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Sau Voi: Back to Banh Mi Basics

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Banh mi have become so ubiquitous (e.g. David Chang, Zak Pelaccio, Republic) I half expect McDonald's to come out with a McBanh Mi. New York Magazine recently deconstructed one for its readers amid the new "tsunami" of banh mi joints opening up around NYC. I finally figured out what it is that I love about banh mi which I've been eating for many years all over North America before their new "discovery". Sau Voi may be the very first place in Manhattan to offer banh mi when it opened as a corner grocery store some 15 years ago in Tribeca. Now on the corner of Lafayette and Walker, they still probably sell more lotto tickets than banh mi. But for $3 and change the minced roast pork, funky pate/terrine, mystery ham with cucumber, cilantro, pickled julienned carrots and daikon on fresh warm crusty baguette with no waiting and open 12 hours, 7 days aweek, may not have been the best banh mi on the continent ( for that see my ranking: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/593088 ) but it was damn good.

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  1. this was the first place i ever tried banh mi -- back in '96, i think -- and it's still a sentimental fave of mine. they don't skimp on spice and there's a nice funk about a lot of the sandwiches. the (premade) other dishes are a-ok as well

    5 Replies
    1. re: david sprague

      I agree that Sau Voi is a quintessential banh mi hole-in-the-wall. They make what I feel is the best meatball banh mi in the city. Lately, one of the women has begun to understand my English language requests for more chili peppers and she will go heavy on the heat if you ask.

      I also agree that the widespread popularity of banh mi is producing bland, standardized, souless banh mi shops opened by people who know and care nothing about banh mi but want to cash in on the craze. Baoguette - while I'm not necessarily putting it in that category - is certainly a step in that direction.

      1. re: Skillet Licker

        Agree about Sau Voi. I keep trying the others and coming back here. Gourmet it isn't, nor is that what I want from them.

        1. re: Skillet Licker

          I'm also a huge fan of the meatball banh mi there. There are two factors that keep me coming back to Sau Voi:

          - the location is perfect. It just doesn't feel like a banh mi unless I'm ordering it in bizarre confines

          - the size is just right. Too many of the banh mi down in NYC are enormous. I feel over-full after eating one of Saigon's sandwiches. Sau Voi is that perfect just-bigger-than-a-snack sandwich size

        2. re: david sprague

          Saigon Bakery or a shop located near the same location as the old Saigon Bakery under the bridge on East Broadway predates Sau Voi. I remember getting banh mi there as early as the 80's.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Yes, and even then they ran out of banh mi by 5pm.