We're in the middle of a sandwich renaissance in Sydney. Every time I open Instagram the first thing I see is an exciting new sandwich creation, another must-try wonder from a place I didn't even know existed. Our restaurants, cafes and holes-in-the-wall have gotten very good at putting stuff between two slices of bread and it's time to celebrate everyone involved.
Sydney's been one of the world's best sandwich destinations for years now, but did knowing that stop our city's proud sandwich makers from getting lazy and keeping things as they were? No! They kept pushing that sourdough envelope and coming up with magical new creations that kept our carb addiction as active as our gym addiction.
Sydney's sandwich offerings have never been more varied. We have a breadth of high-end options, which can be found on the bar menu of some of our most expensive restaurants, while others have inspired numerous headlines debating whether a sandwich is worth $26 (spoiler alert: it is, and you can read why below). For those less inclined to drop that much on a sambo, the $10 toastie scene is thriving, with some truly fun, inventive and melted cheese filled toast pockets hitting Sydney cafe menus in the last 12 months.
We've gotten better at certain sandwich varieties too. There's now a handful of Japanese cafes doing pork katsu sandos that could rival what you'd find in Tokyo. We've even delivered a take on a Los Angeles sandwich that's 10 times better than what you get served when you dine at the restaurant that created it. And it's not just hulking pieces of meat between bread that's getting all the attention – one of the best sandwiches I ate while researching this article came with a hulking piece of pumpkin, and it's from one of several excellent vegan sandwich shops that are packed to the (mock) gills every lunchtime.
Sandwiches are not only one of the easiest foods to eat; they're also one of the easiest foods to share, and not just with the person sitting next to you. With a click of button you can share it with every single person you've ever met via social media. No longer are the arteries of my Instagram feed clogged with towers of cheese-dripping burger pics. They're now filled with this slightly healthier, perennially popular lunch option, getting almost as many likes as there are sandwiches in Sydney. Here are a few of my favourites.
French dip beef sandwich from Continental CBD, $26
When the Continental crew made their way from Newtown to the CBD last year, they brought with them all the tinned seafood, cured meats and cocktails that made everyone fall in love with their original location in the first place. But they also added a new arsenal of knockout sandwiches to their new city-based bar, including a killer broccolini and mozzarella number, and a simple ham and butter sandwich that has become the humble lunch favourite of many a nearby office worker. But there's nothing humble about their sandwich headliner, the Continental take of the LA-invented french dip, which stacks thinly sliced roast beef on warm Brickfields bread with melted cheese. While this decadent sandwich is juicy enough on its own, it wouldn't be a french dip without a bowl of roasting juices served on the side to dip the sandwich into. It's a fun, messy experience – and overall a much better offering than the french dip you can buy at Cole's French Dip in LA, where this concoction was invented in 1908.
167 Phillip Street, Sydney, 02 9922 7347
Fried chicken sandwich from Momofuku Seiobo, $18
While Momofuku Seiobo's $185 tasting menu is arguably the best extravagant, many-coursed menu in Sydney, those wishing to save a little dough can sit at the small bar at the front of the restaurant and sample the same level of Carribean creativity that chef Paul Carmichael is famous for. The bar menu is somewhat of a badly kept secret – if you can secure one of the handful of seats you'll be able to order a caesar salad garnished with crisp shards of jerk chicken skin, or get your hands dirty with an insanely good grilled fish head, smothered in hot sauce. Just make sure you don't fill up on fish head – save some room for their fried chicken sandwich as well. A freshly baked bun is glazed with smoked chicken fat, sliced in half and filled with pickled cabbage, sour cream, chives and the star of the show: an enormous piece of chicken thigh that has been brined with kombu, dipped in buttermilk and fried in a batter of potato starch, chickpea flour and dried habanero. Woof.
80 Pyrmont Street, Sydney, 02 9657 9169
Mi Goreng toastie from Dutch Smuggler, $9.50
Carbs filled with carbs are always a winner, and while this busy CBD cafe's selection of other toasties is definitely worth checking out, none holds a candle to the delicious novelty of the mi goreng toastie. A bed of expertly seasoned instant noodles mixes with spicy mayo, the busted yolk from a fried egg and melted cheddar cheese. This toastie is an absolute banger, the epitome of stoner cuisine.
