Little Lucca Sandwich Shop
"Holy mother of Jesus!"
I thought sitting outside of the Little Lucca Sandwich Shop yesterday.
"I think I've hit the sandwich Holy Grail!"
And maybe I'm right. Judging from the constant lines outside of this 26 year old South City institution and the sheer number of Yelpers who agree, it seems as though I'm the not only one who knows this.
Until now, South City has been defined in my mind as that place, not really San Francisco, between us and the airport. Famous in my mind for the hillside graffitied in big Hollywood letters "South San Francisco – The Industrial City" and for having a good library, South City has always seemed to me as being the red-headed stepchild of peninsula towns; not really San Francisco, but constantly bewildering newcomers arriving from the airport believing they have arrived within San Francisco city limits.
South City also suffers from living in the shadow of the former Paris of the West, as it, Brisbane, San Bruno, (non-cemetary parts of) Colma, and parts of Daly City all seem to run together forming one large, indistinguishable, high-density suburban clusterfuck between San Francisco and the airport. Driving down El Camino Real, or off of a random exit from 101 or 280, I can never figure out which town I'm in.
However, I'm beginning to learn. When roaming through the hinterlands, what's helpful in learning where I'm at are landmarks, such as the South San Francisco library on West Orange Avenue, which is right off of Westborough Boulevard, which if you cross the street right there is a Filipino restaurant called Ong Pin, which is kinda "eh" and too damn expensive considering it's a place full of screaming kids, their asshole parents, and a cd player playing cheesy Filipino pop music that skips in the middle of the song everytime the waitress pulls a soda out of the refrigerator the cd player is sitting on.
However, now I have a new landmark, and what a landmark! Little Lucca is now, officially, a destination. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: every town, no matter how large or small, has a culinary jewel. It may or may not be obvious, often it's not, but every town has at least one.
I can't tell you how many times Bruce and I have driven by Little Lucca where I've thought to myself, "that place looks like a dump....I kinda like it."
It's not alone. Little, funky, hole-in-the-walls dot that whole section along El Camino Real, forming a small stretch of a diver's paradise. Yet something about Little Lucca seemed to call to me. Perhaps it's the building it's in, which looks like an old shack built in the early part of the 20th century. "Any no-frills place in a building that old must have some kind of history", I thought. "The place must be a local favorite."
One day we decided, on a whim, to see what exactly was up with this little deli. We got as far as the door when we noticed that the three or four people standing outside in front of us were standing behind a horde of people, whose shadowy figures you could see waiting inside.
"I can't eat here now", I told Bruce. "I don’t have my camera."
Little Lucca is sandwiched between a Shell station and the New Mandarin Chinese restaurant, itself looking rather divey and not very appealing. The parking lot shared between Little Lucca and New Mandarin has its parking spaces territorily staked out, with one side saying "Little Lucca Parking Only" and the other saying "New Mandarin Parking Only".
Only, something tells me that Little Lucca's customers tend to ignore this minor inconvenience. That little something may just be the fact that, after peaking our head into the New Mandarin, barely a soul could be found, despite a full parking lot.
But here we were (not parked in a New Mandarin's space) getting ready to see what all the fuss was about.
We arrived shortly after 2:30 PM and were prepared to wait in line, so it didn't bother us when we stood behind a few people several minutes before making our way through the doorway. While patrons squeezed by us carrying bags of sandwiches with them, I made small talk with a guy who had a heavy Spanish accent standing in front of me. He told me that he usually calls his sandwiches in for pick-up but had decided to stand in line instead.
He wasn't the only one. More than a few people had called their orders in, as I later found out. Those who didn't and were standing in line, must have done so only out of sheer boredom. Still, any place like this that can draw so many people, all of them obviously local and who are willing to wait patiently in line, in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon, must
Once we made it inside, the buzz of the room was noticeable. The line was maybe 15 persons deep and went down along the outer wall, made a U-turn, and continued alongside the counter area. A somewhat abrasive, but motherly, older woman who tended the cash register would occasionally shepard those of us in line to move down and make more space so that we got the "too much intimacy with my neighbor" effect as much as possible.
