The problem with my new “gluten aware” status is that it has seriously curtailed my daily indulgence in a top-notch sandwich. I know it’s a high-class problem, yet overall, I think it’s a healthy choice.
I am still a firm believer that completely denying oneself of life’s simple indulgences for the sake of a diet does not work. With that, I’m on a loose three-sandwich-per-week trial run. So far, so good.
The seed for this column was planted when I recently popped in randomly to the new-ish Mendocino Farms, or “Mendo” as they call it, on El Camino Real in Encinitas and was reminded of the great pleasure a truly fabulous sandwich on amazing bread can provide.
Encinitas is Mendocino Farms’ 50th location, so they must be doing something right. Every sandwich and salad on the menu sounded crazy good, and my Farm Club with a cup of soup was perfect. The Mendo experience got me thinking about the plethora of stellar sandwich options we have in North County.
And as always, I try to give representation to as much of The Coast News coverage area as possible, so I’ll start on the southern tip at the iconic Milton’s, where the best-corned beef sandwich in the area resides. Stacked high on rye bread with a side of potato salad and a pickle — life is good.
Encinitas is now what I would consider a sandwich mecca, and that trend started years ago with the Encinitas Café, home to several solid, basic sandwiches, including my go-to tuna salad on white with a cup of their ever-present lima bean soup.
A few doors down is the splendid Prager Brothers, where you can get not only some of the best bread anywhere but a very solid lineup of sandwich delights.
Not far up Coast Highway in its expanded location is what I consider to be the best sandwich joint in North County, if not San Diego — Moto Deli. I have taken a deep dive into the wonderful chef-driven creations of chef Andrew Halvorsen and can honestly say there is not a weak link on his menu.
Halvorsen has even elevated turkey salad to a higher level with his house-smoked turkey (turketta) breast. And it’s not just his sandwiches; I’ve been happy with every side salad they offer.
Next up is the Sandwich Spot in their new location near Lou’s Records, and while I’ve not sampled their offerings, they have “Chicago style beef” advertised loud and proud on their window, which made me very excited. If they are doing it right, look for them to be featured soon.
Just up the road, I’ll give my only gluten-free nod in this roundup to Nectarine Grove, which has made my whole gluten-aware experiment possible with their gluten-free bread and tortillas. Trust me, I am a world-class cynic on the topic, and they have somehow managed to pull it off.
Just one more stop in Encinitas has to be at French Corner, where its classic Le Jambon Fromage sandwich translates into the most amazing French ham, Gruyere, cornichons and butter on a baguette with butter you will ever eat … outside of France anyway.
Inland to La Costa, we go next to the Wise Ox, which is definitely worthy of a feature of their own that is coming soon. All I can say is they elevate bologna to another level with their house-made variety that is fried and surrounded by mayo, mustard and American cheese on a bun.
And while Board & Brew is a chain with several locations, I’ve only frequented their Carlsbad location and they do it right. Their Turkado with turkey breast, Jack cheese and avocado is my go-to and it does the job every time.
Crossing over the border into South Oceanside, another chef-driven shop called Naegi dominates by chef William Eick. Naegi’s “sandos” are Japanese-inspired goodness, and the crispy Karaage chicken sando with Togarashi mayo and cabbage on Eick’s signature milk bread is out of this world.
Farther up and inland a bit is Frazier Farms, whose deli counter offers up a wide range of sandwiches hearty enough for the firefighters who frequent it and healthy enough for the yoga folks who do the same. It’s worth the trip for sure, as you can do your grocery shopping while there.
Heading inland, Agrusa’s Super Sandwiches in Escondido has been around since 1958 and has been mentioned by many trusted sources over the past few years. Sources so solid, I trusted their word to include them on this list without having tried them. That said, the word has inspired a dedicated feature on them coming soon.
I’ll wrap this up with some beverages of choice when indulging in these gluten-laden delights. Mexican Coke is still my go-to for weekend sandwich adventures, but on weekdays I like to keep it a little healthier. Midweek beverages lean toward kombucha or sparkling water, and if it’s kombucha, the Blueberry Tart from Bambucha Kombucha is the way to go — flavor-forward, chef-crafted bubbles make it the perfect sandwich combination.