Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
If a hug from your grandmother could be turned into a sandwich, it'd be grilled cheese. From the toasty, crunchy bread outside to the gooey, cheesy goodness inside, it's the stuff summer breaks and rainy days in our childhoods are made of. But as we grow older, it's important to expand our palates and try new foods. Of course, nobody said those new foods couldn't be stuffed between two slices of bread with a slab of cheese and thrown on the griddle. Here are some of our favorite traditional and less-convential takes on the grilled cheese we've come across in our Sandwich Stalker series and beyond.
Burrata Grilled Cheese
Where: Recette New York, NY
What: Burrata, for the uninitiated, is like mozzarella within more mozzarella—a sort of meta-mozzarella. True mozzarella is made from a network of soft, stringy shreds called stracciatella, kneaded together until they form the pliant, melty cheese we know and love. Burrata starts the same way, but a mozzarella casing is then filled with cream and more stracciatella. Cut it open and its soft, creamy innards spill out, even sweeter, creamier and more compelling than the best mozzarella itself. We could easily get distracted talking about burrata. So let’s get back to the sandwich. Grilled sourdough Pullman from the Sullivan Street Bakery surrounds perfectly melty burrata and, for the adventurous, bacon or chorizo; all with a house-made romesco on the side.
Boudin Grilled Cheese
Where: Hot Joy, in San Antonio, TX
What: Hot Joy didn't invent the boudin grilled cheese; they freely cite Johnson’s Boucaniere in Lafayette, LA, as the creator. But with a menu that works Asian flavors into southern and Cajun dishes, they've created a version that's totally unique. Hot Joy's house boudin—a traditional Cajun sausage make with pork, cooked rice, and spices—is the star, with nori and dashi to add a distinct Japanese influence. That boudin is pressed into a hot, overstuffed sandwich with melty American cheese, bonito, pickles, Kewpie mayonnaise, and tonkatsu sauce (like a Japanese barbecue sauce in its sweet-and-savory flavors). The result is a sandwich that's half Japanese junk food, half pure Cajun… and who could fault that combination?
Spicy Kimchi Reuben
Where: Drink.Well Austin, TX
What: On its own, the Reuben—corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut, Russian dressing—is a nearly perfect sandwich. It hits all the pleasure points: meaty and cheesy and amply condiment-ed. But there's always room for experimentation. At Drink.Well, house-made rye bread (baked to their exacting New York standards) is topped with corned beef, kimchi and Swiss cheese, plus a house-made Russian dressing. The warm bread and melted cheese mix with the bright and crunchy kimchi and a generous amount of dressing, creating lots of textures and a bit of a kick.
Lobster Grilled Cheese
Where: Ambrose Beer and Lobster New York, NY
What: Simply put, it mashes two of history's great sandwiches into one. At Ambrose Beer and Lobster, New York City’s laid-back seafood spot at South Street Seaport, chef Jason Mayer has mastered the combination and ensures a perfect, crisp crust on his sourdough bread by brushing the outside with mayo instead of butter. The bread is a rustic sourdough, hearty enough to stand up to the hefty filling but sliced thinly enough that it is easy to crunch through. Of course the star here, undoubtedly, is the quarter pound of fresh lobster, but a heavy helping of gooey Havarti cheese mixes beautifully.
Feeling adventurous? Whip up your own homemade version with this recipe from chef Mayer himself.
Where: Osteria Moorestown outside Philadelphia, PA
What: Chef-partner Brad Spence takes the cubano format (pork, Swiss, mustard, pickles) and Italianizes it with house-made porchetta—one of the best sandwich ideas we've heard in a long time. The bread is a baked in-house classic cubano-style long roll—crusty and sturdy enough to support a whole lotta pig. The key ingredient: porchetta that the restaurant makes just for this sandwich. The tonnato sauce is a creamy, mayo-like condiment that uses Sicilian tuna as its base. (Trust us, you want this.) And to make it a cubano, there are the essentials: Swiss, pickles and grain mustard.
Where: Early Brooklyn, NY
What: For generations, people invented some of the world's best foods out of necessity. That’s how Poland’s most popular street food was first born in kitchens under the Iron Curtain. Chefs scraped together meager Communist-era rations for open-faced sandwiches called zapiekanki, or zappies—usually stale bread, mushrooms, onions and government cheese, sometimes with a douse of ketchup. The zappie at Early fits in perfectly with the Brooklyn hipsters always on the hunt for upscale street food, but it keeps just enough Polish tradition in it that the old-timers order them up as well. Start with a fresh, hollowed-out baguette, toasted and crisp. No more stale bread—thank goodness the Iron Curtain lifted. The filling is a nod to the original with caramelized onions and mushrooms sautéed with garlic, but then it gets topped with melted Fontina and truffle oil.
Corned Lamb Tongue Panini
Where: Love and Salt Los Angeles, CA
What: How do you take a Reuben—a classic Jewish-American sandwich served proudly by delis across the nation—and give it a new twist? Though the squeamish may cringe, tongue is a fantastic sandwich filler—mellow in flavor and tender in texture. Chef Michael Fiorelli's corned tongue is a great substitution for the traditional corned beef. And since a Reuben demands a blanket of melted cheese and a little something tangy, Fiorelli devised smart substitutes for those elements, too. First, cocktail-sized rye toasts are the bread of choice for this vaguely Reuben-like creation. The corned lamb is the star, with melted Fontina cheese to drape over the top and bubble out around the edges. Tomato aioli further ups the flavor, and pickled peppers sub in for the sauerkraut.
