In late 2008, a gritty east-side shop called Bunk launched Portland’s sandwich revolution with one devastating pork-belly Cubano. Six years later, it seems everyone is transforming handcrafted credos into soul-warming (some might say life-changing?) surprises. What follows is a style guide to Portland’s sandwich state of mind, from exacting breads and wild condiments to banishing the rule book altogether.

Bread: Elementary Rules of Usage
Artisan bakery loaves, custom-ordered rolls, and an “I Baked It My Way” mind-set aren’t merely options in Portland. They’re the law. 

A Few Matters of Meat
Portland meats are serious business: smoked, brined, and charcuterized. (They don’t call us Porkland for nothing.) 

The Art of Rule-Breaking
The coup de grace on a true, Stumptown-style sandwich? A renegade cry of "Anything goes!" 

An Approach to Codimentia
To cut the mustard in Pickle Town, it is advisable to craft your own artisan extras.

Notes on Obsession
Passion unbound, no apologies: that’s the secret ingredient to sandwich happiness.

hamBURGERS: new PRINCIPLES
of COMPOSITION
Five local discoveries offer novel definitions of what a burger can be.

 

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!

BREAD: ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

Artisan bakery loaves, custom-ordered rolls, and an “I Baked It My Way” mind-set aren’t merely options in Portland. They’re the law.  

BLB at Sweedeedee
The BLB at Sweedeedee: Bacon, lettuce, and beets

The BLB at Sweedeedee

Tomatoes might survive only three weeks in our “where is global warming when you need it?” growing season. But roasted beets are forever, and they glisten like jewels inside Sweedeedee’s ingenious BLT makeover. The kitchen’s BLB also makes room for four lashes of bacon, an inch of crunchy iceberg lettuce confetti, and thick-cut cornmeal molasses bread, deep in soft chew and tang and baked daily. This neighborhood café is going the distance.

PB&J Royale at OUI PRESSe 

Who makes homemade bread for just one sandwich ... starring peanut butter and jelly, no less? Say hello to east-side coffee shop Oui Presse, where each little masterpiece is bound in Japanese milk bread baked for maximum squishability, medium-soft crust, and delicate richness. To nail the perfect PB&J, owner Shawna McKeown binge-tested unsalted peanuts for nutty intensity and jammed untold grinders in search of textural excellence—smooth but roughed up. Each order also sends forth sweet-salty jerks of berry jam and sea salt, while a thin arc of local butter crests the top. All this, made to order, for $4.50. In a nutshell: a steal.

The Sloppy Giuseppe at ROMAN CANDLE baking co 

Slip a little kale and highbrow Late Harvest Katz Zinfandel Vinegar into your Italian grandma’s meat-pebbled tomato sauce. Then stuff it into a vast triangular bread pocket, olive oil–glazed and baked in a cast-iron pan over screaming heat until gloriously bronzed. That’s the long, short, and ultra-crunchy of chef Joshua McFadden’s triumph. Any sandwich that can please a Goodfella and a health maven at the same time is doing something right. 

Grilled 3-Cheese on Sally Lunn at LITTLE T AMERICAN BAKER

This is grilled cheese as the mothers of heaven meant it to be—flawlessly griddled, with just the right crisp and ooze, on addictive bread cruising the lane between pound cake and brioche. Then again, even braunschweiger dip would taste divine on Little T’s Sally Lunn bread, an Old English beauty with a rich buttery crumb. Search the bread bibles for the recipe, but we’re throwing it down right here: you won’t find a more delicious version, anywhere.

The Frank at FRESSEN ARTISAN BAKERY  

Only in Portland: a pig in a blanket with artisan street cred. It begins with a juicy, skin-snapping, mile-long Olympic Provisions pork frank and ends with a wrapper of pretzel dough conjured by a master German baker—all salt, flake, and chew. What more could you possibly ask for? 

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!

A FEW MATTERS OF MEAT

Portland meats are serious business: smoked, brined, and charcuterized. (They don’t call us Porkland for nothing.) 

