The BLT’s perfection in both flavor and texture can make innovation seem like gilding a lily. Unless, of course, it’s done really well, enhancing rather than masking, elevating rather than fussing. Today’s upgrades include wedges of avocado, runny poached eggs, crispy crab cakes, braised chicken thighs—all signaturizing this classic without taking away its promise. One example is the Chicken Guacamole BLT at Hyde Park Bar & Grill in Austin, Texas, with grilled chicken breast, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and bacon on a toasted brioche bun.
Fried Green Tomato BLT
—CG Public House, Kennewick, Wash.
Smoked Salmon BLT: House-cured smoked salmon, smoked bacon, red onion, arugula and Boursin on toasted flaxseed bread
—Beehive Cafe, Bristol, R.I.
BLT Breakfast Sandwich: Bacon, lettuce, tomato, drippy-yolked egg, homemade English muffin and hot sauce aïoli
—Sardella, St. Louis
7. Cemita & Torta
Exploration in Mexican flavors and forms is deepening and widening. The torta, a layered sandwich on a crusty white roll, offers the most room for interpretation. The cemita hails from Puebla, and is a type of torta built on a semi-sweet sesame roll. It usually stars fried cutlets of beef or chicken, or maybe carnitas, and also features avocado, chipotle, panela cheese, white onion and a splash of chile sauce. Authentic cemitas also include a few leaves of papalo, a green herb with a citrusy flavor.
Cemita: Mexican sesame-seed bun filled with choice of meat along with avocado, Oaxaca cheese, chipotle, papalo, pickled onions, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and black bean purée
—Cemitas El Tigre, New York
Roasted Mushrooms Torta: Cremini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, smoky garlic mojo, poblano rajas, goat cheese, black beans, wild arugula, lime
—Tortas Frontera, Chicago
8. Turkey Sandwich
There’s something universal and comforting about a turkey sandwich, with limitless potential for innovation. At its core is the promise of moist, tender turkey, which can turn toward fall and Thanksgiving with a bit of cranberry spread and a spoonful of stuffing, or can move toward summer with fresh herbs and a citrus-spiked mayonnaise.
Roast Turkey Sandwich: Thick slices of moist meat off of a freshly roasted turkey are topped with lettuce, onion, tomato and pickles, with extra toppings like pepper Jack and avocado, on Dutch crunch bread
—Arguello Super Market, San Francisco
Turkey Panini: Hand-cut roasted turkey with watercress, citrus aïoli and provolone cheese, served on house ciabatta
—G Street Food, Washington, D.C.
9. Po’ Boy
This Louisiana staple earns attention with a unique combination of fried seafood topped with pickles, hot sauce and mayonnaise, all nestled in a French roll that’s crispy on the outside and insanely soft on the inside. Opportunities for innovation abound, from seafood to toppings. At Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, Calif., David LeFevre switches out shrimp every May for Maryland soft-shell crab on his po’ boy, spiked with Cajun rémoulade.
Oyster Po’ Boy: Deep-fried oysters with Korean spices, kimchi coleslaw and kimchi aïoli on a toasted buttery bun
—HRD Coffee Shop, San Francisco
Po’ Boy Slider Special: Three mini versions of signature sandwiches —fried oyster po’ boy, fried catfish, fried shrimp or fried crawfish
—Windy Corner Market, Lexington, Ky.
10. Lobster, Shrimp & Clam Roll
As chefs continue to ratchet up flavor delivery in modern casual seafood dishes, they’re looking to the classic seafood rolls as an opportunity for innovation, perhaps adding regional tweaks and taking a cue from the world of jacked-up fish tacos.
Lobster Roll with aïoli, tarragon and lemon
—State Street Provisions, Boston
Clam Roll: Fried whole-belly clams, roasted tomato, pea greens
—Prospect Cafe, West Hartford, Conn.
Fried Clam Roll with celery root rémoulade
—Mary’s Fish Camp, New York
Shrimp Roll: Grilled or crispy, in a split-top butter roll, choice of sauce
—Slapfish, multiple locations
The Reuben’s flavor system has seen a lot of play recently, where chefs reinvent the format or combination of flavors (corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and rye bread). Clever iterations include the Reuben egg roll, Reuben soup—and, of course—innovation in the Reuben sandwich.
Reuben Bao: Pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing
—Tom’s BaoBao, Cambridge, Mass.
Smoked Beet Reuben: Roasted beets, kraut, Gouda and smoked Russian dressing on pressed marble rye
—On Rye, Washington, D.C.
12. Katsu Sando
Japan steps into the U.S. sandwich ring with an instant champ. Pillowy white sandwich bread slathered with sweet-savory tonkatsu sauce houses breaded pork cutlets. It’s interesting to note that chefs here aren’t just adopting the katsu sando, but adapting it by adding signature elements like a crunchy slaw or craveable dipping sauce.
Katsu Sando: Pork milanesa on pan de sal, with karashi mustard and sweet-and-sour fruit sauce
—Pao by Paul Qui, Miami Beach, Fla.
Katsu Kare Sando: Panko-crusted chicken breast, slow-cooked Japanese curry, yuzu-jalapeño slaw
—Humble Potato, Los Angeles