Bánh mì in the DC Metro area: Saigonese

Before Thanksgiving, I was talking with my parents on the phone, and the conversation turned, as it is apt to when I’m around, to Vietnamese sandwiches. They were curious enough to see if there were any bánh mì joints near them, and turned up a little place in Wheaton, MD. Fast-forward to the holidays, and my own short visit to the parents out in suburban Maryland. There were many good reasons to come back home and much to do here, but of course, for you, my loyal reader(s), I had to go check out that nearby sandwich shop.

[Photo of a sandwich from Saigonese]Saigonese (11232 Grandview Avenue) is transparently a hybrid of a take-out sandwich shop and a sit-down eatry. The front counter features a menu board, while the same items appear in menus on each of the roughly fifteen tables in the dining room. Stringed instruments and impressionistic prints decorate the walls, so the presence of the dining room isn’t a complete afterthought, although much of their business does seem to be takeout. They have a fairly decent menu of standard Vietnamese entrees and appetizers as well as nine varieties of bánh mì (thịt nguội, xá xíu, chả lụa, thịt nướng, xiu mai, gà, bò viên, chay, and bì), My father and I split an order of gỏi cuốn ($3.95) and each had a bánh mì bì (at the traditional price point of $3).

Saigonese’s sandwiches may be the closest I’ve found to the traditional ideal that I enjoyed in San Diego. The bread is not particularly fluffy, but substantial with a snappy but not excessively crisp crust, brushed very lightly with a nicely fishy mayonnaise. The fillings adequate but spare, layered with the usual accouterments of a proper sandwich: no lettuce or raw onions or anything like that. Not much carrot either; the pickle-mix was pretty much entirely daikon. Apropos of the pickles, the sandwich might have been very slightly overbalanced in their favor, since there was a lot of daikon. That’s not a complaint, since they had a nice vinegary tang and crunch, but it is a distinguishing feature. The cucumber was provided in a thin sliver, as was the pepper (which was something of a departure from the more usual use of pepper rings or half-rings).

Overall Saigonese makes an extremely standard bánh mì, an expression I regard mostly as praise. They don’t deviate particularly from the formula, but they execute the standard form of the sandwich well. It could have used carrots and a slightly thicker wedge of cucumber, but these are very modest failings indeed. I might like the bì a bit nuttier and stringier, but I’m particularly fanatical about my shredded pork texture.