And yes, sir, that is my hand on your butt.
Behind the counter was a team of sandwich makers who were furiously trying to keep up with the demand and who never got a minute's lag-time between one order and the next. Behind them, sourdough and Dutch crunch rolls were piled high, ready to be filled. I guarentee you that none of those rolls had ever lived to be 24 hours old. Seeing the sheer volume of sandwiches fly out of that place just in the 20 minutes I stood in line, as well as considering how much STUFF they put on the sandwiches, I would venture to guess that nothing sits around too long at Little Lucca, staff included.
Many of those of standing in line weren't just ordering for themselves – they were ordering for their whole family! One woman left with 5 sandwiches. Another guy left with 7 or 8. Almost everyone got their sandwiches, got in their cars, and left. Seeing them leave with so many sandwiches might not have made an impression anywhere else, but at Little Lucca (whose t-shirts and aprons read "where size does matter") it's jaw dropping. Of course, your jaw would have to drop just to take one bite of these sandwiches.
Seeing them wrapped and ready to go, it's almost impossible to believe there's a sandwich underneath that paper. However, I soon learned that seeing is believing. Little Lucca, the place where size matters: out of this tiny, unpretentious, one-room deli comes a gargantuan sandwich.
It was a tough decision, but by the time I got to the counter, I had decided I would have the $5 Little Lucca Combo, with Mortadella, Salami, and Provolone cheese, with everything (mayo, mustard, pickle, red onion, lettuce, tomato, hot pepper sauce and garlic sauce) on it, on a soft (not the hard, crusty kind one usually encounters) sourdough roll. Bruce, also after long deliberation while standing in line, ended up ordering the $5.75 Toscano Salami and Provolone on sourdough (though the Dutch crunch was tempting) with everything, plus extra hot pepper sauce.
As the woman fixing my sandwich grabbed the roll, cut it in half, and began slathering it with mayo and garlic sauce, I began to wonder if and when my sandwich would transform into the enormous creation I saw others leaving with. Pretty soon, I stood in shock and awe as a saw lettuce, onions, cheese, and finally meat bombard the bread I thought would collapse from the weight at any moment. Just when I thought that there was no way you can get anything else on it, she topped it with the other half of bread and, using her body weight, held the whole thing down while she sliced it in half.
Size did matter as I declared victory, paid for my food, and attempted to squeeze out of the deli past a rather large woman blocking three-fourths of the entryway. After I caught my breath, and after Bruce managed his way out, we headed towards the partly sunny patio behind the shack. It was practically deserted.
There we sat, amazed at what we had sitting before us.
My Little Lucca Combo was everything I had dreamt and more. I couldn't believe how much of a difference the garlic sauce made on this sandwich, with this bread. It, with the combination of everything mentioned before, elevated this sandwich to a higher plateau.
Bruce's sandwich was just as good, if not more so, as the guy making his sandwich made an extra trip out back to grab a fresh piece of the Toscano salami and sliced it fresh for him on the spot.
Luckily, Bruce and I hadn't eaten anything the whole day, so our empty stomach were able to stretch the necessary distance for the full on Little Lucca experience. At first, there was no way I thought I could eat the whole thing. Once I got half down, I looked towards the sky, thought "Higher Power, if you're with me, I can do this", and proceeded to work on the other half.
Don't be surprised with the spiritual reference: a lot of eating we do here at Dive is faith-based – mostly praying that we won't choke, get poisoned, get shot, or rupture any internal organs from trying to down a Little Luccaesque sandwich.
Sitting here, a day later, I still can't believe I ate the whole thing. In fact, that sandwich was the only thing, other than a small slice of pizza later that night, I had eaten the whole day. But, man; was it worth it!
South City: you have yourselves quite a little deli there. Now when I hear the words "South City" or "South San Francisco", I will no longer think derisively of the Industrial City.
Instead, I will immediately think of the wonderful time I had gorging myself on a five-dollar sandwich that could choke a sumo wrestler.