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Food recs: Kansas City's best sandwiches

The Russell's Spicy Chicken Sandwich has thousand island dressing, pepper jack cheese, coleslaw, buffalo sauce and that fried chicken on a toasted brioche bun.
The Russell's Spicy Chicken Sandwich has Thousand Island dressing, pepper jack cheese, coleslaw, buffalo sauce and fried chicken on a toasted brioche bun.

Whether it's a torta, a BLT, bánh mì or a grinder you're craving, here's where to find the best in the metro.

One story goes that, back in the 1700s, the English Earl of Sandwich did not want to leave his gaming table and ate what was nearby: meat between pieces of bread. True or not, the sandwich in various forms can be found in cultures around the world.

KCUR's food critics focused on sandwiches found in cultures around the Kansas City Metro. From north of the Missouri River to Lawrence, Kansas, here are recommendations from Pitch and Haterade writer Liz Cook and Kansas City Eats administrator Carlton Logan — and quite a few passionate listeners.

Liz Cook:

  • M&M Bakery and Deli — Hook 'Em Up. This is the classic cold-cut sandwich I keep coming back to. M&M stacks their thick, pillowy onion bun with pepper beef, turkey ham, and two kinds of cheese (pepper jack and American). The slicers do, indeed, hook you up.
  • Kitty's Cafe — Tenderloin. A unique tempura-style breading makes this the crispest, crunchiest and lightest-tasting tenderloin in town.
  • Kind Food — Fun Guy Sandwich. A vegan sandwich with universal appeal. Fried local oyster mushrooms with a crisp breadcrumb coating are piled onto a sturdy hoagie and dressed with pickled red onions and sriracha mayo. (The “Rooben” is another great option here — savory, “cheesy” and sized for large appetites).
  • The Italian Sausage Co. — #22. Throw a dart at the menu at Italian Sausage Co. and you’ll have a good time. The newish Gladstone spot is uniquely adept at both hot and cold Italian classics. But the bullseye might be the #22, a collaboration with local chili oil baron James Chang, which piles a truly cocky amount of salami, pastrami, burrata and J. Chang kitchen chili-oil on a soft but crisp-skinned baguette. The sandwich is salty, tangy, fatty, rich — qualities to which we should all aspire.
  • The Corner Lalo's Kitchen — Cochinita Pork Torta. In a city known for its tacos, it can be easy to sleep on the torta. That would be a mistake, especially at Lalo’s. Here, tender shreds of slow-roasted pork and creamy white beans fill a soft, shiny-topped bolillo along with lettuce, tomato, jalapeno and a mild chipotle crema. The sandwich serves two comfortably — one if you can nap afterward.
  • Bay Boy Specialty Sandwiches — The Bandit. Bay Boy’s claim to fame is its “Dutch crunch” bread, which has a craggy/crackly top for some extra textural interest. The West Plaza café uses that bread for both its hot and cold sandwiches. My favorite right now is The Bandit, a sweet/spicy mashup of roast beef, raspberry jam and horseradish.
  • Happy Gillis Cafe & Hangout — BLT. Too many “famous” BLTs in town rely on commercial hot-house tomatoes that add little but moisture to a sandwich where they ought to shine. Fortunately, we’re still in peak tomato season, so it’s a great time to get a BLT while the T is fresh. I like Happy Gillis’s version, which features thick slices of Crum’s heirloom tomatoes on hearty whole-grain bread. Sure, there’s a crisp weave of bacon, but it’s rightly treated as a supporting player for the seasonal star of the show.
  • Mildred's — Standard Breakfast Sandwich. The perfect breakfast sandwich is tough to triangulate. It needs to be slight but substantive, wholesome but not tedious. Mildred’s Cafe nails the genre with silky steamed eggs, crispy bacon, sleazy Swiss and a tangy Dijon mayo on marbled rye (the chile-basil version, served on ciabatta, is also excellent).

