Updated in 2021!
Every time I've had a great sandwich while travelling, I remember every detail. Like the cranberry and Brie on herb bread that I devoured in Bath, England. Or the sliced chicken donair on white baguette with seasoned cabbage and onion in Istanbul - a delight after hours of walking. And the hot, fluffy bread pockets at Paris' Cosi, a cross between pita and focaccia. And there's my absolute favourite: some kind of chicken salad with tomatoes done in a panini press in Lilongwe. I wasn't sure the suspect mayonnaise wouldn't kill me, but it was heaven after months of fish and rice.
Sandwiches are really the perfect food, for travelling and at home. They're quick, easy, affordable, filling, and (if you're lucky!) absolutely delicious! I'm happy to share several of Ottawa's best sandwich shops. These are the places I'm constantly popping into and always urging visitors to try out. Whether you're a local, a backpacker, or a business traveler, I think you'll find something on this list you'll love.
Di Rienzo versus Nicastro's La Botegga
Large Italian buns, heaped with high quality deli meat, topped with cheese, veggies, and mayo or mustard – all for about $7. DiRienzo’s (111 Beach Street) and La Bottega Nicastro (64 George St) are just about even in the race for what could just be the best classic sandwich in Ottawa – the portions are massive, the prices are small, and it all tastes delicious. I’m rather boring and I always go for turkey and provolone but you could also grab something like pork, Swiss, and eggplant or Hungarian salami, mozzarella, and hot peppers.
So who is ultimately better? La Bottega wins by a hair for me but everyone in Ottawa has their own opinion and who am I to argue?
Bagel Run Bagels
With all due respect to New Yorkers, you really haven’t lived until you've tried a Montreal bagel. They are absolutely divine and will forever change the way you've thought about bread. And Ottawa is one of the few places you can get fresh, authentic, Montreal-style bagels outside of Quebec. The most underrated bakery (in my opinion) is Bagel Run (2026 Tenth Line Rd) a small east-end bagel, desert, soup, and sandwich shop.
Your sandwich options range from the humble bagel and cream cheese (I highly recommend an onion bagel and garlic cream cheese - go big or go home!) to over a dozen options for much heartier fare. There are delicious combos not found at any other sandwich shop and most are priced around the $6-$7 mark.
Morning Owl does some of the very best coffee in Ottawa and they are one of the very few places in town where you can get a true-blue old fashioned Australia flat white. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the best thing they make are their sandwiches. At the Morning Owl Coffee House (multiple locations, I love the shop at 538 Rochester), you can pick up the Mushroom Melt (sautéed onions, roasted balsamic tomatoes, greens, herb mayo, whipped cream cheese & potato chips) or a ham & brie with arugula, caramelized onions, and dijonaise or my favourite of all: Mango chicken curry with celery, mango, sour cream, spices and topped with arugula and chips!
People who love shawarma will rightly say that Ottawa serves the best shawarma in North America. For those who haven’t tried this savory delight, shawarma refers to a vertical spit of meat, slow roasted for hours until it’s perfect to shave off slices for an incredible sandwich made with pita, fresh and pickled vegetables, and succulent sauces. There are hundreds of shawarma shops in Ottawa, but I contend that the best of the best is Shawarma Chef in Orleans (2012 Tenth Line). The little shop is sparkling clean, the food is all fresh, and the staff are friendly and down to earth. A small vegetarian sandwich will run about $6, while a large meat sandwich is about $9.50. I take mine with chicken, garlic sauce, lettuce, spice-dusted onions, tomatoes, and a touch of pickled turnip and I can never finish a large.
If you want to feel just a little bit fancy when you eat your sandwich, grab one from the SconeWitch (150 Elgin plus other locations). Their fresh baked scones are buttery, fluffy, ridiculously delicious, and make the perfect base for unique sandwiches. My favourite combination is cream cheese with cucumber and cranberry mango chutney on an herb and onion scone. The SconeWitch is such a friendly, casual environment but you can’t help but feel elegant when you eat your treat with a knife and fork. Be sure to pick up a dozen scones with you when you go - a box from the SconeWitch is the easiest way make new friends!
I know, I know - this list heavily favours east end locations. I can't help it - it's my neighbourhood! But I couldn't not include LunchBox (2816 St. Joseph Blvd) on this list. Honestly, I think they are the best sandwich shop in the entire city. Following a nostalgic, school room theme, each sandwich has a cute, inspired name and a great list of ingredients.
My absolute favourite is the Sean Evans, a combination of cold fried chicken tossed in hot sauce, caramelized onions, tomato, dill mayo, chili pepper cream cheese, potato chips, and greens (though I always ask for slaw instead of greens.) I don't know anyone who has ordered this and not fallen in love My runner up has to be the Summer Dress, which contains roast chicken, bacon, berry goat cheese, cashew, lemon-pepper mayo. They have gluten free and vegan options, plus superb sides like homemade potato salad, slaw, and inventive salads. You can even get teeny containers of edible cookie dough for dessert.
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