Milwaukee Sandwich Guide: 33 Sandwiches You Absolutely Need to Try

Attention all you same-old, same-old sandwich eaters. It’s time to stop settling for two-handed inferiority. There’s none of that in our breadbox victories.

These 33 large and in-charge picks follow the something-for-everyone mantra – saucy meatballs, chicken chef d’oeuvres, Vietnamese banh mi, meaty towers of Pisa and unorthodox deliveries. Unsurprisingly, the carb czars get by with a little help from their friends, so we also reveal the sides that make a sandwich a meal. All of this should prove that a sandwich is never just a sandwich.

Best Banh Mi

The Vietnamese banh mi has hit its stride here. Built either on a crusty baguette (the influence of French colonialism in Southeast Asia) or a softer foundation, this flavor leviathan is packed with crunchy, colorful vegetables, jalapenos, cilantro, and a meat (often pork) condimented up with mayo and chile sauce. Our five favorite MKE incarnations.

Photos by Adam Ryan Morris.
Photos by Adam Ryan Morris.

1) Tofu Trippin’

Meat is not an essential banh topper, especially when there’s lemongrass-and-tom-yum-paste-marinated tofu in the house. And it’s in Riverwest Co-op Café’s tasty house.
733 E. Clarke St., 414-264-7933

2) Baller

Sheaths of pickled carrots and cucumbers, chicken and miso-Sriracha aioli cement this saucy, satisfying handheld at Bavette
330 E. Menomonee St., 414-273-3375

3) Vegematic

After vacating its Asian grocery store digs, Xankia set up a banh mi-making shop Downtown. Oh, the choices here. Dibs on banh mi No. 2, the baguette stuffed with grilled pork, pickled daikon radish, yellow mayo sauce and (although it’s optional, it should be obligatory) jalapenos.
222 W. Wells St., 414-817-0241

4) Beef Eater

LuLu Cafe & Bar “faux” banh mi incorporates grilled flank steak with cucumber, hot garlic chile sauce and a carrot-cilantro-cabbage slaw soused in sesame-rice wine vinaigrette. Wasabi mayo is the bonus condiment.
2261 & 2265 S. Howell Ave., 414-294-5858

5) Belly Up

[No longer on the menu] Roasted barbecued pork belly? Huzzah. The soft hoagie bun is packed with well-marbled belly, but it doesn’t steal the thunder from the pickled radish, jalapenos, cilantro and other accoutrements, courtesy of Honeypie.
2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-489-7437

The lobster roll at Buckley's. Photo by Chris Kessler.
The lobster roll at Buckley’s. Photo by Chris Kessler.

Classic Sandwiches

Dig, if you will, a picture of a kitchen, steam curling above pots on the stove, a kindly soul manning the burners. Comforts like these. 

6) Cheese + Tomato Soup

Toasted sourdough with provolone, mozz and American lay the groundwork for Comet Café’s grilled cheese + tomato soup, a balanced puree that asks for some sandwich dipping.
1947 N. Farwell Ave., 414-273-7677

7) Sicilian Steak

Tutto’s [Now closed] steak sandwich is simple beef tenderloin breaded, seasoned with Italian herbs and sautéed in olive oil. Once it enters the bun, contemplation ends. Eating begins.
1033 N. Old World Third St., 414-291-5600

8) Croque Monsieur

The croque monsieur (French for “eat mister”) at Le Rêve Patisserie & Café is cheesy, toasty, patently palatable, a marriage of béchamel sauce, European ham, mustard and Gruyère.
7610 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, 414-778-3333

9) Lobster Roll

Bar Harbor, this is not, but the lobster roll at Buckley’s is a touch of New England. Meaty chunks of lobster in a light tarragon aioli that drips down your sleeve. Messy and marvelous.
801 N. Cass St., 414-277-1111

Chicken and Turkey

No fowl-weather friends here. We offer you this poultry party of five, each of them bliss on bread.

The Green Kitchen's Arugula Pesto Chicken Panino. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
The Green Kitchen’s Arugula Pesto Chicken Panino. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.


