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Best Vietnamese Sandwiches (bahn mi)

  • m

I've been loyal to Cafe Mong Thu, a tiny hole in the wall on Hyde @ Turk for the freshest bahn mi. I go for the "regular" for $1.75 without the extra meat because the proportions just seem to sing that way. A few thin slices of chicken roll, pate', mayonnaise, marinated shredded carrots and daikon, lots of cilantro, slivered cucumber, slices of fresh jalapeno chiles, and that wonderful spicy/sweet sauce drizzled on a crisp French roll that pulls it all together. Intense and light at the same time.

But today I tried the grilled chicken bahn mi, $2.25, from Saigon Sandwiches on Larkin @ Ellis, and it was incredibly delicious. This is heavier on the meat, and I liked how they pull out some of the inside of the French roll to make room. The chicken was so succulent and dressed with some of the jellied pan drippings for another layer of flavor. Nearly a handful of sparkling fresh and very tender coriander, lots of shredded carrots and a couple slices of jalapeno were stuffed in the roll in sequence so that each bite had a little different combination and taste. What else can deliver so much deliciousness for two bucks and change?

One to avoid is the bbq pork sandwich, $2.50, from Viet Nam Restaurant on Broadway @ Columbus in Chinatown. The meat was grilled with no seasoning at all, no sauce to add flavor, hardly any veggies, and the bread was fresh but tasted like sawdust. There's no excuse for serving up bad bread in the City.

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    Alexandra Eisler

    Thanks for the tip.

    I was reading it and salivating; you describe exactly everything I love about my old spot in Oakland. You HAVE to try the BBQ pork bahn mi at Cam Huong on Webster in Oakland Chinatown. (I can't remember the exact address, same block as Bank of Canton).

    It will restore your faith in humanity.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Alexandra Eisler

      Thanks, that's the second recommendation for Cam Huong. Another on my list for the East Bay days . . .

      Where else do chowhounds recommend for bahn mi?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I didn't shop around much for bahn mi, but I did enjoy those I found at a deli whose name I forget, on Kearny, west side, between Sutter and California. It's called something like "Deli Express," next door to a (not recommended) quick-Thai food joint. I almost always had the barbecued pork--once or twice a little gristly, but usually very tasty, moist and richly seasoned, just the right amount of cilantro, jalapenos, pickled carrots, etc. (I skipped mayo) on fresh bread. Good iced vietnamese-style coffee too; very nice people. Maybe not a destination place, but it was my fave financial district/union square snack. This was 2 years ago.

        1. re: Mary

          Them Key (sp?) on Eddy @ Larkin(behind Pagolac) they used to do 5 sandwiches for 4$ which rocks-they prolly still do it. There is also a place on Broadway @ Columbus, I think called Vietnam (might have the ubiquitous 89 assocoated with the name..?) that is great. The there is a place out on Mission at Excelsior that has a womans name like Dana or or Donna, on east side of Mission. MMM-MMM cilantro, bbq pork, carrots, cucumber and fish sauc-y mayo-y french bread-jeeze, I better go now.

          1. re: michelle

            Which sandwich do you like at Viet Nam Restaurant on Broadway? As mentioned in the root message to this thread, the bbq pork one is awful. But maybe I ordered the wrong thing there.

      2. re: Alexandra Eisler
        m
        Melanie Wong

        Last week i had a stop in downtown Oakland on my way to Sacramento and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try Cam Huong which you and a couple other chowhounds had recommended. Almost had a scare when I first came upon Cam Huong the bakery but ambled on further and found the bahn mi and coffe shop.

        My experience with bahn mi is SF is that these are on the small size, so i tried two kinds to have one for breakfast and one for lunch. Cam Huong's turns out to be far more substantial in every way. The roll itself is bigger and crustier, less delicate but still of good quality. Then there's more packed inside too.

