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Saigon Sandwich -- best banh mi in America? (New York Times)

The New York times had an article entitled "The Vietnamese Sandwich | Banh Mi in America" today. It didn't spend a lot of ink on San Francisco, but had this to say about Saigon Sandwich:

"The space at Saigon Sandwich isn’t much to look at, but the banh mi — fresh, cheap and astonishingly delicious — may be the best in America."

It recommended the combo, where "fatty roast pork melts into creamy chicken liver pâté, buffeted by a noticeably sweet aioli and overflowing with cilantro leaves and stalks."

http://is.gd/NMSVKm

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Saigon Sandwich Shop
560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

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  1. Doubt that they made it over to International Blvd. in Oakland.

    1. I'm a big fan of Saigon Sando too, but I might give the edge to Huong Lan on Tully Rd in SJ ... esp since HL has the AVOCADO DRINK. I Iiked one of the places on the other side of the lake from Int Ave (Cam Huong?), but havent been to any of the OAK places in a while.

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      Huong Lan
      404 S 2nd St, San Jose, CA

      31 Replies
      1. re: psb

        Oh yeah, Huong Lan on Tully is better than Saigon Sandwich or Lee's Sandwiches. The author didn't try very hard.

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        Saigon Sandwich Shop
        560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

        Huong Lan Sandwiches
        1655 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95122

        Lee's Sandwiches
        2525 S King Rd, San Jose, CA 95122

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Huong Lan, Thanh Huong, and Banh Mi Ba Le (oakland) need some love too.

          1. re: ankimo

            Banh Mi Ba Le on International has probably my favorite Banh Mi in Oakland. #5 Xiu Mai (Meatball) w/ fried egg added (+$0.50).

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            Banh Mi Ba Le
            1909 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

            1. re: ankimo

              Ba Le might be as good as Saigon Sandwich. The big one on International has an unusually large selection of other stuff.

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              Saigon Sandwich Shop
              560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Banh Mi Ba Le
              10174 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

              Banh Mi Ba Le
              1909 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                How dangerous of an area is Bahn Mi Ba Le in? picking up somebody from the airport and she loves bahn mi's, so i was thinking of grabbing some here, since it's highly rated on yelp, but seems there is only street parking and im not too familiar with the oakland area...

                1. re: shades

                  Somewhat industrial. Ba le closes at 6-ish I think so will still be daylight too. Should be fine, imo.

                  1. re: drewskiSF

                    okay, thanks for the quick reply...my other choices are the cam huong on 700 block of international or another cam huong in union city off exit 22 off I-880 north (i'll be driving from the south bay, so that will be on the way). which would you say has the best sandwich?

                    1. re: shades

                      Both Cam Huong & Ba Le make very good sandwiches though I'm partial these days to the Meatball + extra fried egg at Ba Le.

                      Cam Huong in Union City is probably the "safest" in a strip mall. Cam Huong on International has a small dirt parking lot across the street and might be considered a marginally better neighborhood than Ba Le 12 blocks down the street.

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                      Cam Huong
                      32124 Alvarado Blvd, Union City, CA 94587

                      1. re: drewskiSF

                        The area around Ba Le is as safe as any urban neighborhood for the hours that Ba Le is open and the length of time it takes to buy a couple of sandwiches. Honestly it's never occurred to me to worry about that area being unsafe.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          It's sleazy, you might see hookers or pimps, but I don't think it's dangerous.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Around Ba Le? Doesn't seem like there's enough traffic around there to support hookers.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              The guys at Boccalone across the street have all kinds of stories.

                              -----
                              Boccalone Factory - Not Open to Public
                              1924 International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                            thanks for all the replies, im picking her up from the airport and then we're heading up to oregon, so I may just do the union city stop...the photos of the exteriors of the ones in oakland make it seem like cam luong is more safe, but it doesn't sound like it's an issue, just paranoid with all the luggage that will be in the car...

                            1. re: shades

                              If you're heading to Oregon, you could swing by the branch of Ba Le in El Cerrito. It's probably quicker on and off the freeway than the International Blvd. branch.

                              -----
                              Banh Mi Ba Le
                              10174 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                oh okay, that sounds like a good idea. i'll figure something out, we're not leaving until next week, but thanks for all the help!

