Young and Hungry

Comments Come True: Battle of the Grilled Cheese

Eating my way through your advice, an ambitious list of vegetarian sandwiches from 24 different restaurants. More Comments Come True.

I witnessed the glory and gluttony that is a vegetarian who refuses to eat vegetables. I don't want a grilled cheese sandwich every time I crave a meatless sandwich. Sometimes, though, that is exactly what I want. While a true DMV-wide grilled cheese search is in order, I'm testing the ones readers submitted—from Sticky Fingers Bakery, Five Guys Burgers &Fries, Busboys and Poets, and Jaleo—as a great alternative to boring veggie-filled vegetarian sandwiches.

Where: Sticky Fingers
What: Grilled Diya (original comment).
Bread: Multi-grain, from Lyon Bakeries.
Cheesiness: A mix of shredded mozzarella and cheddar, from Daiya. This vegan cheese didn't allow for the gooey, melty factor, much need for a proper grilled cheese: when tearing the two halves apart there weren't those "strings" of cheese. The flavor of the cheese was pretty bland, but I'm also not used to vegan cheese.
Extras: Because it was a vegan sandwich (and, again, I'm not used to vegan cheese) I figured the cheese needed as much help as it could get and ordered it with all of the available toppings. But, none of them helped – the tomatoes were flagrantly mealy, the onions were mostly raw (which was unpleasant textural contrast to the cheese) and the tempeh was flavorless. It didn't add the body, crunch, flavor and depth that a bacon strip would have contributed.
Grease Factor: Impressive, for the lack of real dairy fat. The grill is greased with Earth Balance margarine, which gives the sandwich that delicious shiny coating.
Back For Seconds: No. Maybe if I didn't eat real cheese, this could cut it. But I do, so I'll stick with a black coffee from Sticky Fingers for now.

Where: Five Guys Burgers and Fries
What: Grilled cheese (original comment).
Bread: A hamburger bun, turned inside out. Frankly, this creative use of bread won the sandwich some points—actually, its only points. With the sesame coating facing the cheese, the plain white side turns into that definitive grilled cheese crust.
Cheesiness: It's cheesy and has that weird yellow-orange color. I know ya'll are gonna swear I shouldn't be a food writer when you hear this: but I hate American cheese. I hated it my whole life, back when I was the quintessential picky eater as a kid. I hate the way it coats my teeth. I just keep rubbing my tongue around my mouth, and sometimes I even take a napkin try to wipe the remnants off my tongue and teeth. It's a life-long hatred. Just go with it. This sandwich is filled with American cheese, so, clearly, it skeeves me. But you might like it.
Extras: Sauteed mushrooms, which couldn't save the sandwich.
Grease Factor: It's from Five Guys. Yes.
Back for Seconds: Absolutely not.

Where: Busboys and Poets
What: Grilled Brie Panini (original comment).
Bread: Ciabatta, beautifully pressed with grill lines.
Cheesiness: The brie softens from the heat, but stops short of melting into creaminess.
Extras: Spinach, caramelized onions, and tomato. After one bite I pulled the lifeless tomato off the sandwich. The onions offer a nice sweetness but the spinach is barely noticeable. I added the yellow table mustard for some help, but the sandwich stayed bland.
Grease Factor: Not too greasy, but I did wipe my fingertips before tapping on my keyboard.
Back for Seconds: Nah. There was nothing wrong with the sandwich, it just wasn't impressive. D.C. offers too many better sandwiches to try than to give this a second go.

Where: Jaleo
What: Grilled Cheese with Manchego, Murcia, Valdeón, and goat cheese with truffle oil (original comment).
Bread: It's called "rustic bread" on the menu, but it's really a French loaf.
Extras: Served with honey alioli, which combines house-made garlic mayo and honey.
Cheesiness: The combination of different cheeses creates both a creamy and gooey sandwich, which is quite rich, and is only enhanced with the sweetness of the side sauce.
Grease Factor: A classy amount of grease: just enough to remind you it's a grilled cheese, but not enough to be turned off.
Back for Seconds: Absolutely.

