163 Vietnamese Sandwich

The piquant (and unscary) joys of Asian sub sandwiches
By MC SLIM JB  |  December 30, 2008

ON THE CHEAP: 163 Vietnamese Sandwich 

Overcoming risk aversion is a constant challenge in my weekly quest for new cheap-eats restaurants. Not my aversions — I'll try anything. I mean those of my friends, many of whom fearlessly ride Boston taxis without seatbelts yet shy from unfamiliar cuisines and less-than-shiny restaurants. Gentle introductions are called for: start the sushi-wary on California rolls, describe the lengua tacos as beef and say no more. I've eased many a skittish friend into the sublimities of Vietnamese food with bánh mì: who doesn't love a good sub? A fresh, crunchy sandwich on good bread with zippy, mostly familiar flavors for three bucks usually gets the hook in them — many will revisit later without my prodding.
163 Vietnamese Sandwich | 66 Harrison Avenue, Boston |Open daily from 7:30 am - 7:30 pm | 617.542.7903

163 Vietnamese Sandwich is a typical slightly shabby Chinatown storefront: a counter, six seats, some boxes stacked around, scant decoration. Its excellent bánh mì ($2.75–$3.50) are served on very fine nine-inch baguettes with a crackle in the crust that suggests rice flour in the dough. Sliced onions, daikon, and pickled carrots, lots of fresh cilantro, a big cucumber spear, and a dressing of Kewpie mayonnaise and nuoc chom (a garlicky/sweet/hot vinaigrette based on fish sauce) form the filling base. Add your choice of meat, like xiu mai (mildly seasoned, crushed pork meatballs), "BBQ" beef (with good char-grilled flavor and a terrific lemongrass marinade), or chicken (chopped thigh meat curried with sweet spices). Tofu-based mock duck, chicken, and ham are also offered. Specify "spicy" for a sprinkling of ferocious bird chili slices.

The famished might add a trio of fresh (unfried) spring rolls ($3) in soft rice-flour wrappers filled with shrimp, shredded pork skin, or tofu with a peanut dipping sauce. Most other hot options are a budget-friendly $3.50, including pork chop, BBQ-chicken, or BBQ-beef rice plates, and bun (rice vermicelli) with toppings such as sliced fried spring rolls. The outstanding drink selection includes Vietnamese hot and iced coffees ($1.25–$2), 25 varieties of fresh-fruit shakes ($2.25–$3), and several sweet, colorful bubble teas ($3) served with a fat straw for sucking up the drifting payload of chewy tapioca pearls. If you're bringing neophytes, be sure to stand between them and the cooler with the boxes of sliced smoky pigs' ears and marinated chicken claws ($4 each). Let them savor their successful leap into the unknown with a bánh mì; save the bigger challenges for a future visit.

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  Topics: On The Cheap , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Foods,  More more >
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