A great Vietnamese sandwich for both beginners and advanced eaters
Someday I'll be able to review a bánh-mì joint without providing a primer. But as a raft of new college students are arriving from the provinces, I'll once again offer Bánh Mì 101. This budget-priced Vietnamese sub (usually under $3) is built on lightly toasted French bread, the crust of which gets extra crackle from some rice flour. The filling is a crunchy salad of pickled root vegetables (carrots, daikon) and fresh herbs (cilantro, sometimes basil or mint), topped with a tasty protein — typically grilled beef or chicken, tofu, or pork-liver pâté with Vietnamese cold cuts — plus a variety of dressings (usually mayo and/or soy-based sauces), and if you specify "spicy," some sliced fresh chilies. In Vietnam, you'd likely buy this from a mobile street cart; in the States, stands are often tucked into multi-purpose spaces: groceries, bakeries, food courts.
Mike's Bánh Mì is a stand nestled in a sort of loosely organized Chinatown convenience store. His bánh mì ($2.75) currently has only two filling options: "BBQ" beef (sliced, marinated grilled steak) or cold cuts with pâté. I grade all bánh mì on the baguette (critical: a soft or stale one cannot overcome excellence elsewhere); freshness of the vegetable fillings; quality of the proteins, dressings, and chilies; and overall abundance. Mike's scores very high on all counts. The cold cuts, mostly pork-based (none of them too scary if you've ever eaten mortadella), are dressed with Kewpie mayo, the beef with Golden Mountain sauce, a sweetened, seasoned soy sauce. Chilies are fresh jalapeños. Both versions are delicious, fresh, and generously filled yet light — you never get that logy feeling that meat-and-cheese-heavy American subs often deliver.
A variety of Chinese and Vietnamese snacks (all made off-premises) are also sold, like bánh tét ($5), a pyramid-shaped dumpling of sticky-rice dough filled with ground pork, shallots, and mushrooms, wrapped in banana leaf for resteaming at home. Drink options include respectable Vietnamese iced-coffee with sweetened condensed milk, surprisingly pre-brewed ($2.25), and American bottled water and canned soft drinks ($1–$2.25). There's one table for eating in. This ain't Mike's first bánh-mì rodeo; he ran a stand in a now-defunct food court nearby for years, and that experience is reflected in some of the best bánh mì in the neighborhood. This imported sandwich is one of the city's tastiest super-cheap meals — don't be the last one on your dorm floor or block to try one.
Mike's Bánh Mì, located at 42 Beach Street, in Chinatown, is open daily, from 8:30 am — 5:30 pm. Call 617.338.9888.
: On The Cheap
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