America’s 25 Best Chain Sandwich Shops

America’s 25 Best Chain Sandwich Shops

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Throughout modern history, it’s never been particularly difficult to find a sandwich to eat. Just about every place that sells food will be able to make you one in some form or another, and if worse comes to worst it’s also pretty easy to find bread and something to put inside it. But recently it seems as if a golden age of sandwiches has begun. From "artisan" breads to lavish, gourmet fillings, it’s easier than ever to find a groan-inducingly good sandwich (and hardly anyone would argue against a perfectly composed sandwich being akin to a work of art). Thankfully, many chain sandwich shops are stepping up their game and offering some world-class sandwiches. They deserve to be recognized, so we’re saluting the top 25.

America’s 25 Best Chain Sandwich Shops (Slideshow)

In order to assemble our list, we reached out to the folks who would know best: you. We started with about 65 chains, defining a chain as any shop that has 10 or more locations. Some were national, some were regional. Next we assembled a survey and put it to a vote, asking you to select your favorites. With 1,287 responses collected from all over the country, the results were nothing short of definitive, and surprising.

So what did we learn? For one, quality is key. If you want to attract customers and keep them happy, you not only need to serve a product you can be proud of, but you also need to keep up with the times, make sure your bread and fillings are fresh, and give your customers an experience they’ll enjoy. Next, even the small guys can compete with the mega-chains, because at the end of the day they’re both on the same playing field.

From the little guys who made our list like Atlanta Bread Company and Steak Escape to the behemoths like Subway, and from the entrepreneurs with a grand vision to the old guard trying to cement their legacy, we salute them all. Why? Because the sandwich is quite possibly the greatest food ever invented, and they're working day in and day out to make sure nobody forgets that.

Click here to see the 25 best sandwich chains in America.

Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.

This story was originally published October 16, 2013.

The 25 Best Chain Restaurant Dishes in America

Playing the role of enlightened eater often means shunning the big-box restaurants of your youth. How can T.G.I. Friday’s put Korean tacos on their menu? you’ll ask indignantly, launching into a diatribe about cultural appropriation and waxing nostalgic about the amazing food truck you discovered in L.A., where the dish was practically invented. And you wonder why America is fat! you’ll declare while watching a large man eat a grilled cheese stuffed with mozzarella sticks. This used to be an independent small business, before Applebee’s bought the space you’ll say, lying to make a point.

But let’s be real: Amid all the copycat cooking and middling fare, chain restaurants have some incredibly delicious dishes that speak directly to our deepest, guiltiest pleasures. Moreover, these places—not fast-food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King, but casual sitdown spots such as Cheesecake Factory and Red Robin—are an integral part of the American dining landscape. They are the stage where high school students seal their young love over a plate of Bang Bang Shrimp, where families bridge generational gaps, and where regular folks can mingle with rappers and NBA players.

Ultimately, the key to successful chain dining is knowing how to order. If you find yourself on the road with no options but the local mall, or grandma insists on taking her annual trip to Cracker Barrel over the holidays, use this guide to ensure that you get the best out of the experience.

Best Sandwiches in America 2020: Editors' Picks

During this very challenging year, as consumers endure heightened anxiety levels on a number of fronts, they have embraced the most comforting and familiar foods — and that means sandwiches.

Restaurant Hospitality put out the call for the Best Sandwiches across America, as we do every year, and we got hundreds of responses. Restaurants are struggling to survive, but they are still innovating and designing some delicious sandwich options. Many of these have the added advantage of traveling well for delivery and pickup.

Our editorial team combed through each submission and picked their favorites, representing what we see are trends. There were a lot of fried chicken sandwiches and so many variations with pork. We also saw terrific use of kimchi incorporated into ingredients, and whole croquettes or fried potato balls added as a layer allowing for dramatic presentation when the sandwich is cut in half.

Here are some sandwiches from our editors' picks that didn't make the final cut but we consider runner-ups. Take a look at the Best Sandwiches in America: Editors' Picks.

The Best Fast Food Sub Sandwich In America

No one gets excited to eat a turkey sub these days. You don’t see millennials, for example, spending 10 minutes trying to post the perfect picture of a turkey sub sandwich on Instagram. But don’t let that hurt turkey’s reputation as a reliable standby. It’s as simple as a sandwich gets: a few slices of the meat on a roll, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cheese, vinegar and oil (or sometimes mayo), and you’re done.

