Category Archives: Banh Mi

Saigon Social Pop-Up

Currently, Saigon Social is chef Helen Nguyen’s pop-up dining experience. The location varies, but the most common spot seems to be at Boys Don’t Cry in the Lower East Side/Chinatown.

A lot of buzz has built up around her dinners – deservingly so – because she’s extremely talented. I’ve eaten her food several times in the past year, and I have to say she’s serving some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had in the city.

I haven’t written about her yet because, well, up until now she’s only been doing pop-ups, and for some reason I feel like I can’t talk about pop-ups since they’re so fleeting and temporary.

But Helen is about to open a restaurant here in Manhattan, spearheading the way for great NYC Vietnamese food, along with John Nguyen (Saigon Dep), and Yen Vo and Jimmy Ly (Madame Vo and MV BBQ). Yes, I’m ignoring Brooklyn and Queens Viet food for the moment; there are some great spots out there in the sticks.

Anyway, my wife loves her food too, so that pretty much means it’s legit. Those of you that don’t yet know Helen Nguyen will be saying, “Hey, wait a fucking minute… Johnny GODDAMN Prime was talking about her, and now here she is, all over the news!” But if you read food publications, you may have seen her pop-ups featured as a “must try” for the past year.

Her bo 7 mon (“beef seven ways”) feast was incredible. Her brûlée bone marrow ended up in my top dishes of 2018, not to mention that she can seriously cook steak and makes some of the best pho around.

She knows her meat, as she is deeply connected to the Pat LaFrieda brand. At a recent pop-up, I had her garlic noodles with deep fried soft shell crab, which was incredible.

Also, her meaty fried rice with bone marrow and egg was probably one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever eaten. Highly addicting with that home made scallion oil.

Her newest creation is a banh mi burger. The perfect halfway point between American and Vietnamese, marrying the familiar flavors of both classics.

This beauty is a blend of short rib, chuck and 60-day dry-aged rib eye.

It’s topped with pate, mayo, maggi sauce, pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeno.

Helen smiles at the joy I exhibit upon eating her burger.

What I really like about this burger is that it’s meaty as fuck but it isn’t heavy. Just like Viet food generally, it’s light, fresh, herb-ish, and healthy… but the culture is very meat-centric. And just like a banh mi sandwich, you can eat this and still walk around after, not food-comatosed and yet still craving more.

Look out for these dishes at Saigon Social, coming soon to NYC!

Em

The owner of Em, Patrick Lin, invited me in to try some of their awesome noodle dishes and sandwich creations. I was really excited about this menu.

We started with some smoothies: the classic avocado, and the watermelon. Both were really refreshing and delicious. HOLY SHIT SOMEONE ARREST THEM BECAUSE THE STRAWS ARE PLASTIC!

Then we moved right on to the sandwiches.

The first one I hit was this bacon egg and cheese banh mi sandwich:

This is perfect. It has all the familiar flavors of banh mi, but with bacon, egg and cheese to go with it. That’s a winning combo. I could eat this every day, so this was well worth the hour-long subway ride out here to Bensonhurst.

Next up was the banh bi burger.

This is actually the one “burger” that I would almost prefer to be served without cheese. This one has provolone, but I didn’t think it was necessary (clearly some might love it though). The bright, fresh herbs and acidic pickled slaw are really all you need, except for a sauce or mayo. This, too, was really tasty – cheese or no cheese.

Next, we moved on to the soups.

Hu Tieu is a pork based broth with pork rib, ground pork, and a mix of seafood (shrimp, fish balls, etc). This was light and flavorful. My wife liked this one the best out of the two.

The pho here is really nice. The broth is flavorful but not heavy, and the addition of short rib really turns this into a satisfying meal. There’s lots of brisket, eye round and meatballs in there, yet this still manages to stay light. This was my pick between the two.

For dessert, we had Vietnamese coffee tiramisu. This was super creamy and fluffy, and the coffee flavors came through nicely.

I’ll definitely be back here again to eat my way through the rest of the menu. And the good thing is that this place was packed on a Sunday for lunch. People are really digging this place, and so am I.

EM
1702 86th St
Brooklyn, NY 11214

Alice’s Arbor

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS CLOSED

Alice’s Arbor is a true farm-to-table concept in Brooklyn by Dimitri Vlahakis (Motorino, La Gamelle, Esperanto). They use products sourced from 13 local purveyors, and fresh pastries and bread from sister restaurant La Gamelle.

The menu features breakfast all day, like this hanger steak and eggs that I had for brunch:

That’s a great meal for just $15. The steak was a perfect medium rare with a nice crust on the outside. The black bean sauce was unique and delicious. 8/10. Eggs were exactly as ordered, and the paprika-spiced potatoes carried a nice comfortable heat.

