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Arts & Life

Food Critics: Where To Get The Best Sandwiches In Kansas City In 2020

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Eat It Kansas City
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The Bite
The Señor Chang featuring beef short ribs and candied jalapeños is one of Mary Bloch's favorite sandwiches at The Bite in the River Market.

Any sandwich enthusiast knows there is a big difference between a knockout sandwich and a mediocre one. For the best bread-bound meals in town, check out these recommendations from our food critics and listeners.

On any given day, almost half of American adults eat one or more sandwiches, in part due to their amazing portability.

"Sandwiches — hot or cold — travel well," says KCUR food critic Mary Bloch.

But few topics in life are as divisive as what makes the best sandwich.

Most of us can't even agree on what a sandwich is in the first place. Does an ice cream sandwich really fit into this category? What about a hamburger? KCUR food critic Liz Cook says no to both.

"I'm ingredient neutral, but a structure purist," says Cook. "We're really talking about anything that you can literally sandwich between two slices of bread."

Regardless of where you fall on the sandwich alignment chart, here are the places our listeners and food critics recommend you seek out — and the sandwiches to order once you get there.

Liz Cook, The Pitch:

  • M & M Bakery and Deli — Hook 'Em Up, C.E.O. The generously built Hook 'Em Up piles loads of pepper beef, turkey ham, hot pepper cheese and American cheese on a soft onion roll topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard and Miracle Whip. Extra-large appetites can spring for the C.E.O, which throws smoked turkey, beef salami, ranch dressing, and some additional cheeses and veggies into the mix.
  • Bay Boy — Bay Boy, KimCheese. The draw here is the signature “Dutch crunch” bread: round, soft rolls with a crackly, textured dome. I like the original Bay Boy, which piles the roll high with salami and then slathers it in garlic and hot pepper sauce. But the grilled KimCheese is a fan favorite too, combining mushrooms, cheese, house-made kimchi and chipotle mayo. Right now, you can also add a soft, pink-iced cinnamon roll to your order for $3, courtesy of Rechabites.
  • GG’s Barbacoa Café — #16 torta chilaquiles. This is what I order for a “treat yourself” lunch. It's an enormous, indulgently messy sandwich piled high with fluffy scrambled eggs, salsa-roja-dressed tortilla chips, generous shreds of juicy beef birria, refried beans and mozzarella cheese. The sauce-soaked chips add just the right amount of crunch.
  • Kitty’s Cafe — pork tenderloin sandwich. This isn’t the typical Midwestern tenderloin-the-size-of-the-Grand-Canyon sandwich, but it's been a justifiable local staple for decades. In addition to fitting within the confines of its buttery bun, this version is simultaneously the lightest and crispiest tenderloin you’ll find in town thanks to a triple-stack of pork. When the cashier asks if you want hot sauce, say yes. The mild house-made condiment is the only one you need.
  • Observation Pizza — Hump Day Hoagies. These are naturally only available on Wednesdays, but your patience will be rewarded with an enormously soft yet crispy hoagie stuffed with pizza toppings. I recommend the Bobby Shazam, which layers Italian sausage, pepperoni, green olives, mild pepperoncini peppers and an extra-melty blend of American and mozzarella cheese—all slicked with bacon fat and ranch. Yes, it’s rich, but every hoagie comes with a salad, which makes it healthy.
  • Mattie’s Foods — "brisket" sandwich. I highly recommend this chewy yet crispy tofu "brisket" to vegans and meat-eaters alike. Mattie’s treats its slightly spicy tofu the same way old school barbecue joints treat their brisket, and lets it stand alone on the sandwich. The included side of “mac and cheez” (also plant-based) makes this an extra-filling meal. The burrito’s great, too, but we may not want to dive in to the debate over whether that counts as a sandwich.

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • The Bite — Señor Chang, Boss Hog. This River Market spot is where I go for the most unique sandwiches in town. I love the Señor Chang for its beef short ribs, queso fresco, sriracha crema, candied jalapeños, pickled onions, radish and cilantro. But you also can't go wrong with the Boss Hog with roasted pork, Korean barbecue sauce, candied jalapeños and sesame slaw.
  • Billie's Grocery — Spanish steak sandwich, deli style Reuben. The steak sandwich here features a delicious chimichurri sauce and caramelized onions and its version of a Reuben hits all the right notes with its mustard and horseradish mayo. Overall, I'm really taken with this Midtown eatery. Its other dishes are similarly well executed.
  • Blvd Tavern — Reuben. The key here is the quality and thickness of the corned beef, and the proportion of meat to sauerkraut and melted cheese.
  • Cafe Europa — Cafe Europa Reuben. I'm a sucker for a good Reuben and this is another one to rave about!
  • Thai Now — spicy Thai chicken sandwich. The well-seasoned chicken in this has a nice kick to it, but my favorite part is the chili jam aioli and roll. This is the most popular item on the menu for good reason, but the other menu items are worth checking out, too! This ghost kitchen is delivery only and operated by the owners at Waldo Thai.
  • Ravenous at Parlor — cheeseburger, chicken sandwich. This burger first gained acclaim on the Corvino Supper Club menu, but the fried chicken sandwich with homemade chili butter is just as addictive.
  • Rye — crispy chicken sandwich. Rye is pretty well-known for its fried chicken, so it should come as no surprise that the sandwich is equally compelling, but make sure to order it spicy! I love the pickle brine and the dijonnaise that is slathered on the bun, too.
  • Succotash — Cuban. This version might not be served panini-style thin, but I much prefer it this way. It’s stacked with the same chunks of roasted pork that they use in the breakfast pork hash and unless you have a huge appetite, you can count on having half leftover the next day.
  • Pigwich — daily specials. When they feature a Cuban sandwich here, I always try to get over to the River Market. It's chock full of pork, ham and pickles. Order some homemade potato chips on the side and you’ll be all set.
  • Norcini at Strang Hall — Jersey Butcher. I highly recommend this sandwich of heritage pulled pork shoulder, garlicky greens, Pecorino Romano cheese and lemon zest. The lemon really brightens it up and the pork and greens are a classic East Coast combination worth a try.
  • Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que — Carolina pork sandwich, Reuben. My barbecue-loving friends would be upset with me for not mentioning this pork sandwich, as no Kansas City sandwich list is complete without it! I also recommend trying the annual St. Patrick's Day Reuben special here uniquely featuring corned beef burnt ends.

Listener recommendations:

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