And it’s freaking delicious. It stands the test of time. Even better, you can buy it at every major sandwich chain in America. But which turkey sub is the best?

We went to seven of the biggest sub chains in America to test their turkey: Jimmy John’s , Jersey Mike’s , Subway , Which Wich , Quiznos , Firehouse Subs and Potbelly . For the sub shops that didn’t have standard toppings for their turkey sandwiches, we created one for them (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese, oil/vinegar). These are the seven best fast food sandwiches in America, ranked.

I marked the type of sandwich and toppings I wanted on a paper bag and then handed it to the guy behind the counter. Which’s branding is strong: wall-to-wall yellow, a miniature clothesline where brown paper bags hang and slide over to the cook, and a display of amazing drawings people have made on said paper bags.

But let’s talk sandwiches. At $6.25 before tax for a 7”, I had high expectations. They charge more than other shops, so it must taste better, right? While this may be an ideal spot for premium offerings like gyros, Philly cheesesteaks and reubens, it may not be for my order: turkey on a white roll with provolone, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and oil/vinegar. It came out hot (a bonus!), but the roll was forgettable and the turkey was nothing special. Nothing popped about the sandwich. No. 7 it is.

When I was in college many (many!) years ago, I’d go to Subway at least once a week. It was a cheap, quick meal, and you knew exactly what you were getting. In many ways, it was a forebear to Chipotle: a cafeteria-style checkout where you select only the ingredients you want, and you’re in and out quickly.

So it felt very familiar when I watched the sandwich artist take a few slices of turkey from a huge black bin, slap it on a white roll, and then add tomato, cucumber, provolone, salt/pepper, tomato and oil/vinegar. The bad: The employee rightfully steered me away from adding any sad-looking lettuce and the turkey lacked any real flavor. The good: The tomato and cucumber were crisp and the roll did have a fresh-baked quality to it. But 6” for $4.89 with all the toppings you want? It remains a solid deal, even after all these years.

Plenty of restaurant chains got their start in Denver, Colorado: Qdoba, Chipotle and Smashburger, to name a few. Back in the ‘80s, Quiznos did too! (Apologies for the unintentional rhyme.) But they’ve fallen on tough times these past few years, having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy . I know them mostly as the sandwich spot in the Denver airport. Every day offers a helluva deal on a different 8” sub for $5, including a turkey, swiss and ranch dressing option. But because I’m trying to keep things consistent, I ordered a 5” turkey sub for $5.60 with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheddar and red wine vinaigrette on white.

The cheese was perfectly melted, and overall it felt more like a turkey melt than a standard turkey sub. While the shredded lettuce was drier than Phoenix in August and I couldn’t pick the roll out of a lineup (of two rolls), the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Toast it all together and it works as a sub. Next time my flight is delayed, I know where I’m eating.

Many (many!) years ago, I went on a business trip to the Windy City, and we knew we had to stop at one beloved chain for a sandwich: Subw. duh, it was Potbelly. It’s a Chicago-born chain that’s spread its wings beyond the Midwest to places as far afield as India. This chain has grown quite a bit from its roots as a quirky sandwich place with an actual potbelly stove from the owner’s antique shop next door.

I ordered an Original (6”) Turkey and Swiss on white since that was the build recommended by the chain. Not bad for $5.55. The sandwich-maker encouraged me to get all the toppings, and I didn’t argue. He didn’t steer me wrong. Swiss is my least favorite cheese, but when it was combined with their turkey and mayo, mustard, lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, oil and Italian seasoning (oregano/salt/pepper), it worked. And hot peppers! It was just enough to lend the sandwich some heat, and the warm-but-not-overly-toasted bun turned this into a comforting and tasty meal. This is a standard sandwich elevated to another level.

This chain was founded by firemen. You know how I figured that out? Other than that it was written on the door? And the tables had a Dalmation print on them? And there was a hose affixed to a wall? And fire engine red chairs? And firefighter gear everywhere? OK, you get it. They lean so hard into the firefighter thing it’s kind of charming. It feels like a Disney-fied fire station that doubles as a sub shop.

The small is only 3”, but it’s also only $3.99. I could’ve ordered the plain turkey sub, but the Hook & Ladder is its signature. That sub includes Virginia honey ham, melted Monterey Jack and is served "fully involved" (lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, mustard, deli pickle). Because including a sub with ham is unfair, I swapped it out for more turkey (for free!). But I’m glad I went with a toasted sub. The melted cheese and distinct freshness of the veggies, combined with an expert mix of condiments and the perfectly toasted bun resulted in a top-notch sandwich. And you get a pickle, too!

