There's nothing wrong with a Ben's half-smoke, mind you, and although it's a predictable choice, it's what most out-of-towners aim to cross off their food bucket lists when they visit Washington. But can we really call it a sandwich? It's a glorified hot dog, and hot dogs are not sandwiches. (Are all baseball players pitchers? Pitchers have special characteristics that make them pitchers. Such is the hot dog.) And even if you accept that the meat + bread + condiment formulation automatically = sandwich, D.C. sandwich-makers have done better.
Here are 15 D.C. area sandwiches we like even more than a Ben's Chili Bowl half-smoke:
2) Fried whiting from Horace & Dickies: Perfection is huge fish fillets haphazardly tossed between slices of white bread and doused in hot sauce.
3) The "G" Man from Mangialardo & Sons: A heaping pile of ham, salami, mortadella and pepperoni with provolone and fontina on either a soft or hard roll.
4) Red Apron's Porkstrami at Union Market: Fritz Hahn sells it best when he says, "It's like pastrami made out of pork, and it's topped with bacon and sauerkraut and a pork jus." Young & Hungry has more porkalicious details.
5) Three Little Pigs from Kangaroo Boxing Club: Pulled pork, slices of Virginia ham and house-cured bacon on a bun.
6) Brisket from Wagshal's: Writing about the city's burgeoning brisket scene in the Food section earlier this month, David Hagedorn said of Wagshal's: "The pastrami’s flesh is dark and has a distinctive dark black line of crust around it that none of the other pastramis here do."
7) The Beirut from Sundevich: Steak, hummus, brined veggies, tomatoes and fresh herbs combine for a tangy, earthy flavor you won't find anywhere else in the city.
8) The Admorghese from A.M. Wine Shoppe: If the Mediterranean Diet is really good for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, this olive oil-drenched beauty of an Italian sub is bona fide health food.
9) Muff-a-lotta from Bayou Bakery: Chef David Guas's fairly traditional take on a classic muffuletta sandwich, with mortadella, salami, provolone and house-made olive salad.
10) Bender Schmender from Roy's Place: Look, there's nothing realistic or manageable about this chaotically arranged skyscraper of meat, bread, spreads and toppings from Roy's Place in Gaithersburg. One would need to be slightly insane to order it solo, and there are never enough napkins to counter what happens when you start disassembling the thing. What's on it: turkey, corned beef, brisket, roast pork and chicken liver pate, plus gobs of something called golden sauce. It's actually something of a bargain at $20.19, but that won't make you feel any better about yourself after attempting to (and most likely failing to) finish the thing. (Update: Alas, the venerable Roy's Place has gone to sandwich heaven "for now," but we'll leave the Bender Schmender here as a monument to its greatness.)
11) The Roma from the Italian Store: Sometimes you just want Italian cold cuts without any fancy garnishes, toppings or accoutrements. The Roma is your sandwich.
12) The Surfside from Jetties: Bo Blair's sandwich chain has legions of followers who swear by the New England-inspired creations. We count ourselves as fans of the Surfside, a turkey-bacon-avocado creation that adds tangy mustard and creamy havarti.
13) The Manhattan from Booeymonger: The most-ordered sandwich of my 28-plus years as a Washingtonian remains an impossible-to-replicate pleasure. The roast beef-spinach-cheddar-bacon combination, slathered with house dressing on a doughy roll, is something bordering on comfort food.
14) The Grandwich at Juice Joint: The ripe avocado, spicy brown mustard, sprouts and tomato on warm, toasted multigrain bread is so earthy and decadent-tasting, but it's vegan.
15) Tempeh sandwich at Busboys and Poets: Crunchy, sweet and peppery, the tempeh sandwich, layered with roasted red pepper, arugula and smoky tempeh (a fermented, firm protein derived from soy), remains one of Busboys and Poets' most irresistible and enduring dishes.