City of Sandwiches

World-renowned for its legendary sourdough, San Francisco is indisputably a city built upon bread. Even in times of carb ambivalence and widespread gluten awareness, it’s reassuring to see that this yeasted tradition is still alive and well, thriving in the hands of myriad skilled, dedicated bakers found across the bay area. With so many loaves both big and small being born every day in those perpetually burning ovens, it should come as no surprise that sandwiches get receive considerable attention here, no matter the cuisine nor restaurant ranking. Far be it from the only choice, sourdough is hardly the end-all, be-all bun that serves as the foundation for those hundreds, if not thousands, of creatively stuffed handheld meals. One could easily eat only sandwiches and still never exhaust all of the options, from buns to condiments, as diverse an distinctive as the sandwich artisans themselves.

There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to finding authentic banh mi, stuffed with everything from from tofu to TVP if you know where to look. Little more than a hole in the wall with space for a miniature kitchen, Fresh Brew Coffee nonetheless manages to craft a mean stack of tangy pickles, hot peppers, cilantro, avocado, and veggie patties inside a crusty French roll. It’s not the most revolutionary rendition, but location counts for a whole lot. Since it was within stumbling distance of my classes and offered free wifi, it was an easy, tasty stop for lunch. For convenience, speed, and cost, the combination simply can’t be beat.

A bit far-flung for most visitors but perfectly situated near my home base, Lou’s Cafe and Sandwiches has a fiercely loyal following. While most people come for the meats and cheeses and the printed menu doesn’t appear even remotely vegan-friendly at first blush, you can snag yourself a mighty fine meal if you know what to ask for. The Veggielicious is vegetarian by default, and easily veganized once stripped of its cheese, with jalapeno spread swapped in for the mayonnaise-based “special sauce.” Opt for the Dutch crunch bread, rather than the soft white fluff that comes standard, and you’ll have a hand-held roasted vegetable feast, complete with crisp lettuce and a full meadow’s-worth of sprouts.

Here’s one out of left field for you: Cinderella Bakery and Cafe, a traditional Russian establishment, hidden within the Inner Richmond, serving up solid eats without any pretension- Or niceties, depending on the counter person. Don’t let the surly service deter you though, because your patience will reap some incredible, edible delights.  Their so-called Vegan Sandwich takes the guess work out of what to order, arriving fully loaded with roasted red peppers, tomato, sorrel, avocado, sprouts, and romesco sauce on satisfyingly crunchy focaccia bread, toasted to a fetching shade of golden brown. Set apart from the pack by the rich, savory romesco sauce, it’s a sandwich that deserves far more fanfare than it seems to get, appearing only on the online menu and not in store. Press forward and ask for it anyway; the unsmiling staff will grudgingly oblige. However, if you only have room for one dish, make it the accidentally vegan borscht (sans sour cream.) Even on a steamy summer afternoon, the tomato-based broth, layered with a complex yet harmonious symphony of umami flavors, truly hits the spot. Since it comes with a basket of complimentary rye bread, it really is a full meal all by itself.

Something of a cult-hit, Hella Vegan Eats slings different sandwiches every day their truck is on the road, and on this particular sunny afternoon, I had the opportunity to taste their Southern Fried Thai “Chicken” Sandwich, replete with green curry cabbage, curried aioli, and a slab of faux-chicken about the size of a full dinner plate. Extending far beyond the confines of the soft yet hearty bun, there’s a whole lot of “meat” packed into this baby, and I’m happy to report that every last inch of it is fried to a perfectly crispy, grease-less consistency, remaining moist and tender inside. It’s the kind of sandwich that would appeal to even the most close-minded carnivore, deserving of all the effusive praise regularly bestowed upon the modest food truck. Plus, you’ve gotta love the whimsical umbrella garnish.

Only upon sinking my teeth into the monstrous grinder overflowing with paper-thin shaved seitan and mushrooms at Jay’s Cheesesteak did I realize my ordering folly. Made vegan by omitting the mayonnaise and yes, the cheese, I’m not sure exactly what you would call this creation. Regardless, this hot pile of chewy gluten is pure comfort food, lightened with fresh lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a subtle smear of mustard as accompaniments. If only Jay would consider adding a vegan cheese sauce to the menu, the experience would truly be complete, but it’s already pretty darned delicious as is.

