HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >

Discussion

Best Banh Mi

  • r

Found a thread from two years ago, but figured I'd be better off getting updated info. So where are your favorite places for Banh Mi?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Allston: Pho Viet (fave overall)
    Chinatown: Mei Sum Bakery, Mike's Banh Mi
    Dot: King Do Baguette

    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

    45 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      I am obviously directionally-challenged. I went to Chinatown today to look for Mei Sum and failed miserably...

      40 Beach St, right? As far as I can tell that's a parking lot, but there aren't many numbers on the various doors to clue me in. I walked back and forth and was unable to crack the code.

      Can someone please explain in utterly simple terms exactly where Mei Sum is?

      On a more positive note, I ended up trying a new place (at least according to the "grand opening" sign -- no clue how long that's been there), Sub City. I tried one sandwich with BBQ beef and a second with Chinese pork, the second being the better of the two. (The beef was a bit stringy, and had a slightly muted flavor.)

      Both sandwiches were filled with a very generous portion of radish, carrot, cucumber, some cilantro, some onion, and some jalapeno. And the bread was, in my opinion, on the better end of the spectrum: crispy exterior, soft and not too airy interior. Neither sandwich, unfortunately, included a squirt of fish sauce, which would have launched them from "very good" to "great."

      1. re: davis_sq_pro

        It's at 36 Beach St. w/a bright red awning on your right if you're facing Washington St.

        -----
        Beach St Cafe
        35 Beach St, Manchester, MA 01944

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          Despite all the online info (like an incorrect Google listing and Google Maps location), Mei Sum is more accurately at about 18 or 20 Beach Street, across the street from Pho Hoa II (at 17 Beach), near the intersection of Knapp and Beach.

          It sounds like Sub City is in the former home of Mike's Banh Mi. It is in what looks like the first floor of a new condo building, an open space with a bunch of other little retailers in it?

          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Thanks for the Mei Sum correction. Will venture back shortly...

            Sub City is in a cramped first floor space with a sushi place and perhaps some other retailers in the back. It's on Beach St directly across Harrison from the aforementioned parking garage (#42), right across from the place labeled only Coffee House.

            1. re: MC Slim JB

              Davis Sq Pro, look up! There is a sign above that says Mei Sum right next to the parking garage. Don't feel bad, i have missed the sign as well. Like McSlim says, approximately across from the Pho Hoa. It's a bakery with a lot of old Asian men in it.

              McSlim, Sub City is literally right next to where Mike's banh mi was. In the same room, just the stall over. Not bad, bread very similar to 163 and new saigon, which I find to be a little too air/crunchy on the outside. Davis sq pro is right, they should definitely start adding some fish sauce (I might have tasted some in my cold cut, but not in the others yet. However, I am a big fan of their pickled vegetables and the rest of their veg was pretty good too. Definitely worth a shot.

            2. re: davis_sq_pro

              Back to Chinatown today for round 2: Mei Sum. Turns out I was only steps away last time.

              Tried the beef and -- based on a recommendation from someone here -- tofu, extra spicy.

              Impressions and comparisons vs my visit to Sub City:

              - The bread, far superior to Sub City's, both in flavor and texture. Perfect, really.
              - The beef, much more tender, but perhaps not quite as flavorful as Sub City's.
              - The vegetable toppings, very good, not quite as generous as Sub City. Doused with fish sauce, which made the entirety of each sandwich sing.
              - The spicy factor: excellent. Small, hot red chiles were used at Mei Sum, vs the larger slices of green chile used by Sub City. Much hotter, and easier to eat in sandwich form.
              - The tofu? Well, it certainly tasted like tofu, but that's about it. I was hoping for something marinated or otherwise flavored. It wasn't bad--I like the flavor of tofu--but after the beef it wasn't very good either.

              All in all, definite preference to Mei Sum's beef. But I'll be returning to Sub City to sample some of the other offerings, e.g. fried pork cake and head cheese, which Mei Sum doesn't offer.

              -----
              Mei Sum Bakery Coffee Shop
              40 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                Davis sq,
                Mei sum does have head cheese, if you order the cold cut, some of it is head cheese. Same goes for Sub City, their coldcut is ham and head cheese, but they allow you to order ham only or head cheese only. In either case, I would suggest getting the cold cut.

