Grinder, hoagie, hero, sub, torpedo. The name differs based on where you’re eating it. In Los Angeles, to most, it’s an Italian sub. Regardless of what you call it, a split roll stuffed with cured meats and cheese is generally a good idea. Adding hot peppers, olive oil and vinegar is an even better idea. Here’s a list of places to get an Italian sub in and around Los Angeles, in alphabetical order, with my three favorites denoted with a star (⭐).
All About the Bread
This is the spot that tried to re-create the Bay Cities Godmother, bringing it east of the 405 and calling it the Godfather. The sandwich comes on a roll that looks and tastes pretty similar to the Santa Monica original, studded with crisp bubbles and a crunchy exterior. It’s slathered with vegan mayo (seriously, I asked) and mustard then layered with salami, spicy capicola, mortadella, ham, prosciutto di Parma and provolone. Like the Godmother it’s also topped with a heap of shredded lettuce, pickles, tomato and your choice of hot or mild peppers. While it’s a good Godmother substitute, it’s nowhere near as schmutzy.
7111 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 930-8989, allaboutthebread.com
Angelo’s Italian Deli
The Italian torpedo at this Long Beach deli could be classified as a fancy sub. Instead of a soft roll there’s a flour-dusted ciabatta. Instead of mayonnaise there’s a sharp garlic pesto spread. And instead of iceberg lettuce there are mixed greens. All of the tweaks make for a pretty great sub, stacked with thick slices of mortadella, capicola, salami and provolone. That garlic spread will stick with you. If you’re not a fan of raw garlic, this is not the sub for you.
190 La Verne Ave., Long Beach, (562) 434-1977
⭐ Bay Cities ⭐
The Godmother is still the undefeated heavyweight champion of Italian subs in Los Angeles. Fans say it’s the crackly Dutch Crunch-ish bread called filone, baked on-site, that makes it so good. Others lobby for the quality of salami, mortadella, ham, prosciutto and capicola, all made locally and layered neatly on the bottom slice of bread. Maybe you find the way the mayonnaise, yellow mustard and Italian dressing smush together with the Chicago-style hot peppers and shredded iceberg lettuce to form a sizable layer of heavily dressed salad irresistible. It’s the combination of everything that’s hard to beat.
The sandwich is more than worth the demolition-derby-style parking lot and the long lines that snake in front of the deli counter at almost all hours of the day. A couple pro tips to consider: The hot peppers are far superior to the mild. If you want to skip the line, look for the baskets full of pre-made Godmothers that sit on top of the deli case during busy hours. And grab a couple of the 10-cent containers of Italian dressing for a little extra zing on each bite.
1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279, order.bcdeli.com
⭐ Black Hogg Sandwiches ⭐
The restaurant, a deli/Hawaiian poke stand hybrid, is an unlikely location for one of the best Italian subs in town. But here you are, ordering an Italian sandwich while you eye the cellophane-wrapped Spam musubi next to the credit card machine.
The bread at Black Hogg is the best kind of baguette, crisp, airy and with a hint of butter somewhere in the dough — like the kind you get with a good banh mi. This is the base for mayonnaise, thinly sliced soppressata, sharp provolone, capicola, mortadella and a well-dressed salad of shredded lettuce, olive oil and real aged balsamic vinegar. You could stuff grocery-store bologna in that bread and it would still taste better than good. All the prime Italian meats and cheese are just gravy.
2852 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 953-2820, blackhogg.com
Claro’s Italian Market
On weekend mornings at Claro’s Italian Market in Arcadia, bleary-eyed diners shift their weight from side to side, clutching tiny pink pieces of paper printed with their number. They eye the sausage and peppers, inquire about the sharpness of the provolone this week and ask the guy slicing their meat about his college exams.
You can get a quarter pound of soppressata and honey turkey, or have them build any sandwich you like, but more than half the people waiting are there for the Great Grandpa Joe. The sandwich consists of capicola, dry salami, mortadella and provolone with all the regular fixings, but the soft roll is dressed with an olive oil and vinegar mixture that’s heavy on the red wine vinegar and pepper. It turns into a paste on the sandwich so that some bites have actual clumps of piquant dressing. These, it turns out, are always the best bites.
