Sandwich Chain Italian Subs Ranked From Worst To Best

A humble sandwich that packs a flavorful punch, the classic Italian sub, is widely regarded as one of the most delicious and popular sandwiches in America. What started out as an affordable handheld missile of cured cold cuts prepared by working-class Italian immigrants along the East Coast has blossomed into a beloved lunchtime staple, appearing on countless menus across the country.

The best Italian subs use high-quality ingredients and tastefully balance the salty, smoky flavors of their meat with just enough cheese and the perfect mix of fresh and pickled veggies. The bread is also more than just a vessel — it's a defining feature, a pivotal piece that can make or break the entire experience. The best bread is flavorful, freshly baked, and maintains its structural integrity with a soft, airy center and a gentle outer crust.

With only a few ingredients, the Italian sandwich manages to conjure up some truly mouthwatering magic — most of the time. Occasionally, things go horribly wrong, and we're left wondering how a sandwich shop can fail so spectacularly with such a simple mission. Luckily, we're here to steer you in the right direction. Here are some of the most well-known Italian subs, ranked from worst to best.

Subway Spicy Italian

Ah, Subway. The pervasive gateway sandwich chain on every corner we all ate at before we knew any better. As one of the biggest fast-food icons in America, you'd think the company would have the resources and willpower to devise all kinds of next-level deliciousness. Sadly, between its lackluster cold cuts, skimpy portions, and soggy vegetables, its subs often leave much to be desired. It's also probably a bad sign when a judge rules that your "bread" isn't technically bread and is really just dessert in disguise, per The Guardian.

Subway's Spicy Italian sub only has salami and pepperoni and doesn't come with ham. Despite its name, there is nothing remotely spicy about this sub. And even though Subway's prices are still impressively cheap — a rare feat in today's economy — the quality of its ingredients is still depressing. Affordable as it is, it's still hard to justify spending hard-earned money here when there are so many other chains and local sandwich shops offering more bang for your buck. The abysmal quality of Subway's lunchmeat and its strange-tasting bread drops this sandwich to the bottom of the list.

Subway Italian BMT

For some reason, Subway offers two versions of its Italian sub even though there is very little difference between them. Unlike Subway's Spicy Italian, the Italian BMT actually comes with ham, which would normally be a good thing if the restaurant offered better quality cold cuts. In this case, it doesn't add much flavor or boost the overall quality of the sandwich in any noticeable way.

The BMT comes with salami, pepperoni, Black Forest ham, and your choice of veggies. For those wondering, the "BMT" in this sub's namesake stands for "biggest, meatiest, tastiest." Unfortunately, those are all bold claims that Subway has overpromised and underdelivered on: there is nothing remotely big, meaty, or tasty about this sandwich. In fact, the choice to market the sub that way feels like a psychological trick of sorts, but it's not fooling anyone. Because of the chain's meager portioning and objectionable ingredient quality, what we're really left with is an Italian sub that mostly tastes like weird, lifeless bread. Once again, Subway hits rock bottom in the battle of deliciousness.

Wawa

Pop quiz: where can you buy gallons of explosive liquid for internal combustion engines and a wad of cold cuts tucked in a hoagie all in the same place? If you said Wawa, give yourself a round of applause. For those who don't know, Wawa pumps out more than just gas — there are also sandwich stations located inside of its convenience stores. Some of its sandwiches are pre-made and set out in coolers for customers to grab to-go, but you also have the choice to get your sandwich customized and made to order through a touchscreen menu.

Wawa's Italian sandwich has provolone and the classic trio: salami, ham, and pepperoni. While the concept of being able to get a customized sandwich on the go is pretty cool, the portions are regretfully skimpy, and the overall taste of the sandwich is a bit underwhelming. The one saving grace is that Wawa's bread is actually pretty decent. Soft and chewy, it still holds up well and usually manages to taste nice and fresh. The better quality bread here moves it up a notch from dead last. Pretty wild that a gas station can beat out a sub shop on a ranked list of sandwiches, but that's the world we live in.

Quizno's

Next up on the list: Quizno's. A little over a decade ago, Quizno's was one of the largest sandwich chains in the business with over 5,000 locations. In an astonishing fall from grace, the toasted sub shops have dwindled by 94% over the past 15 years, according to Restaurant Business. While its subs were never anything to write home about, a loss that extensive still feels pretty shocking.

With layers of pepperoni, salami, spicy capicola, and smoked ham, the Quizno's Italian comes toasted to melt the provolone and bring out the flavor in the meats. Nothing about Quizno's will blow your mind, but between the solidly toasted meats and cheese, briny olives, tangy banana peppers, and red wine vinaigrette, its version of the Italian sub is still moderately tasty, with a slightly better flavor profile than those below it. Put it all together, and while it gets the job done, overall it's still uninspiring. Only time will tell if Quizno's emerges from its downward spiral victorious, but landing near the bottom of lists like these probably won't help much.

