The chicken shawarma at Charcoal Town Shawarma. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
Food reporter/columnist

Many folks — many more than I realized — had become frustrated with Taylor Gourmet by the time the local sandwich chain abruptly called it quits in September. They missed the roast pork sandwiches, which had mysteriously disappeared. They resented the rotating seasonal menus. They thought the quality had nose-dived, beginning all the way back to the day Taylor decided to stop schlepping bread from Philadelphia to Washington.

To be honest, I missed the roast pork sandwiches, too. They were as close as Washingtonians could get to a loaded roll from John’s Roast Pork, a juicy indulgence that’s required eating in Philly. Still, I was a regular at Taylor’s K Street NW shop, just down the street from The Washington Post. It was easy to slip over there for a sandwich when on deadline, and I liked the creativity that the culinary team injected into the menus, a rare thing for a chain of such scope and volume. More than that, I trusted the place to deliver on its promises, whether it was a traditional Italian hoagie or a double-stack burger.

For weeks after Taylor shut down, I would wander the streets of downtown, looking for a suitable replacement. Nothing proved satisfying among the options immediately around the paper. So I widened the scope until I found six sandwiches that made me (almost) forget about Taylor Gourmet.

Chicken shawarma at Charcoal Town Shawarma (2019 11th St. NW, 202-232-2330; charcoaltown.com). Shawarma assumes a number of identities across the Middle East. Sometimes, shawarma looks so much like a Greek gyro that it inspires the kind of explainer pieces that keep food writers like me employed. Over at Charcoal Town, just off U Street, brothers Bashar and Kinan Mihyar sell a type of chicken shawarma ($8.99) popular in their native Jordan. You won’t mistake it for a gyro.


The horizontal charcoal pit and rotisserie at Charcoal Town Shawarma. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

Chef Bashar Mihyar marinates chicken (about 85 percent legs and thighs) in more than 20 ingredients, including fresh ginger, cardamom and garlic, before skewering the meat and cooking it over lump charcoal for a few hours. The chicken is sliced to order and swaddled tight in a length of markouk flatbread, along with housemade pickles and a garlic sauce called toum. The stuffed log is then griddled with oil until crisp. If desire were a sandwich, it would be the chicken shawarma at Charcoal Town.

Smoked porchetta at Red Apron (709 D St. NW, 202-524-5244; redapronbutchery.com). Introduced this year exclusively at the Penn Quarter location of chef Nathan Anda’s butcher shops, this stack of luxe ingredients is the Dolce & Gabbana of Italian sandwiches. Anda brines a pork belly and loin for a week, then seasons it, rolls it up and hangs the beast to dry. He smokes the roll over applewood with a little steam, which adds a woodsy element to the traditionally rich hunk of pork. The kitchen shaves the roll to order and sears the meat on a plancha before topping the warmed slices with gooey fontina, salsa verde and a fried egg.

Your may think the smoked porchetta ($11) is too luxuriant to eat all at once. But the next thing you know, you’ll be staring at the empty space where your sandwich used to be.


The CRX sandwich at Seylou Bakery. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

CRX sandwich at Seylou Bakery (926 N St. NW, Suite A, 202-842-1122; seylou.com). Technically, I guess this sucker is a breakfast sandwich. The CRX ($9.50) features a housemade croissant, a whole-wheat beauty that’s pulled crackly and brown from the oven. The kitchen then slices the pastry open and stuffs it with what one employee described as an “egg salad.” Except this salad is not held together with mayonnaise. It’s more an egg scramble, made fresh to order, and mixed with mushrooms, scallions and dill. Delicate, light and flavorful, this sandwich is good any time of day.

Panino at Officina (1120 Maine Ave. SW, 202-747-5222; officinadc.com). Whenever I hanker for one of Taylor’s traditional Italian hoagies, I now head to Officina, chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s new multi-concept outpost at the Wharf. The cafe here offers a panino ($12) stuffed with coppa, mortadella and Finocchiona salami. The meats are folded around a pocket of lettuce, provolone picante, tomatoes and onions, then dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. This is classic Italian sandwich craft: quality ingredients tucked into excellent bread, a bronzed and airy roll that crackles under tooth for a pleasure all its own.

Buongustaio at Menomale (2711 12th St. NE, 202-248-3946; menomale.us). The Brookland pizzeria already serves a few of my favorite Neapolitan pies in the District. But chef Ettore Rusciano also sells a small handful of sandwiches, which use the same dough that’s stretched and baked for his pizzas. No matter what sandwich you select, the bread is baked to order in a wood-burning oven, which makes for one fresh and smoky base for your desired ingredients.

Just about every sandwich is worth a try, but I’m particularly fond of the buongustaio ($13), also known as the chef’s special. This pizza pocket, charred and warm, comes stuffed with fennel sausage, prosciutto di Parma, fior di latte mozzarella and, oddly, mayonnaise. If this sounds like a fat fest, well, it is. But it works superbly with the baked dough, a big yeasty bread that can easily swallow up more timid fillings.


The Colada Shop Cuban sandwich. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Colada Shop Cuban at Colada Shop (1405 T St. NW, 202-332-8800; coladashop.com). I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more bad Cuban sandwiches than good ones, which is not really that surprising. A proper Cuban is a high-maintainence preparation. The sandwich requires succulent roast pork, sweet ham, Swiss cheese and the necessary counterpoints to all that richness, namely a smear of mustard and some pickles. The Colada Shop Cuban ($9.98) has all that — plus a cilantro aioli to tantalize your nose — pressed between crackly Cuban-style bread. Is it any wonder the partners here thought so highly of their Cuban they named it after the shop?