                I had the fried pork cake at Sub city, it wasn't very good, it was more akin to a cold cut, but not as flavorful. It was cold, and cut into slices which is what made it similar. Please don't let me deter you from trying it, but that's just my 2 cents. Still looking forward to trying their Shredded pork and their tofu.

                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                  Also, you may not know it unless you're nosy like I am and peer over the counter, but Sub City offers two kinds of chilies: long thin slices of fresh jalapeño, and a kind of lightly pickled relish of fresh bird chilies (red and green crosswise slices) that is rather hotter.

                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    The pickled birds eye chili are essential in my book. it's not the heat, it's the flavor. The pickled does tone them down quite a bit. I'm used to seeing only green ones, like at Banh Mi Ba Le and the first banh mi shop in Chinatown, inside the old supermarket by the jewelry store, who's names I can never recall.

                    -----
                    Banh Mi Ba Le
                    1052 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02125

                    1. re: tatsu

                      I prefer them unpickeled a la Mei Sum. Also Pho Viet in Allston has GREAT bread.

                      -----
                      Pho Viet
                      1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Pho Viet (my favorite bahn mi by a long stretch) gets their bread from some Vietnamese bakery in Fields Corner, says the owner.

                        -----
                        Pho Viet
                        1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                        1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                          Bobalicious in Newton also gets their excellent bread from a Vietnamese Bakery in Field's Corner. I like Pho Viet a lot, Banh Mi Ba Le Cafe (closer to Savin Hill than to Field's Corner) and Bobalicious.

                          -----
                          Banh Mi Ba Le
                          1052 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02125

                          Bobalicious
                          308 Watertown St, Newton, MA 02458

                          Pho Viet
                          1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                          1. re: lipoff

                            >Bobalicious in Newton also gets their excellent bread from a Vietnamese Bakery in Field's Corner.

                            ....and then toast it in a toaster oven until its hard and chewey which tears up the insides of your mouth when you eat it. But even though they are also somewhat pricey and take some time to make a simple sandwich, we have nothing else out in the burbs, so I guess I'll keep going until something else comes around.

                            1. re: LStaff

                              I like the Bobalicious Banh Mi a lot though. I'm assuming that there's been a change in ownership though, because I haven't seen the original owners working there for a long time. But they people who currently work there seem to make the food and drinks exactly the same way, just *incredibly* slowly.

                              -----
                              Bobalicious
                              308 Watertown St, Newton, MA 02458

                              1. re: lipoff

                                I thought that they closed sometime earlier this year? Maybe there is new ownership.....do they still have the vegetarian sandwich?

                                1. re: Science Chick

                                  Definitely open last time I went there, which was maybe just a couple weeks ago? Not sure about the vegetarian sandwich, which I admit I've never had. I love their BBQ Beef Banh Mi. It could be just that the owners now hire staff, but I'm pretty positive that it's new ownership. Again, food and drink quality is exactly the same, as near as I can tell, just that they are very slow. My new strategy . . . order, walk diagonally across the street to Antione's Pastry Shop, buy almond macroons and chat with the friendly owner for ten minutes (the late Antione's younger brother, I believe) and then come back to collect my bubble tea and sandwich. =)

                                  1. re: lipoff

                                    I can confirm the slowness. I went there today to have my first-ever banh mi, and it was definitely not a speedy process. However, the results were tasty. I had the BBQ Pork and very much enjoyed it. The bread was crispy but not to the point where it hurts your mouth, the meat was very flavorful, and the veggies were fresh and tasty. The spring rolls, however, were not anything special. The wrappers were a little tough and they didn't have a lot of taste to them.

                  2. re: davis_sq_pro

                    I'm still waiting for other bahn mi vendors to pick up on Mei Sum's bread. I love it and is one of the key reasons why I prefer Mei Sum's bahn mi over that of most other vendors. It's got good texture and crust, without being TOO crusty. One of my least favorite things about bahn mi is having the crust cut into the roof of my mouth with every bite. :(

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Speaking of peering over the counter, the last time I was at Mei Sum I spotted their bread (which I agree is instrumental in their superiority) in bags: Quinzani's.

                        1. re: glenn mcdonald

                          Nice over the counter peering. Quinzani's who knew?