BBQ brisket with cilantro slaw at P's & Q's Market
BBQ brisket with cilantro slaw at P's & Q's Market

Rare Roast Beef at LAURELHURST MARKET

At Portland’s indie steak house, the butcher counter doubles as a modern caveman’s cupboard and sandwich headquarters. Look no further than the daunting house top round—bigger than a wrestler’s thigh, massaged with herbs, cooked to the millisecond of scarlet perfection, then thinly carved to order. A herd of slices roam on rotating breads with changing companions, like horseradish cream and beet pickle relish.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi at LARDO

Adventure for the Everyman. That, in a Sriracha-mayo schmear, is the brilliance of Lardo’s growing sandwich clout. The secret to the house banh mi, now verging on cult status, may be simply that the meatballs are, in truth, really good Asian meatloaf whacked into thick wedges and buried beneath pickled vegetables, cilantro galore, and polite heat. It’s Portland writ large—big bites and big fun (and a big eureka for the gluten-adverse: there’s an option for a “salad version”).

Pork Belly Cubano at BUNK SANDWICHES 

New York’s premier meat fiend, writer Josh Ozersky, said it best: “Way, way better than anything in Miami.” At first glance, it could be mistaken for a straight-up reprisal of the Cuban workingman’s ham-and-cheese number. But Bunk detours into the record books by ditching the usual pork roast for a garlicky, molasses-punched, slow-cooked pork belly with deep caramel tones. The belly’s luscious fat bastes the meat, transforming the sandwich into a whole new animal. A final ride in the panini press seals the deal, as ham, pickle crunch, swiss cheese, and mustard bite join the pork within a full crispy jacket.

Grilled Chorizo at OLYMPIC PROVISIONS NW 

Let’s be perfectly frank: only crazy Spaniards take fresh chorizo this seriously. Pure pork shoulder and fatback. No scraps. Real garlic and Spanish paprika. Fresh-ground spices, toasted to boot. Mild and pure, the links require little more than grill blister, a sliver of nutty manchego, a few bitter greens, and oily red piquillo peppers to shine inside a fluffy, flour-dusted roll. Each bite snaps like the Rat Pack.

BBQ Brisket with Cilantro Slaw at P’s & Q’s MARKET  

Texans, avert your ears. As Neil Young wails poetic in the background, Paul Davis—self-styled barbecue man and co-owner of Woodlawn’s utopian food market/café—cites the weirdest influences to ever grace a brisket. Factoring into his formula: Kansas City style (“sweet and thick”), Spanish avant-gardist Ferran Adrià (“he puts lemongrass and ginger in his barbecue sauce!”), Kenny & Zuke’s pastrami (“mind-boggling amounts of coriander”), and, not least, a shrimp taco (“loved the cilantro”). To say it all works in Davis’s BBQ sandwich is an understatement—it is one messy, smoky wonder balancing bright zing, blackened edges, and a punchy slaw inside a fine potato bun. 

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!

THE ART OF RULE-BREAKING

The coup de grace on a true, Stumptown-style sandwich? A renegade cry of "Anything goes!" 

The Green Bean at Meat Cheese Bread
The Green Bean at Meat Cheese Bread

The Green Bean at MEAT CHEESE BREAD

It takes a certain diabolical mind to change the profile of string beans from antioxidant champ to badass game-changer. Few cooks think outside the wok, much less transform an icon of chlorophyll into a dangerously good sandwich. Chef John Stewart’s ride begins with a bushel of beans, butter-singed and crunchy, their lanky spears shooting from a toasted swatch of ciabatta hoagie. Hiding inside: onion-sweet bacon relish, interlaced boiled-egg slices, parmesan shavings, the whip and glisten of fresh aioli. It’s everything you love in a salad, but cooler.

Chocolate, Sea Salt, & Olive Oil at ADDY’S SANDWICH BAR

There’s nothing like bittersweet dark chocolate chunks, half-melted into peaks and valleys across a baguette plain, to save a sandwich from the clutches of boredom. Tapping Spain’s crush on bread and chocolate, Addy Bittner goes all in with the good stuff: 74 percent Felchlin chocolate; Little T American Baker’s splendid “short skinny,” a crusty baton with a yeasty smack; and a final oomph of olive oil and fleur de sel.

The Chefwich at LARDO

Guts and glory spill out of Portland’s ultimate sandwich series. Every month, Lardo invites a guest chef to create a singular vision on bread and name a charity to glean a percentage of the proceeds. The collaboration has already unleashed Aaron Barnett’s (St. Jack) snappy fried calamari and red onion po’boy; Greg Denton’s (Ox) outlandish turkey, poutine, and foie gras gravy; and Jenn Louis’s (Lincoln) posh grilled cheese with plum conserva. In March, barbecue man BJ Smith (Smokehouse 21) steps into the ring.

