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Best Meatball Subs

No matter what you call it—a grinder, hoagie, sub or hero—these meatball sandwiches rule.

April 22, 2021 Kiri Tannenbaum

The Italian-American meatball sub (though the name varies depending on the part of the country), is the best, fork-free way to consume saucy, mozzarella-blanketed meatballs. What’s the key to a great meatball sandwich? The foundation. A sturdy, almost baguette-like bread is required to stand up to the weight of those precious meatballs and prevents sogginess. No matter what you want to call it – a grinder, hoagie, sub, or hero – these meatball sandwiches rule.

24th & Meatballs (Portland, OR)

Owner Adam Berger brings a taste of Jersey, his home state, to the Pacific Northwest at 24th & Meatballs. For his classic meatball hero, he keeps things interesting by adding a little spice. The meatballs are cushioned by local Dos Hermanos bread, which toasts up nice and crunchy on the outside and never gets soggy. At 24th, the hero can be customized by the meatball (Italian, pork picante, chicken parmesan, or vegan balls) and choice of five sauces, including a tomato vodka or arugula pesto. Mix and match to make this meatball sub your own creation.

Photo courtesy of 24th & Meatballs

Napoli Salumeria (Arlington, VA)

This sister spot to Napoli Pasta Bar offers all the grab ‘n go necessities for a leisurely Italian lunch like imported meats, cheeses, pizza, and some serious sandwiches, a.k.a. panini. On the cold side of the panini menu, we favor the roasted veggies with artichoke spread and smoked mozzarella. But, when it comes to hot stuff, we can’t deny the Giacchino, a pork and meatball grinder served with housemade marinara sauce, mozzarella and basil. Don’t forget the vino.

Photo courtesy of Napoli Salumeria

Pizzana (Los Angeles, CA)

Named after Jon Favreau’s grandmother, Pizzana’s Grandma Joan Meatball Sub is as elusive and beloved as the McRib. An offshoot of the menu’s antipasti mainstay, Polpete al Forno, this between-the-bread version pops in and out of availability – and always sells out. Sandwiched inside chef Daniele Uditi’s housemade ciabatta, this hefty sub features three woodfired meatballs doused in San Marzano tomatoes (plus additional sauce for dunking), fior di latte, and fresh basil.

Photo by Dane Deaner, courtesy of Pizzana

Bunk (Portland, OR)

Bunk’s Meatball Parmigiano Hero takes inspiration from owner Tommy Habetz’s East Coast Italian-American heritage (where he points out, they take their meatballs very seriously!). At Bunk, the meatballs are tenderized by a special blend of milk-soaked breadcrumbs, a trick he learned from his mom. Once formed, the balls are roasted at high heat to create a caramelized crust. Then they simmered in marinara sauce and served up on a locally sourced Italian roll with melted, gooey Wisconsin mozzarella combined with Pecorino Romano for added zest.

Photo courtesy of Bunk Sandwiches

Champs and Heroes

Champs and Heroes is bringing back the decade that brought you, Kate Moss, acid-washed denim, bottle service, and legendary sports heroes like No. 23, Michael Jordan. Only now, the heroes here are delivered in the form of stellar sandwiches. The MJ is certainly an all-star of the menu. Served on a sesame studded roll, the MJ is filled with tender meatballs, house red sauce topped with a sprinkling of Parmigiano cheese, and aromatic basil leaves. To finish, you can wash it all down with champagne bubbles to celebrate like a real ‘90s champ.

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