The neon “Free Smells” sign in the window of many a Jimmy John’s has always creeped me out. But that’s part of Jimmy John’s goofy branding, and it works for them. The brand also differentiates itself on the basis of food, thankfully. The bread is baked in-house all day long. The meats (including the turkey) don’t have nitrates or nitrites. That’s a big deal, as deli meats with those ingredients have been shown to be potentially harmful.

I’d had a sub or two at Jimmy John’s before, but never really thought much of it other than the bread. Can we talk about the bread? I don’t know what sort of culinary magic it takes to make a roll this pillowy, but hats off to the wizards in the kitchen. They could charge me the $5.65 for an 8” sub without anything in it and I’d probably go home happy. Lucky for me, this sub had turkey, lettuce, tomato and mayo. It doesn’t come with cheese, which is a bummer, but on the plus side, this was also the crispiest lettuce I had of the entire bunch. And did I mention that bread?!

If you grew up on the East Coast like me, you know sub shops. I grew up near one of the first Capriotti’s, and frequented other sub shops in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The meats were always sliced fresh, the rolls were soft, and the sandwiches were so huge you could never eat them in one sitting. But I’d never been to Jersey Mike’s, which was founded in the ‘50s on the Jersey Shore. I thought it was a gimmick cooked up by a chain to make it sound like an East Coast sub shop. It’s not. This is the real deal.

When I walked in to order, a huge meat slicer greeted me — not by speaking, that’d be weird. It was just hard to miss. The guy behind the counter took my order (a 5” Mini #7 Turkey and Provolone) and began slicing the turkey in front of me. Just for me. I asked for the sub to be dressed Mike’s Way, with onions, lettuce, tomato, oregano, salt and a mix of red wine vinegar and oil.

I took one bite and was blown away. After that bite, the red wine vinegar and oil covered my fingers. I didn’t care to wipe them off because I was too busy eating. The roll was fresh (they bake them every day), there was plenty of fresh turkey packed into a relatively small sub, the veggies popped with flavor and the seasoning enhanced all the ingredients. It reminded me of home. I remembered how good a sub could be. That’s a dang good deal for $5.99.

Courtesy of Subway

With a 34.9 score on the YouGov scale, Subway blows the competition out of the water. Subway has locations across more than 100 countries, in addition to the United States, and fans can't get enough of the chain's subs.

It's no surprise that Subway topped the list here. But YouGov's rankings also show how much fans appreciate chains like Jersey Mike's and Schlotzsky's, too. The sandwich will always be a classic meal, and you can't go wrong getting one at any of these places.

25 of America's Best Sandwiches

If there&aposs one language everyone in America speaks, it&aposs sandwich -- and these 25 have us saying "yes, please!" Read on to find out which sandwich defines each state!

Thanks, Foodspotting! The website where users upload swoon-worthy photos of recommended dishes partnered with us to get great sandwich pics straight from the Foodspotting users who love them.

California: French Dip

Many credit the french dip to Philippe Mathieu, owner of L.A.&aposs Philippe the Original. In 1918, Mathieu was making a roast beef sandwich when he accidentally dropped a baguette in his roasting pan. The prep hasn&apost changed much since then: Rolls get a two-second bath in beefy juices before they&aposre piled with roasted prime rib, smeared with spicy mustard, and plated with a dunking bowl of hot broth ("au jus").

Connecticut: The Grinder

Hero, hoagie, sub -- a grinder by any other name wouldn&apost be from Connecticut. The word "grinder" was Italian-American slang for dockworkers, with whom these mixed-meat sandwiches were especially popular. So adored is this sammy -- full of capicola, salami, provolone and all the fixings -- that some Connecticuters even attend grinder-themed meet-ups to rave about them.

Florida: The Cuban

The cubano, as it&aposs known in Florida&aposs Latin communities, is hot-pressed and served on lard-rich bread. "The crunch and acidity of the pickles, the salty sweetness of the roast pork and ham, and the cheese -- it&aposs a great balance," says Michelle Bernstein, chef-owner of Miami&aposs Sra. Martinez.

