My Banh Mi Ranking
When asked what he did for a living Henry David Thoreau famously replied that he was "an inspector of snowstorms". In a similar vein, I'd reply that I am an inspector of banh mi. So, with no further ado, here is my ranking based on my still too infrequent inspections:
10. Seattle Deli (Seattle)
Saigon Deli (Seattle)
9.Saigon Sandwich (Larkin Street, SF)
Baguette Express (Larkin Street, SF)
Wrap Delight (Larkin Street, SF)
8. Banh Mi Cao Thang (Montreal)
7. Nicky's (East Village-pork chop)
6. Paris Sandwich (Mott street, NYC)
5. Momofuku Ssam Bar (13th St, NYC)
4. Banh Mi So 1 (Broome St., NYC)
3. Saigon Bakery (Mott St., NYC)
2. Ba Xuyen (Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY)
1. Banh Mi DC (Falls Church, VA)
But here's the shocker. I must do further research but I may have just had a banh mi last weekend that could unseat the Falls Church banh mi as #1. Very controversial as it's a new place and there's been mixed reviews (though kudos to Ed Levine at Serious Eats for daring to make the call early). Baogette on Lex last Saturday morning at 11am as they opened made me a Platonic banh mi. Perfect bread, perfect ingredients (including a homemade terrine that rivals David Chang's yuppie banh mi at Momofuku). Back to inspecting.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts upon further eating. I just had a fantastic banh mi at baoguette, which was the first one I've had there(I've tried some of their other sandwiches though). Though I'm relatively new to banh mi(it hasn't been my "snowstorm" to use your/Thoreau's great analogy), it was at least as good as the half dozen or so I've had at Banh Mi So 1. For the total experience I love Banh Mi So 1, the proprietor's friendliness, the homey hidden gem vibe, the nolita/chinatown locale, the experience of eating outside on the folding chair on a nice day, etc.. But I live closer to Baoguette, and if we are just talking about the deliciousness of the sandwich, after a sample size of one it is right up there and a terrific addition to my gastronomical map.
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Boi to go. This place gets flack for being in Midtown(so therefore pricey yada yada yada), but the Banh Mi that I have had from there have been very, very tasty. And hey, if you can eat for less than $10 is the price issue important?
I also recommend the intimate, delicious flagship Vietnamese restaurant around the corner - BOI.
So if I have a bahn mi craving I can either drive 10 minutes to Sunset Park or get on I-95 and in 5 hours I'll be in Falls Church Va. Hmmmmm.
Seriously, nice list. If you haven't been back to Ba Xuyen since the summer I strongly recommend that you do. They've changed their bread supplier and the sandwiches are even better now.
OK-went back to Baoguette just now before closing. Ingredients get a A: terrrine, roast pork, pate, cucumber thinly sliced, carrots, not sure if there was any cilantro though, jalapenos and, while unorthodox, I like the sriracha sauce mixed with the mayo. The bread this time got a B for being a little too hard but understandable being the end of the day. I'm dropping it to #4 pending further investigation. Also have to try their "sloppy bao"-curry beef with mango sandwich.
I had my second Baoguette banh mi today for lunch as well. The one I had yesterday was better, as today's was good but did not have enough roast pork and pate in the meat-vegetable ratio. The ingredients were terrific but the ratio a bit off. The one I had last night had a great balance between delicious pork-pate-vegetables. Per your note on the late night bread, I haven't been near closing, but have been on two or three occasions earlier in the evening(about 730) and the bread was still very good. The sloppy bao is definitely worth getting too.
thanh da in sunset is just ok not greatness.
but then again seattle deli, if i'm recalling the right place, aint all that either and in chinatown banh mi so 1 is better than saigon on mott.
rankings aside -- i think for universiality this list is missing a lot of great banh mi places! for example, one in cleveland's chinatown i can think of right off the bat and also some i can almost imagine in houston, minneapolis and vancouver, all cities with substantial viet populations.