Multiple locations in San Gabriel, Arcadia, La Habra, Tustin, Upland and Covina. claros.com
The Italian sub at this Sunland deli is named the Mary’s special. I don’t know who Mary is, but I know that the meat on her sandwich is special. Ribbons of dry salami, capicola and mortadella huddle in a jumbled heap, surrounded by provolone, lettuce, tomato and a pickle. Some sandwiches are prized for their balance; the Mary’s special is a one-two punch of cured, stinky, glorious meat.
8111 Foothill Blvd., Sunland, (818) 352-7213, corsicadeli.com
Zach Pollack makes another riff on the Bay Cities Godmother called the Stepmother. While the cold cuts are similar (capicola, salami, prosciutto and mortadella), the bread is a whole different story. Pollack bakes a dense, crusty ciabatta roll for the sandwich; the perfect sturdy vessel for the meat, sharp provolone and giardiniera. Is it the Godmother? No. It’s the woman who stepped in after your dad stepped out and she’s pretty amazing once you get to know her.
2100 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 908-5211, cosabuona.com
It’s best to know exactly what you want before getting in line here. You don’t want to piss off the guy behind you who has been coming to this 91-year-old deli for the last 90 years. The Combination cold cuts and cheese is the textbook Italian sub. The cross-section is a neat pyramid of mortadella, salami, capicola and a thick wedge of provolone cheese. The guys behind the counter have a heavy hand when it comes to the mustard. If you want to add pepperoncinis or banana peppers, there is a serve-yourself area by the drinking fountain. No frills. No extras. Just good, honest sandwiches.
1013 Alpine St., Los Angeles, (213) 250-2464, esmdeli.com
⭐ E. Stretto ⭐
Of all the sandwiches at this downtown deli, the Ill Papa is what owners Joel David Miller and Dave Fernie refer to as their “show pony.” The sandwich cross-section is an attractive strata of varying shades of pink: mortadella, capicola and Spanish chorizo. The meat sunset fades under a heap of acerbic, finely chopped giardiniera. The finishing touch is a flurry of nutty Manchego grated fine as snow. It’s beauty and substance, served on a ciabatta roll as soft as a cloud.
351 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 265-7017, strettobros.com
Foggia Italian Market and Deli
Foggia is as much about the people making your sandwich as it is about the sandwich. The employees are fast-talking roll stuffers who will likely regale you with tales of their summers on Lake Michigan while they ring you up. Sandwiches come in four sizes ranging from 4 to 12 inches, the largest of which could feed a family of four. The Italian Cold Cut is a classic sub with capicola, mortadella, cotto and provolone; the spicy Italian invites hot Calabrese salami to the party. The lettuce on Foggia’s sandwiches is mixed greens — a little bit fancy and soft for a sub — but the thick slices of tomato taste like something, and if you were to dump out the vegetables — there are pickles and onion and chunks of pepperoncini all soused with Italian dressing — you’d have a pretty adequate salad. It’s all piled into a soft Italian roll spread conservatively with mayo and mustard and seasoned generously with salt and pepper.
5522 Del Amo Blvd., Lakewood, (562) 627-0987, foggiadeli.com
If you’re going to eat this sandwich, you need to eat it within eight minutes of it landing in your hands. Otherwise, it will end up in your lap. While other subs may marinate, mature and settle the longer you let them sit, the Giamela’s sub turns to mush. This is not necessarily a knock against it, just an important data point when you’re planning your lunch. For the Mr. G’s sandwich, a soft roll is split, layered with soppressata, salami and capicola, then piled high with a mix of chopped tomato, onion and pickles all cut the size of Legos. Between the Italian pico de gallo (as my colleagues took to calling it), the dressing, mayonnaise and mustard, it’s a heavily dressed sandwich meant for immediate impact.
