The Cambodian Sandwiches, at Num Pang
Ok, so maybe Num Pang isn’t technically in the East Village (more "Union-Square-area", really), but it is below 14th Street, and east of Fifth Avenue, and it has such a consistently amazing selection of sandwiches, that we had to include it here. We’ve eaten pretty much the entire menu over the last couple of years, and have been blown away every single time by the bold, balanced flavors and spanking-fresh ingredients that go into these beauties. Try the saucy Hoisin Veal Meatball sandwich, or the spicy Grilled Skirt Steak, or the honey glazed Grilled Duroc Pork, or the juicy Peppercorn Catfish, or… listen: just go, try anything, you’ll love it. On 12th Street between University Place and Fifth Avenue.
The Porchetta, at Porchetta
Sara Jenkins’s peerless pig-roast sandwich, the eponymous Porchetta, at her bright, tiny little storefront, is a marvel of crackling, juicy, heavily-seasoned–fennel pollen, sage, rosemary, garlic–sweet-meat-ed deliciousness. Required eating. On 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.
The Pork Buns, at any Momofuku
The bite that started our love affair with all things Momofuku, David Chang’s brilliant pork bun "sandwiches"–on the original menu of his first restaurant, Noodle Bar, and now available at Noodle Bar 2.0, Milk Bar and Ssam–are paragons of powerful flavors, beautifully balanced, made delicious: tender, sweet and fatty pork belly; sweet soy-ish sauce, crunchy pickled cucumbers; a few scallions for some bite; all stuffed into soft, chewy, steamed buns. Perfect. Noodle Bar is on First Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets; Ssam is on the corner of Second Avenue and 12th Street; Milk Bar is around the corner, on 12th Street between Second and Third Avenues.
The Classic Bahn Mi, at Nicky’s Vietnamese
Sometimes it seems as though you can’t walk a block in this part of town without bumping into a Bahn Mi spot, but for intensity of flavor and insanity of value, we still head over to Nicky’s Vietnamese to get our street-food fix. Nicky’s makes a classic, version of the Bahn Mi which have never seen bettered (well… Ssam’s is pretty good, too, though for about double the price), featuring a perfect balance of creamy pate, salty Vietnamese ham and roasted ground pork beneath a garden of vinegary carrots, cucumbers and cilantro, all on a soft, fresh roll. On Second Street between Avenues A and B.
The Arepas, at Caracas Arepas Bar
First, get those street-fair, pancake-looking arepas out of your head. These are not those. For a few years now Caracas Arepa Bar–first in their little take-out storefront; now also in their cozy sit-down restaurant two doors down–has been creating these delightfully crunchy, intensely flavored, consistently delicious Venezuelan corn-cake sandwiches. La Reina Pepiada (chicken with avocado salad), La Pelua (shredded beef with paisa cheese), La Jardinera (eggplant with sundried tomatoes, carmelized onions and guayan?s cheese), De Pabell?n (shredded beef with black beans, sweet plantains and cheese), they’re all stuffed big, terrific tasting, totally satisfying. On 7th Street, just east of First Avenue.
El Cubano, at Carteles
So many in this town get the Cuban sandwich so wrong. Not Carteles, a bright and festive countertop-ish newcomer with just a few items on the menu, all of them good, especially El Cubano. This is the classic Cuban construction: roast pork, smokey sliced ham, swiss and provolone cheeses, plenty of pickles, "garlicky" mustard, all pressed and warm and melty. With a side of housemade sweet plaintain chips, and bouncy Cuban music blasting from the iPod-playing "boom box" behind the counter, this is a solid quick-bite sandwich, at a great quick-bite spot. On Sixth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A.
This Way and That Way, at This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef
Although we were slightly disappointed by our initial visit during opening week, we still have faith in This Little Piggy because: 1. It’s owned by the Artichoke Pizza guys, who bake one of the best slices in Manhattan; 2. Its specialty is hot roast beef with melted cheese sandwiches, one of the best creations of earth. Available This Way (Hot Roast Beef, on a roll, au jus, with Cheez Whiz) and That Way (Hot Roast Beef, on a hero, with fried onion, melted mozzarella, and gravy), right now these look better than they taste, but we’re thinking that might change. Worth a try. On First Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets.