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Serving Sandwiches in Washington - With an 'International Accent'

The menu on the wall at international sandwich shop SunDeVich shows a varied selection reflecting cuisine from arounf the globe, December 2011.
The menu on the wall at international sandwich shop SunDeVich shows a varied selection reflecting cuisine from arounf the globe, December 2011.

Washington DC is a melting-pot of people from around the globe. The many races and cultures are reflected in its foods. Among the choices are countless Asian, African and Middle Eastern eateries restaurants. But one Iranian-American business owner has put a twist on a classic Western cuisine… and earned a name for himself along the way.

Anyone can make a sandwich. But only Ali Bagheri makes a sandwich with an accent.

“Those of us in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe all pronounce the word ‘sandwich,’ ‘sundevich.' So we joked around and we’re like, ‘SUNDEVICH!’” said Bagheri.

SunDeVich serves international flavors

But the international flavor of “SunDeVich” goes beyond just the name of his restaurant. The menu reads like the stamps on a passport - with sandwiches named for cities around the globe.

“Every city really reflects on the flavor profile. It’s important that we stay true to what the inspiration was, but still put our own spin on it,” said Bagheri.

His mom helps with that spin… but this is Bagheri’s kitchen.

“It's funny to have the tables turned… that watching her little by little, and now she asks me, ‘Hey taste this... is this okay? Does this need salt?’”

The mother-son team uses local ingredients to make foreign favorites - like tongue sandwiches and kabob.

“We don't have a freezer. We don't have walk-in coolers. We prep what we can for the day. We sell what we can for the day. And then we start again tomorrow,” said Bagheri.

All while staying true to tradition.

“We subscribe to the techniques and the ideologies that have been around for thousands of years, but every operation is different. You have different equipment, you have different staffing… you have certain limitations in every area. You just gotta [have to] see what works best for you.”

Washington's best sandwiches

And it seems like things are working well for Bagheri. Washington Post readers recently voted SunDeVich the city’s best sandwich shop.

“We never thought we would win. We just wanted to capture a little bit of market share so our name remained on there. Next thing we know, they’re coming in like, “You won… this happened…” and then the line went out the door,” said Bagheri.

“I heard that it got an award for the best sandwich in DC,” said one patron. “Our neighbor told us about it.”

“I used to work at an Iranian/Mediterranean restaurant… and it was delicious… and I remember the meat; the kubideh kabob. I’ve never been to Iran, but I love Iranian food, and it seems very authentic,” said one woman.

Fresh, local ingredients featured

“Our whole thing was: let the food speak for itself. You’re not sure what to order; you’re kind of hesitant. But once you bite into the sandwich… you’re a believer from there, and that was all we want: that ‘wow’ factor that’s just going to surprise you,” said Bagheri.

Perhaps not surprising is the inherent challenge a sandwich shop faces.

“A sandwich is probably one of the first things you made as a kid. Whether it was pb&j [peanut butter and jelly] or a baloney and cheese… everyone considers themselves an… ‘I make great sandwiches!’” said Bagheri.

Bagheri said he makes great sandwiches from local ingredients, golden baguettes, and flavors inspired from around the world. And that sounds good in any language.