Which Wich

Operating under a memorable homonym, Which Wich has been slowly making a name for itself in the world of sandwich chains after first opening in Dallas back in 2003. Which Wich's Italian grinder comes with genoa salami, pepperoni, spicy capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and oil and vinegar. The red onions are a nice touch (and frankly should be an option at all sub shops) but the bread is the heart and soul of a sandwich, and Which Wich's is a let down that is often a bit too dry and flavorless.

If we're being totally honest here, Which Wich is very similar to Quizno's in terms of size, taste, and quality. What pushes Which Wich just a notch above is the fact that its grinder does feel a little more hooked up with thicker slices of Italian meats that blanket the top and bottom of the bread. The cold cuts also have a bit more taste to them, elevating the overall flavor profile.

Italian Night Club

Jimmy John's offers two different takes on the Italian sub. Let's start with the Italian Night Club, which kinda makes it sound like our mouth is about to inexplicably taste a European dance floor.

The good news is that despite its questionable name, the sub is quite delicious. With salami, capicola, ham, provolone, and Italian seasonings, the Italian Night Club feels fairly priced and portioned for the size and taste. It's the quality of its freshly-baked French bread that pushes it just above a few of the other major chains' offerings. Soft, chewy, and flavorful, the bread at Jimmy John's isn't toasted in order to speed up the line for everyone. And to be honest, toasting isn't always necessary: when the bread is good enough, it can shine on its own, as it does at Jimmy John's. While the bread isn't groundbreaking, it also really does taste nice and fresh, devoid of the stranger flavors and textures that haunt the loaves of some of the other bigger chains.

Spicy Coast Italian

Next up on the list is the Spicy Coast Italian. With double salami, double capicola, and hot peppers with provolone on fresh French bread, the Spicy Coast Italian sub from Jimmy John's is solidly satisfying. With just the right amount of cheese and a little briny pop from the hot peppers, the Spicy Coast Italian strikes a nice balance in flavor without being overly salty, which is a common misstep in the world of Italian sandwiches.

The one major critique we can offer here is that there aren't enough cherry peppers on the sub, and when Jimmy John's puts spicy in the name, we reasonably expect something with a little more heat. With just a hint of sweetness, cherry peppers are already pretty mild on the scale of spiciness, so adding a little extra could take the Spicy Coast Italian to the next level and also help it earn its name.

Firehouse Subs

What sets Firehouse Subs apart from the crowd is the fact that it steams its meats and cheeses, which releases a lot of extra flavor while also keeping everything moist and juicy. The Italian sub at Firehouse comes with Genoa salami, pepperoni, Virginia honey ham, melted provolone, Italian dressing, and oregano. Another defining feature of Firehouse Subs is its impressive portions. With a slightly higher price point than some of the other chains on this list, a little more generosity should be expected. And Firehouse delivers — just take a look at that thick stack of cold cuts.

While its veggies are crisp and all the portions are respectable, the bread at Firehouse is dull and dense and practically flavorless. But perhaps the worst offense here is just how overly sweet its Virginia honey ham is. Sweet ham has its time and place, but it doesn't belong on an Italian sub. All things considered, Firehouse's steamy and dreamy Italian sub is still a step above some of the other major sandwich chains.

Lenny's Grill & Subs

Known mostly for its Philly cheesesteaks, Lenny's also offers an Italian sub that can hang with the best of them. Lenny's Italian comes with ham, prosciutto, capicola, and provolone cheese on a white roll. The quality and flavor of its cold cuts are better and meatier than some of the other chains, but it tends to be a little too frugal with its cheese and lays down a single, extra-thin layer of provolone.

On the plus side, its meat is sliced to order, which makes a world of difference in terms of freshness. Lenny's also has a delicious hot pepper relish that pairs perfectly with its Italian sub. Pro-tip: ask for a little extra hot pepper relish on the side. It comes in small to-go packets, and it's so good that you'll be glad you have some on reserve. Taking everything into consideration, Lenny's Italian sub deserves higher marks than some of the other major sandwich chains, but there's not much else going on to make it truly exceptional.

Primo Hoagies

As we noted earlier, tasty and well-structured bread in a sandwich is absolutely essential, laying the foundation for the entire experience. The good news is that Primo Hoagies understands this and makes an effort to prove that an exceptional sandwich indeed starts with great bread.

