10/13/2012 01:16 pm ET

The 50 Best Sandwiches in Chicago

For generations, sandwiches were the ultimate guilty pleasure of subcultures that had no patience for guilt: hungry bachelors, school kids, working stiffs, old men in delis. To fridge-foraging rubes like Dagwood, quality wasn’t half as important as quantity. The sandwich was one of the only snacks you were allowed to pile as high as you wanted with anything you desired and cram into your face with both hands—a meal so inelegant and blithely proud of its inelegance that it came in six-foot segments for parties. And we ate it. Standing up.

Now we’ve got French dips made with shaved prime rib, po’ boys with organic shrimp, and grilled cheese with fancy pimiento cheese. Hell, you can get a buttered ciabatta layered with local eggs, house-cured speck, and fontina for breakfast at Balsan if the idea of spending $19 for a ham and egg sandwich does not scandalize you. What in the name of John Montagu is going on here?

To guide you through the bustling sandscape, we fanned out across the city and suburbs, hitting spots high and low in search of anything delicious between two slices of bread.