I visited a Whole Foods-backed sandwich chain that's built a cult following on the West Coast and saw why Californians love it

Business Insider/Dennis GreenThe Peruvian steak sandwich at Mendocino Farms.
  • Mendocino Farms is a Los Angeles-based sandwich chain with a bit of a following.
  • The chain is famous for its fresh ingredients and commitment to tasty and locally sourced ingredients.
  • The chain currently only has locations in California, but it has announced plans to open a restaurant in Houston, Texas, in 2019.
  • I visited Mendocino Farms on a recent trip to Southern California to see what all the fuss is about.

Mendocino Farms is a jewel.

That’s the only way to describe this relatively small chain of fast-casual restaurants that has made a name for itself on the West Coast for its “better sandwich” concept.

What’s a “better sandwich?” Think mid-priced (like $US11 to $US13) sandwiches, all made with gourmet ingredients that are sourced locally and organic when possible.

That approach has filled a niche in the market and attracted the attention of partners like Whole Foods, which first invested an undisclosed amount in the sandwich chain back in 2015. It has also attracted plenty of customers and helped the chain to expand to 22 locations, with eight more on the way, including one in Houston, Texas.

That shop, announced earlier this year, will be Mendocino Farms’ first location outside of California.

On a recent trip to the Los Angeles area, I decided to check out what a “better sandwich” is all about:


This is Mendocino Farms, a California-based sandwich chain with a serious local fan base. I went to the location near the Grove.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Mendocino Farms isn’t your typical fast-casual joint. Walk into a location, and you’re immediately greeted by a large menu. An employee was waiting right next to it with an iPad to take my order.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I was then directed to the cash register, where I could add drinks and sweets to my order. Customers are also allowed to try anything in the glass case as a free sample.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I walked past the kitchen to get to the dining room and find a place to sit. The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” playing over the speakers put a little pep in my step.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I filled my cup to the brim with blueberry sweet tea. It was $US2.75. I have to say, the blueberry flavoring was a bit artificial-tasting, and the tea was only so-so. I wasn’t sure if this boded well for the rest of the meal, which rang up nearly $US30 in total.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I took in the decor of the establishment, which I found comforting. It wasn’t trying too hard, and that’s what I liked about it.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

About 15 minutes later, my buzzer told me to pick up my food. Boy, does it look good. Kiss’ “Rock & Roll All Nite” filled the restaurant.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

First up, the Save Drake Farm’s Salad. This hearty salad runs about $US12.75, with chicken breast, marinated goat cheese, pink lady beets, green apples, dried cranberries, crushed honey-roasted almonds, red onion, greens, and chopped romaine. It’s topped with a citrus vinaigrette.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

The veggies in this salad were incredibly fresh. That’s likely due to the restaurant’s focus on local produce, but it really shined through.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

The flavours of the dish melded well. The dressing was a little heavy, but I didn’t mind much — this salad tasted damn good. It was hearty but still refreshing.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

In fact, there’s so much stuff packed on this salad, it almost felt like there wasn’t actually enough lettuce, even though the salad was pretty filling.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

If i had to pick a quibble, it would be the chicken. Though it’s free-range, it was also pretty dry and tasteless. It was easily the most disappointing part.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Salads are served with a warmed tortilla, which is a bit of a palate cleanser, but not really needed.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Next, I dug into the Peruvian Steak Sandwich for $US11.45. Look at that gorgeous toasted colour on the torta bread. The Guess Who’s “American Woman” thundered through the loudspeaker.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

The bread was a wonder — supple, and able to be both crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The produce was fresh, but the tender and flavorful steak, marinated with spicy aji amarillo, was the star of the show. It was slightly spicy and completely delicious.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

The invisible turntable switched tracks to “Some Like It Hot” by The Power Station, and I couldn’t eat another bite. I was incredibly satisfied. It’s clear why Mendocino is starting to go interstate —the food is uncommonly good.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I waved goodbye to the de facto mascot of Mendocino Farms, a cow statue with blue spots. The statue appeared sad, but I assured it I would visit again. There are Peruvian steak sandwiches in my future.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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