Boi to Go (aka How I Learned to Love the $7.50 Banh Mi)
Damn you “Midtown version” of banh mi! Why have you foresaken us??? In the 10 months I’ve been doing this blog, no food item has been requested more than the Banh Mi. Usually it’s dreaming of working in a place where banh mi is plentiful, but more often than not, it’s people asking for banh mi to come to Midtown. Well, Boi to Go has answered our calls… but maybe we should have been more specific. We wanted super cheap, Chinatown style Banh Mi- not overpriced, fancy pants “Midtown Style” banh mi!
If you don’t know what banh mi is, but have still managed to get this far (confusion and all), let me try to break it down for you. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich, served on a crusty french bread style baguette. In its most basic form, it comes with some sort of meat (pork, vietnamese “salami”, chicken and/or pate), covered in any combination of shredded carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro and some sort of sauce (sweet, spicy or both.) There are tons of variations- with many different ingredients, including vegetarian versions for people who don’t want meat.
But that description leaves out one key quality of the increasingly popular banh mi. In the most popular banh mi shops, these large vietnamese style “hoagies” sell for an unbelievably cheap $3-4. Understanding this part of the banh mi experience is key to understanding why Boi to Go was not welcomed with opened arms by the clammoring Midtown lunching public.
It may also be proof that the huge popularity of banh mi has just as much to do with price, as taste. If Saigon charged $8 for their sandwiches, I don’t think as many people would trek to Chinatown, and if Boi to Go cut their price in half, than this place might be your new favorite Midtown Lunch. Is it the banh mi we wanted? Maybe not. But it is a good freakin sandwich? You bet.
More on this, pictures and a +/- after the jump…
Whether or not you enjoy Boi to Go will depend on whether or not you put yourself into one of two categories. #1. You are looking for an authentic Banh Mi experience, with typical Banh Mi prices. Or, #2. You are looking for a unique sandwich option in Midtown, with Vietnamese flavors, to add to your repertoire.
Boi to Go offers many different ingredients, and will allow you to create your own sandwich from scratch, but for these purposes- let’s just look at their version of the Banh Mi.
They start with a crusty baguette, and smear the bottom half with pate (made from Duck, Turkey, Chicken and Mushrooms). Over the pate they layer slices of Cha-lua, which they call Vietnamese Ham. You’ll also see it referred to as sausage or salami, but all of these terms will conjure images that are not exactly accurate. It’s made from mixing minced pork with fish sauce and potato starch, then forming it into a ball, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. It is then sliced to be used in the sandwich. It almost looks like very large slices of fish cake (if you’ve ever had that before).
After layering the cha-lua over the pate, they put the sandwich into a press to warm it up. When it comes out they add the cold ingredients. Shredded daikon radish and carrots, cilantro, avocado (not a typical Banh Mi ingredient), and sliced cucumber. Cover the top with what looked like nuac cham (sweet fish sauce based condiment), and hot sauce (if you want)- and you’re done.
The result is a delicious sandwich, that I would probably choose over any other sandwich I’ve ever had in Midtown. The pate adds a nice liver’ish flavor to the sandwich without being overpowering (i.e. you don’t need to love pate to like the sandwich), there is a generous portion of the Cha-lua (it ended up coming out the back of the sandwich by the time I was done), and it’s complemented by the sweet/spicy combo of the nuoc cham and red hot pepper sauce. Add some cool crunch from the cucumber, daikon and carrots and you’ve got a great sandwich.
(Disclaimer: I didn’t try the chicken, pork, or beef so I don’t know how they taste, or whether they are as good as Boi to Go’s standard Banh Mi. If you try one of those, feel free to comment below.)
Is it better than the $4 sandwiches in Chinatown, maybe- maybe not. It depends on what you are looking for. Put them next to each other, and give them to someone who has never had Banh Mi before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked the one from Boi to Go more often than not. Is avocado a traditional Banh Mi ingredient? No. Would I rather them leave it out and charge $1 less? Absolutely. Does it make the sandwich taste worse? Definitely not. Did they add it because it’s in Midtown and they thought it would be trendy? Of course.
In the end, we all wish we worked somewhere else for lunch purposes. Everybody has a dream lunch location that serves something cheap and delicious that you can’t get anywhere else. And with some exceptions, we have to settle for a less authentic, more expensive version of something we love because of where we are. But in fairness to Boi to Go- I don’t think this is one of those cases. They make delicious sandwiches, at a price that is in line with their ingredients and location. We work in Midtown people. Gotta dumb it down a little for the suits.
Does it suck to pay $8 for a sandwich? Of course it does. But I’d rather spend that money for Boi to Go’s fancy pants Banh Mi, than just another turkey and swiss at Europametroaubonmcsucksalot.
- You asked for it, you got it. Banh Mi in Midtown.
- Everything is made from quality ingredients
- The only thing resembling Vietnamese food in Midtown
- Close your eyes. Forget about what it’s called or how much it costs. If you like Vietnamese flavors (nuoc cham, cilantro & sriracha)- the sandwich tastes freakin’ good.
The - (What people who don’t like this place would say)
- I could never bring myself to pay $7.50 for Banh Mi
- I want an “authentic” $3.50 Banh Mi, like the kind you get in Chinatown
- Avocado has no place in a Banh Mi sandwich
- I don’t like the ingredients they use in the sandwich (it probably shouldn’t have to be said, but if you don’t like Pate, or feel weird about eating cha lua, you might not like the sandwich. No point in forcing it.)
Boi to Go, 800 2nd Ave. (btw. 42+43rd). 212-681-1122
They offer delivery 5 blocks north or south in any direction, and as far West as Park Ave. For large orders, they may deliver farther.