Grilled Cheese PB & J
What: South Water Kitchen Chicago, Il
Where: No, we're not talking about smashing together Skippy and melted Kraft Singles (although that does sound...interesting). The "PB" in this case is pear and brie; the jelly, a blueberry jam. And the whole thing has the beautifully butter-crisped bread of every great grilled cheese. It's a tremendously satisfying, melty-oozy sandwich that has "winter comfort food" written all over it. On the outside, whole-wheat sandwich bread, which gets butter-griddled for maximum crisp. On the inside, the brie may be the starring attraction here, but thin pear slices and blueberry jam remind you, with perhaps a little childhood flashback, how great fruit in a sandwich can be.
Texas Rachel in a Skirt
Where: Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar Somerville, MA
What: Though the name sounds like a gimmick, it's actually quite literal. The "Rachel" is a relative of the classic Reuben and uses coleslaw instead of sauerkraut, and, generally, pastrami instead of the corned beef. At Rosebud, chef John Delpha, who has a background in competition barbecue, makes his a Texas Rachel by swapping in barbecued brisket (and barbecue onions). And that skirt? The cheese melts and bubbles down over the edges, crisping up where it hits the griddle and forming a distinct, crunchy "skirt." It’s like what you’d find on the edges of your grilled cheese, only better. The bread? Classic rye is the only proper vehicle for a Reuben-inspired sandwich, no matter how unorthodox. A heaping mound of brisket and onions is clearly the main attraction. But coleslaw and horseradish “wonder” sauce do just enough to cut the deliciously fatty meat's richness, which the cheese skirt gives an appealing, toasty crunch that puts this sandwich in a league of its own.
Pierogies N’ At
Where: The Yard Pittsburgh, PA
What: Named in Pittsburgh vernacular, the Pierogies N’ At is a veritable carb-on-carb gut bomb, not only encasing dumplings in bread, but adding sausage and more to the pile. Inside are pierogies, joined by their classic accompaniment, kielbasa, along with sauerkraut and sautéed onions. It’s all piled together wtih cheddar and Gouda and served between thick-cut Texas toast, made by a local bakery. Yinz better be hungry for this one.
Where: La Maison du Croque Monsieur New York, NY
What: Ham and cheese sandwiches have a home in many nations, but it’s no surprise that the French have a particular way with theirs. There’s the sexy name, croque-monsieur, there’s the nutty, tangy Gruyère and, of course, there’s the sultry blanket of béchamel sauce, bubbling and brown served on French pain de mie. If the standard croque at La Maison (with your choice of five high-end cheeses) doesn’t satisfy, consider a dozen more options—from the vegetarian Mr. Charley to the bresaola-mozzarella Mr. Eduardo.
Caviar Croque Madame
Where: Petrossian West Hollywood, CA
What: The croque is built on a base of rich, buttery brioche and gets topped with Petrossian's Papierusse– a sheet of pressed caviar, created through the magic of sous vide, which gives you a perfect layer of the decadent little eggs. The brioche and caviar are joined by melted Comté cheese, silky béchamel and a sunny-side-up egg. It's hard to improve upon the combination of runny egg yolk and caviar, and, thankfully, there's ample brioche to soak it up.
Panisse & Fried Mortadella
Where: Kat & Theo New York, NY
Where: Mission Cheese San Francisco, CA
What: Imagine a favorite food of your youth elevated to great new heights, and you’ve got Mission Cheese’s very popular California Gold sandwich. A panini press coaxes the very best from the quality ingredients – think Josey Baker's levain, San Joaquin Gold (a cheddar-like cheese), chevre, La Quercia prosciutto, and Dalmatia fig preserves – and the resulting sandwich is crispy, gooey, savory, sweet, and completely irresistible. Before you know it, you’ll be ordering another.
Grilled Cheese Taco
Where: We found this one on comfort food site The Food in my Beard.
What: The taco shell is made out of a sliced loaf of Italian bread rather than a traditional taco shell. Creator Dan Whalen uses different sized pieces of bread for his grilled cheese foundation to make it more fold-friendly. When he presses the grilled cheese on the grill, it flattens the bread into a more taco-like form. The taco portion involves a traditional Tex-Mex combination of ground beef, salsa, cheese, and sour cream. However, this can easily work with any of your favorite fillings.
Cinnamon Sugar Grilled Cheese
Where: Your kitchen, courtesy of Spoon University
What: Cinnamon toast breakfast + classic grilled cheese lunch = the ultimate sweet and savory brunch. This cinnamon sugar white cheddar grilled cheese is unlike anything you’ve ever heard of. Your palate will never be more confused and satisfied at the same time. The recipe is super simple, so make your own!
Rainbow Grilled Cheese
Where: Kala Toast, Hong Kong
What: Kala Toast is not new to the world of rainbow sandwiches. It’s got pics of wildly-colored grilled cheeses on its Instagram account going back nearly half a year. But these trippy sandwiches have recently garnered attention in the States thanks to our current obsession with everything “rainbow-ized” – though for Kala Toast’s product, some prefer the phrase “unicorn grilled cheese” over “rainbow.” Apparently, the sandwich’s wide range of colored cheeses is more than just a visual stunt too. Each color actually has a different flavor: blue is lavender, green is basil, red is tomato, and yellow is a cheese blend. So good luck trying to recreate this cheesy masterpiece with a standard food coloring set.