Georgia: Pimiento Cheese

These sandwiches are a staple at Southern church gatherings and one of the signature finger foods served at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta. The light-as-air spread is whipped up using sharp cheddar, mayo, pimientos, salt and cracked black pepper, plus diced jalapeños or cayenne for heat. Top Chef: All-Stars winner -- and self-proclaimed "stubborn Yankee" -- Richard Blais spikes his blend with chopped dill, diced piquillo peppers and lemon juice.

Hawaii: Musubi

The Hawaiian Islands were once called the "Sandwich Islands," but the state&aposs most popular sammy is missing one key ingredient: bread! In the Aloha State, rice is the preferred starch, and the signature musubi features a block of sticky rice wrapped in seaweed and topped with a slab of grilled or fried spam.

Idaho: Lamb

With the state&aposs thriving sheepherder culture, it&aposs no surprise locals enjoy lamb sammies. Dustan Bristol, chef-owner of Brick 29 Bistro in Nampa, smothers his lamb meatloaf sandwich in caramelized onions Basque Pub Bar Gernika in Boise makes a juicy lamb dip: roasted lamb leg on a French roll, served au jus.

Illinois: Italian Beef

Allegiances aside (folks get serious about restaurants like Al&aposs and Mr. Beef), most Italian beef recipes start the same: beef wet-roasted in garlic and oregano, thinly shaved onto an Italian-style roll, briefly dipped in the drippings, and topped with giardiniera (tangy pickled veggies) or saut peppers.

Indiana: Pork Tenderloin

Typically served at diners, pubs and county fairs, the Hoosier comfort grub starts with pork pounded thin, then breaded and fried, sandwiched onto a kaiser roll, and stocked with all the fixins: ketchup, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions. Authenticity check: if the pork doesn&apost hang over the sides of the bun, it&aposs not a true tenderloin sandwich.

Iowa: Loose Meat

In the sitcom Roseanne, the title character opens the Lanford Lunch Box, a restaurant that serves up loose-meat sandwiches -- but the show was set in Illinois. These sauce-free takes on the sloppy joe have reigned in Iowa since 1926. Butcher Fred Angell invented the finely ground, secretly spiced hamburger blend, and the restaurant Taylor&aposs Maid-Rite, still a state institution, introduced them to the public. When made right, the Maid-Rite is decked out with mustard, pickles and chopped onions.

Kentucky: Hot Brown

The Texas toast turkey sammy is ladled with creamy mornay sauce (bຜhamel with grated parmesan or gruyère), then oven-broiled and topped with bacon. It&aposs "a glorious embrace of all things fatty, rich and cheesy," says Edward Lee, chef-owner of 610 Magnolia in Louisville.

Louisiana: Po&apos Boy

Deep-fried shrimp and oysters are the preferred fillings for this sandwich -- named after striking streetcar workers, or "poor boys" -- but some joints pack theirs with catfish, soft-shell crab, ham and even french fries. Lettuce, tomato and Tabasco are generally non-negotiable.

Maine: Lobster Roll

Some like their lobster rolls pure (fresh and tender-sweet) others douse &aposem with gobs of mayo, celery, scallion, lettuce, lemon juice and cayenne. But the vehicle stays the same: a butter-grilled hot dog bun, top-loaded for maximum stuffing.

Maryland: Crab Cake

You can&apost turn around in Maryland without hitting a crab cake sammy. Purists like Bryan Voltaggio, chef and co-owner of Volt in Frederick, say the cake should be shallow-fried in a blend of clarified butter and canola oil, the roll pillow-soft (potato rolls work well), and the tartar dip day-of fresh.

Massachusetts: Fluffernutter

Marshmallow Fluff, the star of this sticky-sweet treat, was invented in Somerville. Though most iterations of the sandwich include only marshmallow creme and peanut butter on white bread, some fans trick theirs out with Nutella, mashed bananas, or crushed potato chips for a salty finish. The sandwich has its own holiday (Oct. 8) and has been name-dropped on The Sopranos and The Office.

Minnesota: Fried Walleye

It&aposs no wonder that the walleye, the state fish, is also the star of the unofficial state sandwich: The Land of 10,000 Lakes is brimming with the freshwater swimmers. The flaky, tender fillets are usually breaded or cracker-crumbed, fried in a cast-iron skillet, and served piping-hot on a hoagie bun with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. Naturally, the sandwich tastes best if you&aposve caught the main ingredient yourself.

