Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bahn Mi Wars: Saigon vs. Wrap Delight

sThere is a war currently going on in the TL (short for Tenderloin for those of you who are not in the know.) Not the kind of war that takes place in the TL after dark. 

I am talking about Banh Mi wars between the Vietnamese Sandwich Queens. These very cheap, filling and portable lunch options can ignite some lively foodie debate on who makes the best Vietnamese sandwiches in the TL. The major contenders are Saigon, Lee and Sing-Sing. At least a handful will chime in "Wrap Delight."

At this point, I can only talk eloquently about Saigon and Wrap Delight. And without further adieu, I cast my vote for Saigon! After devouring countless banh mi's both from Saigon and Wrap Delight,  I crown the two little old ladies at Saigon as the Banh Mi Queens of the TL. (Since I already found "THE banh mi" I am not interested to venture out to try Lee's or Sing-Sing.)

Let's do a comparison:


A dark storefront much bigger than Saigon.  It was rumored that the solo sweet old Asian lady who makes the banh mi  was a protege of  Saigon  until she opened her own bahn mi business. She makes your banh mi in about two minutes which you can either eat at one of the folding tables inside the store or take home with you. She also sells shrimp or tofu  fresh rice rolls (pretty good unless you are unfortunate enough to get the day-old ones.) A refrigerator holds colorful Asian drinks and desserts. The counter is also loaded with Asian treats such as shrimp chips, ginger chews, rice cakes in banana leaves, steamed pork buns, etc.

Baguette: Soft and not crusty enough with almost a stale taste to it sometimes.
Picked veggies: Not pickled enough.  The carrots are still too crunchy. More tangy than sweet.
Meat:  I only had tofu bahn mi and fish cake bahn mi at wrap delight. I do not think that the fillings are marinated at WP. They were just warmed up and served straight up without much seasonings and less sauce.

Fish Cake Banh Mi
 Wait time:  Almost no wait.  Most people are lining up at Saigon that if you are crunched for time, go to Wrap Delight for a not as great bahn mi with one, two or nobody ahead of you.
Overall: The banh mi's at Wrap Delight are just okay and lacking in flavors. There are more veggies (shredded carrots and cilantro)  than meat.   Unless you've had great banh mi's such as the ones from Saigon, you will think that WD is not so bad at all. If you hate the sweetness of the marinade at Saigon, then Wrap Delight is your place.
Price: $3.25

 Not my favorite banh mi in the TL but my go-to place when I am crunched for time.

Wrap Delight on Urbanspoon


You will have to traverse the pee-splashed streets of the Tenderloin, and dodge mentally-ill and high-on- crack folks to get to this tiny "mom and mom" sandwich store.  (The TL street folks are mostly harmless in the day time. The key is to NOT engage unless you have the time, have extra dollars and enjoy conversing with them.) The story is pretty much a very tiny walk-in hallway with one table to eat your meal.  This is a grab and go to the Civic Center Park kind of place. The store is so small that you will find yourself elbow-to-elbow with other foodies eagerly awaiting their banh-mi.  Not for the claustrophobic.  The store is packed with Asian goodies including pork loaf, shrimp chips, candies and cold Asian desserts in the refrigerator.  Two nice old Asian ladies operate the store in almost synchonized manner. One toasts the bread and the other fills them and takes orders.

French Baguette:  Crunchy, perfectly toasted and always fresh. They say the secret to a great banh mi is the bread. I almost agree!
Picked Veggies:  Picked well. Well-balanced sweet and tangy.
Meat:  Choices of beef, jambon, pork and pate or my favorite tofu. Marinated in sweet brown sauce and full of flavors.
Wait time: 20 to 30 minutes.  The line is horrendously almost half a block long sometimes even past lunch time.  The secret is to call in your order, walk up to the counter, have exact change ready and let them know. You will be in and out in less than 5 minutes.
Overall: Vietnamese sandwiches from Saigon for me are a symphony of flavors. The fresh crusty bread, the well-pickled veggies and the marinated meat perfectly compliment each other. The real test is, "Would I brave the pee-splashed streets of the TL just to have a bite of Saigon's Sandwiches?" The answer is a resounding YES!
Price: $3.25

Xui Mai Banh Mi
 SFoodie 92 claims that Xiu Mai Banh Mi from Saigon Sandwich is one of the the favorite things to eat in the Bay Area.

Fancy Pork Banh Mi
 I was intrigued enough that I had to try the Xiu Mai. The meatballs were smaller than I expected. No crust on the outside and soft on the inside which I thought how proper meatballs should be. They're just tender all the way through and even started falling apart as I bit into them.

Although the meatball sandwich was very good, once again, the fresh bun and picked veggies made the sandwich. The fillings were just  part of the entire banh mi experience.

Bottomline is you can't go wrong with any of Saigon's sandwiches whatever you order. Now that I no longer eat meat, it will be tofu banh mi again for me next time. No regrets!

Tofu Banh Mi
Most delicious banh mi in this part of SF.
Saigon Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon


0 Star: Never again!!! These people should not be in business.
1 Star: Chalk it to bad experience. Live and learn.
2 Stars: Very disappointing but there it has some good things to offer.
3 Stars: It is okay but do not expect much. I will still return.
4 Stars: I like it! I will be singing your praises!
5 Stars: I will be dreaming of you at night!
6 Stars: Perfection (or close to!)

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