Bánh mì in New York City: Bánh Mì Saigon

I went on the road for close on two weeks a month ago, and I figure I owe it to both of my readers to follow bánh mì in cities I visit. Hartford does not appear to have much in the way of bánh mì (Hartford, apparently, barely has food at all, at least in the downtown). In Boston, alas, I didn’t have time to visit reader-recommended Ba Le. But in between was a fantastic visit with my brother and sister-in-law which afforded an opportunity for a day trip into the city, wherein I supplemented my gawking and sightseeing with a flyby to a well-regarded bánh mì place out near the Little Italy/Chinatown area. And I stated writing this there, but it kind of fell by the wayside, so I’m finishing it up now.

[Photo of sandwich from Banh Mi Saigon]Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on UrbanspoonBánh Mì Saigon (198 Grand Street) is a venue widely regarded among the collective wisdom of the internet as one of the best in New York, but there’s no lack of competing institutions in the neighborhood, many of which are no doubt excellent. Their decor is a peculiar blend of high-gloss trendiness and divey shabbiness: LCD screens with the menu and photographs of Vietnam overlook rather rickety chairs along a low bar, while the well-stocked and -maintained drinks fridge is incongruously graced with an unframed, stained photograph of an artichoke. The floor plan is open, with the kitchen fully visible from the register and waiting area, and the place is noisy, and, at least during peak hours, crowded. Seating is sparse but seemed to always be available. My $4.50 bánh mì bí (reasonable, especially by NYC standards) was supplemented with a $3.00 chanh muoi soda.

As for the actual sandwich itself, well, from the picture one thing should be obvious: namely, that they don’t skimp on fillings. It’s got quite good fillings too, with a substantial wedge of cucumber, an absolutely enormous pile of nicely nutty bí, some tangy slaw, and fresh cilantro. Actually, the overfilling may have made the balance suffer slightly, since one can only cilantrize a sandwich so much, and the sheer quantity of other things made the cilantro notes fainter.

But there are aspects of sandwiches I’m a snob about, and bread’s one of them. The BMS roll is very good but could have stood to have a slightly fluffier interior: the frangible crust was nice,b ut there was a certain hardness through (not of a stale variety, merely of a certain toughness) which is very slightly outside of my happy place.

However, the quibbles about this sandwich were faint indeed, and it seems to have earned its laurels as regards being quite good. Couldn’t say for certain that it’s the best in New York, seeing as how New York is a very big city, but I can well imagine it being one of the best quick-bite places in Chinatown.