Grant's Philly Cheesesteaks
1203 NW 23rd Ave., 477-7133. Lunch and dinner Sunday-Friday, closed Saturday.
The Philadelphia cheesesteak is a stupidly simple creation, and exactly the sort of thing you really can't screw up.
And yet, there's such a clear distinction between the blah, good and transcendent. In Portland, the last comes from Grant's Philly Cheesesteaks, which just opened a new location on Northwest 23rd Avenue after years out on Portland's eastside.
We have learned to worship at the altar of the Grant's original ($6.75 half, $12.50 whole), with provolone, onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers and—this is key, if unorthodox—grilled mushrooms ($1.50 more). That big, sloppy bastard of a sandwich deserves the cult following it's already developed out in the wilds of Northeast 154th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, and the one it's found again on tony 23rd, where Grant's took over a basement eatery previously home to a Lebanese joint, a space mostly the same, save a few pieces of vaguely Italian bric-a-brac.
But what makes the Grant's original—again, with provolone, onions, both kinds of peppers and, don't forget, mushrooms—the standard by which all other cheesesteaks in town should be judged. In part, it's the roll. It's baked by Amoroso's in Philadelphia, frozen, and shipped across the country. It's sturdy but soft and pliable.
"It's the only one that holds that cheesesteak together," says co-owner and Portland native Diane Schuler. âOnly one company does those rolls.â
The hot cherry peppers and sweet green peppers, too, come from Philly—glass jars shipped west by the pallet, the brand name undivulged. You want both peppers. The meat is sirloin, grilled with onions so that little pieces of caramelized bulb find their way into every drippy bite. There's a special seasoning blend. Despite Philadelphia's predilection for Whiz, Portlanders order provolone here, which is soft and mild and lets you taste all the flavors of the meat.
"At the Sandy location, that's the majority, and it's maybe 10 percent Whiz," says Schuler. "On 23rd, it's been maybe 40 percent Whiz, which surprised me. Must be people from back East." MARTIN CIZMAR.
Beaverton Sub Station
12448 SW Broadway St., 641-7827, beavertonsubstation.com. Lunch daily.
[BLUE-COLLAR SUBS] In this land of broccolini on brioche downtown Beaverton Sub Station does the working-class Midwestern hoagie at a level otherwise unknown. The magic is in the rolls, which are baked a block away at Beaverton Bakery. They have a golden shell and a sweet, soft center, and are remarkably springy with loads of yeasty character. The Station's #5—the number is scrawled on the masking tape that seals the wrapper—is pretty damned close to the Platonic ideal of a turkey sub, with thinly sliced breast, shaved lettuce, a creamy slice of provolone and an admirably even layer of mayo at only $5 for a 6-incher. The deluxe models are organized by the number of meats, with extra meats bumping up the price by a quarter. Try the #17, which turns the bread a little pink thanks to the seepage from layered-up salami, cotto salami, pepperoni and pastrami. I've been dreaming about it for months, and Lardo's porkstrami did nothing to help. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Bridge City Pizza
5412 SE Woodstock Blvd, 777-4992, bridgecitypizza.com. Dinner nightly, lunch Friday-Sunday.
[SOUTHSIDE!] Don't let the name fool you. The Chicago thin-crust is fine, but to me, this is a sandwich shop. Bridge City Pizza makes what might be the best Italian beef in town. The sandwich comes wetter than an otter's pocket, chock-full of meat and jus that they prep for days, from saute to broth to slow cooker. The house giardiniera, sadly is less hot than I'd like, but it's plentiful. And the insanely glutenous bread was spot-on and unbroken. A complaint, however. The au jus at Bridge City is also served on the side, which is silly. It ain't a French dip. It's Italian beef! But this is a niggling complaint. It is a flavor I did not expect to have again west of Illinois, and yet here it is, in Woodstock. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
2017 NE Alberta St., 211 SW 6th Ave., 621 SE Morrison St., 1028 SE Water Ave., 128 NE Russell St.; 328-2865; bunksandwiches.com. Lunch daily all locations; dinner nightly at Alberta, Wonder Bar and Bunk Bar locations.
[SANDWICH SUPREMACY] As most local empires do, Portland's preeminent sandwich sultans began in earnest as a tiny operation named after a character on HBO's The Wire. A quirk these days gets you only a pat on the back and a nod from The New York Times' parachute-to-Portland beat, so the sandwiches had to be good. They are. No other sandwich in town could carry the weight of five locations except the pork belly Cubano ($10). Like most Bunk sandwiches it looks simple on the towering chalkboard menu, but the bare-bones downplay of ingredients like pork belly, which other sandwich shops would spend several pages waxing poetic about, is exactly Bunk's draw. The menu's deep cuts, like the Italian cured meats ($10.50; includes Bunk's marinated pepper mix) and the roast beef ($10) are worthy of bringing a friend and going halfsies for experimentation's sake, but there's nothing quite like watching an on-the-rise indie band at their Water Avenue location with 50 other people who likewise have a trail of pork grease drizzled down the front of their hoodies. PETE COTTELL.
1711 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 236-8067, devilsdill.com. Dinner and late night Tuesday-Sunday. Delivery till 2:30 am.