PDXWT at PORTLAND PENNY DINER 

Griddle-fried duck bologna, coffee mayo, sauerkraut—sauerkraut? Reading these incomprehensible ingredients, I thought PDXWT stood for Portland What The !*%. As it turns out, it’s an acronym for Portland White Trash, with a serious surprise of egg folds, hot American cheese, elegantly ugly meat, and sour shreds parked in an irresistible oven-fresh Parker House roll. On the side are two barrel-aged hot sauces holding floral bouquets and complexity. The only sign of the trailer is the price: $4.50.

James Beard’s Onion & Butter Sandwich at EXPATRIATE  

In Beard on Food, Oregon’s native son called sandwiches “one of the great American arts,” made by all but mastered by few. No doubt, the dean of American cuisine would join us in a jolly laugh to find his famed 1960s canapé—and a prime example of “everything counts” philosophy—alive and well in a hip house of drinkology and spicy Asian snacks in Northeast Portland. Can a sandwich touting nothing but onion’s raw bite, a cry of sweet butter, stout parsley, and a final sting of salt on crustless, cushiony white bread be this good? Yes. 

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!

AN APPROACH TO CODIMENTIA

To cut the mustard in Pickle Town, it is advisable to craft your own artisan extras.

Falafel with mango pickle purée and zhug at ChickPeaDX
Falafel with mango pickle purée and zhug at ChickPeaDX

Falafel at CHICKPEADX

The differences between falafel sandwiches are subtle matters. ChickpeaDX, Israeli-born Yair Maidan’s food-cart experiment, delivers the shocking exception: with spice-mad formulas in every crevice, this sandwich is calculated to make taste buds reel with glee. To begin, a disc of grilled pita. To finish, salty drizzles of puréed mango pickles, or the chunky smolder of Maidan’s zhug—all garlic, cilantro, toasted spices, and green heat. In between, sink your teeth into layers of reverential tahini beaming lime and Sriracha; fried eggplant slivers; artful falafel spheres (shockingly light and herbaceous); pickled carrot ribbons high on orange juice and cumin; and tomato-cuke relish zapped with serranos and sumac. The sea has parted. 

Fried-Egg Sandwich at BINGO SANDWICHES/ PICKLOPOLIS

The ultimate expression of Portland gastronomy: an awesome, farm-fresh fried-egg sandwich on a hand-tooled bun sporting fresh garlic mustard and knee-weakening, sweet-hot jalapeño pickles from “the kingdom of the brine” (a.k.a. Picklopolis). To find this gem, hightail it to the Saturday Farmers Market, which kicks off again March 15. Duck-egg upgrade optional!

Bagel, bacon, Raspberry Jam at TASTEBUD

This food cart’s hand-formed, rustic rounds bear surprising seasonal gifts like fat berries or raw asparagus pesto. One irresistible composition never changes—sliced halves, soft cream cheese, sweet-tart raspberry jam snagged from a local farm, a fistful of arugula, and two crispy strips of bacon. If the rabbi weren’t looking, you’d gobble one every day.

Carne Asada Torta at XICO

Meet the Mexican French dip. Chef Kelly Myers grills flank steak with adobo chile paste, simmers cowboy beans with bacon and serranos, smashes some heat into guacamole, then piles it all on a toasty telera roll glazed with—what else?—chile mayo. Chopped onions, cilantro, Salvadoran slaw, cotija cheese, and a fiesta of peanuts and arbol chiles greet you on top. Dunk the edges in “salsa de muchos chiles,” a manic pool possessed by five types of dried Mexican chiles. 

Ham & pears with beer-pickled onions at THE PEOPLE’S PIG

Cliff Allen can’t manage a hamstring stretch inside his tiny downtown food cart. But Portland’s condiment king thinks big. Each generous sandwich holds a bounty of wood-fired meats and customized flavor boosters tucked inside homemade sourdough buns. The magic extends to a bourbon-glazed ham number paired with sharp cheddar, mustard, and the juice and pop of wide-sliced pears. Raising the roof: crunchy spring onions bathed three days in beer. At $9, it’s a squeal.

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!

NOTES ON OBSESSION

Passion unbound, no apologies: that’s the secret ingredient to sandwich happiness.

Sausage biscuit at Lauretta Jean's
Sausage biscuit at Lauretta Jean's

sausage biscuit at LAURETTA JEAN’S

Biscuit zealot Kate McMillen calls herself a “butter prodigy.” She just feels it, the way sticks of chilled sunshine, flour, and buttermilk can fuse into golden orbs of flake and crumble. Her pie shop is Portland’s biscuit epicenter, as craggy beauties are baked to bless an impressive sandwich menu. In McMillen’s biscuit remodel of the slider, billowing halves clasp a hand-formed pork patty, blessedly hot cheddar, and nippy tomato jam, each bite a lingering comfort.

