From popular cafés to iconic delis, there is no shortage of sandwich chains across the U.S.; one particular chain has been on the comeback trail of late. Potbelly is a Chicago-based chain with a faux-folksy aesthetic and a wholesome menu of scratch-assembled sandwiches that run the gamut from vibrant veggies to indulgent meatballs. Some might say these sandwiches are overpriced, but Potbelly’s nationwide expansion suggests it’s got the recipe for success.

Naturally, I thought it was a timely occasion to check in on the rebounding brand and rank five of the most popular subs on the sandwich menu. Similar to my recent taste test at Jersey Mike’s, this involved scoping out the five most recommended subs on social media and reviewing them based on look and taste. After trying all five, here are my official findings ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute tastiest.

A Wreck

a potbelly a-wreck sandwich
Photo: Matt Kirouac, Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (Per Sandwich)
Calories: 660
Fat: 28 g (Saturated Fat: 11 g)
Sodium: 1,750 mg
Carbs: 65 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 4 g)
Protein: 43 g

One of the signature sandwiches on the menu, A Wreck is a meaty maelstrom, made with turkey breast, hickory-smoked ham, roast beef, salami, and Swiss that, unfortunately, invites critique. With a name like that, and an ingredient list that audacious, it’s almost daring customers to find shortcomings, of which there are plenty. This sandwich cost me $6.29.

The look: Right off the bat, the appearance doesn’t do this sandwich any favors. Of all the sandwiches, this one looked the flimsiest and messiest, which perhaps is intentional, considering its name. But this kind of wreckage—marred by lifeless-looking roast beef and ham, limped over the edges of the dry-looking white bread—is probably not what the creators had in mind.

The taste: At first, I thought the taste was way better than expected. And, indeed, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But that’s still not saying much. The whole thing is messy and disjointed, with a surprisingly muted flavor overall, considering the sheer excess of meat. But whatever whispers of deli meat were present were not nearly pronounced enough to leave an impression, and although a smear of mayo helps distract from the flavorless mediocrity, the whole things just tastes like a failed attempt at something indulgent.

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Grilled Chicken Club

a chicken club from potbelly
Photo: Matt Kirouac, Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (Per Sandwich)
Calories: 690
Fat: 23 g (Saturated Fat: 11 g)
Sodium: 1,700 mg
Carbs: 64g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 61 g

A classic club sandwich, the Grilled Chicken Club features all-natural grilled chicken, applewood-smoked bacon, and cheddar. It’s not nearly as messy, in neither appearance or taste, as A Wreck, but there’s still a lack of balance and flavor that simply doesn’t leave much of an impression either way. This sandwich cost me $6.69.

The look: The sandwich mostly just looks like bread. Granted, the bread looks quite decent, but there’s no discernible chicken or bacon—just tomatoes and lettuce spilling over the crispy edges. Again, the tomatoes and lettuce look fresh and vibrant, but the first impression is just too meager.

The taste: Unfortunately, the taste is just as muted as the look. Bacon is a hard thing to mute, so it’s almost impressive how flavorless the scant strips of smoked bacon were, and the chicken—a tad too dry and stringy—just blended right in with the toasted bread. I tasted no cheddar whatsoever. This would fare better as a straight-up tomato sandwich with mayo, but since that’s not what Potbelly was going for, this flavorless option just sinks towards the bottom of the taste test.

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Mama’s Meatball

a meatball sub from potbelly on a paper
Photo: Matt Kirouac, Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (Per Sandwich)
Calories: 910
Fat: 48 g (Saturated Fat: 21 g)
Sodium: 2,000 mg
Carbs: 74g (Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 6 g)
Protein: 44 g

Hopes were high for Mama’s Meatball, a hearty-sounding feast of “homestyle” beef and pork meatballs, “smothered” in marinara sauce, provolone, and Italian seasonings. There’s a lot happening in that description, but not quite as much happening on the palate. This sub cost me $6.29.

The look: Points are given for originality, as this was one of the more unique meatball subs I’ve ever seen. The meatballs are sliced and smashed a little bit, rather than served in plump balls per usual. They’re all smooshed into a flatter-than-expected sandwich with a decent amount of melty cheese, a smattering of seasoning, and not quite as much marinara as you might expect, considering its “smothered” description.

The taste: This was…pretty good. It definitely doesn’t taste as saucy and meaty as the menu suggests, but it’s a textural treat that surprises. I loved the crispier edges of the meatballs, and the bread itself, and the seasoning is a welcoming herbal addition. I could have used more cheese, and the sauce, while tasty, was far too minimal. Overall, it looked and tasted like a diet version of a meatball sub. Not bad, but not great either.

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Italian

an italian sub from potbelly
Photo: Matt Kirouac, Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (Per Sandwich)
Calories: 730
Fat: 39 g (Saturated Fat: 13 g)
Sodium: 2,200 mg
Carbs: 64 g (Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 4 g)
Protein: 35 g

The Original Italian was my far-and-away favorite sub during my recent taste test at Jersey Mike’s, so I couldn’t help but hope for similar highs at Potbelly. While the latter’s version— made with salami, capicola, pepperoni, mortadella, and provolone—didn’t quite reach the level of Jersey Mike’s, it did prove that fast-food sub shops are well-versed in the savorous art of Italian-style deli sandwiches. This one cost me $6.29.

The look: A prime example of how an unabashedly meaty sandwich should appear, the Italian is a delicious-looking pile of veggies, meats, and cheese, on perfectly toasty white bread. Everything looks much more balanced and prominent, with hints of cured meats peaking over the edges amidst a smattering of fresh tomatoes and crisp lettuce. Note to “A Wreck”: this is how you are supposed to look.

The taste: My main criticism is, I could have used more spice and more bite to the Italian meats. Nothing really jumped out on the palate immediately, making this more of a slow burn. But upon subsequent bites, nuanced notes of pepperoni, salami, capicola, and mortadella begin to sing. The edges are a bit too bready for my taste, but the interior of the sandwich—where most of the meat seems to be heaped—was sublime. I love the mild spice, and how the crunch of the lettuce harmonizes with the various textures of meat.

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Avo Turkey

an avo turkey sandwich from potbelly
Photo: Matt Kirouac, Eat This, Not That!

Nutrition: (Per Sandwich)
Calories: 640
Fat: 24 g (Saturated Fat: 8 g)
Sodium: 1,580 mg
Carbs: 73 g (Fiber: 11 g, Sugar: 3 g)
Protein: 46 g

Surprise, surprise: the sandwich I had the lowest hopes for ultimately emerged as my favorite, and the results weren’t even very close. By far, the Avo Turkey—featuring hand-sliced turkey breast, Swiss, fresh-sliced avocado, and cucumber—was the tastiest, crispest, and freshest of the bunch, a well-balanced bullseye that feels at once comforting and nourishing. It cost me $6.69.

The look: It’s interesting how a turkey sandwich appeared way meatier and heartier than even the meatball sub. But indeed, this piled-high sandwich looks downright decadent and delicious, with ample slices of turkey breast mingling amid verdant avocado and more of that crisp shredded lettuce.

The taste: This was, by far, the best tasting sandwich of the bunch. It’s the most original and thoughtful sandwich, with the most pleasant surprises to boot, thanks to crunchy slivers of cucumber that provide a pleasant contrast to the creaminess of the buttery avocado. The turkey breast is as ample as it is meltingly tender, and the Swiss cheese binds it all together with an added layer of richness.

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