Though it literally means “bread made from wheat,” here in the U.S. bánh mì has become synonymous with a Vietnamese sandwich combining a basic baguette (with a crisper crust and a lighter, airier crumb than its French counterpart) with cold cuts, minced barbecued pork, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber spears, and lots of fresh cilantro.
When done right, it becomes an incredibly tasty combination of contrasting textures and flavors, and while there are plenty of shops offering their own variations of this Vietnamese classic in Manhattan, we’ve zeroed in on the most popular ones around campus.
This place may be tiny, but its sandwiches pack a massive flavor punch. The most popular option is “The Hog” – a sizzling combination of grilled pork, scallion oil and fried shallots sandwiched between a well-toasted baguette with a crisp, crackly exterior. As the weather warms, it might be a good idea to get a Xe May bánh mì to go and enjoy it while basking in the sunlight at the park.
Don’t let Banh Mi Saigon’s unassuming exterior fool you! Tucked away in the back of a jewelry shop, Banh Mi Saigon serves its most popular sandwich—the Banh Mi Nem Nuong—with a generous heap of tangy barbecued pork lovingly tucked into place with several slices of cold cuts. For the more adventurous, they also offer sardine, curry chicken and meatball options. Our only gripe? That the bread isn’t toasted to order, which means that your baguette may either be warm and fluffy, or cold and chewy.
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Saigon Shack’s pho has developed an almost cult-like following amongst NYU students, but its bánh mì offerings unfortunately fall a little short. The pork and chicken are often on the dry side, and the bread is chewier than that of its other counterparts. Stick to the pho, but if you have a bánh mì craving when in the area, try the Peking Duck or catfish options. The Peking Duck bánh mì, in particular, is dressed with a mixture of scallions, basil and hoisin sauce to satisfy that mid-afternoon craving for something sweet and savory.
Besides having a brick-and-mortar shop in the heart of Chinatown, Paris Sandwich also runs a food truck that can be found outside Stern on some weekdays. It has the widest variety of offerings out of all the shops on this list, ranging from classics such as the Banh Mi Pate Gan Cha Lua (pork roll and pâté) to the unique Banh Mi Thit Hem (ham & cheese) and the dessert-like Banh Mi Kaya (coconut jam). Unfortunately, the carrots and daikon tend to be under-pickled, and most of the meat sandwiches come with disproportionate amounts of under-seasoned meat. Banh mi? More like banh meh.