In order of appearance in the comments

  1. Cork Market
  2. Cowgirl Creamery
  3. Busboys and Poets (sandwich 1) (sandwich 2)
  4. Taylor Gourmet (sandwich 1)  (sandwich 2)
  5. Booeymonger
  6. Pret a Manger
  7. California Tortilla
  8. Jaleo (sandwich 1) (sandwich 2)
  9. Highland Cafe
  10. Jimmy John's
  11. Greek Spot
  12. Sticky Fingers
  13. Earl's
  14. Yum's
  15. Super Taco
  16. Luna Grill
  17. Five Guys
  18. Sidamo
  19. Everlasting Life
  20. Au Bon Pain
  21. Devon & Blakely
  22. Corner Bakery
  23. Potbelly
  24. Black Squirrel

Photos by Stefanie Gans

  • Eva

    Yes, a DMV-wide grilled cheese search *is* in order, because you must have the Grownup Grilled Cheese at Cheesetique in Del Ray/Alexandria, VA.

  • grubscout65

    Please add Stoney's to your grilled cheese list - they are pretty great.

  • Cat

    @grubscout65: i agree about adding stoneys! i heart the grilled ham and cheese.

  • Steve

    Do BLT's next.

    Also, a vote for Harry's grilled cheese. Simple and traditional.

  • Reid

    While I detest the "DMV" moniker, I'll add that Founding Farmers does a mean grilled cheese.

  • Randy

    How about Eat Wonky Food Truck?? AMAZING

  • napoleonva

    You should try the grilled pimiento cheese at Bayou Bakery.

  • dan

    It's funny that your nails match the sandwich... jus sayin

  • Kathy J

    I love the grilled cheese at Z-Burger - sinfully good.
    But also go to Potbelly at least weekly in winter for their "Veg" sandwich - which is essentially a Grilled CHeese with mushrooms - nom nom!

  • BruinGirl2001

    Why didn't you include some of the food trucks? Both the Big Cheese Truck and Eat Wonky offer grilled cheese.

  • melissa

    The new place Standard has a great grilled cheese. I think the bread is toasted in bacon fat or pork fat of some sort.

    I'm actually not a big grilled cheese fan, but I might be if the cheese was paired with something super high acid. Like pickles. Does someone do that?

  • Stefanie Gans

    @dan - thanks for noticing. i'm happy to talk nail polish anytime!

    @melissa - sounds brilliant. i want a grilled cheese, as follows: cheddar cheese and goat cheese with dill pickles and spicy mustard on pumpernickel.

  • anon

    Seriously? Is there a single food item EASIER to make fantasticly yourself than a grilled cheese sandwich?

    Without provided an overly proscribed approach -- good cheese choice -- I like meltable cheese like gruyere, cheddar and gorganzola for flavor. Good bread of choice -- I like rustic or sourdough bread. Butter the outsides of the sandwich and brown on each side. Unless you have no choice, save your $$ for things that are actually hard to make.

  • spelling queen

    Agree with Jaleo - but the spelling - "Aboslutely?" hmm...

  • Mystery Editor


  • Mystery Editor

    Damn, spelling queen beat me to it!

  • The Dyv

    I must say that I loathe American cheese too!! Loved the review.

  • cheez

    "I know ya'll are gonna swear I shouldn't be a food writer when you hear this: but I hate American cheese."

    Why would we? American "cheese" isn't even cheese! It's fraudulent and doesn't belong in any respectable grilled cheese (or other) sandwich.

  • Stefanie Gans

    @cheez - thanks for your support! (and @The Dyv too)

  • saf

    Huh. You're missing my favorite grilled cheese. W Domku, in Petworth.

  • trish

    The Heights has an excellent Grilled Cheese - just skip the bacon. It has horseradish sauce for a little extra bite.

  • westcoast

    uh, where is red derby. hands down winner

  • nelliebly

    I would like to see many, many more reviews of grilled cheese. This could be a regular, expanded feature. Daily even!

  • blanket

    i agree with westcoast on the red derby call. i never really seek out a grilled cheese and will only get it if it's the only vegetarian thing on the menu, so i've missed out on many of them. but red derby is good.