Subway is the bane of my existence. Remember when we collectively shat ourselves upon discovering that the sandwich chain's bread is made out of ground-up yoga mats or something like that? (I'm pretty sure that's what the news reported, but let's not quibble with facts.)
Long before Jared tried to bamboozle me into thinking Subway's bland-wiches ( trademark! ) were healthy, I'd suffered through far too many conferences and meetings where a dry platter of cheap Subway fare was my nourishment. I cannot muster any enthusiasm for a sammie of sliced lunchmeat, but when that sandwich is actively terrible-tasting, I'm filled with a burning indignation that I should probably try redirecting toward things like poverty and water overuse.
Then along comes the plentiful menu at Escondido's Hungry Bear Sub Shop (302 W. El Norte Pkwy.) to smack me upside the head and tell me that I do love a good grinder, especially one that's done as brilliantly as this North County star does them.
First up, the fresh-baked bread is soft and chewy and tastes like actual bread, not chemicals. No industrial fans waft the scent out the door in some creepy attempt to lure you inside. The joint is always jumping, because North County peeps found out a while ago that the food at this boisterous little shop is delicious.
All you happy traditionalists can ignore my grousing and go for the sliced turkey, roast beef, ham or salami offerings, but I'd encourage you to dive into the steak subs. Tender, well-marbled steak is grilled, chopped up into juicy, bite-sized chunks, then piled on your choice of a pillowy sub roll or slices of bread cut as thick as a dictionary. Classic accompaniments like melted cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and bell peppers hit the spot and make for a perfect lunch.
A few twists on the steak sandwich are worth exploring, like the teriyaki and fajita versions. If you prefer your beef ground up, Hungry Bear has you covered with its unique burger subs.
If you're cutting back on cow, check out one of the chicken offerings. Rarely do I find a restaurant that can pull off a grilled-chicken sandwich that isn't rubbery and bland. Hungry Bear breaks that pattern with moist bits of bird and nary a piece of weird tendon. The Greek chicken is a highlight, with warm, oregano-speckled pieces of chicken overflowing from the roll, moist with tzatziki and zesty with feta cheese and cucumbers.
If you're feeling a little burned out on breakfast burritos, take a gander at the quirky omelet subs on Hungry Bear's menu. Sure, it's just a way to add a ton of carbs to your morning serving of eggs, but if you don't eat anything for the rest of the day, I think you can still feel pretty good about yourself. Even the pickiest of eaters will find something to chow on, from an extra-gooey grilled cheese to peanut butter and jelly to a simple, creamy egg salad.
Although Escondido might be a trek for some, hunting down Hungry Bear is worth the extra few miles. Go ahead and use your yoga mat for its intended purpose.