I have eaten lunch in Uptown virtually every business day for the past five years. This is roughly more than 1,000 Uptown lunch opportunities. I’m also not one to eat the same thing every day, because I am easily bored and distracted, especially when it comes to food (squirrel!).
Because I am a nerd like no other, I choose to look at my 1,000+ dining opportunities as mini-experiments, testing the Charlotte lunchtime culinary ecosystem in order to uncover certain underlying scientific truths about our sandwich options.
My findings are finally at a point to be shared with you, my peers in lunchtime eating. And so, I present my definitive list of the best sandwiches available in Uptown for your lunching pleasure.
A few caveats for all of you Argumentative Annies out there:
- This isn’t a list of the best meals, it’s a list of the best sandwiches. A slice of BBQ pulled pork pizza from Pie in the Sky pizza is the best meal.
- I don’t care if this list doesn’t include your favorite sandwich. You’re wrong. If you’re in my 1,000+ Uptown Lunches Club and you haven’t eaten at Subway in at least a year, I’ll listen to your argument, but I still think you are wrong.
- Yes, a hotdog is a sandwich.
- It is possible to have a bad version of these sandwiches. Everyone makes mistakes.
- Affordability was a minor factor in these rankings. It’s why Pho Plus’ Pork Sandwich made it but Bentley’s Steak Sandwich is an Honorable Mention.
- To qualify, a restaurant must be within reasonable walking distance from The Square. Despite having great sandwich options, South End is not Uptown. Plaza Midwood is not Uptown. Elizabeth is not Uptown.
Even though I don’t care, feel free to vote for your favorite.
Hot Dog “All the Way” – Green’s Lunch
Menu Price: $2.35 (I think? I always order two and it’s like $5. It’s so cheap I don’t pay attention)
Recommended Side: Chili cheese fries. Does that seem like a lot of chili and cheese on top of food that is terrible for you all by itself? Good. It’s worth it. Besides, we’ve published like 100 articles on where to do yoga. You’ve earned the right to poison your body with nitrates.
The Sandwich: You just paid $6 all-in for this meal, so first of all the bar for it to be good is comically low. Still, Green’s Lunch hurdles it by a mile. If you aren’t familiar with Green’s Lunch, go today. It’s been around since 1926 and predates pretty much everything that now stands in Uptown. If you claim to be “tired of the banker crowd in Uptown”, go to Green’s. I guarantee that everyone else in there has spent the morning in the sun working much, much harder than you.
But let’s talk about these hot dogs. The only way to go is to get two hot dogs “All the Way”, which means the dogs are served in a steamed bun covered with mustard, chili, cheese, and coleslaw. Don’t like coleslaw? Great news! You can’t taste it because it’s covered in delicious chili! This means you get a delectable crunch from the coleslaw without having to taste the mayo. That’s a win-win right there.
The only downside to this meal for me is that I eat two dogs and have to have an uncomfortable conversation with myself where I consider getting another one, then internally chastise myself for considering eating three chili cheese dogs in the middle of the day. This leads me to consider many uncomfortable truths about myself – my dietary decisions, and the fleeting nature of life. But shame spiral aside, these dogs are perfect. And so is Green’s Lunch.
The BLT – Local Loaf
Menu Price: $9
Recommended Side: I get the cucumber salad. It’s like taking a shot of vinegar, so be warned. But if I’m being honest here, I’m pairing The BLT with a latte from Not Just Coffee or some delectable sugar-laden nutritional abomination from Cloud 9 Confections in the booth next door at 7th Street Market.
The Sandwich: This list is presented in no particular order, but if you forced me to choose, right now this would be my #1 sandwich. The ingredients are farmed locally. It features elements typically associated with the Charlotte region (white pimento cheese). It’s quirky, unique, and offbeat (fried green tomatoes, popcorn shoots). And oh yeah it’s freaking delicious (bacon).
You should be required to eat one of these when you move to Charlotte, like having to get your car licensed in the state. You should have to prove that you’ve eaten this sandwich within a reasonable time period after moving here and signing the lease on your South End apartment. I’m thinking 90 days. I’m not joking when I say this, but I don’t think I can truly connect with a person and trust what they say about Charlotte if they haven’t eaten this sandwich. You’re either on the bus or you’re not, and eating this sandwich is your ticket to ride.
Joe’s Cuban – Clover Joe’s
Menu Price: $7
Recommended Side: French Fries. In addition to knocking it out of the park with each and every sandwich, Clover Joe’s is also in the conversation for best fries in all of Charlotte.
The Sandwich: This isn’t the Cuban sandwich you’re used to. Typically with a Cuban sandwich you expect big, crusty Cuban bread and a big old slab of cut pork, along with ham, cheese, pickles, and mustard. This big, crusty Cuban bread is usually pressed and toasted to flatten it out. I love a good Cuban sandwich, and Cuban bread for that matter, but toasted, crusty bread and a big slab of dried pork can turn into a desert-dry, sub-par sandwich experience in the wrong hands. Which, outside of Florida, happens a lot.
Enter Joe’s Cuban. It has all of the elements you expect, but instead of Cuban bread, they use one of their soft hoagie rolls, and instead of a this slab of cut pork, they use fantastic, soft pulled pork. Toss in the pickle, mustard, and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a meal, acere. It’s often a risky move to mess with the classics, but in this case, Clover Joe’s has made all the right moves and improved on the original, or at least made a few small tweaks to minimize the downside of a bad sandwich.
Pork Sandwich – Pho Plus
Menu Price: $4.99
Recommended Side: Spring rolls. If you want a lunchtime feast on the cheap, the pork sandwich and spring rolls for under $10 can’t be beat
The Sandwich: Perhaps it seems kind of weird that one of the best sandwiches in Uptown is at a pho place, but hear me out. Much like Green’s Lunch, we start off clearing an extremely low bar for adequacy by a country mile with a $4.99 price point. While this sandwich is inexpensive, it’s not cheap. It’s a serious sandwich.
Remember when Subway ruined everyone’s lives with that “$5 foot-long” promotion, only for us to find out their subs weren’t even 12 inches long? Well the Pho Plus pork sandwich clocks in at roughly 10.5 inches for the same price, and there’s no day-ruining jingle to accompany it. In fact, I’d argue that this sandwich is the best bang for your buck in all of Uptown in terms of cost per sandwich volume (CPSV for all you Sabermetricians), and as an added bonus it’s one of the tastiest.
The sandwich itself is a straightforward banh mi, with cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno, carrots, and of course pork. If I had my druthers, they’d steam the bun, but that’s just me being picky. Plus if that was the case I’d eat this every day, thereby sliding their sales up the demand curve and forcing Pho Plus to raise the price to something outlandish like $5.75.
The beauty of this sandwich is that it holds up well too. It’s rare you can find a sandwich that you can order for takeout, pick it up, take it home, and have it still be as tasty as if it was fresh out of the kitchen. Most sandwiches, including the others on this list, have a rapidly declining half-life of deliciousness that makes them worse candidates for takeout. This is not such a sandwich. Points for durability.
- Vince’s Cowbell at Cowbell Burger ($12)
- NC Hand-Pulled Pork Sandwich at Queen City Q ($9)
- Ribeye Steak Sandwich at Bentley’s ($14)
- Classic Italian Sandwich at Ri Ra Sandwich Shop ($7.75)
- Fried Shrimp Po Boy at Mert’s ($9.29)