The Best Sandwiches in Orlando

From Maine to Mexico, the Windy City to the Texas Badlands, one thing we all have in common is the sandwich. Fanatical fans of food stuffed into bread can spend hours debating the merits of Reuben over Cuban and sub vs. club. And I can hear the grumbling from the burgermeisters and frankfanatics in the audience—sorry, as far as I’m concerned they ain’t sandwiches. Having spent weeks sampling sandwiches from the sublime to the truly inedible, I can recommend the following six as the best of what Orlando has to offer.

Photos By Norma Lopez Molina

Italian beef, $4.95
Italian Beefstro
705 W. Colonial Drive

Sandwiches are like little outposts of favorite places in the world. You can find a Peruvian butifarra, Vietnamese bahn mi or New Orleans muffaletta somewhere in Orlando, and anyone homesick for the Windy City needs to visit Italian Beefstro. The Ch’cago accents heard in the crowd that gathers here every afternoon are thick enough to cut with a knife. Save that knife to slice through the Italian beef sandwich, a mainstay of the Chicago food scene (although I have seen something similar in the Italian neighborhoods of New York City). Slow-roasted beef is layered into fresh-baked rolls, then drenched in pan drippings. The very sturdy hoagie bread is delivered every day from the legendary Cusano’s Bakery in Hallandale—anything lighter would dissolve like mashed potatoes in “the juice.” A topping of giardiniera (spicy pickled onions, carrots and cauliflower) is requisite to make it feel like a day on North Cicero.

Burnt End, $6.59
4Rivers Smokehouse
2103 W. Fairbanks Ave.
Winter Park

SUVs fill every available parking space along the commercial end of Fairbanks Avenue, and whole families stand in line outside the crowded little space that holds local restaurateur John Rivers’ paean to barbecue. And there is always a line, no matter when you drive by. Such is the power of food. Texas barbecue is a labor- and ingredient-intensive process, but the results (here, anyway) are worth it. There’s not a bad thing on the menu, although I do take issue with the rather pasty bread, but I understand its prime purpose is to soak up the deeply flavored sauce. While some of Rivers’ creations are awe-inspiring by size alone (bring help to carry the “Messy Pig”), his “Burnt-End” sandwich is transcendent. Made from the heavily smoked end cuts of meat (prized by “q” fanatics), the sandwich is a big stack of half smoky and sweet pulled pork, half tender brisket, topped with pickles (yes!) and/or cole slaw (not really). The baked cheese grits are a must-order side, and the desserts are big enough to kill.

Philly cheesesteak,
Brianto’s Original Hoagies
12001 Avalon Lake Drive

There are really only two requirements for a decent sandwich: good bread and quality stuffing. Whether you call it a sub, hero, wedge or grinder, probably the most iconic sandwich is the Philly cheesesteak. Three UCF grads with an obsession for all things Pennsylvanian have created a haven for hoagie lovers at Brianto’s. According to Amoroso’s Baking Co. in Philadelphia, Brianto’s is the only place in Orlando that ships in the bakery’s crusty rolls—an absolute must for authenticity—every day. The other must is a topping of Cheez Whiz on the sliced and grilled rib-eye steak (order it with “the whiz”).

Lobster roll, $20
Winter Park Fish Company
761 Orange Ave.
Winter Park

There’s nothing quite as dec-adent as a good lobster roll. Chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed with mayo and spooned into a toasted hot dog roll, offer the extravagance of premium filing served like a two-buck frank. This is populist food that, thank goodness, has spread beyond the confines of Maine. While there are a few Orlando choices for this Down East classic, my pick is the very popular Winter Park Fish Company. Seasoning is the big debate throughout New England; some swear by Old Bay, celery salt or, heaven help me, mustard, but WPFC uses just a touch of dill because, excuse me, it’s lobster! Yes, it does cost 20 bucks, but after you’ve had one, you’ll want another. While you’re waiting for a reorder, treat yourself to the best-I’ve-ever-had hushpuppies ($1.50, below).

Gorgonzola Waldorf wrap, $7
The Cheese Shop On Park
329 Park Ave. North
Winter Park

The Cheese Shop is the only place I’ve ever seen a sandwich made from a Waldorf salad, and it seems a very logical thing for a sandwich to contain. The cheese mongers here know a thing or two about dairy, and the creamy texture and slightly bitter, slightly sweet Gorgonzola dolce from Italy offsets the other ingredients—thin-sliced prosciutto ham, walnuts, apples and celery. I’m still not sure that a tortilla wrap is actually a sandwich, but the tortilla holds this creation together far better than the available whole grain bread, so I’ll let it slide. A glass of Chenin blanc and a seat at the sidewalk tables to watch Park Avenue promenade by is quite the civilized way to spend an afternoon.

Torta de pollo, $4.80
Tortas El Rey
6127 S. Orange Blossom Trail
Why settle for the Earl of Sandwich when we have the King? Tortas El Rey (The King of Sandwiches) is a 24-hour drive-through, a hoagie roll’s-throw from Florida Mall, and it specializes in good, inexpensive, authentic sandwiches. A Mexican torta “with everything” comes stuffed into a crusty white roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeño and avocado, and can be filled with shredded roast chicken (pollo, my fave), shaved steak (asada), breaded beef (milanesa) or marinated pork (pastor). Or meats that stretch the definition of cold cuts, like tongue or beef cheek. Nothing served here came from a food service company, and that’s how I like it.

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