Comodo, Tamy Rofe and chef Felipe Donnelly’s new Latin-American restaurant at the Freehand hotel in Gramercy, is the rare chic full-service spot to serve one of the world’s great sandwiches: the pambazo. The Mexican antojito typically includes a filling of crumbly chorizo, soft potatoes, shredded iceberg, and queso fresco, all slathered on a fresh baked bolillo dipped in guajillo salsa. Comodo’s kitchen adds a few fancy flourishes, like whole skin-on tubers and attractive gem lettuce, but what truly lets the dish stand apart isn’t a culinary tweak — it’s not a very good sandwich — but a financial one.
The restaurant charges $25 for this de facto appetizer during weekend brunch, which comes to $32 after tax and tip.
The steep cost serves as a reminder that New York is creeping into an era of $20 sandwiches — a price bracket that was long the domain of lobster rolls or cured meats on rye at Midtown tourist traps. Alas, rising food and labor costs, along with pandemic-related supply chain issues, are now pushing up the price of certain sandwiches to levels that make them more appropriate as occasional indulgences than regular lunchtime staples.
So far, the BEC (bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll) seems safe as a sub-$10 affair throughout the city, though a proper meatball or chicken parm hero will now run over $20 after tax and tip at at least two prominent chains. Defonte’s in Red Hook doesn’t ask more than $12 for most large hoagies, but a hefty cubano at Guantanamera will set you back $19, three bucks more than in 2016. And a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s, $17 eight years ago, is now $25. Thing is, with a giant deli sandwich, patrons are getting enough meaty nourishment to practically serve two — or allow for a light second meal later on.
A pambazo, by contrast, often functions more as a snack than a proper meal, and such is the case here at Comodo. The sandwich started off decently enough on a recent Saturday. Red salsa slicked each half of the squishy bolillo, and the gem lettuce added a mild crispness. But then there were the fillings: whole and semi-crushed Pewee potatoes — among other varieties — interspersed with a light scattering of overcooked ground pork.
The nice thing about mixing soft papas and chorizo, a classic pairing, is how the tubers help sop up the excess oil, chile, and paprika of the sausage; the meat and root vegetables almost become one. The Comodo team, staffed by the group behind the well-regarded Colonia Verde in Fort Greene, appears to be going for something different, since there were few detectable spices — or luscious fats — other than a hit of clove. It was chorizo in name only. The net result was akin to eating a scant pile of arid (though pleasantly porky) meat with a side of potatoes. One would expect more expertise or nourishment from a small dish that costs as much as one of the city’s top restaurant hamburgers with fries.
For a more astute Manhattan-based version of the Mexican sandwich, swing by El Pambazo Shop’s pop-up at the Bryant Park Winter Village, open until late March. There, cooks layer the pillowy bolillo with a more generous application of potatoes and chorizo. The hot, juicy meat practically screams with warming notes of chile and cinnamon — before a wave of iceberg and stretchy queso cools off the palate with a wallop of dairy and an uppercut of crunch. Cost: $14.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong about veering from more traditional pambazos to create a new path forward, and it almost goes without saying that New Yorkers have been underpaying for the diverse foodways of Mexico for too long. But in a city where one won’t find as many pambazos as great tacos or tortas, it hurts to think that someone might drop by the Freehand and have this expensive miss be their first encounter with what’s normally such a wonderful sandwich.
For those who visit Comodo during brunch, the carnitas tacos ($17) are a better option. They’re tasty in a fairly straightforward way; piles of tender, coffee-rubbed pork on paper-thin corn tortillas. That said, I’m rating Comodo’s $25 weekend pambazo a SELL.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).