These Spokane restaurants' French dip sandwiches are juicy, cheesy, savory, salty and darn good

click to enlarge The Tri-Tip Dip at North Hill 
on Garland. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
The Tri-Tip Dip at North Hill on Garland.

The qualities of a definitive French dip, as it turns out, can be a little contentious. Is anything but melted Swiss cheese OK? What distinguishes it from a Philly cheesesteak? What toppings, if any, are acceptable? Like many American staples, the sandwich's defining origins aren't totally clear. And as illustrated here, plenty of chefs take creative liberties with this beloved classic. There are, however, a few required elements for a "true" French dip sandwich: served hot, with thin slices of beef piled on a hoagie roll or baguette (i.e. French) bread. Above all, it absolutely must be served with a side of savory, rich au jus for dipping.

Charley's Grill & Spirits

801 N. Monroe
What we got: French Dip, $10

Located at the edge of Spokane's bustling courthouse campus, Charley's Grill & Spirits on Monroe offers up exactly what you picture when you think of a good ol' fashioned French dip — a nice warm sandwich stuffed with thinly sliced roast beef topped with melty Swiss cheese and onions that've been sauteed to get that perfect softness with a hint of sweet caramelization. The roll is toasted especially crispy on the edges, which gives the sandwich the hold you need when dipping it into the salty cup of au jus. Served with soup, salad or fries, and coming in at only $10 before tax, it's a great way to grab some comfort food at lunch (or dinner: they're open 11 am to 11 pm weekdays and evenings on Saturday). (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)

Cascadia Public House

6314 N. Ash
What we got: The Steak Dip, $15

Warm, filling, juicy, cheesy, toasty, salty. These six worthy traits and more you'll find in the perfectly executed take on the French dip at Cascadia Public House in North Spokane. The popular neighborhood joint teams up with regional supplier St. Helens Beef to source its sandwich's sliced culotte steak, piled atop a fresh Alpine Bakery hoagie roll, and cooked well but perfectly soft and easy to bite into. Melty fontina cheese coats each bite, and the bun is spread with a house-made horseradish aioli giving a nice kick that contrasts to the savory, salty cup of au jus. Add crispy or grilled onions for 75 cents extra, if you prefer. While I love onions on most sandwiches, I went with the classic preparation and didn't miss out. To balance out the filling and salty main course, I picked a salad as my side; other options are fries or fruit, with soup, mac and garlic or parmesan fries available as upgrades. (CHEY SCOTT)

North Hill on Garland

706 W. Garland
What we got: Tri-Tip Dip, $12

For what seems in retrospect like a ridiculous length of time, some friends and I debated what makes a "true" French dip sandwich. I always fell on the side of "meat, bread, au jus and that's it!" With age, though, comes wisdom — or at least an evolving palate — and I've come to accept various restaurants' and delis' insistence on throwing additional toppings on what was, plain and simple, an already delicious sandwich. In fact, in the case of the North Hill on Garland's Tri-Tip Dip, I've even embraced what once made me recoil in horror. And that's because their combination of house-smoked tri-tip steak, caramelized onions, baby Swiss cheese and — this is vitally important — horseradish cream served on a soft bun with a side of pleasingly salty au jus has become a cravable sandwich that sticks in my brain even when weeks go by between visits. The relatively new spot on Garland has a nice vibe, just a few booths and a bar, and serves the Tri-Tip Dip with a side of green salad, pasta salad, chips or the soup of the day. (DAN NAILEN)

The Onion

302 W. Riverside
What we got: French Swiss Dip, $10/half; $14.50/full

As someone who usually opts for a sandwich with more veggies and less meat, a French dip with a hefty serving of beef and melted Swiss usually isn't my first choice. But maybe I should reconsider. Not only is the Onion's French dip a deliciously hearty sandwich, it's a fun meal. How often do you get to dunk your lunch? The briny au jus absorbs deliciously into the sandwich, adding more flavor to the beef and the bread. The beef sits in a grilled hoagie roll that whispers garlic. You can pair this French dip with fruit, fries or a pea salad. I also recommend closing out your meal at the Onion with the Messy Face Brownie ($8.75), because every night should end with a half-pound chocolate chip brownie covered in vanilla ice cream and molten fudge. (ARCELIA MARTIN)

The Elk Public House

1931 W. Pacific
What we got: French Dip Royale, $13.50

This Browne's Addition mainstay has a few great sandwiches to choose from, but their take on the French dip has got to be the star of the menu. It starts off simply enough, with sirloin steak on a baguette roll, but the neighborhood pub tops that with caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese, which add a sweet and savory element to an otherwise simple sandwich. Then there's the horseradish mayo, a bit of heat that perfectly complements the salty au jus. You have your choice of several sides at the Elk — including chips, salad and soup — but there's no better option than their famous roasted corn pasta, which is refreshing and a little spicy and totally addictive. (NATHAN WEINBENDER) ♦

ALSO TRY:

  • Lost Boys' Garage: Roast Beef & French Onion ($11)
  • The Screaming Yak: Yak Dip ($11)
  • 1898 Public House: House-smoked Brisket Dip ($15)
  • Outlaw BBQ: Brisket French Dip ($10; Wed only)
  • Dockside: Prime Rib French Dip ($17)
  • Italia Trattoria: French Dip ($13; brunch only)
  • True Legends Grill: The French Connection ($13)
  • Three Peaks Kitchen + Bar: French Dip ($13)
  • Central Food: Mushroom Melt ($12; vegetarian)
  • The Satellite Diner: Philly Steak Sandwich ($12)

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