The first step is acceptance. Both the Fremont and Ballard branches of Paseo have closed, and you will never get to eat their signature pork sandwich ever again. With its crusty bread, thick slabs of roasted pork, and caramelized onions, it was easily the best sandwich in Seattle. And now it’s gone, already fading into the haze of our collective memory, where no earthly sandwich will ever come close to touching it. How can you compete with the flavor of a nonexistent sandwich, the kind of sandwich that haunts your hunger like a phantom limb? Paseo retired at the top of its game, and so now it’s become a legend.
What are we supposed to do now? Who crafts the new best sandwich in Seattle? Paseo’s sandwiches were so clearly the best in town that there’s not even an obvious second-place sandwich to fill that void. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Seattle is wanting for great sandwiches. In fact, I’d stack our best against any other city.
Just a couple miles down the road from Paseo’s old Fremont location is Martino’s Smoked Meats & Eatery (7410 Greenwood Ave N, 397-4689), a newish Greenwood establishment that’s home to one of the best sandwiches in town: the Santa Maria tri-tip ($10), a juicy, smoky fistful of steak doused in chimichurri, shoved inside a crispy Macrina roll, and topped with a tomato-and-onion salsa. This is a sandwich whose complexity rivals the best of Paseo’s, a meaty thrill-ride that balances out all that delicious flesh with the subtlety of fresh vegetables. It’s transcendent, but it’s definitely a once-in-a-while event. Eating a Santa Maria tri-tip at Martino’s satisfies you in a very real way, but it doesn’t leave you immediately craving another one, the way a Paseo sandwich would.
The best meatball sandwich in town can be found at LoPriore Bros. Pasta Bar (1530 Post Alley, 621-7545), a wonderful East Coast–style lunch counter in the Pike Place Market staffed by garrulous personalities who want to know what you’re up to and where you’re going. The sauce at LoPriore Bros. tastes primarily of garlic and fresh tomatoes, and the meatballs fall apart in your mouth with a little pleasurable sigh. But it’s a knife-and-fork affair, served as it is open-faced on garlic toast made at Pike Place’s own Le Panier. This isn’t a sandwich you could walk with, and that’s a key Best Sandwich requirement.
Pioneer Square has two contenders for the home of Best Sandwich: There’s venerable old Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (309 Third Ave S, 621-8772), and there’s the more recent addition of Tat’s Delicatessen (159 Yesler Way, 264-8287). The “problem” with these two places is that their entire menus are so good, no one item stands out as the best. It’s a great dilemma to have, but would you choose the porchetta sandwich over the pork cheek at Salumi? They’re equally excellent. Would you say the piping-hot Tat’strami is quantifiably better than a Cheez Whiz–covered cheesesteak at Tat’s, or their eggplant Parmesan sandwich, or the Tat’s Italian? You can’t form a cult around a herd of personalities; the simplicity of Paseo’s menu helped make it so singular.
Here’s a balm that I think will give Paseo fans a little bit of solace in these troubled times: Out in West Seattle, walking north from the Junction, you’ll find a cute, low-frills little storefront called Pica Border Grill (4151 California Ave SW, 935-5555). Their pork torta ($8.95) might just dry your tears. It’s ludicrous to think you could simply swap out a torta for a Cuban sandwich as though they’re interchangeable, but you’ll find a lot of the spirit of a Paseo sandwich in Pica’s torta. This thing is a sloppy mess of shredded pork, house-made chorizo, pepper jack cheese, avocado, green salsa, and pico de gallo doused in a mildly spicy house sauce on top of a warm, crunchy-chewy French roll, and while it lacks the balancing lick of mayonnaise that tied the Paseo sandwich together, it’s a magnificent example of sandwichery. Like Paseo’s sandwiches, it’s messy—one bite I took caused a geyser of angry red sauce to erupt from the sandwich and spray over the corner of my mouth—and like Paseo’s, it will leave you happily full but spiritually hungry for more.
I left Pica Border Grill trying to formulate an excuse to return and order the torta all over again as soon as possible, which is the exact response I had when I first visited Paseo. I’m not comfortable crowning this sandwich as the best in town, but it hangs in the same general area as the Santa Maria tri-tip and all the others as a bastion of sandwich excellence, and it’s a much closer cousin to Paseo’s roast pork and midnight press than any of the other sandwiches I’ve mentioned here.
The truth is, the loss of Paseo stings, but we’ve got it good in Seattle. And more shops are opening every week. There are too many sandwich restaurants here for one aficionado to comfortably survey in one week. I’ve heard great things about a place called Bongos Cuban Cafe (6501 Aurora Ave N, 420-8548) as a Paseo replacement, but they’re currently closed and on a sudden (and very Paseo-like) vacation through November 21. Friends have sent me ecstatic text messages while eating the Cuban and pastrami sandwiches at Georgetown’s Hitchcock Deli (6003 12th Ave S, 582-2796). As the best sandwich in town becomes a memory, there’s always the enticing possibility of orgasmic sandwiches yet eaten to urge us into the future.