Pity the late John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, whose snack during a card game gave name to the English culinary craze that followed. No, he didn't invent putting a filling between two pieces of bread. That had been done since ancient times. But you have to wonder whether any time someone slathers two slices of Wonder Bread with mayo and places in them a slice of American “cheese” and baloney and calls it by that name, if Lord Sandwich turns ever so slightly in his grave.
If you're planning a man game of cribbage (the earl's favorite game) and want to honor Lord Sandwich, there are plenty of places in the area that can oblige.
It's probably not what Mr. Montagu would've noshed on, but you can't write about sandwiches and not mention “the sandwich” from Roma Deli in Pasadena. This deli is where you go to buy thin frozen pizzas from Naples, thick dried pasta as long as your arm and prosciutto you can see through. It also offers one sandwich. Why only one? Because it's perfect.
For $5.50 you get a crisp-crusted Italian roll dotted with olive oil and filled with cold cuts like prosciutto, mortadella, salami and a slice or two of provolone. No bells, no whistles, no tomatoes and onions. Because it's perfect.
Roma Deli, 918 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 797-7748.
The umami burger is the one to try if it's your first time at this post-modernist burger joint. Why not dive headfirst into the concept? The thick patty comes out almost caramelized, well-browned but juicy on the inside. The burger is layered with shiitake mushroom, roasted tomato, caramelized onion, a disc of melted and crisped Parmesan, and, just so you remember it's a hamburger, ketchup — but a ketchup that offers hints of mushrooms and spices.
Umami Burger, 49 E. Colorado Blvd. Pasadena, (626) 799-8626.
AKA An American Bistro
AKA's pulled pork sandwich is worth a trip to the fancy little shopping alley in Pasadena. The sandwich, made with Duroc pork, is one of the restaurant's highlights, with a unique sweet barbecue sauce, juicy and remarkably flavorful pork and pineapple slaw piled on top.
AKA An American Bistro, 41 Hugus Alley, Pasadena, (626) 564-8111.
At the family-run Grain Lab eatery surrounded by chain shops in Burbank, one of the standouts is the portabello mushroom sandwich. The meaty mushroom is accompanied by mozzarella, mixed greens, roasted peppers and oven-roasted tomato, on ciabatta from Culver City's Dolce Forno Bakery.
Grain Lab, 1737 N. Victory Place, Burbank, (818) 841-8839.
The Oinkster in Eagle Rock is famous for its pastrami and home-cooked Carolina-style pulled pork, and people line up for the sandwiches, or just meat by the pound. But the Thai chicken salad sandwich always leaves me hankering for more. Slow-roasted rotisserie chicken makes a moist filling with mayo, house-made bread and butter pickles, tomato and onion, all on focaccia bread.
Oinkster, 2005 Colorado Blvd. Eagle Rock, (323) 255-6465.
Studio Cafe Magazzino
My favorite sandwich at this homey cafe a short walk from the Warner Bros. lot is the smoked salmon. The salmon slices are served with tomatoes, romaine, a sprinkling of sprouts and ricotta cheese. Ricotta? I was envisioning mushy lumps of cheese gushing out the sides of the ciabatta, reminding me to move up a level on the elliptical, and overpowering the fish. Wrong. The thin swipe of ricotta on the bread just added a little moisture and depth to the sandwich.
Studio Cafe Magazzino, 109 N. Pass Ave., Burbank, (818) 953-7220.
Situated on one of Burbank's main shopping drags, Mama Hong's offers the best of Vietnamese street food, the banh mi sandwich.
The perfect size for lunch, the banh mi comes on a toasted mini baguette — unbelievably fresh and light, with a perfect crackly crust — with a choice of grilled chicken, pork or beef.
The pork is boldly flavored — savory, garlicky, with hints of fish sauce and (could it be?) something resembling maple syrup — and topped with crunchy pickled carrots, cucumber slices and daikon radish.
Mama Hong's, 221 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, (818) 558-6262.
REBECCA BRYANT is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.