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new yorker in town - best banh mi?

so i'll be in town this coming weekend (apparently it's a weekend of bbq and booze to welcome the rodeo season?), and while i'm looking forward to eating plenty of the food texas is typically known for, i've also heard there's a sizable vietnamese population in houston.

while i love the food scene in NYC, the vietnamese food is a bit lacking here, so i have high hopes for houston. i'm not sure if i can get my group to do a sit-down vietnamese meal, but i can definitely push for a drop-by to a banh mi joint to grab a delicious sandwich to go!

any suggestions? i've browsed the boards and found a couple suggestions here and there on good ones, but i want the BEST! thanks in advance!

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  1. The discussion would benefit from knowing what kind of bread you like (really crispy, more fluffy, etc) as well as your preferred fillings. Just saying that would be helpful as the best for me might not be the best for you based on your personal preference.

    In any case I have two particular favorites:
    Don Cafe:
    I'm now a Dallas resident and if someone were to ask me what Houston foods I'd transplant up here, Don Cafe and their banh mi would be one place I'd say with no hesitation. I've eaten many sandwiches here over the years and I'll keep coming back again and again. A big part of why they are my favorite place is because in my opinion, there is not a single bad filling on the menu. Their bread is consistently amazing. I typically go for the pate or xiu mai (meat ball). I really like the massive crispiness in their bread; and I know that would put some people off.

    When I discuss banh mi, I start considering fillings, and then bread. So two things to point out about their fillings:
    1. I've run through the whole menu from years of patronage and all their sandwiches tend to have a higher filling to bread ratio than most places.
    2. The bua (butter dressing) that they lather on the bread is creamy, addictive, and delicious beyond words. In my opinion, their bua is unrivaled.
    Robb Walsh even has one of their sandwiches as one of his favorites in Houston.
    http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/...

    Les Givrals Cafe:
    They've been getting a lot of their exposure ever since they expanded to Washington, but try to go to the 2704 Milam location if possible. Big fan of their banh mi thit nuong (grilled pork), and be sure you have it topped with a fried egg. Their crusty, flaky, yet fluffy bread is phenomenal and won't tear up your mouth like Don Cafe's would.
    http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/...

    And as an addendum, Cali, Givral Hoang, all are not bad. The banh mi competition is real fierce around Houston and hope this helps narrow the field.

    Lastly, a link with more info on fillings:
    http://battleofthebanhmi.com/fillings...
    If you are interested in pictures, Lee's Sandwiches site has some (though I wouldn't recommend actually having a sandwich there!)

    4 Replies
    1. re: air

      wow, thanks for the detailed reply! my preferred fillings are pate/cold cuts and roast pork. i grew up eating the former but have found a place in nyc that does the latter quite well. as for bread, i don't think i mind massive crispiness, but i would mind lack of crispiness. the neighborhood i'll be staying in is called river oaks, but i'm willing to travel (within reason b/c my friend will be the one who has to drive me) for great banh mi!

      thanks for the suggestions - i'm going to check out all the links now!

      1. re: jen223

        Don Cafe is in Bellaire Chinatown, and Les Givral's has 3 locations - so since location's a factor, one of the Les Givral's stores is gonna be closer to River Oaks than driving to Chinatown.

        This discussion from Bruce and grbroderick (both highly knowledable CH members) could be helpful for you too, specifically the part about the Midtown area where the street signs are in both English and Vietnamese.
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7393...

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        Les Givral's
        801 Congress St Ste 101, Houston, TX 77002

      2. re: air

        Ha! I'll have to try Don's. I prefer the "tear up your mouth" crustiness!

        1. re: air

          I second air's suggestion of Don Cafe -- I've been to A LOT of banh mi places, but I find myself returning to Don over and over again. That has to mean something!

        2. Dan Cafe Meatball.

          I more upscale good version at Miss Saigon in Rice Village. Its upscale in a sense its not a dump. The sandwich is more expensive then most places but it has superior bread and fillings IMO.
          Cali sandwich on Travis I believe not far from downtown has a good sandwich as well.
          Le Givral is very good as well...I guess I just have to concur with the air really.

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          Miss Saigon Cafe
          5503 Kelvin Dr, Houston, TX 77005

          1 Reply
          1. re: jscarbor

            Yeah there are so many sandwich shops around Houston each with their own strength and different takes on banh mi, which makes it difficult to to pin down a singular "best" shop.

          2. Hi Jen:

            I've three favorite places for banh mi in Houston:

            - Thien An (Midtown, on Travis near Elgin) -- they also do a good bowl of pho, other vietnamese standards. Overall, the best in my estimation. VERY very busy during standard lunch hours!

            - Cali Sandwich (Midtown, on Travis near Elgin) -- not the cleanest place, has a VERY busy lunch business, 95% of which consists of their banh mi.

            - Les Givrals (Midtown, on Milam)

            I'd worked in Midtown for a few years, within walking distance from these places and I most often would visit Cali Sandwich if my objective was to pick up a quick sandwich and take it back to my desk. If I had more time and could sit down for lunch, I'd go to Thien An.

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            Les Givral's
            801 Congress St Ste 101, Houston, TX 77002

            1. I am loyal to Les Givrals in midtown. A lot of folks like Cali but I've always been disappointed.

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              Les Givral's
              801 Congress St Ste 101, Houston, TX 77002

              1. My favorite these days is Tan Ba Le on Beechnut @ Boone, way out (not all the way out) on the West side. Lighter bread, still crusty, and not so much of it vs. fillings. Haven't been to the 'original' Les Givrals in years; can't really say why. My favorite down there in Little Saigon was the Hoang (?) Banh Mi inside the old Hoa Binh Center, which has been demolished.

                Also, since you're depending on someone else for transportation - one of my favorites used to be Thiem Hung on Pease, just west of 59 downtown when I went all the way into town more often. It changed hands a year or so ago and I haven't been since (though a couple of bloggers at the Press really like it) but I thought I'd point out the new owners have established a satellite location in the Fiesta store on S.Main/Kirby, which is right across Kirby from the Reliant parking lot where you'll be for the bbq cookoff. Might be convenient if you're having trouble convincing your ride to go out of the way. I think the new name is Cafe Thiem.

                Enjoy the bbq, booze and banh mi while you're here.

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                Les Givral's
                801 Congress St Ste 101, Houston, TX 77002