Ever since I spent considerable time in the heavily Vietnamese sections of Sydney, Australia, I’ve been infatuated with the natural fusion of French-Vietnamese food. As missionaries, in the morning we’d head out of the flat and the first thing we’d do is find a Vietnamese bakery for the best croissants or ham and cheese croissants in the city. They were amazing.
For some reason, however, I don’t remember eating many banh mi sandwiches, which are, in my estimation, the pinnacle of all east-west fusion foods: a warm, crusty baguette filled with fresh vegetables – usually pickled daikon, julienned carrots, cucumber, onion and cilantro – and a number of possible choices for meat – from vietnamese meatballs or roast pork to pate or fish balls. At worst, the sandwiches are a great break from the standard lunch fare. At best, they are one of the most satisfying foods on earth. All hyperbole intended.
It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I really got sucked into the world of the banh mi sandwich.
Over the years, I’ve been trying to find the best banh mi in the city. After many a lunch in Chinatown scouting lots of possibilities, here are my top three:
- A Chau Deli
82 Mulberry St,
New York, NY
I stumbled on A Chau more than two years ago. It’s on the edge of Chinatown on Mulberry street a little south of Canal. It’s a tiny shop that sells little more than six different varieties of bahn mi sandwiches. Great crusty bread, spicy sliced jalapeños and a perfect salty-sweet sauce makes these my favorites. Banh mi sandwiches run around $4, depending on the choice of meat.
- Saigon Banh Mi Sandwich
369 Broome St.
New York, NY
Frankly, I really don’t know the proper name of this place. It’s either Saigon Sandwich, Banh Mi, or, as Google Maps calls it, Banh Mi So #1. Whatever the case, this is another great banh mi deli-style restaurant in the north section of Little Italy, just shy of SoHo. Like A Chau, there are no tables. The banh mi sandwiches there are excellent. I think the bread at A Chau is slightly better, but the sandwiches here are excellent, as long as you get them fresh. They premake a lot of them, so try to get ones freshly made. Banh mi sandwiches run around $4.
- Bao’s Noodles
391 2nd Ave.
New York, NY
Bao’s is a restaurant of a different ilk than the others. First, it’s in Murray Hill, near the corner of 23rd and 2st. Second, it’s a proper restaurant, serving Banh Mi, Pho and other Vietnamese fare. And third, it’s clearly aware of it’s non-Chinatown surroundings, offering a more typical midscale Manhattan restaurant feel, while serving good Vietnamese mildly tailored for an American palate. The banh mi sandwiches are very good, though not quite as authentic. Nevertheless, the sandwiches are still excellent. My favorite, the grilled chicken banh mi (marinated, grilled chicken thighs), runs around $6.95. And while I’d prefer the option of having daikon and jalapeños on the sandwich, the fact that it’s close to work and would be perfectly suitable for any non adventurous eater too, it scores highly.
So, those are my top three. What are yours?