Downtown Lunch: Banh Mi Battle Royale
Making Downtown office workers jealous is something this blog has been doing for awhile now. To even the score, I’ve brought on Daniel Krieger as an official Downtown Lunch Correspondent to write up some of the great stuff you can get in the lower half of Manhattan. He’s a great photographer (insuring good food porn), but more importantly he is a lover of cheap, unique and delicious eats (or as I like to call it- Midtown Lunch’ish food), and seems to be particularly fond of Chinatown (my dream lunch location). Last week was Malaysian (something we are sorely lacking here in Midtown), but today he deals the death blow. Banh Mi.
Jewelry Shopping in the Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
With Midtown Lunch’ers paying an insane 8-9 dollars for a simple sandwich, it’s good to know that there are still Downtown options where a guy can go to quench his bellys thirst for an inexpensive lunchtime feast. Banh Mi have always been the cheapest lunchtime sandwich option, and while Midtowners are forced to pay almost $8 at Boi To Go (2nd Ave. btw. 42+43rd), we can still do it for $4 or less in Chinatown. And if you’re willing to eat roasted pork with mayo and cilantro inside a fresh baked baguette (and we know you are) there’s no better deal in town. Downtown boasts several Banh Mi spots tucked away in odd places (you want a gold chain with your sate chicken?), and over the past week your downtown correspondent has sampled three of them for your reading pleasure. I’ve listed them in order of “best” to “still really good”, since none really qualify as “worst”.
The complete list, and some Vietnamese sandwich porn, after the jump…
1) Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
138-01 Mott street
What I had: Banh Mi Saigon (Pork) – $3.75
Wedged into the back room of a jewelry store sits this sanctuary of sandwiches where you’ll find the biggest bang for your buck in the form of a Banh Mi Saigon. Weighing in at about 1 pound (I really have no clue because I didn’t weigh it, but it seems about right) is the biggest of the three sandwiches, and possibly the best. This bad boy is crammed, possibly over the top, with roasted nuggets of pork, a thin slice of salami, cucumber, and daikon (a mild flavored Asian white radish). Throw on a healthy schmear of mayo and some jalapeno’s for heat to off this beast. The sandwich is filled with flavor and love (just like me).
2) Sau Voi Corp Sandwiches & Records
101-105 Lafayette Street
What I had: Banh Mi Sate Ga – $4.00
Oh how I remember the days when this sandwich was $3.25. I remember them because it was only a year ago. This record/sandwich shop doesn’t seem to move many 45s, but they seem to do just fine selling their toasted Vietnamese sandwiches. From the outside you’d probably never know they have sandwiches inside…and actually that doesn’t change much when you go inside…there’s just a small area of the shop designated for sandwich making while the rest of the spot is packed with foreign videos, cds, and some cassette tapes, remember those? They also sell a good deal of lottery tickets and cigarettes…but you go there (well at least I do) for the sandwiches. The sate chicken sandwich is toasted in a small oven and gets the same treatment as the other Banh Mi’s: cilantro, cucumber, and a shot of hot sauce.
3) Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich, Inc
369 Broom Street,
What I had: House Special (Grilled Pork, Vietnamese Salami and Sliced Pork Roll) – $3.95
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich, in Chinese the name is #1 Saigon (don’t brag). This was the most expensive but not necessarily the best of the three places. Maybe they need to charge more because this is the only stand alone restaurant of the 3, meaning that they aren’t hawking fake Gucci handbags or scratch tickets in the front. The sandwich menu here is a bit larger than the other two, including some curry sandwich options. The house special was a tasty mix of thin slices of salami and pork and a smattering of small succulent pork nuggets. Chef (or what have you) went a bit nuts with the cilantro and carrots, making the sandwich look like a forest between two buns.
If you pushed me, I’d say the one at Banh Mi Saigon Bakery was the best, but at the end of the day (or three days for me) you can’t go wrong hitting up any of these spots. Everything is extremely fresh and made to order. If you like it spicy, let them know and they will make your tongue burn, at least as far as a sandwich goes. Remember there’s really not much seating to be had at any of them so have a plan of where you’re going after you get one.
Writing & Photos by Daniel Krieger