With a fresh and delicious sesame sub roll, the Old Italian by Primo Hoagies comes with capicola, prosciutto, and sharp provolone. There are a few things going on here that make the Old Italian special, but the real key to unlocking the secrets of its yumminess is the sharp provolone. Most Italian subs come with plain provolone, which is mild, creamy, and delicious. But sharp provolone is a bit firmer, cheesier, and nuttier, adding a lot more complexity to the flavor profile. If you dig a little extra cheesiness in your subs, then you'll appreciate how that extra bit of sharpness bursts through each bite in the Old Italian. Between the fresh sesame sub roll, crispy fresh veggies, cured meats sliced to order, and the sharp provolone cheese, Primo Hoagies pays attention to every detail and serves up a very solid Italian sub.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

With a name that seems to promise fullness, eating at Potbelly comes with an expectation of abundance and satisfaction. While its original sandwiches are about the standard size you'd expect, ordering the "bigs" size from its menu ups the amount of meat, bread, and cheese by about 30 percent. Toasted with pepperoni, salami, capicola, mortadella, and provolone, Potbelly's Italian sub hits all the right notes. What sets it apart is higher-quality cured meats and the high-temperature toast at 500°F, which gently chars the edges of the meat and makes every bite melty and toasty.

But the best-kept secret on Potbelly's menu, and what's pushed it towards the upper half of this list, is its giardiniera, which it simply refers to as "hot peppers," even though it's so much more than that. A chopped blend of green olives, serranos, red bell peppers, jalapenos, cauliflower, carrots, and celery, Potbelly's briny hot pepper mix is a concentrated flavor bomb that instantly amplifies the deliciousness of everything it touches. Adding a spread of Potbelly's luscious giardiniera to its Italian sub sends it into next-level territory.

Penn Station

Though Penn Station is renowned for its cheesesteaks, it has expanded its menu over time to include other sandwich classics like the Italian sub. What sets Penn Station's subs apart from the pack is the fact that it offers its subs cold, grilled, in a wrap, or on a salad. Another nice touch: grilled subs get seared on a flattop first and then put in the oven, giving them a double toast to make sure everything is warm and melty.

The Penn Station Classic Italian comes with smoked ham, hard salami, pepperoni, provolone, lettuce, Roma tomatoes, red onions, banana peppers, red wine vinegar, mayo, and oregano. The red onions are shaved nice and thin, giving them a more delicate texture without losing any of the flavor. The acidic brightness of the red wine vinegar and banana peppers perfectly cuts through its trio of salty cured meats. Deliciously executed and well-constructed, Penn Station's Italian sub should be appreciated by any lover of this classic sandwich.

Schlotzsky's

Schlotzsky's Original is its version of an Italian sandwich with shaved ham, two types of salami, olives, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, and its signature sauce, all baked on a sourdough bun. The sourdough bread is baked daily, and the signature sauce provides a tasty twist that works well with the overall flavor profile. Schlotzsky's signature sauce is a garlic butter spread that essentially turns its sourdough bun into garlic bread. And fresh garlic bread is pretty much the most indulgent and luxurious vessel imaginable for an Italian sandwich.

For those feeling extra ravenous, Schlotzsky's offers an upgrade of its Original to a Deluxe, which has twice the meat. Clocking in at 1960 calories, Schlotzsky's mammoth Deluxe Italian sandwich is a feast with top-notch ingredients that's sure to leave you feeling satisfied. Between the freshly baked sourdough bun with garlic butter, crisp veggies, and massive upgrades, Schlotzsky's offers an Italian sandwich that is solidly top tier.

Publix

Publix is a chain of grocery stores in the Southeast that's become well-known for its hooked-up deli subs that are made fresh to order. Its Italian sub comes with genoa salami, two types of ham, and your choice of cheese on a freshly baked hoagie. Publix offers two options when you're selecting the meats for your sub: Publix brand or Boar's Head. Even though Boar's Head is a little pricier, it's totally worth it. Publix's meats are still good — it's just that Boar's Head is a little better. Publix's baked loaves of bread are also high caliber, but they're definitely best enjoyed when they're fresh out of the oven.

Another thing you can always count on at the Publix deli is fresh, crispy veggies. The deli is usually situated right next to the produce section, and deli clerks are vigilant about keeping the deli station freshly stocked. Another big bonus: you can also request any specialty cheese from the deli case to be sliced to order and added to your customized sub. What stopped Publix from reaching number one? Sometimes the subs can be a little inconsistent, depending on the deli clerk who's making it and how long the bread has been stored.

Jersey Mike's

Here we are, the crown jewel of sandwich chains: Jersey Mike's. Jersey Mike's Original Italian comes with provolone and five meats: ham, prosciuttini, capicolla, salami, and pepperoni. Right off the bat, the fact that Jersey Mike's puts a few extra cold cuts in the mix gives it extra points. You can customize your sub however you want, or you can also opt to order it "Mike's Way," which is with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Italian herbs.

For a big chain, Jersey Mike's puts together a generous and impressive Italian sub, but what really sets it apart is the attention to detail at every level. The bread is just right: flavorful, fresh, not too thick or thin, with just enough body to hold everything in and soak up a little extra juice. The condiments and toppings are expertly spread in mindful distribution. Its hot pepper relish is amazingly delicious, and the briny heat shines through the cured meats with the perfect amount of pop. Beyond all of this, Jersey Mike's is consistent. At the end of the day, you can always count on Jersey Mike's Original Italian sub to hit the spot.