Thirsty Writer, Libations Marketer
Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Nortshore magazine.
Whether you’ve lived here all your life or are just passing through, it’s likely you’ve experienced the north shore’s most iconic food—the roast beef sandwich. With dozens of neighborhood joints carving up these wonderfully messy, mouth-watering delights, it can take a lifetime (or a very ambitious eater) to try them all. We’ve taken a stab at mapping out the best roast beef around town, with insider tips and tidbits to tempt your tastebuds. So tighten your seatbelt, loosen your waistband, and let the finger-licking tour begin.
It all started in 1951 with Kelly’s on revere beach, which now claims to serve one million sandwiches a year across multiple locations. Since then, the roast beef sandwich has become an iconic regional food item, served at mostly Greek family-owned restaurants on the North Shore. Angelo Lagonakis of Bill and Bob’s in Salem says the phenomenon only thrives here, with attempts to spread the beef as far a
way as Florida and as close as Cape Cod faring lukewarm at best. So what makes these sandwiches so special? They’re not your average meat-and-bread pairing—that’s for sure. Instead, warmed, thinly shaved roast beef is piled high on a soft or butter-grilled bun topped with a special sauce and your choice of extras: mayo, cheese, pickles, onion, mustard, or horseradish. Devotees know the ordering lingo: the Classic (BBQ sauce, mayo) or the Three-Way (BBQ sauce, mayo, cheese). And most roast beef sandwiches are available in three sizes—junior, large/big, or super—to fit every appetite.
Nick’s Famous Roast Beef
Established: In 1975 by two guys named Nick; these brothers-in-law still run the family business known for its stellar sandwich consistency. Insider Tip: If you bring in a far-flung vacation photo, you receive a free sandwich and join the hundreds of other travelers lining the walls. Also Known For: Celebrity stopovers—everyone from The Phantom Gourmet to Scott Brown to the Bruins’ Stanley Cup. Not in a roast beef mood? The chicken kebab salad is the next most popular item on the menu. Customer Raves: “The combination of that pink beef, toasted onion roll, peppery BBQ sauce, and stings-the-nose horseradish sauce is addictive…” —roadfood.com. Get There: 139 Dodge St., 978-927-6029; nicksfamousroastbeef.com.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out: Mikey’s Famous Roast Peef & Pizza, 250 Elliott St., 978-927-0092.
Supreme Roast Beef
Established: In 1973 as the first roast beef shop in town. Insider Tip: To celebrate 40 years in business in June 2013, all menu items will reflect 1973 prices—just 85 cents for a roast beef sandwich and 50 cents for fries! Also Known For: Greek salads, as owner George Metaxakis makes his own dressings. He’s also an active supporter of Danvers High School sports teams, whose athletes count Supreme as an after-school hangout. Customer Raves: “The roast beef is superior and melts in your mouth!” —tripadvisor.com. Get There: 18 Maple St., 978-777-0606.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out: Jimmy’s Beef & Seafood, 71 High St., 978-774-9748; jimmysbeefandseafood.com. Londi’s Famous Roast Beef, Pizza & More, 116 Water St., 978-777-0090; londisroastbeef.com. Prime Roast Beef, 85 Andover St., 978-767-9505; primeroastbeef.com.
John’s Roast Beef & Seafood
Established: By John Makrakis in 1974 and bought by George Nikolakopoulos and family in 1985. Insider Tip: Following the burger trend, John’s offers mini roast beef sliders perfect for snacking and sharing. They’re also available as the perfect party platter—part of a growing catering business. Also Known For: Sleek, modern décor that makes it a standout place in which to dine and enjoy the buzzed-about chicken ziti. Customer Raves: “The roast beef at John’s hits all the right notes, as it is served warm (but not too warm), is lean (but not too lean), is so tender that you could cut it with a butter knife…” —hiddenboston.com. Get There: 111 Western Ave., 781-595-6105; johnsroastbeef.com.
Village Roast Beef
Established: 15 years ago and maintains a prime location for pick-up. Insider Tip: A $4.99 fish and chips special became so popular that it’s now a permanent menu item. Also Known For: Ample Greek salads and heaping, fried-just-right seafood platters. Customer Raves: “The absolute best in Marblehead! Everything I have ever had here is not good, but great. The best fish sandwich on the planet!” —yelp.com. Get There: 10 Bessom St., 781-639-4433; villageroastbeef.com.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out: Mino’s Roast Beef, 27 Atlantic Ave., 781-631-7228; minosbeef.com
The Courtyard Roast Beef
Established: In 1990, right next to the Newburyport court house, hence the name. Insider Tip: The roast beef recipe is top secret, made with special seasonings and cooked twice. Also Known For: Stellar service; most employees have been there for 18-20 years and know the customers’ names. Customer Raves: “Melty shards of meat doused in tangy sauce… Best roast beef sandwich ANYWHERE.” —urbanspoon.com. Get There: 192 State St., 978-462-2144.