                                1. re: shades

                                  iirc, the Oakland Ba Le has a lot more sandwich choices than EC.

                                  1. re: kc72

                                    True, Oakland has about 20 and El Cerrito has I think 11 or 12. Some of the extra ones are just different combos they could probably make on request. No fried egg at EC.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Seating at EC is minimal at best.

                                      But, it's a very safe little strip mall so no worries on security - and easy on/off as noted.

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        cool, i think that is where we're going to go, just grab some sandwiches and head back onto the road...thanks

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Does anyone know how Huong Lan IV is in Milpitas?
                I could use a good Banh Mi place near my work....

                1. re: lrealml

                  My sister buys banh mi from that location since it's close to her work, and I can say it's definitely good. I constantly ask her to make a HL run for me. Huong Lan needs to open a location in Menlo Park and SF.

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                  Huong Lan
                  404 S 2nd St, San Jose, CA

                  1. re: Eat.Choui

                    Thanks, I will have to try it out.

                  2. re: lrealml

                    Huong Lan IV is good. Thanh Huong on 2050 N Capitol Ave in San Jose (near Montague Expwy.) is also very good, I like them a little better than Huong Lan.

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                    Huong Lan
                    404 S 2nd St, San Jose, CA

                    Thanh Huong
                    2050 N Capitol Ave, San Jose, CA 95132

                  3. re: Melanie Wong

                    Hi Melanie,
                    I'm new to the Banh Mi sandwich experience and very near Tully. I can't believe, I'm just now discovering this. I've only tried with chicken but am open to anything and everything. I intend to visit Huong Lan asap. I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind suggesting your favorites, especially from Huong Lan?

                    1. re: FueledByGnocchi

                      The combination with pate and the BBQ pork are good.

                      1. re: FueledByGnocchi

                        I'm a traditionalist and almost always get the pork combination. As Stephanie mentions, the BBQ pork one is really good too.

                        Here's an old thread on the barbecued meat selection there, if you decide to branch out from sandwiches.
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/540874

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks very much! I'm crackin' up because when I first started on chowhound years ago, you were the Master. I just returned to find that you still are! Go go go! (Thanks to you too Stephanie). Going there today.
                          All the best,

                          1. re: FueledByGnocchi

                            Please do report back on what works for you. HL has a wide selection of fillings.

                            Next I need to check out Thanh Huong that ankimo and cheesecakeking rec.

                            "Banh Mi Sandwiches"
                            http://crosscurrentsradio.com/feature...

                            -----
                            Thanh Huong
                            2050 N Capitol Ave, San Jose, CA 95132

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Hi again,
                              As far as the Banh Mi goes I've tried from HL: BBQ Pork, grilled chicken, shredded chicken, and vegetarian. I didn't do this all at once. I've been going back, I get sort of obsessed. I will never go to a subway again, ever. I will drive from Morgan Hill to Tully, period. I think, even with the gas expenditure, I'm still ahead on various levels. All of these were simply excellent. And the price!! Also picked up about 12 pc. bok choy for the price I would have paid for 1 down here. Lots of bonuses. I intend to try all of the Banh mi at HL, but I have to go easy until target weight is achieved in a few weeks (hence the leaner cuts currently). Will report back. Thank you!

                        2. re: FueledByGnocchi

                          Gnocci: if you like AVOCADO, try an AVOCADO DRINK at HL.

                          1. re: psb

                            Hi Psb,
                            Yes indeed. Thank you for the suggestion. Just recently discovered this too. In fact, I think I took a recipe from C.hound. I did this yesterday: 1 avocado, 1/3 c . condensed sweet milk (from HL), 8 ice cubes: Oh no! Or oh yes! I don't know if this is "the" recipe, but it was very good. Will sample the avocado drink from HL and others. Thank you. All suggestions are great. There are so many different things I want to try from HL, especially the food one would take home to prepare. I'm thinking I will check CH and google for recipe/prepartion ideas.

                    2. Oh great! As if the line isn't long enough now! The ladies who own and run Saigon work hard and are very nice. They deserve all the extra business this may bring.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: poser

                        Saigon Sandwich is no stranger to national press. I recall they were listed as the best bahn mi by Esquire 2 years ago. They've also been listed in Food & Wine and Travel & Leisure among others.