10) Jerk Chicken Pita

The Cosmos Café folks have a clucking winner in their jerk chicken pita, whose bird meat is cooked in a punchy sauce with jerk spices (allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers), then finished off with a kick of chipotle mayo.
7203 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, 414-257-2005

11) Happy Cow

Fuel Cafe’s Happy Cow will make you happy too. This cold creation gets a dairy lift from Swiss and cream cheeses, as well as cucumbers, sprouts, lettuce, Dijon mustard and sliced turkey on a French roll.
818 E. Center St., 414-374-3835

12) The Pilgrim

Melthouse Bistro [Now closed] makes cheese its priority (grilled cheese is its raison d’etre), but there’s always room for meat. In the case of the Pilgrim, it’s smoked turkey spooning with Gouda cheese, spinach, cranberry mustard and (the icing) sage butter on toasted honey-wheat.
1857 E. Kenilworth Pl., 414-271-6358

13) Turkey, Bacon and Brie Panino

With the turkey, bacon and Brie panino, The National has the makings of a pressed classic. The unexpected tart-sweet element is the cranberry-orange relish.
839 W. National Ave., 414-431-6551

14) Arugula Pesto Chicken Panino

The arugula-pesto chicken panino is an herb patch, surrounded by fresh mozz, tomatoes and thick hunks of chicken. The Green Kitchen at MKE Public Market is the source of this toothpick-necessary-afterward edible.
400 N. Water St., 414-273-8830

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

0515, 2015, feature, dining, sandwiches, Bread Winners, biscuit sandwiches, Palomino, Adam Ryan Morris
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Offbeat Renderings

Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson – they’re both a little, well, unusual. Translate that to sandwiches and you’ve got these hunks.

15) Biscuit Sliders

[No longer on the menu — try the biscuits with house jam or the pimento-cheese-and-bacon hoagie instead!] In culinary terms (that I made up), the rule of three means something is inherently more delicious when it comes in a trio. Couldn’t agree with it more in regard to Palomino’s biscuit sliders. You get one of each: pimento cheese and bacon; sausage and fruit jam; and smoked pork and mustard. Humina humina.
2491 S. Superior St., 414-747-1007

16) PBAB

Veering a bit in the Elvis Presley vein: Fuel Café’s PBAB – peanut butter, apple and bacon on toasted French bread – had me at bacon and warm, melty peanut butter.
818 E. Center St., 414-374-3835

17) Roasted Pork with Bacon-Braised Cabbage

The Third Ward’s Bavette doesn’t stick to a static menu. Which means the roast pork with goat cheese, bacon-braised cabbage, celery root and pear butter isn’t always around. But you’ll always find some fetching pork variation thereof.
330 E. Menomonee St., 414-273-3375

18) Buttafucco

Gooey and toasty, Fuel Café’s Buttafucco is a glob of warm mozzarella and provolone, mayo, tomato, onion, giardiniera and Italian herbs on a toasted French roll. So good, you can easily forget the 1990s crime story that inspired the name.
818 E. Center St., 414-374-3835

19) Widowmaker

[Now closed] They call it the widowmaker, this juicy heap of Italian beef, Cheez Whiz, bacon, charred green peppers and giardiniera that decimates the French roll it comes in (Fratelli’s). We won’t tell your cardiologist.
6202 W. Lincoln Ave., 414-541-0500

Amaze [Meat]balls

Call it a meatball sub, hoagie, hero or even grinder. The dominant player on this sandwich of ground meat eloquence is the ball itself. The bun acts as the fundamental pillow, crusty or soft, as illustrated by this trio.

Meatballs at Bavette. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Meatballs at Bavette. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.


20) Spicy Meatball

No mere pizza emporium, Classic Slice made the meatball (ground pork and beef) its other area of expertise. CS also makes its own crusty ciabatta, which enfolds the balls, shredded mozz, giardiniera, spinach and red sauce. 2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-238-2406

21) Glorioso’s Meatball

Glorioso’s keeps it classic – a seeded Sciortino’s roll cupping seasoned beef orbs coated in marinara, before receiving that key slice of provolone.
1011 E. Brady St., 414-272-0540

22) Rotating Meatball Menu

Blink and the meatballs at Bavette will be wearing new clothes – fancy-delicious duds. The tomato-braised beef balls might come with pesto aioli giardiniera and Parmesan.
330 E. Menomonee St., 414-273-3375


North Avenue Grill's Hot Mess Pastrami Melt. Photo by Chris Kessler.
North Avenue Grill’s Hot Mess Pastrami Melt. Photo by Chris Kessler.

Sandwiches With Extreme Meat

Some buns benefit from protein, in quantities that far surpass the average nutritionist’s recommendations.