Harrison’s Roast Beef
Established: In 1984, with no signs of slowing down. Insider Tip: Come to Harrison’s with your order at the ready, and be succinct. There’s little time for questions, and many patrons are regulars who’ve ordered the same thing for years on end. Also Known For: “Amazing” onion rings, fries, pizza rolls, and chicken fingers—plus “gruff” staff, which devotees say adds to the appeal. Customer Raves: “It will have you licking the wrapper when you’re done and running back to the counter to order another.” —yelp.com. Get There: 80 Chickering Rd., 978-687-9158; harrisonsroastbeef.com.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out: Jasmine’s Famous Roast Beef & Seafood, 1060 Osgood St., 978-965-8008. Phil’s Roast Beef, 38 Andover St., Andover, 978-475-2626.
Beachmont Roast Beef
Established: In 1978, where current operator Nikoleta Fotopoulos has worked since she was 14 years old. Insider Tip: Hungry? Go for the Double Decker Three-Way—six ounces of beef stacked between three layers of bun topped with cheese, sauce, and mayo. Also Known For: Doing things right; the sandwiches, made with carefully trimmed, oven-roasted beef, are the top seller. Customer Raves: “Beachmont Roast beef still provides the best roast beef in Revere.” —insiderpages.com. Get There: 629 Winthrop Ave., 781-289-7968.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out:
Kelly’s Roast Beef, 410 Revere Beach Parkway, 781-284-9129; kellysroastbeef.com. Peter’s Super Beef, 1485 North Shore Road, 781-286-5610.
Bill & Bob’s Roast Beef
Established: In the early 1960s in Lynn by two friends (Bill and Bob) who worked together at General Electric. A move to Salem and new ownership under the Lagonakis family in 1968 turned it into a legacy. Relatives and former employees of Bill and Bob’s have spawned their own places: Nick’s, Land & Sea, John’s, and Supreme, to name a few. Insider Tip: They buy pricier but more tender cuts of grade A top round beef and roast it for hours. The James River Barbeque sauce now adorning most of the sandwiches in the region was first used by Lagonakis, who sought out and helped create the recipe in West Virginia. Also Known For: Got the late-night munchies? No problem—they’re open until 2 a.m. during the week and until 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Melt-in-your-mouth pastrami and hand-breaded chicken fingers are also favorites. Customer Raves: “Great place for a thick roast beef sandwich with the sauce. Very generous portion sizes and there can be a line but it’s worth waiting for.” —insiderpages.com. Get There: 9 Bridge St., 978-744-9835. (Additional locations in Woburn, Saugus and Peabody.)
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out: King’s Roast Beef, 145 North St., 978-745-7779; kingsroastbeef.weebly.com. Sammy’s Roast Beef, 17 Canal St., 978-744-7777.
Royal Roast Beef and Seafood
Established: In 1997; sold between family friends in 2008. Insider Tip: Owner Klement Mance jokes that his specialty is giving both his beef and customers extra love and attention. Also Known For: The signature House Special sandwich is piled with beef, BBQ sauce, mayo, and horseradish for an extra kick. Try the homemade baklava to satisfy your sweet tooth. Customer Raves: “I love the BBQ sauce they use on the roast beef sandwiches… it has a great spice and kick to it.” —yelp.com. Get There: 475 Main St., 781-438-7779.
Jimbo’s Famous Roast Beef & Seafood
Established: In 2007, with a second location recently opened in Somerville. Insider Tip: Call ahead to place your order and pick up via a convenient drive through. Also open until 3 a.m. on weekends. Also Known For: Using fresh, quality ingredients, including certified Angus beef, and happily modifying to fit your dietary needs. A menu of healthy options is also in the works. Customer Raves: “Great little gem with a HUGE menu! Don’t let the name fool you… they have WAY more than roast beef.” —yelp.com. Get There: 616 Main St., 978-851-3266; jimbosroastbeef.com.
If you’re in the neighborhood, also check out:
Anthony’s Roast Beef, 1921 Main St., 978-455-2482; anthonystewksbury.com.
Billy’s Famous Roast Beef
Established: In 1989 by two brothers who named the restaurant after their father and both their sons. Insider Tip: Owner Socrates Latrou says their seafood is as fresh as it gets; he buys small-belly clams, haddock, and scallops daily. Also Known For: The lobster roll, which is served with the whole tail, approximately six ounces of meat! Customer Raves: “The roast beef has incredible flavor, especially with cheese. Oh, the pizza rolls are amazing!” —google.com. Get There: 1291 Main St., Wakefield; 781-665-2070.