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|
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.
FOODIE GIRL'S RATINGS: 3.5
Not my favorite banh mi in the TL but my go-to place when I am crunched for time.
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!
|Xui Mai Banh Mi|
|Fancy Pork Banh Mi|
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|
FOODIE GIRL'S RATING: 5
Most delicious banh mi in this part of SF.
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!)