Don’t forget about all of the sweet sandwiches that San Francisco has to offer, too! Curbside Creamery is not exclusively vegan, but offers a rotating variety of dairy-free ice creams. Based in Oakland with regular appearances at various east bay farmers markets, their cashew-based scoops are as creative as they are craveable. From Thai iced tea to earl grey, you can’t go wrong with a simple scoop or two, but their fully loaded ice cream sandwiches are truly something else. Go big or go home with the thickly layered Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich and you won’t regret the caloric splurge.

They may not have a storefront bakery, but it’s still pretty darned special to chance upon Feel Good Desserts‘ vegan macarons in the refrigerated cases at Republic of V. The moisture of the fridge no doubt compromised their delicate structure a bit, creating a texture that was more soft than crisp, but the overall eating experience was pure bliss. Knowing how much hard work goes into crafting these tiny sandwich cookies first hand, it was a real treat to have someone else do the heavy lifting for me.

San Franciscan vegans are positively spoiled for delicious dining options, so the real question here is: Which ‘wich would you eat first?

18 thoughts on “City of Sandwiches

  1. Yay for you for finding the silver linings in every not-so-vegan cloud…and for braving surly sandwich makers! That Dutch crust munchable monster would be my first choice, followed so very closely by that peanut butter and chocolate ice cream sandwich. Skinny SF’ers must work off all those calories by climbing all those headspinning hills…but so worth it! :)

  2. I don’t know what to say…in fact I CAN’T say right now! These sandwiches have made me drool so much (at 5.26am) that I can’t even type straight! You lucky LUCKY girl to have so much choice so close to you (at any given time of the day!) What deliciousness, what flair, what finesse, what a lucky LUCKY girl! I am lusting after that surly Russian sandwich and would love the opportunity to go one-on-one with disinterested staff in order to get one in…my…belly! Still drooling…breakfast isn’t going to cut the mustard today :(

  3. WOW!!What a post. Very very well written…

  4. These all look so tempting- I’ve never had a huge interest in stopping by the West Coast, but this may sway me, haha. Especially with the sourdough options, which is arguably some of the best sandwich bread out there.

  5. That looks and absolutely amazing! I want to be there NOW!
    PS we are back from vacation now, the kids are in nursery school and hopefully I can get started on the project next week!! :) x

  6. Goodness, Hannah, what a comprehensive guide to SF sandwiches! You discovered more than I could possibly imagine and you didn’t even mention Ike’s, so clearly you had an embarrassment of riches. I love those Feel Good macarons; they are such a lovely treat. I think I’d either go for the ice cream sandwich or the Hella Vegan Eats first.

    1. Ah yes, I regret missing out on Ike’s and thus, my roundup is still incomplete. My only comfort is the knowledge that now I must come back, and I’ll have to go next time. There are just too many sandwiches to try, even within a two-month visit!

      1. Since you’re already planning your SF sandwich edition part deux, I’ve been hearing that Love and Haight have upped their vegan sandwich game pretty tremendously…like Ike’s style. Sadly, I haven’t tried it for myself yet, so it’s only hearsay.

      2. Ah, I completely forgot about Love and Haight! What a terrible oversight… Okay, when I come back, I’m going to be on the sandwich scene right away. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Yes, WAY too many sandwiches! All of them look tasty, but you didn’t list my two personal faves. When you make it back to SF, may I suggest you try both the Devil Burger at Saint Francis Fountain (Mission) and the Bahn Mi at Source (SOMA)? I dream about them.

  8. of them look so delicious. I don’t know where to start. A beautiful post dedicated to the city of sandwiches. Can’t wait to explore SF one day.

  9. Sourdough bread….monster sandwiches…ice cream sandwiches…. HOLY CRAPS! I WOULD START with the sandwiches first. Love that some sandwiches can be made vegan, omitting the cheese. I think I would like Jay’s cheesesteak with some vegan cheese sauce because a vegan cheesesteak sandwich needs some cheese!

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