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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Counter service

Features Delivery, kid-friendly, live music, outdoor dining, veg-friendly
Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx


Foggy Bottom
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 775-1450
Mon–Fri 7:00am–7:30pm
Sat–Sun 11:00am–6:00pm

1660 L St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 463-8111
Mon–Fri 7:00am–8:00pm
Sat–Sun 11:00am–6:00pm

Foggy Bottom
1900 L St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 478-0026
Mon–Fri 11:00am–9:00pm
Sat–Sun 11:00am–7:00pm

Potbelly Sandwich Works
Yeah, it’s a chain. And we love it.

Although Potbelly’s official headquarters are in Chicago, DC residents almost unanimously claim the sandwich chain as their own. Locals have been known to invite visiting friends to partake of a Potbelly roast beef before even bothering with the White House or Smithsonian. To pin Potbelly’s roots inside the Beltway is a lie, but it’s an attractive and believable lie, and a lie with which we’re willing to roll.

Because, quite frankly, with apologies to Schlotzsky’s, Jimmy John’s, and Which Wich?, Potbelly is the highest-quality fast-casual deli-sandwich chain around. The reasons are threefold: first, the atmosphere is a lot more fun. Second, toasting is mandatory. Third, Potbelly’s ingredients are better. The last reason is really the clincher. The deli meats are painfully fresh, never dry; vegetables are uniformly crisp and fresh. The improvement in the bread has been the single most important advance in fast-casual chains over the past decade, and Potbelly’s wheat is excellent: slightly undercooked, slightly chewy, almost bagel-like. Toasting transforms it into an even more blissful state.

Among quality toppings, don’t miss the mushrooms, which are smothered with cheese and meat before going through the toaster. Most importantly, the hot peppers (also sold separately in a jar) lend a juicy, vinegary bite. Beyond the sandwiches, well-reduced chili, laced with cumin, comes with onions and a full triangle of yellow American cheese, and is unambitiously wonderful—like an Atkins cheese enchilada platter. Also good are not-too-sweet potato salad and well-loved Oreo milkshakes (rich, if as uselessly thick as soft-serve), although Lay’s potato chips and oyster crackers are embarrassments.

Two of Potbelly’s greatest strengths, relative to its competitors, are the great prices ($4.19 for a sandwich at press time) and the simplicity of the menu (not too many ingredients). Potbelly produces a delicious product with a factory-line approach. But used books, hand-painted-ish signs, and local live music (in the Dupont branch, an old-school blues often covers the Smashing Pumpkins), and antiques—the place began as an antique store in 1977—elevate Potbelly to an atmospheric league above the fast-casual model. It’s a fast-casual restaurant that, in spite of the kitsch and hand-painted-ish lettering, feels real. And that, above all, might be why we’re all so eager to claim it as DC’s own.

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