I’m sure you have an answer for those questions! Yesterday, Jordan Michelman’s blog post on the New York Times magazine site, declared that the best banh mi sandwich was in Seattle at Saigon Deli in the very Asian ID (International District). Along with that one, he also gave shout outs to these banh mi hotspots in the nation:
- Seattle: Saigon Deli (1237 South Jackson Street), Sun Bakery & Cafe (658 South Jackson Street)
- Portland: Best Baguette (8303 SE Powell Boulevard)
- New York: Baoguette (61 Lexington Ave, multiple Manhattan locations), Momofuku Ssäm Bar (207 Second Ave, Manhattan), Ba Xuyen (4222 Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn), Tan Thanh (5818 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn)
- New Orleans: Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery (14207 Chef Menteur Highway)
- Atlanta: Lee’s Bakery (4005 Buford Highway NE), Quoc Huong (5150 Buford Highway NE)
- San Jose: Lee’s Sandwiches (260 East Santa Clara Street)
- Los Angeles: Nom Nom Truck
- San Francisco: Saigon Sandwich (560 Larkin Street)
Do note that on HuffingtonPost.com, the drunken chicken banh mi from Seattle’s Baguette Box was given the #8 spot for the top 10 best new sandwiches in the United States. We all have opinions like we all have belly buttons, right?
Does banh mi have to be cheap food?
There were many things that stood out to me in Michelman’s story, but one popped the most. It’s something that grates on me because I hear it so much when Asian and non-Asian people talk about Asian food: Good Asian food has to be cheap Asian food. Michelman echoed that sentiment in this sentence:
While these sandwiches, usually found in bakeries and delis in Vietnamese neighborhoods, are endlessly customizable, they should always be inexpensive — beware the banh mi over $6.
Indeed, banh mi are notoriously cheap in Viet enclaves, mostly because of stiff competition. When I was a teenager, I took advantage of many “buy 2 get 1 free” banh mi deals. Cheap Asian food can taste good, bad, or “just okay.”
Regardless of quality, there is a lot of labor that goes into making banh mi, just like with pho and other traditional street foods. Often times, the people who do make banh mi are underpaid and overworked.
I’d love to savor good ingredients assembled by well-paid workers to create excellent banh mi. That banh mi will cost over $6 but it’ll be worth it. I also pray for the day when “cheap” is not so easily attached to tasty Asian food.
We are willing to pay dearly for Italian, French and Cal-Med food. Why don’t we want to pay more money for Asian food?
Your Best Banh Mi in America?
As for the finding the best banh mi in America, there have been more than 150 comments since “The Vietnamese Sandwich: Banh Mi in America” was published yesterday. A few highlights from uppity banh mi lovers:
- Any article about banh mi in America without a mention of banh mi culture in Houston is an article that is half baked.
- Although Saigon Deli in Seattle is a solid choice for this list, the newer Q Bakery in South Seattle on MLK Way is much better in my opinion. They put out a high quality banh mi on much better bread that they bake in house, unlike Saigon Deli where the bread is from another vendor.
- Lee's Sandwich is like the McDonald's of banh mi.
- This article is missing any mention of Orange Country, CA — home to the largest Vietnamese population in the United States.
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada likely has the most Banh Mi shops per square km in North America and also most delicious!
- Banh Mi Che Cali in Westminster, Ca is hands down the BEST Vietnamese Sandwich in America. [This has been a Little Saigon locals’ favorite for years.]
- The Hanoi and Saigon versions are certainly tasty but also monotonous; ironically, they are being crowded out by the 'doner kebab.' The invading species first appeared in Vietnam's cities five or six years ago, reportedly the invention of a Vietnamese 'guest worker' returned from Germany.
What’s your favorite place to grab banh mi? What makes the sandwich good to you? Got a report on the doner kebab in Hanoi? (I only saw one stall last June but wasn’t looking hard.)
What’s the least and most that you’ve paid for banh mi?
Master Banh Mi sandwich
Homemade Vietnamese baguette (banh mi)
Easy mayonnaise (sot mayonnaise)
Daikon and Carrot Pickle (do chua)
Grilled lemongrass pork (thit heo nuong xa)
Meatball banh mi sandwich (banh mi xa xiu)
Quick Char Siu Pork (on Asiandumplingtips.com, my other site)
Roasted Pork Belly sandwich (thit heo quay)
Check the recipe index for more filling ideas!