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All photos by Robert Sietsema

The Amazing Sandwich You've Probably Never Heard Of

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134111232008_10_hasmaps%20%283%29%20%281%29.jpgNearly everyone who lives in a neighborhood blessed with a taqueria or two has tried a torta, the Mexican sandwich usually made on a torpedo-shaped white roll, stuffed with taco fillings or milanesa de res, and dressed with refried beans, avocado, and chipotle peppers. And maybe you've had a cemita, too, a slightly more obscure sandwich unique to the Mexican state of Puebla, made on a round, deep-brown roll dotted with sesame seeds, to which a similar catalog of fillings is applied, then seasoned with papalo leaves, giving the sandwich its unique flavor. But have you ever stumbled across a pambazo?
Some say it began life in Veracruz as street food, made with the cheapest type of bread dipped in a lake of bright red chile sauce and stuffed with potatoes and chorizo, then topped with clouds of shredded Oaxacan cheese, which is something like string cheese or a firmer mozzarella. What a collision of sharp and mellow flavors! I fell in love with the sandwich and have been seeking it out for nearly a decade. The quality and size of this fortifying street snack varies tremendously from rendition to rendition, though, unlike the torta and cemita, which have a variable catalog of fillings, the pambazo (sometimes spelled panbaso or panbazo) is nearly always stuffed with spuds and sausage. Here are some recent sightings.

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El Ranchito Poblano (1228 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, 718-282-0366) — Who'd expect to find a great taqueria in Flatbush, right on its most ancient Dutch thoroughfare? Furnished with a bar, some nice tables with a view of a giant TV screen projecting Mexican soaps and disco shows, the interior is relentlessly bright orange, with the usual Aztec frou frou as decoration. The pambazo is of unusually large size, toasted top and bottom to melt the cheese a little and warm the hash filling. You're going to have trouble finishing the entire sandwich; the leftovers are doubly good at breakfast.

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El Coyote Dormilon (92nd St and Roosevelt Ave, Queens, no phone) — This cart offers a decent pambazo, nicely toasted (some might say burned), and with especially large masses of cheese and one of the best versions of the chorizo-potato stuffing, at the standard price of $5. It boasts more lettuce than usual, which might be an advantage depending on your perspective. Note: uses a bolillo, the bread usually used to make a torta. Not a bad choice.

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Los Americanos (300 Church St, 212-680-0101) — This pan-Latin diner may furnish your only nearby chance to try a pambazo if you live or work downtown in Manhattan. At $10, it's twice the cost and no more than two-thirds the size of its more farflung competitors, but the flavors are there, and the thing is liberally dipped in chile sauce and faithfully toasted. Its main defect is a reliance on crema to provide the dairy component rather than Oaxacan cheese.

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La Mesita (1513 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, 718-366-8700) — This Bushwick newcomer offers what is currently the city's best pambazo (of those I've tried recently, there must be at least a dozen more to be found). The hash has a spicy kick and is offered in profusion. There could be a little more cheese, but who's complaining? The filling bulges and the sandwich is fabricated with great care.

Map: Where to Eat Pambazos

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

el ranchito poblano

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The pambazo is of unusually large size, toasted top and bottom to melt the cheese a little and warm the hash filling. You're going to have trouble finishing the entire sandwich; the leftovers are doubly good at breakfast.

El Coyote Dormilon

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This cart offers a decent pambazo, nicely toasted (some might say burned), and with especially large masses of cheese and one of the best versions of the chorizo-potato stuffing, at the standard price of $5.

Los Americanos

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At $10, it's twice the cost and no more than two-thirds the size of its more farflung competitors, but the flavors are there, and the thing is liberally dipped in chile sauce and faithfully toasted.

La Mesita

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The hash has a spicy kick and is offered in profusion. There could be a little more cheese, but who's complaining? The filling bulges and the sandwich is fabricated with great care.

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el ranchito poblano

The pambazo is of unusually large size, toasted top and bottom to melt the cheese a little and warm the hash filling. You're going to have trouble finishing the entire sandwich; the leftovers are doubly good at breakfast.

El Coyote Dormilon

This cart offers a decent pambazo, nicely toasted (some might say burned), and with especially large masses of cheese and one of the best versions of the chorizo-potato stuffing, at the standard price of $5.

Los Americanos

At $10, it's twice the cost and no more than two-thirds the size of its more farflung competitors, but the flavors are there, and the thing is liberally dipped in chile sauce and faithfully toasted.

La Mesita

The hash has a spicy kick and is offered in profusion. There could be a little more cheese, but who's complaining? The filling bulges and the sandwich is fabricated with great care.

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