You might associate downtown D.C. with sterile office buildings and pedestrians rushing around in suits, but nestled in the cityscape you’ll find Bub and Pop’s, an old-fashioned sandwich shop that oozes a nostalgic, small town vibe.
Located at 1815 M St. NW, between Dupont and Downtown, Bub and Pop’s charming red facade stands out among M Street’s copious glass-paned buildings. The awning above the steps leading to the entrance features an endearing and homey caricature logo of Bub and Pop, a married couple from South Philly whose reimagining of the Italian hoagie and brisket sandwiches serve as inspiration for the menu’s offerings.
I was initially skeptical that a sandwich restaurant in downtown D.C. would be able to capture the authentic sub shop aura I was used to in delis back home in Boston. Any qualms I had were immediately dashed as I entered the restaurant and was met with colorful walls adorned with decorations ranging from sci-fi movie posters to pictures of famous patrons, like chef Guy Fieri and comedian Aries Spears.
The dining area was on the smaller side, but no one in the packed restaurant seemed to mind as they eagerly waited for their sandwiches to be distributed from behind the counter. While the string lights and fancy mirrors made eating inside the restaurant tempting, I opted for the joint’s outdoor seating area, which was lovely for people watching during a busy weekday on M Street.
The menu, which is handwritten on a large chalkboard next to the ordering area, features specialty sandwiches like cheesesteaks ($10 to $20), brisket ($10 to $20) and the “Philly Special,” which includes roasted pork, au jus, provolone, broccoli rabe and sautéed hot chili peppers ($11 to $22).
Those looking for a lighter bite than a hefty hoagie or cheesesteak can choose from soups (market price) or salads ($5 to $10). On the sweeter side, Bub and Pop’s offers a cookie of the day ($2), which you can have made into an ice cream sandwich ($5), and water ice ($6), more commonly known as Italian ice for those not from Philly.
As a fan of Italian food, I had to opt for the bolognese parmesan ($10 to $20), which included rustic tomato and meat ragu, caramelized onion, aged provolone and Pecorino Romano, along with my bottle of coke ($3). In fact, when Fieri visited Bub and Pop’s in 2020, the bolognese parmesan was his favorite of the sandwiches he tried.
When I dug into my sandwich after a 15-minute wait, I was blown away by the different types of meat blended with a picturesque red tomato sauce that looked as though it had been made fresh that morning. Flakes of Pecorino Romano topped it off, making it look like an authentic Italian dish had been placed on a beautifully toasted bun.
As I took my first bite I knew immediately why Fieri singled the bolognese parmesan as his favorite. I could taste every flavor of the sandwich, the perfectly cooked meat blending masterfully with the melted cheese and decadent sauce.
The sandwich is definitely on the messy side, and globs of meat and sauce fell out of the bolognese parmesan fairly regularly. I typically like my sandwiches to stay in one piece, but I enjoyed the flavors so immensely that I simply looked forward to being able to eat the rest of the ragout with a fork after I finished the sandwich.
For a reprieve from the stoic, corporate atmosphere of Downtown, take a nostalgic trip to Bub and Pop’s for a classic sandwich.