Sometimes with the world’s great sandwiches, it’s difficult to find even one good rendition in New York City, let alone a great one. That has been the case with the Chilean chacarero. This delectable sandwich features sliced beefsteak, red ripe tomatoes, mild chiles, and mayo on a round roll. Oh, yeah, and here’s the unusual part: green beans.
Historically, the possibilities of including vegetables besides lettuce, tomatoes, and onions along with the meat has been a small one, which is why the Chilean chacarero is so appealing. The snap and verdant flavor of green beans amp up the churrasco steak, improving what is, in most cases, a budget cut of meat.
Naturally, I first checked out Freddie and Pepper’s (303 Amsterdam Avenue) an Upper West Side pizzeria owned by Chilenos known for its empanadas. The pizza’s not bad, either. Well, I ordered their chacarero, which shines at the bottom of the Italian heroes menu. When it arrived, it didn’t come on the classic round, flat, perforated, and densely textured roll called a hallulla.
Instead, it came on a crinkly brown hero roll. I should have been gratified that it was such a long sandwich, but the bread seemed all wrong, and the beans were canned, making them squishy and not crunchy. The meat was fine, though, and there was a generous quantity. Still, this was not a chacarero that broadcast its status as one of the world’s great sandwiches.
A few days later I was with some Queens friends sitting down at one of the few tables at San Antonio Bakery (3620 Astoria Boulevard S.). This long-running Astoria establishment, named after a port city in Chile, boasts a view of the traffic headed for LaGuardia on the Grand Central Expressway. The place offers a charcarero, along with several other sandwiches, on house-baked hallullas of modest size, along with tres leches cake, empanadas, and those dulce-de-leche-filled crackers called alfajores.
When our chacarero arrived, the steak, sliced thick, looked promising. But the first bite, in which the stubborn meat was extracted entirely from the sandwich without my teeth being able to cut through it, proved disappointing. The green beans tasted frozen, meaning that they were a beautiful bright green, but with an unnatural flavor and texture.
Well, we’d nearly exhausted the city’s meager supply of Chilean eateries. There was one left, however, in a remote corner of Corona. Le Llaves de Chile (The Keys of Chile) is the newest of the Chilean bakeries among the three, and one that enjoys high regard among Chilean immigrants. But when a friend visiting from England and I arrived on a rainy afternoon, the place had undergone an identity change and was now called La Roja de Todos at 108-02 Northern Boulevard (the name of a soccer team), with pennants flapping outside.
The revamped dining room was more commodious than the other places had been, with a bakery counter at one end and lots of tables under a painting of a waterfall and the twin flags of the United States and Chile. The menu has all sorts of seafood and meat entrees the other bakeries lacked, and the charcarero came on a spectacularly big hallulla, in this case nicely browned and dimpled.
Utilizing fresh string beans and very ripe tomatoes, this sandwich would easily have been the best, only the meat was once again sliced too thick and hence a little tough. A nice slathering of mayo added to the sandwich. Our advice: take the meat from the charcarero at Freddie & Pepper’s and put it in the sandwich, along with the tomatoes and green beans, at La Roja de Todos. Then you’ll have a persuasive example of one of the great sandwiches of the world.
Check out a previous Great Sandwich of the World: The Sicilian Vastedda