QUICK BITE: Cassell’s Perfect Tuna Melt at Hotel Normandie

Cassell’s is famous for burgers and homemade pies, but there’s a lesser-known gem on the menu

Every once in a while we want something fast, but not fast food, not processed or pre-packaged. Not a salad or a pizza slice—only a sandwich will do. Cassell’s Hamburgers, a coffee shop on the corner of West 6th Street and Normandie Avenue is famous for burgers and homemade pies, but there’s a lesser-known gem on the menu—the tuna melt. It’s the sandwich to beat in this town.

When preservationist architect Jingbo Lou bought the Normandie Hotel, a run-down residential building, in 2010, he knew it needed a restaurant for guests and its Koreatown neighbors. Instead of a new concept, he brought the original Cassell’s from its location a few blocks away, keeping the 1950s diner vibe and adding enormous windows facing both W. 6th St and Normandie Ave.

The choices on Cassell’s menu remain much the same, but he wanted a new version of the tuna melt, with quality on par with the burgers made there with hand-ground beef. With that in mind, the kitchen staff took the basics of the classic sandwich to new heights without altering the essential sandwich.

The tuna does not come out of the can but is cut from the loin of freshly caught albacore. It’s poached in a special broth with lemon and aromatics, then cooled. The salad is bound with a combination of house-made mayonnaise, celery, red onion, and just the tiniest bit of pickle juice. 

“That little bit of juice makes all the difference,” General Manager Patric Kuh says. There aren’t any American cheese slices in sight; instead, farmstead cheddar.

Aristeo, the grill master, takes those traditional ingredients and creates an ideal version of what could be a ho-hum lunch. A scoop of the salad is placed on the immaculate grill to warm, while the bread is buttered and put under an old-fashioned weight to make sure it’s uniformly crispy. Slices of cheddar are added, not on top of the tuna, but on the sides of the toasting bread. That’s so the cheese spreads out beyond the sandwich. The result is a perfectly crispy outside and a creamy interior. Add pickles, if you like, or it comes with a ramekin of mustard mayo— hand made of course.

Some things haven’t changed at Cassell’s. You can still get a great burger and a slice of pie, made fresh daily. Their fries and onion rings are still cooked perfectly, but now you can order a cocktail or beer and they’ve now included a vegan burger. Even the tuna melt ($18) is a classic but made perfectly.

Cassell’s Hamburgers
Hotel Normandie – 3600 W 6th St.
8 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily

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