They also offer signature sandwiches like the Banh Mi Croissant (braised chicken or pork with daikon, carrot, cucumber and jalapeño). We went with pork:

This reminded me a lot of the Thai dish called larb as posed to a classic banh mi. It was savory, pungent and flavorful like larb, only in sandwich format. The croissant was an interesting choice for the sandwich. It ties back to the French colonial and Vietnamese roots of banh mi, but there’s just something about a classic baguette that holds up really well  to the juiciness of these kinds of sandwiches. The flavors were great, but I ended up using my fork and knife to take this baby down. That said, I’d still eat this again for sure.

There’s also an exceptional selection of dinner entrees from the wood-burning oven, like Sullivan County Farms Trout filet over green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes in a lemon brown butter sauce, topped with almonds and capers.

Other favorites include the unique, customizable Mac & Cheese with spiral pasta, cheddar and goat cheese bechamel topped with toasted breadcrumbs (with optional add-ins of pulled pork, truffle oil or jalapeños); or the popular brunch items like crab hash with poached egg, lemon Hollandaise and greens.

Daily happy hour specials from 4p.m.-7p.m. include $5 for draft beer, $6 draft wine, $2 off well drinks and $1 oysters. Awesome deal!

The interior evokes cabin-esque ski lodge decor, perhaps from the northwest: An upcycled vintage vibe with aged brick walls, repurposed wood paneling and driftwood branch light fixtures. Very cool.

I definitely recommend hitting this joint.

ALICE’S ARBOR
549 Classon Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11216

Saiguette

This little take-out joint slings a pretty decent banh mi. I haven’t tried their Vietnamese food yet, but I can at least give a run down of their “classic” sub. I put the word “classic” in quotes, because there really isn’t much pate, head cheese or other items that would make this a classic viet sandwich. Perhaps they gave me the roast pork shoulder by mistake? Not sure. It could just be that they’re using different ingredients from the other shops.

SAIGUETTE
935 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10025

Cafe Thanh Truc

My wife and I strolled by this place and picked up a classic sub. It was fantastic, though a bit smaller than I am used to seeing up here in NYC. But for $4.50, it was worth every penny.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of it to share, but I did get a shot of the outside.

This was in Philly, by the way, near Pat’s & Geno’s. As such, they had a Vietalian version of banh mi that featured Italian sausage:

Didn’t try it.

CAFE THANH TRUC
1037 S 8th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

The Anthony

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS CLOSED

I was invited to newly opened The Anthony by my buddy Mike from Gotham Burger Social Club for a special tasting dinner with some other influencers and Instagrammers. We sampled a massive portion of the menu, and everything was pretty much fantastic. Let me get right into it for you hungry savages…

First, the cocktail menu is excellent. I tried this “Matador” drink, made with mezcal, lime, cilantro and spicy habanero honey – it was dynamite.

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To start, we had a cheese and meat board, with my favorite olives: Castelvetranos!

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Then some French onion fondue. This was really unique and flavorful.

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We also did some fried oysters, which were breaded to a perfect crisp and served in refreshing lettuce cups.

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But the star of the apps, though, were these mini char siu pork belly and liver mousse banh mi sandwiches. Holy shit! I could eat a dozen (two minis per order).

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While this item is listed as a starter, it can probably be consumed as a main if you order the banh mi to start. Duck confit and waffles.

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Fuck what you think you know about chicken and waffles. This is the way to do it.

On the side we did some cacao e pepe fries, which were really nicely cooked and golden brown.

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Some lobster mac and cheese, which was really nice as it was made with thick cavatappi / fusilli rigate (ridged).

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And some Asian style sautéed greens (broccolini / Chinese broccoli).

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Okay now let me get into the meat of the review. I’ll tackle the burgers first. We tried two: an off menu “Tavern Burger,” and the “Tony Prime.” Nice name, right? Maybe he iso a long lost brother of mine or something. He must be, because he is made of aged beef and a special house made creamed spinach cheese. Say whaaat?!??!

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Yup. That’s right – they make it in house by combining creamed spinach with cheese, spreading it out flat and thin, cooling it down to let it congeal, and then slicing it out  into individual cheese sliced for this incredible burger.

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This has to be one of my new favorite burgers in town. It’s so unique and special. It actually tastes like steak! Amazing. And so does the Tavern Burger, which is topped with a nice melty gruyere and arugula.

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We also tried the brick chicken. This had a great crispy top from the cooking process. I think it just suffered a bit and got too dry. I honestly don’t mind dry chicken from time to time, as long as there is a sauce to go with. Otherwise it was excellent.

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We also hit this pork chop pretty hard. Really nice spice and herb mix going on here, and a very tasty glaze.

