Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You can't cook.. so order takeout!

While this blog is primarily about teaching people the basics of how to pick out good food and make it edible, sometimes you just don't have the time for this. When you're desperately hungry, and a spiderweb is taking up most of your pantry, it's time for, "You can't cook... so order takeout!" This new series will help you find the best bang for you buck when you can't get make it yourself.

I'm going to be emphasizing locations in New York, since that's where I live and eat, but some of the general principles I bring up will be applicable anywhere. Remember, it's not enough just to eat - you should be eating food that makes you happy (and healthy, I suppose..)

My tastes tend to run the range of exotic, from hamburgers and hot dogs to curries and durian. Today, I'm going to talk about a type of sandwich that's rapidly growing in popularity, the Vietnamese Banh Mi.

A Banh Mi sandwich combines the best of the French colonial tradition - baguettes, fresh vegetables and pates, with a Vietnamese sensibility for spicy food, native sausages and spices.

The traditional Banh Mi consists of a baguette with julienned (thinly sliced) carrots and radishes, fresh cilantro, pate, sliced meat, and spiced mayo. The sandwich above is from one of the contenders for best in the city, Banh Mi So 1. When these elements combine, they form a sandwich that's light, but flavorful. Other fillings include meatballs, roast pork, and tofu for vegetarians.

Now let's get down to details - the things to look for in a good Banh Mi are the quality of the bread, the taste of the fillings, and the cost. Banh Mi are usually available from specialty shops in New York City, serving an audience that's now 50% immigrants, and 50% hipsters looking for good, cheap food. Other towns that are famous for their Banh Mi are Los Angeles and Houston, both with large Vietnamese populations.


Banh Mi So 1
369 Broome St

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This was a very solid contender. It was decently priced ($3.50), and all the elements were present, but the pate lacked flavor oomph. I give it 3 baguettes out of 5.

Banh Mi Saigon
138 Mott St.

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The best I've had in the city to date. It was huge, almost double the size of the sandwich from Banh Mi So 1, and cost $3.75. The bread was good, fillings were very flavorful, and I got two meals out of it! As a warning, this place is actually in the back of a jewelry shop - don't worry, the sandwiches aren't sketchy! 4 and a half baguettes out of 5

Various locations, primarily 37 St. Mark's Place

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This is a non-traditional Banh Mi restaurant that serves more expensive food, with house cured ingredients. The traditional Banh Mi, "baoguette" on their menu, is very good; possibly even more flavorful than Banh Mi Saigon's. Unfortunately, it's $5 for a sandwich half the size of Banh Mi Saigon's. Other options include the Sloppy Bao, made with curried ground beef and mango slices. 4 baguettes out of 5

Go out there and enjoy!

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