I know…that picture is kinda unfair.
There's certain sandwich shops that you walk into, where you just feel that they're a fabric of the community. With Roxie Food Center in Balboa Park, it's been a part of San Francisco much longer than I have, and you just gotta respect what they've built for themselves. A local staple for coming on 40 years now, it still looks like just a regular corner store, but it's what's inside that counts.
[jump] I stand in line, in front of a couple teenagers. The counter guy is as happy as can be, telling me he just made 150 sandwiches for a special order this morning. He's so excited when I ask to take a photo of the sandwich, that he holds it up in all its open-faced, melty glory. I'm not normally one to get melted cheese on my sandwich, but “Simon's Special” — hot pastrami with turkey sandwich, layered with cheddar cheese, jalapeños and fix-ins on Dutch crunch bread — pretty much demanded it.
The kid behind me placed his order with such proficiency that I couldn't help but seeing a budding sandwich geek in him. At classic delis, you better know every detail of your order by the time your number is called, or else risk incurring the wrath of the sandwich maker. (It's the rules, deal with it.) But this kid had it down pat. Game recognize game.
When I got to the checkout, the man taking my money, introduced himself as Simon (like the sandwich) and we chatted about the shop which he owns. He nodded to the teenagers in line with me and said, “Everyone was kinda born in this store! That kid grew up here!” It was a cool feeling and it made sense how the kid had his order down pat. Simon went on to tell me how Roxie's started as just a corner store, before jumping into the sandwich game and now, they're one of the best.
When I tackled my Simon's Special, I took the first bite and with my mouth full of food, I said, “Oh my god!” to myself, with no one anywhere near me. It was a pure reaction, one of those put-a-smile-on-your-face experiences. Every bite brought me so much joy, something few places can claim (shouts to Deli Board.) So I sat on the edge of Balboa Park, in a part of town that isn't nearly as trendy as the Mission, doesn't boast a the concentration of eateries as other parts of town, but sports a sandwich shop in Roxie's that's been making sandwiches since before I was born. When you're ready to leave your bubble and head to the SF's outskirts, Simon will be waiting for you with a life-changer of a sandwich.
Roxie Food Center, 1901 San Jose Avenue, 415-587-2345.