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Underneath this 12oz Berkshire chop is a bacon and apple potato cake, and on top are caramelized onions.

And now for the champion. The 28-day dry aged 40oz tomahawk rib eye.

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This was truly a sight to behold.

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I got more funk and flavor from this 28-day steak than I have from 60-day chops. It was absolutely wonderful.

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It seemed a bit small for 40oz (and $140), but then again the bone was pretty big, as was the flavor. I was hoping for a bit more cap, but what I did taste was great. It was nicely cooked, well rested with no bleed-out, and it sported a nice outer crisp. 8/10.

I didn’t think any of us had room for dessert, but apparently humans are equipped with a second stomach that’s just for dessert.

First, this berry mousse. Very light and flavorful.

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Next, an apple pie style tart. Great hits of cinnamon and brown sugar here. Cold ice cream and hot pie – perfect combo.

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And chocolate cake, because why the fuck not.

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This was really a great meal. The biggest standouts for me, for which I will definitely go back, are the burgers, the banh mi and the duck waffles. I recommend you do the same.

THE ANTHONY
183 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10012

Hometown BBQ

My first run-in with Hometown BBQ came when I attended Meatopia, a meat lover’s paradise that takes place on the piers over in Hell’s Kitchen. There, I met some of the people and pit masters behind Hometown, and I was thoroughly impressed with everything they presented that day, especially the beef rib.

Needless to say, I made it a priority to get over there and try more.

Hometown is a mix of Texas and Carolina styles – serving up a healthy smattering of both beef and pork, dry and sauced – but it has a heavy NYC influence to the flavor profiles, and the pit masters take lots of free license concerning BBQ fusion ideas.

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As I mentioned in my Guide to Regional BBQ Styles, I believe that NYC is emerging as its own distinctly amazing BBQ style, especially given the varied immigrant communities that touch on the lives of all in this great city.

Hometown takes advantage of that diverse cuisine-culture, as all of the ownership, management and pit masters come from either New York, Brooklyn or elsewhere in the five boroughs. As a result you have menu items like (1) Jamaican jerk baby back ribs, (2) Italian sausage, (3) Chinese sticky ribs, (4) Vietnamese lamb belly banh mi sandwiches and chicken wings, (5) Jewish pastrami-spiced bacon (sinful!), and (6) Oaxacan marinated wood fired chicken and tacos.

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As you can see, the menu is quite varied. And the pit masters will grab anything that comes their way and spin it into a great BBQ fusion dish, whether it’s beef tongue, duck, or whatever, on any given day. Turkey and chicken make a solid presence here. My only regret is that I was too full to try the turkey, wood fired chicken, and Vietnamese chicken wings.

So here’s what we had:

(1) Lamb Belly: This was actually our least favorite of all the meats, but that is by no means an indictment of quality. Think of it this way: You can choose five pounds of gold, or ten pounds of gold. Which do you choose? Ten, of course, but five is still awesome. This meat had all the great soft, yet sticky-crisp flavors that you associate with belly meat, but with the fat flavor of lamb. I can definitely see how this might go well on a banh mi sandwich, as per the menu offering.

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(2) Pulled Pork: This was delicious, especially when adding a little bit of the spicy (bright red) BBQ sauce to it. The meat itself wasn’t over sauced at the outset, of which I was highly appreciative, and it had both a nice sweetness and pickle-pop to it that didn’t overpower.

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(3) Brisket: This was probably my favorite. It was very juicy and had tons of smokey flavor. If you’re a smoke fiend, then add a touch of the smokey BBQ sauce (darker colored container), and you’re instantly transported to wood-fired heaven.

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(4) Italian Sausage: I loved this Brooklyn spin on the classic BBQ joint sausage link. While I do love me some Texas hot links and classic Bavarian sausage, this was a welcome change of pace. It was cleverly served with a light tomato sauce, though it didn’t taste exactly like a traditional parsley and cheese Italian link. The pungent smoke, fire roasted peppers and aged provolone added a whole different dynamic to the meat that truly made it Italian BBQ fusion.

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(5) Jamaican Jerk Baby Back Ribs: Wow. These were really interesting. The jerk spice and sauce create a nice thin bark on the outside, but the smoke causes the flavors to permeate through the entirety of the meat. This was a unique execution of baby back ribs.

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(6) Pastrami Bacon: Pastrami and bacon are two words that perhaps don’t belong together in the NYC Jewish community, as it is straight up not Kosher for Passover, but this was pure heaven as far as sinful eating goes. Crispy, fatty, meaty and all around perfectly cooked, this grill-kissed slab bacon came with a velvety honey mustard sauce that actually paired great with all of the meats we tried.