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            Chowhounds: Violating Sandwich-Makers' Personal Space Since 1997. ™

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              We need a logo to go with the new tag line. Something along these lines:

                              http://img1.eyefetch.com/p/2u/535138-...

                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                      i didn't care for the banh mi at sub city. the beef wasn't flavorful enough, the bread was a little tough, and there weren't enough toppings. i like the banh mi at pho viet in allston and ba le bakery and king do baguette on dot ave in dorchester

                      1. re: galangatron

                        Alas, King Do is no more, and the sardine banh mi at Lee's Store & Bakery ain't quite the same. Pho Viet remains my favorite by a wide margin.

                        http://www.facebook.com/home.php

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          are you sure? i was there two weeks ago and business was booming

                          1. re: galangatron

                            Really? That's good news!

                            I wonder if King Do changed hands. I felt sure it was gone, recall seeing it padlocked and emptied at one point, maybe 6-8 months ago? I feel bad if I'm wrong, because I dropped it from my usual list of banh mi places I recommended, told many people that it was no more.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          2. re: MC Slim JB

                            you can also get a ca moi banh mi (sardine banh mi) at ba le in fields corner

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              hmmm, i tried it on your suggestion, but i wasn't crazy about the bread. it's got to break into a million breadcrumbs as soon as you bite it, didn't have that. nice sig, tee hee!

                      2. re: MC Slim JB

                        I prefer 163 on Harrison Ave @ Beach St... next door to bank/cell phone shop. I think they are the best of all the Bahn Mi places in Chinatown and trust me when I say I have tried them all- I have worked in CT for almost 4 years! LOL!!!!

                        -----
                        Beach St Cafe
                        35 Beach St, Manchester, MA 01944

                        1. re: MeffaBabe

                          We went to 163 last weekend. The beef Bahn Mi was incredibly good. My 9 year old had the cold cut, which she loved. The pate spread was super tasty. And I prefer the extra crunchy baguettes there. Mmmm...may need to go back today.

                          1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                            I really like 163 too - nobody else seems to, but I think their beef is superior to Mei Sum.

                            1. re: nsenada

                              I like 163 but I find that only about 1 in every 10 times do they actually put the chiles in there when I ask for it spicy (which is 10 out of 10 times)

                              1. re: jgg13

                                That was my experience today. I asked for "very spicy" and there were zero chiles in there.

                                1. re: DoubleMan

                                  I used to think it was just because I was a gringo, but I've gone there with other people who do get chiles in theirs. Maybe they just don't like the cut of my jib.

                                  1. re: jgg13

                                    You have to tell her you want it spicy, spicy, spicy... before she wraps it ask if she put the spicy in it...

                                  2. re: DoubleMan

                                    But arent you watching them make it?

                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      At 163 they tend to disappear behind a wall for a bit

                                  3. re: jgg13

                                    I stopped asking for spicy because they go crazy with the chiles on mine. I may be getting yours. :)

                                    1. re: cheezsandwich

                                      Hah, I knew they were going somewhere! :)

                                  4. re: nsenada

                                    I like 163 too. The beef is indeed good. I also like their shredded pork, xiu mai (a crushed pork meatball which has to be eaten quickly or it will make the bread soggy) and chicken curry.

                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                I had never had Banh Mi before tonight, but had read they were one of the world's best sandwiches (really! This was in The Economist, I think, and some of the others in that category were bagels and lox, and po boys).

                                After reading this thread, my husband and I headed to Dot Ave to try both King Do Baguette and Banh Mi Ba Le. We decided to buy sandwiches from both paces, as well as some other goodies, and do a "not so scientific" study.

                                The findings:

                                First of all, King Do now has another name (which I already forgot). There is a banner over where King Do must have been, but the words Baguette and Bakery are still there below the banner. Along with our shredded pork and pork skin sandwiches, we got some sweet and hot fish dish, and coconut "jello." We liked the sandwich fillings but found the bread hard, stale and uninteresting. The fish was really good, if mostly bones, and I really liked the coconut "jello." We also tried sticky rice with beans, and did not care for it.

                                Banh Mi Ba Le's bread was fresher, with a lovely crisp crust, and we both thought the sandwiches were moister and tastier. We also got a very nice noodle dish there (noodles stuffed with pork); the noodles look like things we've eaten at Dim Sum. We bought them without knowing what we were buying, because the woman at the counter couldn't tell us. I thought they might have been fish in aspic!

