speck of lettuce or other vegetable matter to distract from that pastrami-like smoke meat, which is wonderfully rich, especially if you ask for a fatty cut. There are smaller sandwiches on the menu (this one weighs in at a whopping 12 ounces of meat), but the real pro move is to go for the Le Montroyal anyway, split it with a quarantine buddy, and get an order of Augie’s classic poutine on the side.

875 Potter St
Berkeley, CA 94710

7. Sabich at Holy Land Restaurant

677 Rand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

This tiny Israeli restaurant near Lake Merritt is probably best known for its soul-warming matzo ball soup and its garlicky falafel (also available in delicious sandwich form), but the sleeper hit of the menu might be the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Israeli sandwich known as the sabich: hummus, tahini, soft fried eggplant, chunks of hard-boiled egg, and bright cucumber-and-tomato salad, all loaded until overflowing into a warm pita. Wash it down with a glass of Holy Land’s excellent icy mint lemonade.

677 Rand Ave
Oakland, CA 94610

8. Yakisoba Pan at Masabaga

2022 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
A yakisoba pan in a takeout box: a fat torpedo roll overstuffed with stir-fried noodles and garnished with scallions and sesame seeds Luke Tsai

At star sushi chef Masa Sasaki’s casual Japanese-leaning burger joint, the headliner of the menu is a crispy, katsu-style tuna belly burger that might be the Bay Area’s most luxurious fried fish sandwich. Just as enjoyable, though, is Masabaga’s take on yakisoba pan, the noodle sandwich that is a staple of Japanese convenience stores. Sasaki’s version of this carb-on-carb classic features stir-fried noodles and grilled pork belly tossed in tangy-sweet yakisoba sauce, half a hot dog, Sriracha mayo, and a scattering of scallions and sesame seeds — all served on a nicely toasted hot dog bun. It’s a full-on meal.

2022 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612

9. Hot Chicken Sandwich at World Famous HotBoys

1601 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

Among the dozens of Bay Area sandwich shops that have jumped on the Nashville hot chicken sandwich bandwagon, the HotBoys stand in a class of their own — for the outrageous crunch, juicy flesh, and no-joke heat of that boneless thigh, and for the way the whole sandwich comes together: chicken, slaw, pickles, bun. Only the foolhardy, or those with iron stomachs, should even think about going for the spiciest version, the “Hot Hot,” which comes with a no-refund policy and multiple bold-faced warnings. Pre-order online only.

1601 San Pablo Ave
Oakland, CA 94612

10. Shaobing Sandwich #36 at Lion Dance Cafe

380 17th St, Oakland, CA 94612

The shaobing sandwiches are the most famous offerings at Oakland’s buzziest new restaurant — a menu staple for longtime vegan pop-up chefs Marie Chia and Shane Stanbridge. Like the rest of the Singaporean menu at Lion Dance Cafe, the #36 is a meatless dish: a thick slice of creamy coconut-lemongrass Hodo Soy tofu that’s been grilled and then chilled, a spicy peanut sauce, and a pile of tangy slaw. It’s a spicy-sweet symphony of flavors and a cool contrast to the toasty, sesame seed-flecked shaobing, which has a wonderful crunch and chew that’s worth seeking out all on its own. For now, the restaurant is taking online pre-orders only for Friday and Saturday pickup — place your order right at noon on Wednesdays to snag a sandwich before they sell out. 

380 17th St
Oakland, CA 94612

11. Egg Salad Sandwich at Lane-E Kefa Coffee

77 8th St STE 182, Oakland, CA 94607

This little coffee shop, located halfway between Chinatown and the Laney College campus, serves a solid cup of drip coffee and some of the best, unfussy breakfast sandwiches in town — it’s a go-to spot if what you want is a simple bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin. But the best sandwich on the menu might be the egg salad, which is served extra-chunky, with crisp bacon and pieces of green olive that give the sandwich a delicious, briny punch. Kefa’s original Jingletown location, just across the bridge from Alameda, is also open, but it’s only serving breakfast sandwiches — no lunch offerings — during the shelter in place.

77 8th St STE 182
Oakland, CA 94607

12. Meatball and Egg Banh Mi at Banh Mi Ba Le

1909 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

You can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches at Oakland’s top banh mi shop, where the high quality of the food is matched only by the brisk, unsentimental efficiency of the service. But the signature offering is the meatball-and-egg banh mi: one of the shop’s crisp baguettes filled with juicy, savory chunks of ground pork and a fried egg (with a slightly runny yolk, if you’re lucky) — ideal counterpoints to the sweetness of the pickled carrots and daikon and the heat of the sliced jalapenos.

1909 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606

13. Italian Combo at Domenico's Italian Deli

1407 Webster St, Alameda, CA 94501

This old-school Italian-American deli has been a fixture in Alameda, just a few blocks away from the waterfront, since 1982. The menu isn’t strictly all-Italian at this point (you can also get a pretty good Reuben, for instance, or a turkey-and-cranberry), but the highlight might be the East Bay’s most delicious version of a classic Italian combo: mortadella, ham, bologna, a couple of different kinds of salami, provolone cheese, and all the fixings — lettuce, tomato, pepperoncini, mayo, mustard, and oil and vinegar — piled high enough to satisfy even the heartiest of appetites. Get in on a hard sourdough roll for a satisfying extra crunch, and maybe don’t plan on eating any other meals fir the rest of the day.

1407 Webster St
Alameda, CA 94501

14. Bay Area Special at Bara's Deli

14799 Washington Ave, San Leandro, CA 94578

Don’t sleep on this gem of a family-run deli, which has been holding it down in a nondescript San Leandro strip mall since 1986. These days, the newly renovated deli is known, in part, for creative, customer-inspired specialty sandwiches with names like the “Bam Bam” and the “Heat Seeker.” But this is also one of the East Bay’s top spots if you just want a classic cold-cut sandwich. Its most famous offering is probably its so-called Bay Area Special, a Dagwood Bumstead-like beast of a triple-decker sandwich that’s loaded with sliced-to-order roast beef, turkey, and ham.

14799 Washington Ave
San Leandro, CA 94578

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