I feel like I'm out of my mind writing a Budget Beat article about a place serving $9 sandwiches.
But hear me out. This ain't just any sandwich I'm talking about. These are some of the best sandwiches you'll find, definitely worth the extra bucks. Second, the restaurant serving them is one of the Valley's best, known more for $50 four-course prix fixe dinners.
The restaurant in question is Noca. It used to be that if you didn't have the cash to go on a regular night, you had to wait until the end of the weekend for one of their $35 Sunday Simple Suppers. Now, they have introduced fast-casual Nocawich. The bar is converted into a panini station that offers six standard sandwiches, plus a special. Also on offer are two green salads, two side salads, and a daily soup. Sandwiches are around the $10 mark, but are small enough that a side order is practically mandatory.
Everything is served in to-go containers and paper bags; you can take your meal on the run, or have a seat and watch the chefs prepare that night's dinner service.
The special was irresistible: Leslie Chow, Noca's take on banh mi. It featured teriyaki glazed Berkshire pork belly, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and Sriracha aïoli. I could have gone for thinner slices of pork belly (which was nicely crisped on the edges), and I would have appreciated a crustier baguette, but it was still an outstanding sandwich, the sweet teriyaki, rich pork belly, and tart veggies playing off of each other perfectly.
Next was the Doogie Howser, Noca's classic grilled cheese. White cheddar is a perfect choice between whole grain bread, accented by deeply caramelized onions and (optional) bacon. The flavor profile makes it an excellent choice to dunk into that day's soup. It's simple, it's flawless, it's the most budget-friendly choice at $7.
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My favorite of all of the sandwiches I've tried at Nocawich is the Cisco Kid ($9). Who knew a turkey sandwich would get me shouting from the rooftops? They start by roasting the turkey in-house, then top it with bacon, cheddar cheese, arugula, cranberry jam, and a light smear of roasted garlic aïoli, and put it in the same whole grain bread as the Doogie Howser. This is one serious sandwich. Everything comes together in perfect harmony, much more than the sum of its parts.
I've been going to Noca for a while, and one thing I have learned about going there is that their soups are always a knockout. I'm pretty sure they could stop the rest of their service, switch to an all-soup model, and make obscene amounts of money doing it. The mushroom soup ($6, $3.50 with a sandwich) I sampled was no exception: Pure velvet on the tongue, lavishly rich and bursting with earthy mushrooms.
As good as Nocawich is, I wonder how lines aren't snaking out the door on word of mouth alone. Portions are a little on the small side, but this is a quality over quantity proposition. Don't think of it as an expensive sandwich, think of it as an inexpensive way to sample one of the best restaurants in Phoenix. If you live in the area around Noca, keep an eye on those usually useless direct mail coupon books. I've seen coupons for buy-one-get-one-free sandwiches. One of those turns a Nocawich meal into a very budget-friendly proposition.