New Riffs on Santiago’s Old-School Sandwich Shops
If you ask anyone in Santiago to bring you to their favorite restaurant, it’s most likely a sangucherìa, an old-school sandwich shop with the same staff that has been working the grill for decades. So it’s no surprise that a fresh crop of sangucherías is taking root amid the Chilean capital’s thriving food scene, riffing on traditional preparations and the typically kitschy settings.
The first thing you see at José Ramón 277, in the Belle Époque-style Lastarria neighborhood near the Museo de Artes Visuales, is the long bar with a row of draft handles, pouring a chalkboard list of beers from Chilean craft breweries like Jester and Nómade. Many of the sandwiches seem familiar, such as the lengua, or beef tongue, and arrollado, or pork roll. Homemade hot sauces and pickled mustard seeds with honey and ginger are already on the table. Yet, when they arrive on old-fashioned enamel trays, inside a typical crusty French roll called the marraqueta, there are ingredients like caramelized onions and goat cheese that some traditionalists might call sacrilegious.
Chile has a little known yet widespread sandwich culture that dates back a century. Traditional menus tend to feature a nearly identical list of meats and toppings. Classic sandwich shops such as Lomit’s or Fuente Alemana have their own lingo, like ordering a particular sandwich as a completo (sauerkraut and mustard) or Italiano (avocado, tomatoes and mayo), distinctions that aren’t always on the menu but universally offered. Portion sizes are big, so Chilean sandwiches are almost always consumed seated with fork and knife.
“We love sandwiches because they incarnate the holy Chilean trinity,” the Chilean food writer Isidora Díaz told me. “There’s freshly baked bread, the heritage of French and German immigrants; mashed avocado, which our land makes creamier than anywhere else; and house-made mayonnaise, always beaten with love.”
In contrast to older sangucherías, established a half century ago and often defined by worn wood tables and lace curtains, the new wave of Chilean sandwich shops is youth driven, with industrial features like exposed metal beams and hanging Edison bulbs. This latest crop of sangucherías that has opened over the past few years breaks rules with ingredients such as octopus, pastel de choclo or beer-battered Patagonia merluza, served alongside local craft beers.
In the well-to-do Bellas Artes neighborhood, Marilyn has the same owners as the hip restobar Opera Catedral next door and the lively vibe carries over. The one room has only stools around a white, minimalist horseshoe rectangular bar where servers will slide out sandwiches like smoked salmon on a croissant or stewed beef neck with avocado. At Ciudad Vieja in bohemian Bellavista, the clunky wood tables and floors evoke an old tavern, yet the sandwiches trend toward experimental. Stuffed into a bun might be a regional dish like curanto, smoked pork and seafood that’s traditionally cooked together in an earthen oven, or stewed tripe with smoked sausage.
In bustling Providencia, La Resistencia spills out in the interior of a small shopping center and on a patio fronting a leafy alleyway in bustling Providencia. There’s nothing traditional on the long menu unless you consider its version of a barros luco, though even it swaps grilled beef for roast beef and bacon. Like sprawling La Maestranza in upscale Vitacura, it aligns itself with the gourmet burger trend, which has taken hold in Santiago, too. Both restaurants list as many burgers as they do sandwiches.
Ingredients such as smoked sierra, cochayuyo algae and breads baked rescoldo, a Mapuche method for cooking in ash and embers, all find their way into the sandwiches at Capicúa, also in Providencia. The restaurant, which also has a food truck, makes sandwiches based around the types of breads and ingredients in each region of Chile. For example, king crab croquettes are served on pan frica from Patagonia, while pulled goat meat is paired with a thick, grilled bread called churrasca from the north. At the homey lunch spot Salvador Cocina y Café, which changes its menu daily based on what’s at the market, you’ll always find a couple of sandwich options utilizing pulled pork or pig’s feet on fresh baked marraqueta bread or sometimes as an open faced tostón.
Andrés Vallarino, a Santiago restaurateur who owns the upscale Chilean-style hot dog shop Hogs, as well as the burger shop Burgs and the former sanguchería La Superior, is known for experimenting with new forms of Chilean sandwiches. He explained that he had to look to the past for inspiration.
His restaurants focus on labor-intensive kitchen methods, like slow cooking the meats and making all of the sauces and pickles by hand. “We try to do things the way they were before, like our grandparents, but with the technology and products we can find today.”