        I didn't remember your favorite and ordered the grilled chicken and the special pork combo (pork roll, head cheese and paté). The chicken didn't have the succulence of my favorite at Saigon Sandwiches, but if it was judged by itself was still very tasty. The combo was great too - the paté was much more flavorful. The aroma had filled my parked car with the smells of jalapeño, sweet onions, spicy paté, rice vinegar and fish sauce. These were $1.75 and $2.00, respectively, the same as in SF but about 25% bigger.

        Btw, while waiting for my sandwiches to be assembled I noticed the steamed pork roll (that rubbery cold cut) in the deli case. It was made a packer in Chicago and the ingredients are pork, anchovy extract, and various fillers. Mystery solved!

      3. Thanks for the excellent suggestion. I am pretty sure our sandwiches were 1.75, though. Both 1.75 and 2.25 were listed on the board, but 2 sandwiches and 2 sodas were $5.40. My daughter got the chicken and I got the pork. Thankfully there were no gelatinous material as described or it would not have got eaten. Both items were moist and the buns were warmed, a nice touch. Too much grated carrot is just a minor complaint. We would go again, but my daughter chewed on a hair and lost her appetite. I'll have to go again alone. Oh, unless we went to the wrong place, this is not at Ellis, it is one block down, across from the Hotel Phoenix. We spent a long time looking for it.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Anne
          m
          Melanie Wong

          Guess that would be at Eddy - sorry to have steered you wrong. I have a dyslexia about those two streets, and a continued aversion to Eddy lingering from the time a hit-and-run driver ran into my car there. Glad you found it and liked it.

          The time I was at Saigon Sandwiches I observed the sandwich being made for the man ahead of me, and asked for the same thing. Some of the shops charge a little more for extra meat. Maybe this was the case this time, as it seemed unusually generous.

          1. re: Anne
            m
            Melanie Wong

            Yep, one and the same. I was there again last week and tried the "special combination" which is steamed pork (rubbery cold cut), roast pork, and pate' bahn mi. It appears that all the other sandwiches are $1.75 except the special combination and chicken which are $2.25.

            But the reason I'm posting today is that I bought the tapioca pudding that's sitting on the counter (small plastic tub, no label). This is just wonderful - several long slices of firm and not too sweet red bananas topped with tapioca pearl in coconut cream and garnished with some fried/toasted chopped nuts that could be peanuts or pine nuts. Incredibly rich, I think this was $2.

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              s
              Steven Stern

              Glad to hear that Saigon Sandwiches is still around--I believe that that's the place that sustained me back in the late 80s/early 90s, when I worked at SFMOMA (when it was still on Van Ness). My first banh mi, and still, in memory, the best.

              I'm wondering, though, about a place called Nhu's, that I think was around the corner (on Eddy, maybe?). Other places were better for pho and imperial rolls and rice plates, but I went to Nhu's when I was flush, to spend a whole six dollars or so on their clay-pot caramel-sauce fish ("Ca Kho To"). Some seriously funky catfish sizzling in a sweet and fish-saucy sauce, theirs was my favorite rendition of what I often think is my all-time favorite dish. The restaurant never seemed to be doing all that well, though--a lot of the time I was the only person there during lunch hour.

              They can't still be there, can they?

              If they are, please tell the owner that there's a guy in New York who's still looking for Ca Kho To that measures up to theirs.

              1. re: Steven Stern
                m
                Melanie Wong

                Glad to provide a trip down memory lane, Steven. Checking the phone book, no Nhu's, but I'll watch for it the next time I drive by that neighborhood.

          2. Finally made it to Saigon Sandwich! A sparkle in the day. A few notes: this place is open daily and early. M-F 7am to 4:45pm. Sat 7am to 4:30pm. Sun 7:30am to 4:30pm. There is a tiny area to sit and enjoy your sandwich immediately, if the seats are unoccupied. The hot peppers are quite hot and I couldn't hold the fire from the generous amount of peppers in my sandwich.

            A question: there are lots of unlabeled, layered custard and tapioca treats in the refrigerator. What's in them specifically and what do other hounds recommend of these?