The sublime art of the sandwich


If you think sandwiches are boring, you’ve probably had one too many ham and cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread because there is nothing as wonderfully open-ended and variable as the glorious sandwich.

Piled high · The Highway 128 from Mendocino Farms is a rich, gourmet sandwich filled with large amounts of chicken, goat cheese, field greens and various fruit chutneys, making it a healthy, filling meal. - Sophia Lee | Daily Trojan

A sandwich is art. An incomprehensible scribble to one is displayed proudly as art by another.

Likewise, a sandwich is subjective and open to all ranges of tastes, which is why it is hard to find someone who absolutely dislikes a sandwich. There are just simply too many sandwiches in the world.

Which is why, like art, to find the perfect fit, you need to first observe the fine galleries of sandwiches. Thankfully, Los Angeles has plenty, falling under all kinds of categories, depending on what mood you’re in.

The Virtuous and Healthful

For those seeking creative, aesthetically pleasing and good quality food but reluctant to negate the hours of sweating spent on the elliptical machine, head Downtown to Mendocino Farms.

Mendocino Farms is a fine dining bistro disguised as a casual cafeteria that serves creative sandwiches inspired from classic favorites. The ingredients used are fresh and seasonal, plucked right off the local farmers market.

Perhaps you relish the nostalgic grilled cheese you once had with Campbell’s tomato soup when your babysitter came over, but not the additives in bright orange American cheese. Try the vegetarian Drunk’n Goat in Paris — a thick slab of herby goat cheese, cranberry chutney, French brie, caramelized onions, green apple and organic greens sandwiched between sweet, nutty slices of cranberry walnut bread.

Or if you’re craving an Asian kick, go for the popular Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi, which is a full entrée by itself with caramelized kurobuta pork heaped on ciabatta bread with refreshingly crunchy pickled Vietnamese slaw, jalapeños and chili aioli.

The Naughty and Lustful

If calories are no deterrent to your carnivorous ways, take a 20-minute drive out to Cemitas & Clayudas Pal Cabron at Huntington Park, home of Los Angeles’ best cemitas, the beloved street staple of Puebla.

The best way to describe a cemita is in battle terms. A true cemita is a tasty explosion of flavors and textures trapped in a mine of lard-infused roll, guaranteed to make a masochist out of even the most well-behaved health nut.

Indeed, you’ll see this theme of maximalist indulgence all around this Pueblan restaurant — the first thing you notice when you walk in are the lascivious paintings on the bright yellow walls.

As you take a seat, you’ll be winked at by drawings of many more of these melon-breasted women with come-hither smirks, each one representing a cemita on the menu.

The cemita is devoid of traditional sandwich fixings. You will find no mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce or tomatoes. Stuffed full of meat and cheese, this sinful monster still manages to be fatter and fuller than the bosom of the seductive murals.

Try the popular La Bronca — slopping hunks of slow-cooked and pulled lamb, creamy string cheese, chipotle and bitter papalo leaves swelling out of a crusty, slightly sweet, sesame-seed studded cemita bun — all for less than $6. Gluttony has never tasted so cheap, or so good.

The Proper and Conservative

Do you find modern cuisine with fancy fusion spins annoying and sacrilegious? You better stick with the classics at long-time establishments such as Langers.

Langers is tucked away in a sketchy area across MacArthur Park in the west part of Downtown, but that dingy atmosphere is excusable — even desired — from a diner boasting 64 years of service.

The menu requires half a day just to read through all the items listed, so just skip the dilly-dally and start out with the No. 19 — oodles of hot, fatty pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing oozing between chewy rye bread.

Classics are classics for a reason. You just can’t go wrong with timeless traditions.

The Sweet and Savvy

Who says sandwiches need only be savory? Log on to Twitter and Facebook and chase down Coolhaus, the coolest sandwich shop on wheels.

Don’t tell your parents, but the Coolhaus truck is the best excuse to have ice cream for dinner. After all, it comes as a sandwich, though you might want to leave out the part that the only greens you’ll find is in the matcha green tea ice cream.

Ordering at Coolhaus works the same way as Subway does. You choose your bread, which in this case would come in various types of cookie such as oatmeal or chocolate chip, and then the ice cream fillings — a plethora of artisanal, all-natural ice cream flavors, including brown butter with candied bacon and balsamic fig and mascarpone.

And vegans, rejoice — you can also get your sugar fix with its dairy-free blood orange sorbet or horchata ice cream.

The Broke and Carless

Aside from stopping by Carl’s Jr. or Subway, pick up some cheap ingredients from the store, and create your own awesome sandwiches.

They need not be fancy. Adding slices of banana and crisp bacon can jazz up even a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As a general rule of thumb, the fewer the ingredients, the higher quality it should be. That means even simple bread and butter can be amazing — but that bread better not be generic white sandwich bread from the Dollar Store.

Think in terms of taste and texture. The best sandwich comes with a bit of crunch, creaminess and chew. This can be easily achieved with some grated carrots and walnuts, whipped cream cheese and cinnamon raisin bread respectively.

Balance out the flavors as well. If you’ve got something bold and salty like smoked ham, add an undertone of sweetness, perhaps with a crisp slice of apple, or a smear of apricot preserves. Or if you’ve got something mild and bland like roasting chicken, adding pungent Gorgonzola cheese or rich caramelized onions will give it the little zing it needs.

A sandwich is really an art craft. It requires a certain base knowledge, a fair amount of thought the appropriate materials to assemble a stellar sandwich that balances the right amount of flavors and textures. But like an open canvas, it also is forgiving to all kinds of experiments and adventures.

Sophia Lee is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “That’s What She Ate,” runs Mondays.

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