Multiple locations at giamelas.com
This is another Italian sub in Santa Monica, but that’s where any similarities or comparisons to the Bay Cities Godmother should stop. The OMG at Heroic Deli is the Deion Sanders of sandwiches. It does many things, and it does them all fairly well. The imported Italian prosciutto, salami, capicola, mortadella and porchetta combine to make the Italian sandwich you want and need. The fat slices of smoked mozzarella and roasted tomatoes are like an added Caprese sandwich. To top it all off, there are marinated artichokes, olives and Italian black summer truffles on ciabatta bread. It’s three sandwiches in one, plus an antipasto platter. Pro tip: Slather on some of the hot Calabrian pepper condiment sitting on the table.
516 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 691-8278, heroicitalian.com
After posting the Padrino on Instagram last summer, Pizzana chef Daniele Uditi was flooded with requests for the sandwich. It’s not on either the Brentwood or West Hollywood restaurant menus. Instead, it’s an off-menu special only available when Uditi has the time to make it; you’ll have to stalk his Instagram to know exactly when. Not only does he bake the rolls, he also makes the spicy soppressata, which ends up softer and more flavorful than most. He slices the meat wafer-thin and stacks an absurd amount of the soppressata and mortadella (think a couple of inches’ worth) with aged provolone, pickles, tomato and a chopped salad tossed with pepperoncinis and vinaigrette. This is among the messiest sandwiches you will ever encounter, stuffed beyond comprehension; the salami and salad will spill out despite your best efforts. You will have dressing on your face and on your lap, but you’ll be happy.
Multiple locations at pizzana.com
Rocco’s Italian Market
The rolls at Rocco’s are softer and more bland than most, which serves the party happening in the Il Rocco sandwich well. The dominating character in the Il Rocco is an herby parsley olive oil spread that the deli calls salsa prezzemolo. It’s topped with thinly sliced capicola, mortadella, sopressata and provolone. But Rocco’s doesn’t stop there. No, it adds chopped giardiniera with sweet raisins and fresh arugula. It’s an unexpected and winning combo you’ll be trying to make sense of long after you’ve left the building. It should be noted that everyone here is on Italian time, so don’t expect to be in and out quickly unless you pre-order.
1761 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 403-0900, roccos-deli.com
Jonathan Gold referred fondly to the sandwich at this Pasadena deli simply as “the sandwich,” as if referring to any other sandwich when talking about an Italian sub was simply unthinkable. Wrapped in Pink Panther-colored deli paper, the sandwiches are piled high on the meat counter so that customers can simply grab one and go. There are no substitutions or omissions. This is the way proprietor Rosario Mazzeo has been making them since 1975, and it’s the way you’re going to eat it: a crusty roll drizzled with good olive oil and a modest amount of soppressata, mortadella, capicola and shards of sharp, aged provolone. Lettuce and other condiments would just muddy the flavors. But sometimes I buy a jar of pepperoncinis along with my sandwich anyway.
918 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 797-7748
There are two basic camps of Italian subs. One comes on bread fully sliced in half. The other comes on a split roll that resembles a bread taco and will require you to cock your head to an unnatural angle to get the entire thing in your mouth. The Italian at Santoro’s is in the latter camp. It’s a soft, squishy boat roll stuffed with salami from Molinari in San Francisco, capicola and Wisconsin provolone. There’s no lettuce on this sandwich. But there is chopped pickle, onion and tomato, and enough so that you don’t miss the lettuce or any other condiments. Unwrap, bend your knees, cock your head and you should be just fine.
1423 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 848-8888, santorossubs.com
Uncle Paulie’s Deli
The cheffiest Italian deli in Los Angeles. Salads in the case are made with produce from the farmers market, the mozzarella on your sandwich is made in house and there’s a cacio e pepe breakfast sandwich on the menu. Uncle Paulie’s Italian sub is an essay in textures and a strong argument for slicing your meats as thin as possible. The salami, mortadella and capicola are razor-thin. The same goes for the aged provolone and the finely shaved lettuce and onion. It’s the precise ratio of meat to cheese to schmutz that ensures every bite is nothing short of perfection.
8369 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 746-5545, unclepauliesdeli.com