A few weeks ago, a single Australian teenager kicked off a worldwide social-media protest that was, like most social-media protests, a quaint mixture of meaningful activism and outright silliness. It started with a Facebook post showing a "footlong" Subway sandwich next to a tape measure that clearly showed the sandwich measured 11 inches. The photograph was promptly shared thousands of times all around the world, and other people documented their local Subways' shortcomings with their own photos. Three lawsuits were filed against Subway in the United States. Subway Australia responded with a soon-to-be-deleted Facebook post claiming that the footlong name was "not intended to be a measurement of length."
Subway eventually came around, apologizing and promising that all their footlong sandwiches would measure a foot from now on. But what, exactly, did those online protesters win? It's like that awful joke about winning a gold medal at the Special Olympics: The only thing better than winning an extra inch of a Subway sandwich is not eating a Subway sandwich in the first place. There's no reason, when you live in a city, to eat a damned Subway sandwich. No excuses. There's always a better sandwich within five minutes' walk.
Sometimes, there's even a great sandwich. There are at least 10 Subways within a mile of Zaccagni's (97B Pike St, 765-6605), a new lunch counter in Pike Place Market just across from Seattle's Best Newsstand. (Zaccagni's replaced the beautiful Wonder Freeze storefront, and, sadly, the shiny new counter is strikingly dull in comparison to Wonder Freeze's gaudy glory.) They have fewer than half a dozen sandwiches on offer, but any one of those sandwiches would cause a Subway sandwich to shrivel a couple of inches out of sheer shame.
The eggplant Parmesan ($7) is a surprisingly delicate sandwich—the breaded eggplant slices are thin, and there's a manageable amount of marinara spread on top, which the chewy roll from Le Panier manages to absorb without leaving a mess. Those expecting a gutbomb will be disappointed, but the balance is admirable, with the tangy sauce and the lightly fried slices of eggplant playing subtly off each other. Zaccagni's meatball sandwich ($7) isn't the best in the Market—that's still LoPriore Bros., over in Post Alley—but this might be the best eggplant Parmesan within a 10-Subway walk.
Of course, sometimes a delicate sandwich is the exact opposite of what you want. For those times, you should track down the new food truck called Now Make Me a Sandwich (nowmakemeasandwich.com, 714-5090). I'm not generally a fan of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink monster sandwiches, but NMMAS's Bad Lieutenant ($10) is a charmer: pulled pork, bacon, ham, and provolone, topped with chipotle barbecue sauce and apple coleslaw on a grilled telera roll. It's a sloppy mess of a sandwich, but it's also a magical journey through a realm of pork flavors. The bread does its best to contain the force of the different types of meat inside, from the crunchy bacon to the juicy pulled pork, but odds are you'll wind up licking rivers of sweet, smoky barbecue sauce off your fingers no matter how genteelly you attack the thing. Sometimes you have to let a monster be a monster, even if you wind up with a mess, quite literally, on your hands.
There's something to be said for the simple pleasures of crouching over a pile of meat in some frigid South Lake Union alley like an animal as the Amazonians trundle by, but sometimes a roof and walls contribute to the enjoyment of a beastly sandwich. The new location of popular torta shop Barriga Llena (formerly on Aurora, now at 219 Broadway E, 782-1220) will be familiar to many; it's located in the rear of the Broadway Alley, where Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria used to be. (Pupusa lovers should not be too alarmed: Guanaco's is still hale and hearty and frying up yuca in their original location in the U-District.) If the man behind the counter suggests, "You can't go wrong with the barrigona," you should listen to him.
"Barrigón" is Spanish for "potbellied," and the description of the barrigona ($7.95) on the menu clearly explains the name: "Breaded steak, homemade chorizo, pork leg steak, sausage, and cheese." Yes, it's another monster, but it's surprisingly manageable; think of it less as a feeding trough and more of an all-star team. In this sandwich, you get a little bit of everything that makes Barriga Llena such a standout in the field of tortas. The meats are all flavorful, and they play nice with the layers of mayonnaise, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cheese you've come to expect on a fluffy torta roll. With Capitol Hill's recent accumulation of good Mexican food, it's good to specialize: Though Barriga Llena's tortas are more expensive than, say, Rancho Bravo's, they're indisputably tastier, and they've clearly been crafted by sandwich experts.
But enough of the monsters. The most important part of making a sandwich, as exactly no Subway sandwich artist will ever be able to tell you, is balance. When you sit down with a well-balanced sandwich, you never suffer from the desire to measure the thing, snap a cruddy cell-phone picture of it, and slap it up on Facebook. The very new Beacon Ave Sandwiches (2505B Beacon Ave S, 453-4892) is already demonstrating a formidable grasp of balance. Consider El Centro ($7.75), a gorgeous mix of chicken, avocado, spinach, and jalapeños in a nice melted pepper-jack sauce. This is a small sandwich, but it's packed with flavor, heat, and texture. The spinach is crunchy, the chicken is fresh, the cheese sauce adds a little bit of daring to the whole thing, and the pasta salad on the side—every sandwich at Beacon Ave Sandwiches comes with a side of pasta salad—is subtle and filling and thankfully not mayonnaisey. It's a satisfying lunch, but it's not going to make you want to nap the afternoon away or ruin your dinner. From the laid-back counter service, to the friendly neighborhood vibe, to the menu of sandwiches named after local landmarks, to the no-frills decor, everything about Beacon Ave Sandwiches has an effortless sense of balance. Here, you don't need a ruler to tell you whether you're satisfied or not.