Sandwiches may be simple—meat, cheese, veggies between two pieces of bread—but around here, they’re anything but boring. From classic to innovative, these are our favorite sammies in Orlando.
Housed in a former Checkers drive-through, Tortas El Rey might not warrant a second glance unless you know about the fresh, scratch-made Mexican street-food classics made inside. Classics like 50-cent tacos, generous burritos and authentic huaraches are available but, as the name implies, tortas are king here. And the most delectable is the carnitas—flavorful pork sandwiched in a fresh cemita roll, dressed with a light layer of refried beans, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Pickled carrots and jalapeños come on the side, as do fiery-hot red and green salsas. Pile it all on top and dig in. $3.50. 6127 S. Orange Blossom Trl., Orlando.
Chicken Steak Supreme
There are no wrong turns on LaSpada’s enormous menu of classic Italian hoagies and Philly cheesesteaks, but the wise diner will head straight for the chicken steak with all the toppings. Their freshly griddled chicken is even more flavorful than the juicy, delicious steak and sits oh so well with the onions, green peppers and mushrooms on the Supreme. Don’t get fancy and swap out the white American cheese for provolone—the smooth sauciness in every bite is what makes this sandwich the ultimate comfort-food treat. The only hard question here is whether to go for 8, 10 or 12 inches of deliciousness. $7.15-$10.15. Locations in Orlando, Sanford and Orange City, laspadas.com.
Florida Shrimp Roll
Gourmet sandwiches are the standard here, but we keep coming back for the delicious—and beautiful—shrimp roll. The taste of the ocean shines through in the butter-poached Florida shrimp cradled in grilled, warm brioche. The shrimp is lightly dressed with a slaw of fresh citrus, crunchy fennel, celery and fresh herbs. Request the house-made ranch potato chips for a salty oomph. $11. 595 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, swineandsons.com.
Enjoying tea and sandwiches is civilized business, and the serene vibe at KrungThep evokes the expected air while delivering a powerful punch of flavor and crunch. It’s hard to choose between the inventive sammies here, but we all agree the tastiest choice is the Gra-Prow Chicken, an irresistible mélange of diced chicken, mozzarella, fresh basil, onion, red pepper and basil mayo. Ask for fresh Thai chilis on top. Sourdough bread from Olde Hearth Bread Company makes this perfect square even more delectable. $8. 1051 Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, facebook.com/krungthepteatime.
We really like everything served at this Maitland walkup, but the vegetarian falafel is a standout for its perfectly spiced flavor. Unlike traditional Israeli falafel, this is Turkish style, with a slightly softer texture both outside and on the interior. The chopped salad and thick, creamy tahini sauce brilliantly complement the made-to-order chickpea fritters. Bread is soft and fresh and perfectly envelops the fillings. 118 Lake Ave., Maitland, shishcomezzegrill.com.
Owner Jason Schofield created a menu inspired by his world travels at this no-frills sandwich shop, and you’ll find everything from a banh mi to a Cuban (with bread from Tampa’s La Segunda Bakery) to this must-order, all-American BLT. Schofield cures and smokes his own thick-cut bacon, then gives it the sous vide treatment to slow-cook at 148°F. The liquid from the sous vide is used to make aioli that’s slathered on crusty white bread from Cusano’s Bakery, and the thick bacon gets a crisp finish on the griddle. The bread is spread with sweet, slow-roasted tomato “jam,” and it’s all topped with spinach or arugula. $6. 1811 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, thisnthateats.com.
Beef (Rare) with Cheese and Onions
This time-honored Orlando spot has a menu that hasn’t changed much since they opened the doors in 1967: house-made roast beef sandwiches, crispy tater tots, and thick-as-mud milkshakes. It may be the standard, but the classic beef sandwich makes our best-of list—with a few essential tweaks that take it over the top. Order it rare, and topped with cheese and onions. Tots are not optional—and neither is the definitive horseradish sauce. $4-$6. 424 Nd. Bumby Ave., Orlando, beefyking.com.
The Banh Mi
by Ricky Ly
On weekends in Central Florida, families visiting Orlando’s Mills 50 District often come to have a bowl of pho at one of the many local Vietnamese restaurants, pick up their weekly supplies of Asian groceries at the local markets and, on the way out, grab a few banh mi sandwiches, wrapped and bundled, ready to eat on the family car ride home.
The banh mi has everything people can love about a sandwich—hand-held, easy to transport, packed full of flavors and textures and affordable, at about $3.50 a sandwich.
The banh mi sandwich is very much a love child of Vietnamese and French culinary traditions. French Colonial influence continued in Vietnam even after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, imparting on the Vietnamese people their love for French baguettes and strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk. Even today in Vietnam, you can see young delivery men on bicycles early in the morning riding here and there dispensing to local banh mi shops and restaurants their daily baskets full of freshly baked French baguette bread.
The sandwich is composed traditionally of a French baguette, lathered with pâté and sweet butter, and then finally layered with Vietnamese pork cold cuts, ham, headcheese, cilantro and pickled daikon and carrots. This banh mi is often called the “dac biet,” meaning special combination, or “thit nguoi,” meaning cold cuts, though there is a wondrous variety of fillings for the banh mi sandwich including crispy roast pork, xiu mai pork meatballs, grilled pork, tofu, grilled chicken and many more.
Biting into the banh mi sandwich, one encounters at first the satisfying crunch of the baguette, followed by delicate textures of pillowy bread and soft cold cuts, and, then, another pleasing crunch from the freshly pickled daikon and carrots hiding within. The flavors linger—a combination of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. It’s very difficult to get just the right balance, but this harmony of flavors and textures is a big part of what makes a great banh mi sandwich.
My favorite local banh mi shop is Banh Mi Nha Trang (1216 E. Colonial Dr. #9, Orlando), hidden in a courtyard and run by a charming elderly couple, Truc My and Yen Thi Nguyen. Mr. and Mrs. Nguyen, who ran a banh mi shop and bakery in Vietnam before immigrating to the States, carefully hand-pick all their ingredients and hand-make all their meats to ensure quality. The couple plans to continue the shop during their retirement years, introducing more traditional Vietnamese street food and sandwiches to the world.
Where to get Banh Mi in Orlando
Banh Mi Nha Trang
1216 E. Colonial Dr. #9, Orlando
1525 E. Colonial Dr. #5, Orlando
Tien Hung Oriental Market
1110 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando
Phuoc Loc Tho Super Oriental Market
2100 E. Colonial Dr., Orlando