Sandwiches with style
Everyone can make sandwiches, and most of us have been dining on some variation of the staple since we were very young (though we’re glad our memories of bologna and mayonnaise and Wonder bread have faded). Some of us even fancy ourselves as chefs de sandwich, wowing our friends and families with fresh takes on torta, Panini, Monte Cristo, bahn mi, grilled cheese, vada pav and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Chefs have taken on the sandwich with gusto in recent years, and Irvine diners are lucky to have some new and newish spots to enjoy sandwich-makers at the top of their culinary game.
S’wich Bistro is a tiny and tasty hideout that serves as a de facto breakfast, lunch and break room for Blizzard’s gaming group. Open only for a month or two, the cool spot is only open weekdays from 8AM to 4PM, which is unfortunate for those of us who don’t live work within the immediate area. But if you do, or have the freedom to take some time for a fantastic take on the art of sandwich making, it’s a must visit.
The co-owners and co-chefs have big deal dining gigs in their pasts, including OC luxury resorts and high-end seafood spots on the Central Coast. They are friendly and accommodating, and just all around cool. Pretty much everything on the menu (which are pieces of butcher paper pinned to the walls) is under $10, except for one “loaded” hamburger, which goes for $10.95. The chips and fries are homemade, the breakfast burrito is up for best in the city, and the homemade soup is magnificent (don’t miss the clam chowder—it’s addictingly delicious).
But it’s the simple sandwiches at S’wich that we go back for. The chefs aren’t remaking the sandwich world with wild, new variations. They take basics like BLT, Tuna, Chicken Club, Roast Beef, Pastrami and Grilled Cheese and give them an artisan, farm-to-table, locally sourced, homemade upgrade. Slightly more exotic choices like Turkey Pesto and Korean BBQ are equally excellent. And anything with their signature glazed bacon is a must. Vegetarians will love their take on a veggie burger, too, as well as a nice selection of salads we’ve yet to try.
We look forward to the success of S’wich, which hopefully will lead quickly to evening and weekend hours. Or, if the location off of Laguna Cyn. Rd. and Alton is too challenging for that, then we’d love to see a quick second location open up. Also, a small selection of craft beer and wine would be welcome. But those are mere quibbles. We look forward to a long run for the young restaurateurs of S’wich.
Burnt Crumbs has those easy advantages over S’wich in the gourmet sandwich game: it’s open at Los Olivos every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and it has beer. From the same folks that brought Irvine the cool Burntzilla slider and dogs stand, Burnt Crumbs has a select and changing list of gourmet sandwiches that are off-the-charts delicious. Select meaning limited, as they only offer seven or so sandwiches at a time, but that’s enough when it includes a crispy pork sandwich with green chile and pork cracklings, or some of the best pastrami we’ve had in South O.C. And if you haven’t had a spaghetti grilled cheese sandwich before (does it even exist elsewhere?) put it on your bucket list for this weekend.
The avocado toast is also a thing of beauty, as are the hand cut chips and fries. They go quite well with a craft beer, if you’re dining in—though if you have younger kids, the tall bar-like seating at all but one table is an issue.
The Mendocino Farms at University Town Center opened in 2015, and is a favorite with UCI staffers and students, as well as parents who can let their kids play a bit (there’s a designated area for that) while enjoying a mini date night. If that location isn’t convenient, there’s a new one inside the Whole Foods at the Irvine-adjacent The District center in Tustin.
While Mendocino Farms is a growing chain with 14 restaurants in LA and OC, it doesn’t really feel like it. The servers and cashiers are super friendly, offering free samples of deli salads and more.
The hipster-goes-to-the-farm interior design is somehow aesthetically inspired and approachable/comfortable at the same time. The sandwiches are decidedly artisan, with chef-driven, farm-to-table ingredients. The Kurobuta pork belly banh mi, Peruvian steak sandwich and Steak BLT are all standouts. We love that the menu-makers aren’t afraid of spice, including “A Sandwich Study in Heat,” one of our favorite menu items that can be made hotter by request. And currently the Chef’s Pick sandwich is Torta de Pollo Con Caldo, a Mexican-French Dip hybrid piece of deliciousness that should not be missed.