After your third visit to Potbelly’s or Subway in one week, we’re sure you could use some variety in your lunchtime sandwich repertoire. So we had Nancy Farrell, MS, RD, take a look at some of DC’s most popular sandwich trucks and choose their best offerings.
“Some of these places are not the healthiest options,” she says. “Many of these sandwiches use high-sodium meats, pickled vegetables, and rich cheeses. Lean toward the fresh vegetables. Use of fruit or veggies is a must.”
A few of the sandwiches below may fall short of wholesome perfection, but they represent the best of their respective trucks.
The truck uses Lyon Bakery bread and tasty, healthy ingredients, but Farrell has reservations about the size. Although ficelles are skinny, the length makes them too much to eat in one sitting. “If you get a six-inch hoagie, that’s about three servings of bread, so I wouldn’t go over [that],” she says.
Best meat—Davis: It’s a lean, well-balanced meal of chicken breast, parsley, lemon aïoli, almonds, avocado, and romaine lettuce. But our dietitian points out aïoli is a garlic mayo that should be spread thinly or avoided entirely.
Best vegetarian—Perilli: “This one has eggplant, which is really good,” Farrell says. It also offers tomato caponata, fresh mozzarella, and roasted garlic aïoli.
These Uruguayan chivitos are built with homemade bread, thinly sliced meat, your choice of toppings, and spicy mojo sauce, and complemented with a fried egg.
Best—Classic with your choice of meat: The tried-and-true classic is simply lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, and a fried egg. “I’d order the classic and hold the fried egg,” Farrell recommends. “The variation in meats (chicken, beef, or pork) really won’t make that significant of a difference in terms of nutrition.”
All three signature Cuban sandwiches contain meat as a standard but can be ordered vegan as an alternative.
Best—Chicken Chiang Mai: This combo of kaffir-lime-marinated chicken, charred tomato salsa, pickled onions, avocado, and baby arugula is a winner. Farrell says, “The tomato salsa provides the phytonutrient lycopene, which aids in cancer prevention. The avocado provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and the arugula is a crisp way to gain omega-3 fats in your meal.”
At the newest establishment on this list (both its brick-and-mortar counterpart and the truck itself), you’ll find international city-themed sandwiches with premium ingredients, which were a big hit with our expert.
Best meat—Havana: It’s a simple sandwich with roasted pork, Gruyère, pickles, and Dijonnaise. “It has roasted pork rather than high-sodium ham,” she says, “but the real trick here is whether the pork is lean.”
Best vegetarian—Isfahan: There’s egg, soufflé, and tzatziki sauce, which makes for a well-balanced meal. “The egg has some fat but it’s also a complete protein source, the soufflé has veggies, berries, and heart-healthy walnuts, and the Greek yogurt dip also helps to make this item sound appealing,” Farrell explains.
The talented (if ubiquitous) José Andrés tries his hand at mobile meals with these Spanish sandwiches. Of course, with ingredients like Ibérico pork and Manchego cheese, it’s fair to say this truck is in its own league.
Best meat—Peplito de Ternea: Seared beef tenderloin, caramelized onions, corn, and blue cheese make for a tasty meal. Farrell points out the tenderloin is a lean meat, which provides iron and protein without packing on calories.
Best vegetarian—Escalivada: Eggplant makes another appearance, along with red peppers, sweet onions, spinach, and mojo rojo sauce.
PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME
The menu reads more like youngsters’ lunchbox dreams than a roster of healthy choices. You can opt to build your own sandwich, but we’re not sure we recommend that with a menu that includes Marshmallow Fluff as one of the options.
Best: If you really can’t say no, our expert says the Elvis (peanut butter, honey, applewood-smoked bacon, and banana on challah)—minus the bacon—might be your best bet.
Although panini often get a bad rap for their reliance on gooey cheese, and it’s unclear what Amorini sauce is, Farrell found favor with these panini purveyors.
Best meat—Chicken basil pesto and the Capitol roast beef: Farrell says, “Both appear to have a lean meat, a cheese, vegetables, and a lighter sauce rather than ranch dressing.”
Best vegetarian—Caprese: It’s simple, it’s time tested, and it’s packed with nutrients, protein, calcium, and more.