Carlton Logan:

  • Marco Polo's Italian Market — Charcoal Grilled Italian Sausage. Grilled Italian pork sausage on a bun with sweet grilled onions, sweet peppers and slices of fried potatoes.
  • M&M Bakery and Deli — Reuben. I agree with Liz on the Hook 'Em Up but don't overlook the traditional Reuben on house-baked rye bread.
  • Fareway Meat Market — Brisket Sandwich. At the market formerly known as McGonigle's, the barbecue food trailer will be in front for a few more weeks with this delight. It’s also a great place to grab a quick sandwich, some Parmesan dusted waffle fries or seasoned onion strings.
  • Best Regards Bakery & Cafe — Paradise Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chicken Salad Sandwich. Best Regards is one of the few restaurants or cafes with several grilled cheese sandwiches. Their chicken salad has bits of celery, craisins and poppy seed.
  • Jovito's Italian Cafe & Deli — Meatball Grinder. A toasted Italian roll stuffed with homemade meatballs, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Served with a bag of Classic Lays chips and a pickle.
  • King G — Tamago Sando. This Japanese-style egg salad sandwich is made with kewpie mayo and is served on shokupan, the Japanese milk bread renowned for its fluffiness and milky sweetness.
  • Pigwich — Cornflake Fried Chicken Sandwich. A free-range chicken patty coated with a cornflake and panko breading is fried and served with lettuce, tomato and the perfect complement of honey mustard.
  • Blackhole Bakery — Turkey & Gruyere Croissant. Served on one of the bakery's flaky croissants, this combination of sliced turkey and gruyere cheese is excellent served heated.
  • iPhotower — Bahn Mi. A traditional bahn mi on a French baguette with lettuce, pickled carrot, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeno, just leaves you with having to pick from the list of main ingredients of pork, beef, chicken, egg, meatloaf, tofu or the house special.
  • El Fogon — Al Pastor Torta. Seasoned slices of pork on white bread with pinto beans, cheese pico, avocado, lettuce and mayo.
  • The Russell Besides its beef burgers, The Russell offers five sandwiches: the steak chimi, the chicken brioche, the spicy chicken, a BLT and the salmon BLT burger.

Listener recommendations:

  • Tay’s Cheesesteaks in North Kansas City offers three styles of cheesesteak sandwiches with grass-fed steak or chicken in 6-inch or 12-inch size.
  • The Lunchbox has the B.L.T.C., a heaping helping of bacon with the lettuce and tomato topped with cheddar cheese, all on toasted wheat bread.
  • The Ship's Firecracker Shrimp Po'Boy: fried shrimp tossed in hot sauce on a bolillo roll and dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayo.
  • BLVD Tavern's "shaved prime rib sandwich": slow-roasted prime rib, Swiss cheese, creamy horseradish and au jus for dipping.
  • Lucky Boys bar and grill in the West Bottoms Stockyard district is recommended for its Nashville hot chicken sandwich.
  • San Antonio Tortilleria offers the Al Pastor Torta Dagwood, an all-meat breakfast sandwich (if you don't get the Dagwood reference, ask a grandparent).
  • Baba's Pantry got thumbs up from several listeners for its chicken shawarma wrap, its falafel on pita, and its fries.
  • Westside Local has a grilled cheese that offers white cheddar, Emmentaler and Brie on Farm-to-Market sourdough with tomato fennel soup for dipping.
  • The Pizza Man in Lenexa got a mention in a New York Times article on Italian Beef sandwiches, referring to people who have left Kansas City posting to The Pizza Man Facebook page about how much they miss it.
  • Wood Yard Bar-B-Que adds ham and bacon to its turkey, piles it all on white bread with tomato, lettuce and onion and calls it the Turkey Club.
  • Marco Polo's Venetian is its version of the Italian Sandwich with steak, tomato sauce, onions and provolone.
  • Broadway Butcher is a supplier of meats, cheeses and fresh vegetables in other words, everything you need to make a great sandwich at home. Luckily, they offer a different sandwich every day if you like them assembled for you.
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As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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