The Bear, Paseo, and Un Bien: On Sandwiches and Legends
Every city needs a sandwich shop with a legendary backstory. Seattle has two.
One of the better shows streaming on Hulu is restaurant drama The Bear. Loosely based on a true story, it follows James Beard-winning Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), who returns to Chicago after inheriting his brother’s sandwich shop, “The Original Beef of Chicagoland.” While the restaurant is legendary, it is also in turmoil with a kitchen staff that feels no need to change, despite the spot’s looming bankruptcy. Carmy’s high-end expectations and his new sous-chef Ayo (Sydney Adamu) are welcomed with a great deal of trepidation, and chaos ensues.
As far as back-kitchen drama—and comedy—goes, the show feels authentic and heartfelt, and it’s a good reminder of how passionate people can be about local sandwich shops.
Paseo vs. Un Bien
In Seattle, the honor of being the “locals’ favorite” falls either on Paseo or Un Bien, depending on your point of view. The two share a sordid story:
In 2014, the Lorenzo family abruptly closed Paseo after twenty years of business. New owners swept in and reopened the bankrupt spot, even though the purchase did not include the Lorenzo’s family recipes. Yet, by bringing back the old staff, Paseo managed to recreate the Caribbean-style menu successfully.
A few months after their bankruptcy, the Lorenzos opened Un Bien with all their old recipes, effectively making it a new Paseo in anything but name.
Both spots have half-heartedly claimed they’re not in competition, but that hasn’t stopped locals from choosing sides. Opinions on which place is better are commonplace amongst Seattle sandwich lovers.
If I were to pick one over the other, I find that Paseo’s “Famous Caribbean Roast” edges out Un Bien’s (apparently not famous) “Caribbean Roast.” It comes down to the meat—Paseo’s slow-roasted pork is a tad more succulent than Un Bien’s. That aside, the sandwiches are identical, down to the Macrina Bakery bread. One could even argue there is an advantage to Un Bien’s less juicy recipe being less messy—it’s all subjective.
Comparing the two’s takes on the quasi-legendary fire-roasted corn ends up with a draw. Both deliver identical cobs slathered in aioli, parmesan, and cilantro, with a generous dusting of paprika. Un Bien does deserve points for modesty, dubbing their cobs merely “Fire-Roasted Corn.” Paseo doubles down on “Famous Roasted Corn.”
In fact, Paseo goes all in on their marketing, labeling the “Famous Caribbean Roast” the “best sandwich in America.” Rated by whom? That is not cited, yet it’s not an entirely unreasonable claim. The pork is tender, and the bread soaks up its sweet and citric juices. It is a legit take on a Caribbean sandwich, though arguably, Un Bien has an equal right to the “best sandwich” distinction. The recipe is theirs, even though Paseo made it famous.
So, picking the one true legendary Seattle sandwich spot is highly subjective. The only real difference is that Paseo has the name while Un Bien has the legacy. An unscientific search reveals the former beats out the latter, but Un Bien’s fans are rabid. Its following is highly defensive of the Lorenzos.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to try both places. That’s the type of exploration that lets you find a city’s soul: Through food, restaurants, and local legends.
Paseo’s original Fremont location (4225 Fremont Ave N) is small, and the line is always through the door, so expect a wait. It’s SoDo restaurant (1760 1st Ave S) is quite a bit bigger, but as it’s a block from the stadiums, patience is required during game days. They also recently opened a spot in Issaquah (6160 E Lake Sammamish Pkwy SE).
Un Bien has two locations: Ballard (7302 15th Ave)—always busy—and Shilshole (622 Seaview Ave NW).
“Paseo and Un Bien: a tale of two sandwiches.” The Seattle Times. Updated July 29, 2015. www.seattletimes.com/life/food-drink/paseo-and-un-bien-a-tale-of-two-sandwiches/
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We will have to give this a try on our next visit.