23) Hot Mess Pastrami Melt

The aptly named Hot Mess Pastrami Melt from North Avenue Grill features a French roll working mightily to hold up the rear under crushing pastrami, provolone and pepper jack cheeses, peppers and onions. Meat juice alert!
7225 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, 414-453-7225

24) Bacon-wrapped meatloaf

It may not look like a sandwich. But trust us, the open-faced, bacon-wrapped meatloaf with bacon-chive mashed potatoes on salted rye with beer gravy from Comet Café is one helluva sandwich. Knife and fork? You’ll need them.
1947 N. Farwell Ave., 414-273-7677

25) Gyro

The Oakland Gyros’ specialty – spit-roasted, compressed meat layered inside a pita with olives, feta and a tangled nest of onions – is not just manna for the inebriated college student. Leave out the cucumber-yogurt sauce (aka, tzatziki) and you might as well leave out the meat.
530 W. Layton Ave., 414-744-2555; 2867 N. Oakland Ave., 414-963-1393

26) Torta

Nothing – no taco or burrito – should separate you from the gleefully jaw-straining torta (Mexican sandwich) at Cafe Corazon. We like it with carnitas (or braised pork) in the heady mix of black beans, avocado, cheddar jack, lettuce, tomato and crema on a toasted telera roll.
3129 N. Bremen St., 414-810-3941; 2394 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-544-2774

27) Muffaletta

The Glorioso’s New Orleans-inspired muffaletta is an oldie but goodie in our book. Mortadella, Genoa ham, capicola and provolone buried under the piquant olive salad.
1011 E. Brady St., 414-272-0540

The cuban at North Avenue Grill. Photo by Chris Kessler.
The cuban at North Avenue Grill. Photo by Chris Kessler.

28) APorkalypse

Scarfing down the aPorkalypse at Walt’s Sandwich Place (formerly The Picnic Basket) won’t signal the end of the world. But the uber-flavorful combo of barbecued pork, applewood bacon, ham, cheddar cheese and jalapeno-cilantro coleslaw will leave you reaching for a breath mint. For a good cause!
10600 W. Bluemound Rd., Wauwatosa, 414-763-4378

29) Cuban

Salt? Yes, please. North Avenue Grill does an assertive Cuban, dressed with pulled pork, ham and salami, along with pickles, baby Swiss and mustard on grilled ciabatta.
7225 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, 414-453-7225

Elevated Versions of Old Favorites

There are ingenuous sandwiches like PB&J – all good – and then there are ones that get a flamboyant kick in the pants. That describes these beauties.

30) Formaggio Panino

Panino (from the Italian “small bread”) is a grilled specimen. It could be any-thing between those two ends of smashed toastiness. The formaggio panino at Nessun Dorma sounds fancy – fresh mozz, fontinella, and provolone with roasted red peppers and basil pesto mayo on asiago ciabatta. It’s really a triumph of cheese.
2778 N. Weil St., 414-264-8466

31) All-American Grilled Cheese

Elsa’s All-American grilled cheese doles out the dairy in dramatic fashion. Four cheeses (cheddar, Colby, American, Swiss), plus Nueske’s bacon and tomato on your choice of bread. Gluttonous.
833 N. Jefferson St., 414-765-0615

32) Blackened Salmon BLT

The standard BLT loses its predictability when it gains a roommate. Hooligan’s serves up a thick, meaty blackened salmon BLT with Cajun rémoulade (and avocado for an extra buck). A grilled ciabatta never looked so good.
2017 E. North Ave., 414-273-5230

33) Cobb Stack

It’s not rocket science to put Cobb salad fixings (turkey, hardboiled egg, blue cheese, bacon, guac) on a pretzel bun. But City Market’s Cobb stack makes smart eater sense.
2205 E. Capitol Dr., 414-962-0100; 8700 W. Watertown Plank Rd., 414-479-0479; 527 E. Silver Spring Dr., 414-332-0300

Tater tots a la Palomino. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Tater tots a la Palomino. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Bonus: 4 Best Sandwich Sides in Milwaukee

What goes with your two-fisted specimens is as important as what goes in them. The side dishes we’d give up a sandwich for.


Co-owner Adam Lucks took time honing his tots (the tater variety) at Palomino. Nothing like the grated, thimble-shaped commercial variety, these are creamy, fried pillows, served with ranch dressing.
2491 S. Superior St., 414-747-1007

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup is not just the preferred mate for a grilled cheese. The thick, subtly chunky, hintingly sweet soup can come with any other bread creation served at Comet Cafe.
1947 N. Farwell Ave., 414-273-7677

Homemade Potato Chips and Asian Slaw

The homemade potato chips and Asian slaw at LuLu Cafe & Bar don’t need to ride shotgun. They could easily be the main attraction. Be sure to ask for blue cheese dressing for chip dipping.
2261 & 2265 S. Howell Ave., 414-294-5858

White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

[Now closed] No, we’re not suggesting overkill by pitching the creamy white cheddar mac and cheese with a highfalutin grilled cheese at Melthouse Bistro. This is the dairy state, after all.
1857 E. Kenilworth Pl., 414-271-6358


‘Bread Winners’ appears in the May 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.