200 George Street, Sydney (no phone)
Pork Katsu Sando from Sando Bar, $14
It's pretty easy to find a katsu sandwich in Sydney now, but you'd have a hard time finding one that's better than the sandos at Sando Bar in Surry Hills. The sheer thickness of the deep-fried pork loin nestled between the gloriously soft, crustless white bread is just a thing of beauty. Paper-thin shaves of apple and fennel and the killer trio of mayo, mustard and tonkatsu sauce complete this excellent combination of textures and taste.
224 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, 0414 518 879
Cheese toastie from Penny's Cheese Shop, $14
Penny Lawson puts as much grated cheese on the outside of the bread as she does the inside, which is a bold move that proves she deserves to have the shop named after her. Inside this phenomenal toastie is a gooey mess of top-quality cheese and whatever else you choose to add – ham, pickles or sweet onion. The outside is what makes this toastie truly shine, the cheese forming a delicious deep-yellow shell around the bread that cracks with each bite. You'll need about 100 napkins for this one.
Shop, 4 Roslyn Street, Potts Point, 02 8591 4754
Miso eggplant and spicy carrot relish sandwich from Sandoitchi, $11
I'll be honest, I couldn't actually decide which sandwich was my favourite at this recently opened but already-feels-like-it's-been-here-forever cafe on Oxford Street. How do you choose between a delicate egg sando with kombu butter and a toastie filled with a whopping five different grilled mushrooms? Who wins in a battle between another of Sydney's great pork katsu sandos (this one also has nori, pickled carrots, cucumber, cabbage, cheese and tonkatsu mayo), and a combination of grilled eggplant, miso butter and spicy carrot nahm prik on Sonoma miche? I just put the eggplant one because the list has been a total meat fest so far. All the sammiches are good here. You can even get them served as a bowl instead, which is great for people who've just eaten their yearly intake of bread in the past fortnight.
Shop 3,113-115 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, 0491 092 958
Chipotle pumpkin sandwich from Joe's Sandwich Bar, $12
Over at vegan cafe and deli Shift Eatery in Surry Hills they do a number of sandwiches for vegans who miss their meat-filled favourites, their menu full of inverted commas (house-made corned "beef", "chicken" schnitzel) and whatever barbecue pulled jackfruit is. Joe's Sandwich Bar is also completely vegan, and while it also has a vegan take on a reuben (Joe's uses tempeh), it's the all-vegetable sandwiches I'm more drawn to. My vegan sister loves the miso caramel eggplant sandwich with pickled ginger and Japanese slaw so much that she's never even tried the chipotle pumpkin sandwich with almond ricotta, kale, chilli relish and pickles, which was one of the bestsandwiches during my extensive sandwich research.
292 Kent Street, Sydney (not phone)
The Lee Tran at Saga, $16
Named after Good Food contributor/food podcaster/Sydney's most beloved vegetarian Lee Tran Lam, this sandwich perfectly balances bitter, salty, sweet and sour with charred broccoli, fermented chilli mayo, capers, lemon and the irresistible goo of melted caciocavallo cheese. See also: the excellent kimchi and emmental toastie at Paperbird in Potts Point.
178 Enmore Road, Enmore, 02 9550 6386
Schmitter from The Dolphin Hotel, $16
Monty Koludrovic's regularly changing sandwich menu at The Dolphin has delivered some legendary boozy lunch offerings in the past. At the moment it includes a broccoli, chilli and smoked mozzarella and a "BLAAAT" (one of the As is for avocado and I assume the other two are both for awesome?), but my pick of the three is the Schmitter, which combines chopped grilled steak with salami, cheese, lettuce and a special sauce that's damn near close to Big Mac sauce. It sounds strange but it works! Koludrovic is also responsible for the terrific fish sandwich at Bondi Beach Public Bar, it too unmistakably inspired by McDonalds, specifically the Filet-o-Fish.
412 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 02 9331 4800
Muffuletta from A1 Canteen, $18
Certainly the prettiest sandwich in Sydney at the moment, A1 Canteen's variation on the New Orleans specialty is a rainbow of meats, cheese and vegies that takes two days to build. A hollowed-out cob loaf is filled with tightly packed layers of salami, mortadella, leg ham, provolone, olive salad, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and a healthy slather of dijon mustard. After being pressed together overnight, the cob loaf is cut into thick slices that can be eaten or directly uploaded to Instagram. Fingers crossed they bring back the Christmas muffuletta – packed with glazed ham, roast chicken, turkey and stuffing – at the end of this year, if not sooner (Christmas in July, anyone?).
2-10 Kensington Street, Chippendale, 02 9280 3285