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
Pac Heights, Shmac Heights. For reasons unknown, Pete's always gets listed as a Pac Heights place, although it's hard to imagine that Heightsters really want to claim this downscale section of Diviz as their own. But Pete's has occupied the space for 41 years, becoming something of a working stiff's icon in the process. (With Kaiser and UCSF-Mount Zion as neighbors, it's not uncommon to be waiting in line behind the person who squeezed your nuts or pancaked your bosoms for a mammogram 10 minutes earlier.) With good reason: Pete's is the kind of true-blue sandwich joint that salt-of-the-earth types revel in. No figgy marmalade or goat cheese with arugula here — just recognizable meats and cheeses, customized to your biases. Pete also roasts a turkey every day and carves it warm — what's more true-blue than that?
1661 Divisadero. (415) 931-4800
Talk about obscure locations, Alamo Square Deli isn't even on Alamo Square, and isn't even on a corner. Set in the garage level of a house on Scott Street, Alamo Deli is the quintessential, Cheers-style neighborhood bar substitution: the guys who work there know everyone who comes in, what their sandwich is, and how they like it. All the sandwiches are good, but the real artistry of the place resides in Alamo's signature rock star tribute sandwiches. Two deserving of honorable mentions: the Green Monster (pesto, feta, roasted pepper) and Zibbity Bop (turkey, avocado, pepper Jack).
353 Scott. (415) 861-7120
Courtney's is the perfect waystation for those times when you can't quite face walking four more blocks to the Castro District or just want to escape to Corona Heights. Courtney's doesn't make its sandwiches to order, but that's no cause for demerits. Because let's face it, waiting — even for minutes — is overrated. By 9 a.m., the up-and-at-'em staff has its sandwich act together. Quick sellouts include the chicken on crusty baguette, the peanut butter and jelly on cinnamon bread, and the turkey. If you're the type who shuns premade sandwiches for fear of icky, drippy mayonnaise, don't worry: Courtney's makes no-mayo versions of most of its sandwiches. Courtney's gets bonus points for fresh-squeezed juices and liverwurst sammies.
101 Castro. (415) 626-1850