What is more pure, more essential to who we are as Americans than the grilled cheese sandwich? The grilled cheese is the embodiment of simplicity, and yet it can still contain such multitudes. It consists of only cheese and bread (perhaps with some minimal adornments)—but which cheese, which bread? At what precise tipping point does it cease to be a grilled cheese and become an entirely different kind of hot sandwich altogether? One could spend a lifetime meditating on this Zen kōan of dairy and carb. We cannot answer these questions for you any better than the ancients could, but we can suggest a direction for your spiritual journey—and that direction is to start by eating these five near-perfect specimens of the most perfect sandwich.
The grilled cheese sandwich at Esters is the sandwich your favorite grilled cheese sandwich has a crush on. A weird, cannibalistic crush. But we’re not here to judge, we are here to talk about how off-the-walls good this sandwich is. The melty blend of Reading, provolone, Reggiano, and bechamel justifies a painful rush-hour drive to Santa Monica, and that’s before they smear the optional ‘nduja across the top. 1314 7th St., Santa Monica
Normally, we would not cotton to maple syrup getting mixed into our grilled cheese melange, but Beer Belly’s whole thing is pushing the junk-food envelope so, in this one case, we’ll allow it. The maple is up in there with cheddar, Swiss, asiago, and goat cheeses, plus a few strips of crispy applewood-smoked bacon. You can even add an egg to make it all brunch-ish. 532 Western Ave., Koreatown
Oh, you fancy, huh? Well, sit your fancy shopping bags down next to a table at Wally’s, and order their classic-yet-decadent grilled cheese sandwich. And wine, too, obviously, since Wally’s is like 90 percent wine cellar—and because, why not? If brioche toasts layered with aged Gruyère and Emmental aren’t luxurious enough for you, upgrade to an Italian truffle-studded option. 447 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills
No visit to Grand Central Market should end without a moment being taken to pay homage to the cheese queens of DTLA Cheese. If you can pry yourself away from the take-home selections in the case, grab a grilled cheese sandwich off their hot food menu. We live for the crispy little cheese edges that stick out of the sides, and they serve it up with house-picked vegetables. The presence of vegetables means you ate a respectable, adult meal. Congratulations. Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, downtown
As the name implies, the ol’ G.C. is Grilled Cheese Truck’s raison d’être. We’re most into their original version, but we live in crazy times, and if you want a sandwich with macaroni and cheese, short rib, and caramelized onions, then you do you. Either way, can we steal just, like, one tater tot? Various locations