Find the creme of the crusts at these neighborhood delis
We SFers have such an abundance of cafés and restaurants to choose from that it's easy to get panicky — Where am I? I haven't seen a restaurant in feet! I'm hungry! What will I eeeaat? — when we stray a few blocks outside a foodie greenbelt. At times like these, don't close your eyes, click your ruby slippers together, and repeat, "There's no place like the Valencia corridor ... " Because if you do, you'll miss some of the best unsung and out-of-the-way sandwich places the city has to offer. Not only do these places dish up some tasty, thoughtful sandwiches (at prices reminiscent of the '80s), their off-the-beaten path locations mean that you never have to suffer lines of hipsters and potbellied tourists determined to score the latest pundit-anointed dagwood "as seen on TV." Trust us, if you find yourself at any of these outback corners, you're not lost, you're saved.
Across from FedEx and next to the Russian Gospel Temple on an industrial corner of Potrero Hill, Calabria Bros. is North Beach without the north (indeed, the compass puts it 131 degrees southeast) or the beach, or the supporting cast of oleaginous waiters. Inside this small Italian grocery/deli are what appear to be three generations of Vinnies manhandling (in a good way) the various types of cheese and salted pig parts. The bros also cook a daily special –- Thursday is stewed sausage and red pepper; Friday is chicken parmagiana -- and make their own ravioli. But whatever sandwich you choose, the brothers will ask if you want their homemade garlic spread. Say yes.
2249 17th St. at Utah. (415) 863-1213
M&L, six words, yo: Twitter, people, Twitter! Signage, people, signage! While not exactly an obscure location (it is, after all, a block from both Market and Church streets), M&L has done its best to make itself obscure. Like not having a sign outside, the hard-to-see-through windows, the six-month junkets to China without so much as a tweet goodbye, the 18-hour work weeks. But once you're safely inside, you'll be won over by the briny smell of M&L's pastrami, the acknowledged specialite de la maison. Everything at M&L is terrific (if perhaps a tad old-fashioned — when's the last time you saw tuna and egg salad together in a sandwich?). But beware the ordering protocol. Select your bread first. I don't say this lightly — failure to do so will result in a reprimand. M&L didn't get the nickname Sandwich Nazi for nothing. Bonus points for offering liverwurst.
691 14th St., SF. (415) 431-7044