The food: Milkshakes, malteds, and submarine sandwiches—hot or cold—are the staples of this Chicago-based chain. Popular sandwiches include the Italian (a mix of capicola ham, mortadella, pepperoni, salami, and provolone) and the Wreck (a pileup of roast beef, turkey, salami, ham, and Swiss cheese). Choose from optional toppings that go beyond lettuce and tomato—including fiery peppers, pickles, and Italian seasoning. Made-to-order salads, a recent addition to the menu, are largely dressed up with sandwich meats and fillings (chopped salami, chicken salad) along with bleu cheese, dried cranberries, and artichoke hearts.
The scene: Potbelly got its start in the late 1970s as a sandwich counter set in an antiques shop. Although the chain is now national, its roots are evident in the aged mirrors, period light fixtures, and artfully scuffed woodwork. Is that a live acoustic guitarist? Could be. A loftlike stage above the door often features local artists strumming for the lunch crowd.
What’s nearby: Located on the fringe of Penn Quarter, this branch of Potbelly is between the Metro Center station (Orange, Blue, and Red lines) and Federal Triangle station (Orange and Blue). The Warner and National theaters are within two blocks, and the Mall’s monuments and museums are about four blocks south. The Reynolds Center (National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum) and International Spy Museum are a short walk to the east.
Insider tip: Feeding a group of six or more? Customize a Box o’ Sandwiches to include a sandwich, chips, and a cookie for less than $6 a person.