From the Sloppy Joe to the Taylor ham, egg, and cheese, these are the sandwiches you need to track down on your next visit.

By Bridget Hallinan
July 25, 2019
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As someone born and raised in New Jersey, I've long revered the sandwich. No road trip is complete without a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese for breakfast, the aluminum foil wrapper crinkling as I peel back the layers and inevitably smear ketchup all over my hands. During high school, the highlight of my study hall break was venturing off-campus to the deli, so I could grab an enormous hero sandwich to tide me over through the rest of the day. Although New Yorkers will try to claim (wrongly, in my opinion) that they have the best pizza and bagels, even they can’t deny that sandwiches are something that we do exceedingly, unbelievably well. It’s why every strip mall you drive by houses a deli and/or a bagel shop; they tend to accrue huge lines, and some even have to give out tickets to form some semblance of organization. That being said, I feel it's high time our sandwiches got the love and spotlight they deserve.

Enter our list of eight essential New Jersey sandwiches—a mix of obvious superstars like the Italian hero, as well as the ones I grew up loving, like the impossibly unhealthy, wonderful "fat sandwich" (more on that in a minute). I also did some polling on social media to gather the opinions of the masses (turns out, you’re all very passionate about breakfast sandwiches), and included the top results. Curious? Read on to find out which sandwiches made the cut.

The Taylor Ham, Egg, & Cheese

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Let’s get this straight—I’m from North Jersey, so I say "Taylor ham." If you want to say "pork roll" like South Jersey, be my guest, but you’re also wrong. (I kid, I kid.) Regardless, we can probably all agree on what constitutes the perfect TEC, a bagel store and deli classic. Layers of crisped, salty Taylor ham; gooey American cheese that oozes slightly out of the sandwich with every bite; and a fried egg, all piled onto a bagel or hard roll, depending on your preference. (I like an egg bagel with everything seasoning.) Of course, you can’t forget the all-important “SPK” topping, also known as salt-pepper-ketchup. This should be said as one word when you order, quickly, because bagel store lines are long and you don’t want to hold up other customers at 7 a.m.—hell hath no fury like a hungry New Jersey resident. 

The Fat Sandwich

Diners may be the obvious late-night destination in New Jersey (hello, disco fries), but the state’s other after-midnight claim to fame is the fat sandwich. Invented at the Rutgers New Brunswick campus by a food truck called “RU Hungry?” in the late 1970s, this is about as lawless a sandwich as it gets. Think of all of your favorite junk foods—chicken fingers, fries, mozzarella sticks, mac n’ cheese bites, fried pickles—and imagine them piled into a roll, doused in sauces like buffalo ranch and ketchup. It’s the ultimate hangover cure. 

RU Hungry’s original sandwich was the “Fat Cat,” which combined two cheeseburgers (two!) and fries into one sandwich, but since then, fat sandwich-hawking shops and delis all over New Jersey have created their own variations. Hoagie Haven in Princeton has a sandwich called the “Body Bag,” in case you had any illusions about how healthy (read: unhealthy) these greasy masterpieces are; at Cars in Ramsey, my go-to order is the “Fat Reptar,” with cheesesteak, chicken tenders, Mac n’ cheese bites, jalapeño slices, and buffalo-ranch dressing. They may sound heavy, but to me, they’re perfectly, insanely delicious—and that’s a hill I’ll die on.  

The Classic Italian Hero

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You were expecting this one, weren’t you? This is the ultimate Italian deli sandwich—call it a hero, sub, or hoagie, but the ingredients are usually all the same. Sliced cured meats (such as ham, salami, cappicola, pepperoni, and mortadella), cheese (usually provolone), lettuce, tomato, onions, and oil and vinegar to top it off. There should be just enough dressing on the sandwich that the bread is moistened and the wrappings are slightly greasy; some delis and sandwich shops also like to add pepperoncini, for a kick. The end result is salty, savory, and always, always a good idea.

The Meatball Sub

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If you’re hungry and like meat, this is the sandwich for you. Bright marinara sauce and juicy meatballs are loaded into a long roll, and then covered in a swath of cheese—provolone or mozzarella—with a dusting of Parmesan as the finishing touch. They’re toasted until they’re perfectly warm and melty, which produces some seriously glorious cheese pulls when you dig in. Meatball subs are the ultimate stick-to-your-ribs food, and you can find them at pretty much any Italian deli.

The Sloppy Joe

Before you ask—no, this is not a “Manwich”-esque Sloppy Joe with ground beef. This Sloppy Joe sandwich is hugely popular in New Jersey, and was first invented at the Town Hall Deli in South Orange. It’s a super satisfying double decker comprised of two types of meat (usually turkey and roast beef, but some like corned beef or ham thrown into the mix), combined with Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on rye. Think of it as a cold spin-off of the reuben without the sauerkraut.  

The Chicken Parm

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This is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s incredible. Take a chicken cutlet, breaded and fried with a delicious crust, and slather it in marinara sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, with mozzarella for creaminess. Like its cousin the meatball hero, it’s toasted until warm and served on a long roll. This iconic sandwich can be found in delis and sandwich shops, but they're also popular diner orders, too. (Depending on how good your local diner is.)

The Eggplant and Mozzarella Underdog

Bridget Hallinan

Admittedly, this is a dark horse—most delis offer some variation of this sandwich, but you definitely won’t find it on a list of iconic New Jersey foods. However, it happens to be my all-time favorite sandwich, and if you’re traveling to New Jersey soon, you should give it a shot. The bright roasted red pepper contrasts against the creamy mozzarella, while the eggplant brings a savory, slightly bitter flavor. Punctuated by the acidity of the balsamic vinegar, it’s perfect served cold on Italian bread. I love to order them in the summer and eat them outside—just make sure to bring a few napkins, since the red pepper juice tends to dribble once you bite.

The Tomato Sandwich 

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New Jersey is famous for their tomatoes—they’re said to be some of the best, if not the best, in the country. This is a sandwich my mom grew up eating, and it’s one of the best ways to enjoy tomatoes in all of their glory. Season the tomato slices with salt to draw out the juices, then sandwich them between two white bread slices slicked with mayo. It’s simple and refreshing, best enjoyed in the summer when tomato season reaches its peak.

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