One of the most surprising details about San Francisco for me was the way in which binh my, Vietnamese baguette sandwiches, have practically been adopted as a bay area specialty. We saw them sold everywhere and eaten by everyone, from non-descript downtown kiosks catering to local office workers, to the menus of trendy cafes and restaurants, to hole-in-the-wall Tenderloin shops where the queues were startlingly diverse. I love binh my, and likely could have eaten one every day, had I not forced a little restraint upon myself. But as it was, I was able to sample three different binh my, from radically different sources and in quite different forms.
I hate to say it, but the binh my I ate from Saigon to Hanoi might have made me rather particular. While each of the ones I tried in SF were great, I never found a perfect one-- though they came close. Any suggestions on where to try next time?
1. Binh My Pate, from Saigon Sandwich (pictured at top)
We swung by Saigon Sandwich to pick up binh my awhile before lunch-time, but even so there was already a line out the door when we arrived. And after unwrapping my sandwich and taking a bite, I could see why. The sandwiches had a great mix of salty, savory and spicy, with big slices of chili and a generous handful of cilantro. The only problem was the pate flavor, which had too much of a liverwurst flavor, which overpowered a little toward the end. Perhaps I should have ordered the combination pate and cold meats, for a more balanced taste.
2. BBQ Brisket Binh My, at Wexler's
When I saw the BBQ Brisket Binh My listed among the items on the US South-inspired menu at Wexler's, I knew I had to try it. Unfortunately, the result was a little disappointing. I should point out that had I ordered the sandwich simply as a BBQ brisket, I would have had no complaints: the meat was incredibly delicious. But the sandwich was really lacking the binh my flavor it promised. The cilantro and chili were barely present, the pickled cabbage not a perfect substitute for fish-sauce marinated carrots. A great idea, but not terribly well executed.
3. Hoi An Meatball Binh My, from Out the Door
Our first meal in the city itself was a fantastic Vietnamese lunch at the Slanted Door. After leaving, I glanced at their take-away cafe Out the Door, and noticed that they had binh my on the menu. So on our last day, I asked that we swing by the Ferry Building so I could grab one as a final lunch in the city. Though both the Roast Pork and 5 Spice Chicken sounded good, I opted for the Hoi An Meatball sandwich just to be a little different. And once again, the team behind the Slanted Door delivered with a fantastic sandwich that burst with the taste of Vietnam. My only complaint with the sandwich was that, unlike the sandwiches in the city it references, it had no spice. The binh my I had in Hoi An were always doused with a fiery chili sauce, which would have been a nice addition. Perhaps its available upon request?