Flavor building is at the crux of menu development, and today’s focus is on bold, complex combinations. Sandwiches have always offered a blank canvas for innovation, where chefs play with each layer, unlocking signature builds with stunning creativity. The challenge is finding sandwiches with the most potential and the biggest crave factor. The Vietnamese banh mi has taken off, and consumers’ willingness to try something that adventurous points to their enthusiasm for flavor innovation within this familiar category. Although global sandwiches are part of this story, they’re not the only entry point. Classic sandwiches play here, too, as long as each component is mindfully considered and the flavors are both tantalizing and inventive. Here are 12 sandwiches that hold great potential—either for reinvention or adaptation.
1. Döner Kebab Sandwich
Middle Eastern flavors and forms are red hot right now, catapulted into stardom thanks to their bold and crave-worthy flavor combinations. Turkey’s döner kebab offers just a bit more modern mystique than the Greek gyro, but delivers a similar experience, with juicy, tender beef or lamb cooked on a vertical spit, then sliced thinly. Shawarma, al pastor and döner kebab bring a flavor system worth exploiting in handheld form.
Zesty Feta Döner: Zesty feta spread, pepperoncini, romaine, cabbage, tomato, onion, green pepper, cucumber, tzatziki
—Spitz, multiple locations
Döner Durum: Thinly sliced crispy beef and lamb döner kebab, tomato, lettuce, spiced onion, yogurt sauce; wrapped in a Turkish tortilla
—Ottoman Taverna, Washington, D.C.
2. Steak Sandwich
Satisfying, substantial and flavorful are three qualities that keep this sandwich in regular rotation. The steak sandwich offers plenty of potential for signature takes, with both global influences like chimichurri and modern cuts of meat leading the way. The Gaucho Brazilian Grille in Blacksburg, Va., serves up the Ximango Sandwich, starring picanha, also known as the beef coulotte. It’s tucked into garlic bread with smoked provolone, sautéed Vidalia onions and red pepper, served with a choice of dipping sauces, like chimichurri or guava agrodolce.
New York Steak Sandwich with brioche, creamed spinach, whiskey peppercorn sauce
—Wildwood Kitchen & Bar, Sacramento, Calif.
Flank steak with romesco, grilled scallions and aged cheddar on country bread
—’Wichcraft, New York
3. Grilled Cheese
Comfort food’s biggest champion, this childhood classic has often been taken to new heights. Today, modern touches include global mash-ups, as well as eclectic add-ins that ratchet up flavor and interest. Outerlands in San Francisco taps into the skillet trend with its Cast Iron Grilled Cheese Sandwich, starring house-baked bread brushed with garlic oil, piled with cheese and grilled in a cast-iron skillet.
Pizza Party Grilled Cheese: Pepperoni, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, provolone, homemade marinara sauce on Texas toast
—Everdine’s Grilled Cheese Co., Naperville, Ill.
Farmer’s Breakfast: Cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, roasted potatoes, chive butter
—The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, San Francisco
4. Croque Monsieur/Madame
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts from France is the classic café sandwich, the croque monsieur. Starring ham, Gruyère and sometimes béchamel, this sandwich is then slathered with butter and toasted until crisp and perfect. The croque madame adds a fried egg to the build, making it a potential breakfast player and giving it the extra unctuousness that eggs deliver. Innovation here comes in the form of tweaks to the protein component, the featured cheese and a play on the béchamel. At Brasserie Jo in Boston, Nicholas Calias, executive chef, swaps out the ham for corned beef and adds choucroute, turning it into a Croque Corned Beef & Choucroute.
Croque Monsieur: Toasted French ham and cheese with Dijon mustard and Gruyère Mornay on country white
—Le Reve, Wauwatosa, Wis.
Croque Monsieur: DC ham, Gruyère cheese, Mornay sauce
—DoveCote, Orlando, Fla.
Croque Madame Waffles: Thinly sliced ham over two waffles made from a Belgian batter with Gruyère; topped with Mornay sauce and a fried egg
—Corridor Brewery & Provisions, Chicago
5. Cubano & Medianoche
The Cubano has become less exotic over the last few years, and is primed for signature flavor moves, maybe changing up the classic combination of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread. The Medianoche, the Cubano’s lesser-known cousin, follows the same build, but stars a soft, sweet, eggy bread called “pan suave.” Meaning “midnight,” Medianoche derives its name from the sandwich’s popularity as a late-night snack.
Cuban Sandwich: Pulled pork, ham, apple mustard jam, Gruyère
—Coffeemania, New York
Medianoche: Roasted pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo and mustard on semi-sweet bread
—Tropicana, Austin, Texas