Bánh mì Saigon
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli
Ever since I moved from Washington, D.C. to New York City I have craved the Vietnamese food that I could get at the Eden Center in Northern Virginia. The Eden Center, plus numerous other places in Reston, Fairfax, Centerville, the list goes on, have the availability of great Vietnamese food. Not just Pho either, the all powerful, all delicious, Bánh mì.
The Bánh mì is traditionally a sandwich served on a French style baguette with pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro, jalepeno peppers, cucumbers, a spicy mayo (usually with raw egg), pâté and various meat fillings. In the past, I typically go right for one with pâté and various sliced meats. Since I’ve been in NYC, I have not found any really good (there have been some average variations) Pho or Vietnamese food, but today, I did find some great Bánh mì.
A DC food blog turned Los Angeles food blog, I Flip For Food just recently posted the first round of a battle of Bánh mì in LA. This post got me craving Bánh mì again and I decided to use her battle of the sandwich idea for this post. There are not necessarily the two best Bánh mì joints in Manhattan, but both have lots of reviews and were close by to each other. To be fair, I placed the same order at both establishments. I ordered the bánh mì nem nướng, which is grilled minced pork with a sweet glaze. I ordered them spicy at both places for the ultimate comparison. Maybe this March, I’ll go with others and create a March Madness bánh mì bracket.
We will start with Bánh mì Saigon. This is considered one of the best in NYC and recently moved to a larger location. This sandwich shop is a bit larger and clearly does a high volume of business. They offer seven different sandwiches to choose from, and I went with the #1, spicy. This contained your regular ingredients, plus grilled minced pork with a sweet glaze.
Despite being a little bit busy, my sandwich was ready in less than 1 minute — can’t complain about service that fast. The sandwich was $3.75, which is very high by Bánh mì. standards (should be $2-2.50), but in Manhattan, you have to consider that very reasonable price for what you get. The sandwich was served on amazing, fresh bread that was crispy on the outside, yet had a nice soft interior. The only problem here is that there was too much bread. The serving size was very acceptable, though I have to say the amount of pork received was a bit lacking. The spice level was not high, despite the ordering of “spicy.” The pork itself was crisp and warm, but not tough at all, which is the mark of a tasty sandwich. The picked veggies were fresh and not overloaded and there was just enough cilantro to last for the entire sandwich. Along with the pork pieces was a nice slice of cold cut, which was a nice surprise and added a nice flavor. Overall, this bánh mì took me back to the Eden Center where I first laid eyes on the delicious sandwich. However, I must note that in NYC it appears that the minced pork is the specialty as opposed to the cold cuts with pate (which is my favorite).
The next stop on the sandwich tour was Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli. Just around the corner in the eastern part of Chinatown, sits this little gem and what I would more refer to as a slight “hole-in-the-wall.” Saigon Vietnamese was smaller, offered less seating, but boasted a larger menu. Here eight options stretched on the meat portion of the menu, plus an additional four Vegetarian and Vegan options. The first time I have seen Vegan Bánh mì.
The same minced pork sandwich cost $4.25 here, an increase of .50 cents. Was this higher charge worth it? Hmmm. Unlike Bánh mì Saigon, the sandwich here took a little more time, but the bread came out crispy and warm, which was a nice treat. The bread was crispy, and there was much less of it. The ratio of bread to filling was much better than Bánh mì Saigon. You could tell that the sandwiches here are served with a bit of love (cue Carla from Top Chef). The sandwich here was definitely larger. The baguette here was thinner and therefore less filling. The minced pork filling here was much more plentiful than the previous sandwich and the spicy level was higher. Here, they did give a little too much cilantro and cucumber and they didn’t slice my sandwich, something that is necessary.
The bread: Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli – more taste, less filling (unlike Bud Light)
The filling: Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli – more filling, and spicier
The condiments: Bánh mì Saigon – just the right amount
The Price: Bánh mì Saigon – while it was a tad smaller, .50 cents is . 50 cents
The Winner: Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli. I really wanted to love Bánh mì Saigon more, especially since it is the highest rating of any shop in Manhattan. However, between the cost, the bread and the overall sandwich, I had to give the nod to Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli, but it was CLOSE. I might have to go back an try this again. Both were worth opponents and I can see a Title Match in the future on pay-per-view.
**Next time, I will be getting the cold cut versions, as I prefer that to the heavier/more filling, minced pork.**