Where to Eat Downtown: Sam LaGrassa’s

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Posted June 21, 2013 by Rachel Leah Blumenthal in Downtown Crossing
Sam LaGrassa's Sign

Wondering where to eat downtown midday? If there’s one trend among the majority of Downtown Crossing restaurants, it’s that they know how to feed the hungry weekday lunch crowd. From food court sushi to quick tacos to hearty sandwiches, it’s a playground of fast and delicious options. Since 1968, Sam LaGrassa’s has been the backbone of the lunchtime rush—even declaring itself to have the “world’s no. 1 sandwiches.”

Any evidence of an actual “world’s best” honor is either buried deep in the past or nonexistent, but the restaurant is at least the best in Boston, as far as TripAdvisor is concerned. Based on user reviews, it’s number 1 out of 2,656 Boston restaurants, edging out higher-end destinations Island Creek Oyster Bar and Deuxave, which hold the second and third spots, respectively. Sam LaGrassa’s has also been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Self-declarations of “best” this and “number one” that always make me raise an eyebrow, but a 45-year-old restaurant that continues to draw huge crowds must be doing something right. I called up my trusty lunch companion and met her at Sam’s at 11 a.m. on the dot, opening time. On previous forays past the Province Street spot, I had noticed a full house between noon and 1 p.m. Our attempt to beat the rush was successful, and we happily claimed a table in the small dining area.

I’m a bit of a sandwich purist. Give me meat, fancy bread, and maybe a solitary topping or two (but never mayo) and I’m ecstatic. I have no need for tons of condiments and add-ons. Scanning the menu, I was pleased to find that there was a variety of appetizing options that met my picky needs: Did I want the aged black angus roast beef on an asiago roll? Or perhaps the “fresh from the pot” corned beef with swiss cheese on pumpernickel? Neither, as it turns out. Once I noticed the chicken parmigiana, I knew I had no choice but to stuff myself full of marinara, mozzarella, and basil.

I ordered at the front and traveled quickly down the counter to the register, where my sandwich appeared almost instantaneously.

Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana at Sam Lagrassa’s Photo Credit: Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The sandwich was exceptionally good—from the perfectly soft Italian sesame roll to the tender chicken, sweet tomato sauce, and fresh basil. It’s a good thing the location is inconvenient for me or I’d be destroying my healthy eating plan on a daily basis, one chicken parmigiana sandwich at a time. Ultimately, I could only finish half, and my boyfriend was the lucky recipient of the other half as I passed by his workplace on my way home.

Asiago turkey sandwich

Asiago turkey sandwich at Sam LaGrassa’s. Photo Credit: Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Meanwhile, my friend ordered the asiago turkey sandwich: oven-roasted turkey with chipotle mayo, thin-sliced bermuda onions, pepper jack cheese, and roasted red peppers on an asiago roll. The sandwich was a bit heavy on the mayo, but my friend particularly enjoyed the peppers and the bread. Aside from the mayo, her only complaint was that it was physically awkward to eat. Many of Sam LaGrassa’s sandwiches resemble nearly unscalable meat mountains, piled impossibly high in the middle and tapering toward either side. While biting an edge will give you a good cross-section of the contents of the sandwich, you might end up with mouthfuls of just meat once you hit the center. I suppose that’s not the worst fate in the world.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the order of fries that my friend and I split, as it was the epitome of the perfect steak fry: soft on the inside, lightly crispy along the edges, and just barely salted. No, we definitely didn’t need these in addition to our huge sandwiches, but my only regret is that now I’ll need to order them again on all my future visits.

As one of the older restaurants in Downtown Crossing, Sam LaGrassa’s has really perfected its technique over the years. As we ate, the restaurant got a lot busier, but the ordering process flowed smoothly—sandwiches appeared right away, and tables were cleared quickly. Through it all, the staff remained upbeat and friendly as the line grew longer and catering orders flew out the door nonstop. The next time you’re wondering where to eat downtown, consider Sam LaGrassa’s for their unique sandwiches.

Located at 44 Province Street, Sam LaGrassa’s is open from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and closed on weekends. Get there before 11:30 if you want to dine in, or be prepared to hover.

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