Best bánh mì in NoVa?
I've tried most of the places in Eden Center as well as others that are local to Falls Church, and so far, Ba Le on Graham Road seems the best. Most consistent, although they can become confused when there are too many people ordering at once :)
Any tips on other places to try?
This topic is brought up a couple of times a year, but it's never been clear what the criteria for "best" is. Perhaps you could elaborate on what makes the Graham Road shop better than most, in your opinion. Is it the quality of the bread (be specific)? The variety of offerings? The taste of the pate?
I go to the Ba Le on Graham Road more often than those in the Eden Center or DC Sandwich because they have a place to sit and I don't have to eat the sandwich in my car or take it home. To me, that's what makes the biggest difference between banh mi shops.
Apologies if this has been asked before. I did do a search, but didn't find anything. Maybe you could point me to threads that I've missed?
For me, the perfect banh mi starts with the bread, which should have a nice crispy crust, but be fairly soft and supple inside. Toothy, but not chewy. Ba Le's is consistently like that. Only once did I get bread that was obviously from the day before, and was dried out.
I don't know if this means anything, but they seem to sell a lot more bread than anything else. Much of that to the Hispanic community, but again, I don't know if that means anything.
The particular choice of meat doesn't seem to make much of a difference, but the balance between the meat and the pickled carrots and daikon does, and again, they seem to get that right. Not too much cilantro, and just enough jalapeno to give a bit of a burn, without making you gasp for water.
I think their pate is best in their cha gio, which may not be at their crispiest after a few hours under the heat lamp, but the filling is earthy and unctuous, a perfect complement to a banh mi.
Other places like DC Sandwich are also good, but don't seem to have the same quality control/consistency. I've had a few sandwiches that were 90% vegetables, and once where they seemed to run out of vegetables completely and substituted cilantro and mayo (which seems like a good idea in theory, but wasn't one in practice :) )
So in short, even though I've gone about it in length, I like Ba Le not only for their quality, but also because of their consistency.
I like the bread at Ba Le also, but I'm not thrilled about the quality of the meats there. I think Song Que has slightly better meat (and chili lemongrass tofu, which is my favorite filling), but then again their bread isnt as good. Those are the top two IMO.
Neither one is a "great" sandwich though. On paper the banh mi seems like a great sandwich, but the execution always seems to fall short.
Thanks for the details. I prefer the term "dependability" to "consistency" but I think we mean the same thing - we get what we expect visit after visit.
I have to concur with CoconutMilk, though, about banh mi not justifying the bursts of enthusiasm that it gets here. Whenever I have one, I always feel like I could easily eat another, but I don't want to eat all that bread. I suppose I could order two sandwiches and combine the fillings into one, or maybe I need to learn how to say "double meat" in Vietnamese, like you can do at Subway. <g>
By the way, when I get a kabob sandwich at Moby Dick (they cut it in two) I always deconstruct it, transferring the meat from one half to the other half, eating the lettuce and tomato from the spare half like a salad, and pitching the remaining bread. It's good bread, just too much for one little guy like me.