Sandwiches are about as Americana as it gets. A staple of versatility and comfort, they come in all manner of sizes, fillings, textures, and ingredients, from meaty behemoths to wholesome veggie constructions. They're also the rare food that's accessible just about anywhere in the country, be it a small town or a major metropolis.
That's all thanks to the omnipresence of sandwich chains, large and small, that thrive through endless customer demand. But ubiquity does not equal quality, and there's a wide chasm between the best sandwich chains in America and those that have seen better days.
There's a lot of factors that separate the best from the rest. Popularity and the sheer number of locations is one thing, but as proven by places like Subway, which just started offering freshly sliced meats in 2023 and has struggled to make a public-relations comeback, it's not everything. There's also quality to consider, and reputation, both of which influence the court of public opinion enormously.
All that said, there are several sandwich chains that tick all the boxes. Sure, they may not be perfect all the time, nor are all their menu items a beacon of quality and nutrition. But these are chains that go the extra mile and set themselves apart. These are the 10 best sandwich chains in America.
There's no point in beating around the bush: Jersey Mike's is the best sandwich chain in America right now. That's not just a hot take, but the informed conclusion of a detailed consumer report from Market Force. The analytics firm surveyed customers across an array of categories to determine their sandwich preferences, and Jersey Mike's was far and away the favorite.
Known for its fresh sandwich meats, and beloved by chefs, the New Jersey-based chain earned a high loyalty score in the recent report, thanks to the company's good marks for speed of service, staff friendliness, restaurant atmosphere, food quality, and value. Also setting the chain apart is its recent commitment to a "no antibiotics ever" policy, which includes sourcing pork products exclusively from farms where pigs are happy and healthy, without crates or hormones. Beyond lip service, the diligent efforts have paid off, as Jersey Mike's—which now boasts more than 2,000 locations—is in the top five sandwich chains for sales.
Famous for its "free smells," Jimmy John's is a sandwich chain that can back up its quirky marketing campaign with plenty of legitimacy. Any sandwich chain that's equally endorsed by chefs and dietitians, after all, is bound to be good and good for you. Another company that's among the top-earning sandwich brands in the nation, Jimmy John's is proof that due diligence and extra effort pays off. The company serves some of the freshest sandwich meats on the market, including hand-slicing to order, and serving everything on freshly baked bread—the smell of which drew you in in the first place.
For a chain with more than 500 locations across the country, McAlister's Deli still feels inherently homegrown and humble. From its modest roots in Oxford, Miss., the chain has ballooned in sales and success in recent years, climbing its way into one of the top-earning sandwich chains in the nation. And it's not stopping there. Reports indicate the deli aims to be a $1 billion company by 2024, all uniquely spurred by ravenous success in small towns. Such rapid success is a testament to the company's dedication to quality and craft, including sourcing produce from local farms as much as possible, using Idaho Russet potatoes, and Rainforest Alliance-certified black tea that's sweetened with pure cane sugar. It's no wonder then, from hot subs to turkey sandwiches, McAlister's Deli is constantly ranked among the best in the biz.
With just 250 locations in 28 states, Jason's Deli feels almost cute compared to some of the larger conglomerates. But, keeping things relatively small allows the Texas-born brand to uphold its philosophy about quality. This includes a dedicated emphasis on wholesome ingredients, as Jason's Deli was one of the first restaurant chains to remove artificial trans fats from its food way back in 2005. Ever the pioneer in quality, the company subsequently removed things like processed MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, dyes, and artificial colors, with the brand tagline being "if we wouldn't serve it to our families, we're not going to serve it to yours." Those efforts have paid off, as Jason's Deli is regarded as one of the healthiest fast-food chains in general—an apt example of quality over quantity.
Pret a Manger
There's a lot to love about Pret a Manger, the British-based chain that's as adamant about charity as it is about quality and conservation. Ever since this sandwich-centric brand hopped the pond, it's been warmly received and widely successful, thriving in cities like New York, thanks in part to the company's impressively substantial environmental impact report, and its own non-profit, The Pret Foundation, which donates food to local charities.