[PORK ON THE RUN] Devil's Dill would not have to be open after bar close to be essential to my life. All they would need is that five-spice pulled pork ($9.50), which the owners apparently perfected over years of home practice, training the spice and marinade to that beautiful balance of sweetness and underlying complexity, covered in a sesame slaw that adds both earthiness and acidity. The meatloaf plays in the same sandbox—meaty, with chow chow relish and that same wonderful chili-garlic barbecue sauce. But perfect is perfect, and once you have it, nothing else will do. Especially at 2 am, when Devil's Dill will save your life with delivery. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1205 SW Washington St, 241-2490, lardosandwiches.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[BETWEEN TWO BUNS] It's a weird thing to say about a sandwich shop, but you've got to think outside the lunch box here. Because inside the sleek subway tiled interior of Lardo's downtown location, the worst sandwich is also the most traditional. It's their Italian Louis Prima, which, though very filling, comes gloomily sopping with olive oil. But by now everyone knows you get the tasty, gigantic, pork meatball banh mi with that awesome sriracha mayo, and your friend gets the fat-on-fat pork belly gyro or the rotating chefwich, and then you delightfully swap halves. PARKER HALL.
Meat Cheese Bread
1406 SE Stark St., 234-1700, meatcheesebread.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
[SANDWICH BRUNCH] Compared with the overdose of options on bottle or tap at adjoining Beer tavern, Meat Cheese Bread hasn't nearly the exhaustive variety, but the small shop's dozen or so sandwiches exploit a limitless knowledge of their signature ingredients. A re-jiggering of the beloved flank steak salad from chef John Stewart's old Pearl district employer in sandwich form, the Park Kitchen ($9) relies on a precise liquidity of blue cheese mayo, while the bacon and brie ($10) uses thick savory chunks of Nueske's sainted, smoked pig-flesh to balance the creamier underpinnings. Although the breakfast fave maple sandwich may be famed for the toasted slabs of bread pudding wrapped around a thick sausage patty and crisped rounds of spicy cheddar, the truly inspired touch comes in the gobs of freshly shaved fennel raging against the deluge of sugared fats. Pity the block has no room for an Herbs storefront. JAY HORTON.
Southeast 43rd Avenue and Belmont Street, 302-545-0708. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday.
[DELAWARE-STYLE] Nobody ever thinks of Delaware when they say "cheesesteak"—but Delaware-bred sandwich-slinger Andrew Heckcrote knows exactly what he's doing, serving cheesesteak with appropriately rubbery Italian hoagie bread, complete with neon-orange Whiz ($8.50) if that's who you are. But get it instead with white American cheese ($8) that's melted until you can hardly see it. The steak just looks like a pile of wet shredded beef and fried onions (wit' is a default here) until you bite into goopy American richness, with more umami per square inch than MSG and ketchup combined. Sure there's a serviceable pressed and seared Cubano ($9), a pork tenderloin ($8.50) loaded with greens. But at Monk's, the cheesesteak stands alone. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard, 702-300-7734, pbjsgrilled.com. Lunch, dinner and late night Tuesday-Sunday.
[FIFTH-GRADE ART] If you pack PBJ's Oregonian sandwich ($9) in a bag, people will be prompted to ask where it came from, everywhere you go, just by the smell. It's an unlikely regional-fetishist combo of marionberry jam, Rogue Creamery blue cheese and hazelnuts, with smoked Muscovy duck, on buttered and grilled bread. It was one of the best sandwiches I tried last year. The cart also blends the great Thai and American grade-school traditions with a Thai peanut-and-marmalade sandwich—spiced up with curry and Sriracha—and leaves jelly behind with a peanut-butter-pickle combo that throws in pork just for the hell of it. Really, PBJ's elevates the contents of your sack lunch to high art. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
Shut Up and Eat
3848 SE Gladstone St., 719-6449, shutupandeatpdx.com. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
[OPEN YOUR MOUTH] Don't look now, but the little Shut Up and Eat cart has devoured everything around it. This shop's signature Philly steak sandwich, the Broad St. Bomber ($9.75 for a whopping pile of chip-chopped steak, melted cheese and peppers that can feed two), began in a cart up the street. The operation quickly grew into a corner store down in Woodstock. Then, it took over the space next door, where there's a little case of desserts. Now, the record store next door is the Rally Room, where you can bring your softball team for huge meatball sandwiches and the crispiest potato chips in town. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Tails and Trotters
525 NE 24th Ave., 477-8682, tailsandtrotters.com. Lunch Monday-Friday.
[TAIL CHASER] Tails and Trotters is best known as a butcher shop, but for the neighborhood, during the week, they serve up an array of sandwiches characterized by loving attention to their trademark pork. Their baseline pulled pork is loosely Eastern-style (although there are extra, rotating versions), with peppery vinegar sauce and a housemade garlic aioli (which, in North Carolina, they might have called mayonnaise), and some seriously tender and sweet hazelnut-fed pork. The bun's a fresh bakery roll, not a big soft piece of white-bread hamburger bun, but OK. You make yourself willing to accept quality. There's also a Reuben made with porkstrami more tender than beef knows how to be. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1704 NE 14th Ave., 282-3681. Lunch and dinner daily.
[SUB CULTURE] I've been accused of taking multiple cheap shots at the Lloyd District this year, so consider the following a form of mea culpa: I still believe the neighborhood is a "glorified suburb" representing "the rotting tauntaun carcass of American consumerism," but it is also home to the best damn 40-year-old hoagie shop in Northeast Portland. Taste Tickler's sign faded long before the arrival of Jimmy John's—but the small sandwich-and-bento eatery has maintained itself, largely on the strength of the Famous Tickler. It is basically a steroidal Italian sub: fistfuls of ham, salami, pepperoni, lettuce and tomatoes dusted with Parmesan and shoved between two pieces of bread thick enough for batting practice. It took me a year of living nearby to try one, and it's been a Saturday afternoon go-to since. So apologies, Lloyd: You're not such a bad tauntaun carcass after all. MATTHEW SINGER.