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Food

Why do some Italian subs come with relish?

The Italian subs at Giamela’s come with chopped tomato, onion and pickle.
The Italian subs at Giamela’s come with chopped tomato, onion and pickle.
(Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times)

In my survey for the best Italian subs in Los Angeles, I came across a handful of delis, all in the San Fernando Valley, where a chopped relish involving onions and tomatoes — and at some places pickles — supplants the more common thinly sliced tomato and onion on an Italian sandwich.

Where did this Valley relish — and I’m calling that because it doesn’t seem to have an official appellation — come from?

According to Salvatore Palilla, who has owned Santoro’s Subs in Burbank since 1996, the chopped vegetables came with founder Pat Santoro from Boston.

Santoro’s family’s restaurants used chopped vegetables on their sandwiches, and when he moved to Los Angeles and opened Santoro’s in 1956, he brought that style with him.

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Grinder, hoagie, hero, sub, torpedo. The name differs based on where you’re eating it. In L.A., to most, it’s an Italian sub.

“There has been pressure to put lettuce on the sandwiches,” Palilla said of his subs, which come heaped with chopped tomatoes, onions and pickles. “But the day I put lettuce on I will no longer be in business.”

Matt Giamela, owner of Giamela’s Subs and RC Provisions, said his dad started putting cubed vegetables on sandwiches in the ‘60s, “because it fit better.”

“My dad moved from New Jersey to Burbank in the 1950s and would get subs at Santoro’s,” Giamela said. “He missed the New Jersey subs he used to get back home and loved Santoro’s. That’s what inspired him to open the first Giamela’s on Riverside Drive in 1964.”

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Other local delis that pile chopped vegetables on their sandwiches include Monte Carlo Deli at Pinocchio’s Restaurant in Burbank, DeFranko’s Submarines in Van Nuys and Matt & Tony’s in Mission Hills.


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