Montana: Rocky Mountain Oyster

There&aposs no sugar-coating it: The meat here is the testicles of a young bull, pounded flat, rolled in seasoned flour and deep-fried to crispy perfection. "Testicle festivals" are held seasonally throughout Montana, where a frequent midway treat is a snack of family jewels on a hamburger or hot dog bun.

New York: Pastrami on Rye

After the infamous deli scene in When Harry Met Sally and the pastrami foreplay on Seinfeld, this peppery meat bomb is a shoo-in for world&aposs sexiest sandwich. NYC&aposs Katz&aposs Delicatessen is the leader of the pack, servings its version steaming-hot on twice-baked Jewish-style rye.

North Carolina: Pulled Pork

Carolinians have a long history with their favorite smokehouse sandwich. The process of slow-cooking a pig over hardwood coals was first tested by the Spanish in the early 1500s, says Rick McDaniel, author of An Irresistible History of Southern Food. In the Piedmont area, the pork is topped with vinegary red-cabbage slaw, but some purists believe it tastes best on its own. "To tell if a restaurant has a real pulled pork sandwich, drive around to the back of the building," says McDaniel. "If there isn&apost a stack of wood out back, keep driving."

Ohio: Fried Bologna

Bologna is America&aposs salty, porky, beefy answer to Italy&aposs mortadella, and nowhere is it more revered than in Waldo, home of the 50-year-old G&R Tavern. Here, a nearly inch-thick slab of bologna is fried till its skin blisters and its edges turn brown, then coaxed onto a soft white bun and layered with melty monterey jack, sweet pickles and a solid puck of white onion.

The largest sandwich chains in the U.S.

The sandwich segment grew sales 0.8% in 2019. Unit growth declined 2.1%.

RankChain name2019 U.S. sales (,000)Sales stimated2019 U.S. units
6Subway $10,200 23,801
18Arby's $3,885 3,359
34Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches $2,105 2,787
46Jersey Mike's Subs $1,340 1,667
58Firehouse Subs $832 1,155
63McAlister's Deli $726 *460
69Jason's Deli $647 283
89Portillo's $505 *62
99Potbelly Sandwich Shop $446 471
101Charleys Philly Steaks $435 *540
116Zoes Kitchen $349 *256
124Schlotzsky's $335 *373
148Wienerschnitzel $265 *330
157Fazoli's $238 215
161Newk's Eatery $227 121
170Penn Station East Coast Subs $202 306
175Which Wich $194 *372

Source: Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report *Technomic estimate


Mudgie's Deli & Wine Shop, Detroit
This is a fussy artisanal sandwich shop that roasts its own corned beef and tinkers with nontraditional ingredients in traditional sandwiches. But its Saliba — top-sirloin meatloaf with roasted peppers, provolone cheese, and house-made marinara on an 8-inch Italian roll — is delightful in its simplicity. That the ingredients are local, the cocktails are plentiful, and the beer and wine is made to travel makes Mudgie's an even more vital stop in bar-saturated Corktown.

Rainforest Cafe


If you were lucky enough to adventure into a Rainforest Cafe, which first opened at the Mall of America in Minnesota in 1994, then you know all about its glory. From the massive aquarium entry to those "storms" that would interrupt your meal every 20 minutes, the Rainforest Cafe really was something to behold. And if your meal didn't end with a sparkling chocolate volcano, you were doing something seriously wrong.

Like all the other themed restaurants you've read about here, Rainforest Cafe struggled to maintain its luster. Only about half of its U.S. locations still exist today.

After all, it's expensive operating a rainforest. The San Francisco location's former director of operations location told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2000 that there is an entire control room that's used to monitor all the animatronic animals. "It's not like if a sink is backed up, you can just call a plumber," he said to the newspaper. "If a gorilla's arm stops working, we need someone right here who can fix it immediately." Gorillas make running a restaurant pretty hard, it turns out.

Off the Waffle

Portland, Oregon
Like any good waffle joint, Off the Waffle offers traditional liege waffles, which are normally served without syrup or butter, and for just $3.50. If traditional doesn't cut it, choose from a variety of sweet, savory, and "in between" waffle options that top out at $15, with many plates in the $6.50 to $11 range. Specialty waffle highlights include Goat in Headlights, topped with goat cheese, avocado, basil, and two sunny-side-up eggs, and the Wiffle, topped with Nutella, organic banana, and powdered sugar.

Watch the video: How to make a Subway Sandwich (June 2022).


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