Monte Cristo at THE BIG EGG

Every breakfast joint has fried-egg sandwiches, but this exacting food cart puts them on a pedestal, each one artfully constructed. Over-easy egg? Textbook delivery. Bread? Slow-grilled to perfection, wait times be damned. Flavors? Consider the Monte Cristo, a gut-punch of pleasures. That means glistening smoked ham from Tails & Trotters, an impeccable egg, a throttle of funky gorgonzola, and pure maple intensity. All this on magnificent sheets of cardamom-singing French toast encrusted in crackling panko crumbs. It’s big enough for two—but who’s sharing?

Daily Panino at NOSTRANA

Every day, Cathy Whims pays homage to the grill-flattened, ultra-crispy wonder that is the panino. A fresh spin emerges daily on Nostrana’s lunch menu, each one a snapshot of the kitchen’s craving and house larder. Meat stars in most productions, from hot salami to fresh mortadella. Cheese runs pungent, perhaps spicy aged provolone, and house pickles, fiery peppers, and even fried onions make surprise appearances. Beautifully chewy house ciabatta rolls are the only constant. 

Grilled “Cheese” at CHEESE PLATE PDX

At any given moment, this “cabin on wheels” juggles eight Oregon cheeses for six seasonal grilled sandwiches on three local breads. But the real surprise is the house creation, where the “cheese” is a nutty, lemony, wine-soaked, butter-channeling power shot of spreadable flavor that defies the law of nature. That, dear eater, is “cashew fromage fort,” crafted for vegans but capable of bringing cheese-avores to their knees.

Pâté Sandwiches at CHOP 

The muse of this micro-charcuterie counter is the meal of a fat French butcher, exuberantly grabbing the best of everything around. Indeed, duck, venison, apples, giant prunes, and brandy roam freely throughout Eric Finley and Paula Markus’s exuberant pâté collection. Choose any chunky slice to cheer up a crusty baguette, pistachio-pocked country pâté to luscious chicken-liver mousse.

HAMBURGERS: NEW PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION

Five local discoveries offer novel definitions of what a burger can be.

Aina Burger at Ate-Oh-Ate
Aina Burger at Ate-Oh-Ate

Aina Burger at ATE-OH-ATE

They had us at kimchi relish. What could have easily veered into burger gimmickry instead vaults this specimen into an exotic category apart. A study in sweet and sour complexity, the Hawaiian-inspired Aina mingles its beef patty with crispy pork belly, shaved sweet onion, and a generous tangle of shredded iceberg, all hugged by sesame-laced brioche to make for one indulgent, addictive surprise. 

Burger at LITTLE BIRD

Little Bird has unveiled its own beastly spin-off from the Le Pigeon burger, infusing the icon with Francophilic edge. Luscious ground chuck now sits on a seeded brioche bun, topped with tangy goat cheese crumbles, griddled onions, and butter lettuce. Pickle relish and chèvre dressing cleave the elements into a crescendo of meaty decadence. (For just $20 extra, get it with seared foie gras ... and then assume the supine position.)

Hamburger at GRÜNER

This is the creation of a perfectionist. Assembly begins with a house-made kaiser-style potato bun unlike any other, coated with a glossy varnish and dusted lightly with poppy seeds. Inside, impossibly juicy house-ground chuck cozies up to peppery arugula, smoky bacon, house pickles, and ketchup with a subtle kick. Top it with fontina and voilà—it disappears.

Kiwi Burger at FOSTER BURGER 

Depending on your disposition, a full menu of 13 burger options is either thrilling or terrifying. Trust us: go with the Kiwi, Portland’s best argument for ground lamb between two buns. The patty’s delicate, gamey flavor offers an anchor to the surprise of pickled beet, while a sunny-side-up egg binds the whole thing in yolky deliciousness.

The H&V Burger at THE HOP & VINE

With a mesquite-grilled, spice-packed patty, the H&V manages to out-flavor the others. Then there’s the no-frills, biscuit-like bun, the slice of cumin-studded leyden cheese, the crispy pepper bacon, and the fried egg. Nothing is more satisfying than simplicity. 

Which side are you on? Read and weigh in on our sandwich smackdowns online
—we’ll print the winners in our May issue!