                        It used to cost $1.75, but the prices have increased along with its popularity. Currently now at $3.25. Still cheap, but imagine this beautiful sandwich at $1.75. A steal!

                        I must get the meatball w/pate at least once a month. Sooo delicious!

                        1. re: Keesey

                          Ah, I had a blissful couple of months when I dated someone who lived two doors down from Saigon Sandwich. Every morning I stayed over I'd go to Saigon Sandwich and get a Banh Mi before heading to work. Occasionally I'd be able to wait to eat it until lunch, but usually it turned into breakfast. Best I've ever had.

                          1. re: Keesey

                            Keesey, Xiu Mai (meatball) with pate at Saigon Sandwich is also my favorite in SF. It's not on the menu, so I assumed not many got that combo. I'd like it even more if the bread was lighter and less dense, but I love the filling.

                            1. re: wanderlust21

                              Have you had the meatball bahn mi at Irving Street Cafe?

                              It's my favorite--very garlicky, and lighter bread than Saigon.

                              1. re: Windy

                                No I haven't tried Irving Street Cafe I will give it a try. Anything else worth trying while I'm there? Thanks for the tip!

                                1. re: wanderlust21

                                  I'm not sure--but I think Windy might mean Irving Cafe on 23rd Ave.

                                  1. re: sfbing

                                    Yes, it's on Irving close to 23rd Ave, across the street from Yum Yum Fish.

                                    I'm stuck on the meatball bahn mi and haven't tried much else. The summer rolls are pretty good too.

                                    1. re: Windy

                                      I have been to that one, but it was a long time ago. I don't remember it too well, I'll try again. Thanks.

                              1. re: poser

                                That's what I was thinking. They translate the pate as "liverwurst." Combo is all pork.

                                1. re: poser

                                  I don't think they use aioli, either.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    i've gotten a mayo-ey spread on the roast pork & bbq chicken. i think it depends on which sandwich.

                                    1. re: drewskiSF

                                      Yes, mayo is used. But since it doesn't have garlic in it, "aioli" is wrong. Likewise the references to chicken liver pate, when the pate is made of pork.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        I would suggest not cancelling the mayo on the shredded chicken from HL. It was my first attempt with shredded chicken there: still very good but slightly dry. I realize this was my fault though (current weight loss regimen). I intend to try with soon. Over.

                              2. back to the NYT article, it's full of factual errors as well as bad recommendations.... a poor piece of work. Be sure to read the comments in which the readers ream the reporter unmercifully...

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: otis

                                  It's not really a NYT article, it's a post on one of their blogs, as is clear from the URL:

                                  http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/20...

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    The Lee's I've been to are nearly inedible, they call it out as tasty. Yeech.

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      Yes, it is quite unfortunate. I feel Lee's deserves a mention, because they are one of the few (only that I know of as an American) true chains that has franchised the banh mi, but only to point out how a chain restaurant can blandize even the most tasty of sandwiches. And it is a pity Lee's was listed as the best of San Jose, one of the most Vietnamese-heavy populations of the cities listed. Unlike other posters, I have no problem with Saigon Sandwich listed for San Francisco. I guess I tend to go at times where there is no line and I haven't met a better meatball or bbq chicken/pork in SF proper. My favorite in the US (that I have tried, so far) is Ba Xuyen in Brooklyn. They have both delicious combo sandwiches and avocado shakes, but the list seems to be only a good representative per city. (And makes me think the representatives of other cities are likely not so relieable).

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                                      Saigon Sandwich Shop
                                      560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      nice link. the SF Weekly guy didn't seem nearly as worked up as the Seattle & OC folks, but i guess the NYT didn't nominate a Nom Nom Truck equivalent for SF.

                                      1. re: drewskiSF

                                        Yeah, at least Saigon Sandwich is not a ridiculous choice, even if many might disagree with it. Nice of Serious Eats to give a shoutout to Chowhound, though! And I learned something: I had no idea banh mi baguettes were made with rice flour.

                                        -----
                                        Saigon Sandwich Shop
                                        560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          The very light ones with the shattering crust are made with some rice flour blended with the wheat flour. But many shops around here do not use this type of bread, so they're chewier and denser.