                                For us Ba Le was the clear winner for Banh Mi, but both places had interesting offerings, and we ended up spending about $20 for four huge sandwiches and several sides--a worthy experiment.

                                -----
                                Banh Mi Ba Le
                                1052 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA 02125

                                1. re: calisson

                                  I don't always look to The Economist for chow tips, but I'm right there with them on the banh mi thing!

                                  Curious to know more about the change of ownership at King Do: what's it called, who's involved, how has the mix changed since the handoff? King Do did 15 kinds of banh mi and otherwise covered a lot of ground -- groceries, pastries, cakes, pre-packaged bun bowls, banh xeo, on and on -- it's a huge space.

                                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    King Do is now LA Baguette... has been for months now. Haven't been so I can't vouch for the quality.

                                    1. re: astrid

                                      Had a chance to finally try LA Baguette.

                                      While the bread is more like a french baguette (firmer and less mess) than the traditional banh mi baguettes (airy and full of shattering crumbs that you wear), I love love the pate they use.

                                      When we walked into the shop, still on the elusive hunt for something close to the now closed Hau Giang's subs that we loved soo much.. After perusing the menu, we went to order and low and behold, who is behind the counter but the lady from Hau Giang that used to make the subs. She still remembers how we like our subs-3 yrs later. We were so excited and gotten 2 subs and ate it right there and it was the same pate that we had been missing.

                                      All in all I can't wait to return and try the other kinds. My search has ended!

                              3. How about Ba-Le (sic) on Dorchester Ave next to the old St Williams Church.
                                King Do is right up there with all their foodstuff.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: janzy

                                  Ba Le Bakery (the one you mentioned) is my #1 ultra- favorite. Esp. on weekends, when you can get vegetarian faux meat sandwiches. Ba La Cafe, in Fields Corner, is a VERY close #2, for the same reason, except they have faux meat all week. They both have THE best deli items, like fried rice cake cubes in egg (cafe) and pre-made banh xieo(bakery)...I make a pig out of myself with every visit to each. Always worth the ride. I don't think any of the other places, in Ctown, or Allston, hold a candle. Last time I was at the bakery one, they advertised the fish cake banh mi that i discovered in CA, but they were out. Anyone have it yet?
                                  Must try King Do if you and MC like it so much!

                                2. Thank you, not sure what part of the city we will be in around dinner time so it's nice to see there are so many options.

                                  1. I prefer Lu's Sandwich Shop among the offerings in Chinatown.

                                    And I like Bobalicious in Newton best overall.

                                    I agree that Pho Viet and King Do are very good too, but I stick by my choices.

                                    I almost always order a beef banh mi, so I can't speak to the quality of the pork, which might account for some of the differences of opinion. I wish I could line up banh mi from six different bakeries and try them side-by-side! =)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: lipoff

                                      We're staying in Plymouth, so any suggestion south of Boston on the way home would work for us too. Ba Le and Kind Do are should be a quick stop off of 93 if we end up stopping on the way home.

                                    2. Anywhere outside the city (inner-ring suburbs, perhaps) where I could try a good Banh Mi. I'm in Arlington, and can only travel by "T" at the moment.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: sablemerle

                                        I think your best bet is to go to Pho Viet's in the Super 88 food court in Allston. You can take the 77 bus to Harvard Square and then the 66 bus to Harvard St and Brighton Ave, a short walk from Packard's Corner.

                                        1. re: sablemerle

                                          Bobalicious on Watertown St. in Newton is just a short walk from Watertown Square.

                                          1. re: Velda Mae

                                            I'm not sure I'd call it a SHORT walk, but it's a relatively pretty one.

                                              1. re: gansu girl

                                                the sandwich here is top three anywhere in the boston area, but slightly pricey (4.50), the boba tea is quite good, also. just be prepared, two bahn mi and two large teas is close to 19 dollars. the sisters could not be any nicer, which is a main reason i support this place. go, spend the extra buck, get your knives sharpened at stoddards up the street, visit the fly fishing store across from the old style hardware store, extrordinary sausages at depasquales across the street next to Antoine's, an old style italian bakery. if this neighborhood had a great pizza place (ala, stella's) i dont think i would ever leave it.