It’s finally park bench season, and what better way to celebrate than with a sandwich? And what more accessible way to explore an ethnic cuisine than a meal wrapped in a familiar package?
Try scrapping the turkey and cheese one day and eating one of these more adventurous offerings.
Mekong baguette (banh mi)
How much: $6
Where: Mekong Grill, 24 Chestnut St., Ridgewood, 201-445-0011, mekonggrillrestaurant.com
The lowdown: This relatively new restaurant from the owners of the Viet Nam in Spring Valley, N.Y., offers a traditional Vietnamese sandwich — a long, crusty baguette, spread with homemade mayonnaise and paté, layered with just a few slices of Vietnamese-style pork roll and ham, then stuffed with cucumber slices, thin pieces of pickled carrot and daikon, and sprigs of fresh cilantro.
The contrast of rich meats and fresh, crunchy vegetables is enough for us, but “mSandwost Vietnamese, they like it spicy,” says chef-owner Tai Nham. If you do, too, he’s happy to add sriracha or jalapeños, or even tiny, pungent Thai chilies, on request.
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How much: $5
Where: Lezzet Restaurant, 925 Main St., Paterson, 973-278-7800
The lowdown: Lezzet may be an anonymous storefront along busy Main Street in South Paterson, but don't let the appearance fool you. And don't be dissuaded by the lack of English spoken here; owners Naci and Sukran Koc could not be more welcoming.
Just walk into the tiny spot and say "kofte ekmek," the name for a Turkish meatball sandwich. Take a seat at one of the few tables. They'll pick up a skewer of ground beef and start grilling, then neatly arrange slices of tomato and raw onion on a roll from Calandra's. You'll get a sandwich filled with warm, moist meat that has the same appeal as the Mekong baguette — savory meat, crunchy veggies. Grab a bench across the street and watch the bustling Middle Eastern market go on its way.
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How much: $6
The lowdown: Whether you're ordering at the counter in Hillsdale or at its more expansive Waldwick sister restaurant, Waldwick manager Pedro Huerta says you'll get the same sandwich: a thin chicken cutlet, spiced with adobo and lightly breaded and fried, served on a roll spread with refried beans and sour cream. The sandwich is piled generously with lettuce, avocado slices, jalapeños and strings of Mexican cheese — like a full dinner on a roll.
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How much: $12.95
Where: Red Hen Bistro, 525 Moonachie Ave., Wood-Ridge, 201-728-4501, redhenbistro.com
The lowdown: This charming little storefront, to which I awarded 2.5 stars in Friday's paper, offers a number of traditional French favorites, including chef-owner Carlos Valdez's version of a croque madame.
Ham and Gruyère cheese on slices of Italian francese loaf are brightened up with a Dijon aioli. On top, Valdez places a runny, sunny-side-up organic egg, and serves the sandwich with the Red Hen's to-die-for frites. Squint, and you can envision yourself having a languid lunch at a Parisian bistro.