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We didn’t get down on any sides. Next time. We were so focused on the meat that we lost sight of the other goodies on the menu. I wish we ordered some whiskey sour pickles. My eyes were so dazzled by the meat selections that I completely missed them when I was reading the menu. BBQ + Pickles = Heaven. I am ashamed…

The bars here are great, too, by the way: one in the front, one in the back. They have a Texas vibe, and the drinks are somewhat reasonably priced for the city. My Tecate and neat Jameson came to $13: $4 for the beer and $9 for the whisky.

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The atmosphere here is awesome. It feels like you’re in a warehouse barn that has several fires burning. The smells are invigorating, warm and inviting. This was a perfect refuge from the downpour and cold weather that was happening the day I came here.

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That’s the back room. In the front (through the door to the right of the bar), there’s another big bar room with more tables and a small stage for live music performances. This is the counter where you order your food:

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In short, Hometown is my favorite BBQ joint in the area. It seriously fucking blows away the competition.

UPDATE 7/2/16

My wife and I hit this fucking place like champs today. Here’s a rundown of what we ordered:

Lamb Belly Banh Mi: This shit was legit. The sandwich was packed with good lamb belly meat, and the flavors of the pickled items were just right. The bread was perfect – a buttery French baguette. This baby got the seal of approval from my wife, so you can trust that it is really fucking good. Only downside: there is still some connective tissue in the lamb belly servings. I noticed this last time but didn’t mention it above, because I thought it was maybe a one-off thing.

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Chinese Sticky Ribs: I liked these a lot but the wife thought they were too sweet. The flavors were really layered. Spice, sweetness, and the meat was perfectly cooked to the point where you can bite it and see your teeth marks in the meat.

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Vietnamese Crispy Wings: Another win here. These full wings were nicely crisped and coated with a really delicious tangy and spicy Vietnamese-inspired sauce. Very easy to eat all day.

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Beef Rib: This was a monster. The meat was absolutely perfect. The bark on the outside gives it a textural crunch as well as a shot of electrifying flavor. Fucking awesome. It may be pricey, but if you come here and you don’t get one of these, then you’re a dick.

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Whisky Sour Pickles: This time I remembered to get a side. Since we were having some bread with the banh mi sandwich, I figured I’d steer clear of carbs. The pickles were a wise choice, as they went perfectly with the meats.

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I can’t wait to go back for round three, during which I will try the wood fired chicken and smoked turkey.

HOMETOWN BBQ
454 Van Brunt St
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Paris Sandwich

My wife and I stopped in this little joint to sample some sandwiches. Over the last week I’ve put away six or seven different banh mi sandwiches, and this place served up the best of the lot.

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We went with the classic bologna and pate banh mi, as well as the grilled pork. The bread was softer and less flakey than most baguettes, but it was still crisp and delicious.

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The meats were delicious, and packed well with abundance. The grilled pork had hints of lemongrass, and the pork roll and pate sandwich had great texture. At $5 each, this place is a steal.

PARIS SANDWICH
213 Grand St
New York, NY 10013

Banh Mi Saigon

This no-frills Vietnamese sandwich joint is pretty legit.

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They even have the jewelry case in the front of the restaurant as you walk in, which seems to be a somewhat common occurrence in NYC Vietnamese sub shops.

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The banh mi were packed with meat. We tried both the classic bologna pate and the chicken. Of the two, my favorite was the chicken. It was nicely marinated in herbs and spices like lemongrass, and the meat was soft and flavorful. The pickled veggies were shredded and remained crunchy, though the cucumbers should have been cut down a bit thinner, with the skin removed.

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The bread was super crispy, tearing the roof of my mouth up, but such is the life of a banh mi fanatic.

BANH MI SAIGON
198 Grand St
New York, NY 10013

Sau Voi Corp

This little corner Vietnamese bodega was a staple spot for me and my wife when we lived nearby.

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They sell everything from Vietnamese variety show VCDs to music CDs, over the counter meds to dry goods and trinkets.

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But they also sell banh mi sandwiches.

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I grabbed two on my way home from jury duty, which brought me back into my old stomping grounds.

The classic: ham, pate and slices of pork roll with pickled veggies, cilantro, mayo and sri racha.

The spicy BBQ pork: BBQ pork with pickled veggies, cilantro, mayo, BBQ sauce and sri racha.

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Both were really tasty and flavorful. The bread here is likely made early in the morning. When I arrived it was still being kept warm in a toaster oven type thing, but it may have dried out a bit in the hours it was there. The French bread was crispy and flaky, so much so that the roof of your mouth gets raped pretty hard, but the sandwich flavors make it worth the pain. These sandwiches are pretty solid for a cheap Chinatown deli shop. Stop in if you’re nearby.

SAU VOI CORP.
101 Lafayette St #3
New York, NY 10013