Although there are less than 100 Pret a Manger locations in America, the ones that exist are treasured due to the chain's palpable quality. It's a sentiment that applies both to food and quality of life, as the company strives to provide quality working environments and serve food that's fresh and wholesome. This includes some of the freshest sandwich meats and healthiest sandwiches, and Pret's "Passion Facts," which detail its sourcing and cooking practices, including opting for reasonable and nutritious portion sizes and grilling chicken in-house.
A comeback of rather epic proportions, Illinois-based Potbelly has gone from dwindling to dominant in recent years. After bouncing back in terms of sales and locations last year, the sandwich company—known for its fresh, hand-sliced meats—recently achieved record revenue. Far from coincidence, it speaks to the shifting tides and customer demand for more quality-focused ingredients and wholesome menu items, both of which Potbelly espouses.
"We're passionate about serving fresh, crave-worthy food made with high-quality ingredients," the company claims. This includes sourcing things like all-white breast meat chicken, free of preservatives and artificial colors, for both sandwiches and salads. All produce and other meats get the same diligent approach, ensuring that every ingredient comes from reputable purveyors and exceeds food safety regulations. Nowadays, with more than 400 locations nationwide, things are looking up for this sandwich-slinger.
One of the biggest and most prolific fast-food chains in America, Panera Bread is a titan among sandwich destinations. Not only does it boast more than 2,000 locations nationwide, but it ranked second in terms of sales last year, trailing only Subway. But unlike the ubiquitous top earner, and no matter how widespread it gets, Panera has always been a brand that's clung to quality. With its enduring reputation for having some of the healthiest sandwiches from a chain, the company goes to great lengths to uphold its ethos, sourcing things like peppadew peppers from South Africa, and publishing detailed animal welfare statements and responsibility reports.
"Creating meals with fresh, seasonal ingredients is what gives our food that fresh-from-the-field flavor," states Panera. "We've been forging strong relationships with our farmers and producers for years—people who are as passionate about quality and safety as we are—allowing us to bring high-quality ingredients to our guests. We source most of our ingredients from North America, but we'll venture beyond our continent in search of special ingredients that add a distinctive flavor." Panera also employs a "No No List," illustrating strict standards when it comes to quality, and what it will and won't serve. "If an ingredient can't meet our standards for clean, we simply don't put it in our pantry." With annual sales nearing $5 billion, it's proof that going the extra miles pays off.
With a name like Homegrown, you can rest assured a certain degree of wholesome cookery is happening at this Seattle-born mini chain. While it may only boast a smattering of locations in Washington State, it's yet another example of quality over quantity, with enough of a dedicated following of loyal fans to earn it a spot on a recent list of chains on the rise. This is a brand that's so serious about quality control that it literally has its own farm. Beyond growing and sourcing its own ingredients, Homegrown also aligns with organic farmers and producers to fill up its menu with top-notch produce, tofu, and eggs. Plus, it uses 100% non-GMO breads from artisanal bakeries.
A heartwarming success story out of Jacksonville, Fla., Firehouse Subs is a business that not only makes some of the best fast-food sandwiches in the country, using some of the freshest meats to boot, but the chain also donates to charity through its own Firehouse subs Public Safety Foundation. Founded by firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen, and endorsed by chefs, the wholesome company has evolved organically to become one of the most profitable sandwich chains in the country. Highly mindful about its ingredients, Firehouse Subs is another prolific company that—no matter how big it gets—adheres to quality and craft, working with specific purveyors like New York's Katz's Deli for pickles and Texas' own Saddler's Smokehouse for brisket.
Any chain with "farms" in the name is bound to taste good. Indeed, that's all part of the transparency and legitimacy of Mendocino Farms, a homespun sandwich shop out of Los Angeles, that has slowly grown to more than 50 locations throughout California, Texas, and Washington. For discerning diners looking for a farm-to-table approach with a side of innovation, Mendocino Farms features "Cheffy Sandwiches" that offer creative seasonal fare like Peruvian steak with Oaxacan cheese on toasted potato rolls, or a vegan banh mi with baked tofu on panini-pressed ciabatta.
Not only is everything vibrant, fresh, and wholly original, but you can rest assured that they're the best of the best. "We source each ingredient with care from farmers and food artisans who share our elevated standards for quality—working locally with our neighbors when possible," explains the company. "Those high standards include no added hormones, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, or artificial flavors ever and a commitment to environmental and social responsibility."