So as of thirty minutes ago, I, along with my esteemed colleagues, have completed the circuit of new york chinatown bahn mi establishments. Of which there are three. Of which they are within a two block radius.
Methodology: We tested the regular bahn mi at each of three establishments. Generally this is “#1” on the menu, and has roast pork along with pate or other mystery meats, lightly picked daikon and carrots, large pieces of cilantro (“why don’t they ever cut their cilantro?” you wonder, as you end up with a tree trunk of the herb in your teeth). And we always ordered it spicy.
The regular joint: Bahn Mi So #1. On Broome between Mott and Elizabeth. We discovered this while wandering around one fateful day, hungry for an in-between meal snack. It looks like a little convenience store inside, with only enough room for 10 people to stand if they pack in like sardines and risk knocking all sorts of dusty things off the shelves. They have something like 17 different types of bahn mi with all combinations of meats, and meatless things with confusing names like “vegan lemongrass chicken (no meat!)”. The sandwich is amazingly good and wins for selection, but falls short in a side-by-side comparison with its neighbors. Generally open until 7pm, and the owner goes on vacation for a week in August. Next door is the chocolate fondue restaurant. Unexpectedly, the vegetarian options are more expensive than the meat options.
The runner-up: Tu Quyen. On Grand between Elizabeth and Bowery. The menu has two options “Tu Quyen Mix Bahn Mi” and something else. When you try to order the “something else”, the woman behind the counter won’t be able to understand you, leading you on a wild goose chase where you hope you end up with the right thing (I ordered three sandwiches and ended up with two). The rest of the store is a larger convenience store with DVDs and it’s next door to a pharmacy of the same name where the toilet paper is too expensive. The sandwich seemed to have more different kinds of meat in it (at one point, the woman behind the counter held up some sort of sliced meat to see if I wanted it in my sandwich).
The winner: Saigon Bahn Mi Bakery. On Mott between Hester and Grand. It’s in the back of a jewelry store. The roast pork is extremely well seasoned, and it has big chunks of jalapeno peppers in it (if you order it spicy). There are a couple of options here — chicken, pate, sardines — which we haven’t explored yet. I also like the way the sandwiches are packaged, sliced in half, with each half in its own little bag inside a larger paper bag. This most-delicious sandwich, however, carries a premium price tag. Instead of the usual $3, this one cost a whopping $3.25.