Los Angeles has always been a sandwich town, with staples like Roma Market in Pasadena, Langer’s in Westlake, and Bay Cities in Santa Monica all worthy of decades of conversation — but there has never been a sandwich moment quite like this one before. It has unequivocally become the summer of focaccia sandwiches, with makers from Silver Lake to Santa Monica turning to big panels of bread as a base for charcuterie, fresh cheeses, and other deeply regional Italian ingredients. Some are leaning into the thinner, crustier Tuscan schiacciata-style bread (perhaps to emulate one of the world’s most famous sandwich makers out of Florence), while others are going bigger, bubblier, and airier than ever. Every sandwich has its place, and every new opening seems to already have a fanbase. Welcome to Hot Focaccia Summer.
“I’m very excited and honored that it’s finally happening in LA,” says Liguria-born Francesco Lucatorto, chef and owner of Ceci’s Gastronomia in Silver Lake. His tiny Sunset Boulevard shop has been keeping LA in a steady supply of Genovese-style focaccia sandwiches and slices for a while now and sits just a few doors down from another notable focaccia sandwich maker in La Sorted. It’s his take on the breads that he grew up with on the west coast of Italy, just fermented longer and topped with punchier ingredients for an LA audience.
The most popular focaccina is the polpette al sugo (meatball), a saucy compound that’s at its best when paired with arugula and burrata. It’s a hefty meal that also photographs well (two things Angelenos love), and it starts with that bread. “Our focaccia is very soft, and never gets glassy or hard,” he says. “We get those little pockets where oil and salt can sit and season the bread.”
Fellow Italian Pietro Brembilla of the recently opened Sogno Toscano in Santa Monica agrees that a good focaccia sandwich starts well before the finished product hits the table. Ingredients are king in Brembilla’s world; he worked for decades as a wholesaler of Italian goods out of New York City before expanding into retail sales and small cafes. “The bread needs to be crispy, but not overly salted,” says Brembilla. “It doesn’t necessarily need to shine, but it needs to help the ingredients inside.”
Brembilla sources his schiacciata from Bianca Bakery out of Culver City, relying on his years as an importer to make the sandwiches special. “There are probably 20 different prosciuttos we could use for our bufalina sandwich,” says Brembilla. “But there’s only one for us. It’s aged 30 months at high altitude. Our tomatoes from Sicily are harvested once per year and are cooked down to a confit on the Amalfi Coast. When you bite into it, you can’t imagine.”
Renato Araujo of Lorenzo California also uses Bianca Bakery for its breads, though with a bit of a tweak. “They make individual focaccia for us, not in these big sheets,” Araujo says. “It’s maybe the best in town.” The Brazilian-born Araujo’s first focaccia sandwich came on a trip to Florence, where he marveled at the speed and ubiquity of the dish. “I was like, how come we don’t have this in LA?”
Others, like Chris Bianco of Downtown’s Pane Bianco, are comfortable letting their focaccia sandwiches stray further into the non-traditional world of California Italian food. At Tre Mani, the Westside collaboration project between chef Travis Passerotti (Tasting Kitchen) and young baker Jyan Isaac, there are no guardrails for what a focaccia sandwich needs to be. “Nobody just wants to replicate and execute” on sandwiches that have been done before, says Passerotti. “That’s where the fun comes in. How do we use our favorite products and get them into a sandwich?” Tre Mani cooks a crunchier focaccia than others, and stuffs the squares with only domestically cured meats. “We didn’t want to feel like our identity was copying something.”
The unsaid name in all of this — the biggest bubble in the dough, even — is All’Antico Vinaio, the Florence focaccia sandwich phenom that has garnered global fame. After years of LA pop-ups, Nancy Silverton is helping the group to expand to Los Angeles in a big way, with plans for three different locations around the city in the coming months. It’s going to be hard to compete in the focaccia sandwich space once such a big name is here, so Passerotti is purposeful in not even trying to play the copycat game. “We’re making a Southern California Italian American sandwich,” he says. “Simple as that.”
For now it seems like there’s room for everyone, from the classical to the avant-garde. Bread Head (from two Trois Mec vets), Downtown’s First & Last Club, and Culver City’s Monroe Place offer fantastic focaccia options; Jeff’s Table in Highland Park does a mustardy take with pickles and ham; Uptown Provisions in Whittier runs a limited-quantity mortadella sandwich, called the Mort, on focaccia weekly. Pop-ups abound too, like Orange County’s buzzy Focaccia Boi. Everyone has their angle, and Angelenos get to reap the benefits from one of the biggest sandwich summers the city has ever seen.