In the great pantheon of sandwiches I'd heard of banh mi's but never really tried one. Then I was in Vietnam and, well, they are everywhere and for about a $1 you get a smallish sandwich with a strip of meat, supposedly pork, with some carrots, some onion, a little cilantro, a pepper or two and a smear of what looks like mayo on a bun with the size and look of hot dog buns. A little street food to just grab and go. Interesting, but mostly, unimpressed. Back here, especially in the last few years, the banh mi has really taken off with any number of placing serving up what I'd like to call a suped big American size version of it. I've had a few since my return and for the most part, I kind of like what's being done. One place in town that's been slinging these banh's for long before it became a fad is a tiny (I mean really tiny) little place called Saigon Sandwich in that lovely part of town called the Tenderloin.
I had heard about this place for sometime but hadn't really made my way there, either out of laziness or just whatever. But I found myself in the hood after taking a walking tour of the city and thought--I'm here let's do it. As you can see it is a small store front and most always has a line, particularly at lunch. But don't be put off by that, the 3 ladies who work here move folks through pretty quickly.
The menu only has 4 sandwiches and 3 noodle type dishes and because of that it's easy to know what you want before you get to the counter, which is a good thing as the ladies like you to know so they can move you through---quickly--keep that in mind when you go. Being a pork guy I went right for the roast pork banh mi and looks like it was my lucky day as they were just bringing a freshly cooked and steaming loin and sliced it right in front of me to make this big ol' sandwich.
Sliced roast pork loin, cilantro, carrots, onions, jalapeño and a spicy mayo on a fresh French roll--and all this for only $3.50--take that you other $8 sandwich shops. The other 3 choices are only $3.25!! Did the price affect how I felt about this? No, not really, but it didn't hurt knowing it doesn't but a big dent in your wallet. The vegetables were bright, colorful and crispy, the meat was tender and juicy and the bread had a nice crust on the outside but was soft inside. Lots of great flavor in such a nice package. For me there was plenty of kick from the jalapeño but if you want just a bit more you can ask them to add sriracha when you place your order. To be honest, if I lived or worked in the neighborhood I'd probably be hitting this place up every other day and I understand why they've gotten all the praise they have over the years.
Basically without mincing too many words I'm saying you should give them a try, it's totally worth it. As I said, don't be put off by the line, it moves quickly. Know what you want before you get to the counter--the folks behind you in line will appreciate it also. The place is super tiny with only two cramped chairs under a short shelf in the front window, thus you may not want to eat in, better to get it to go and walk down the 2 blocks to city hall plaza and snack away. If it's chilly (I mean it is San Francisco) then best to just go back to your office or hit up a nearby coffee shop (like a Peete's, Starbucks, Philz or even Celtic Coffee Company) for a drink to go with your sandwich. And finally, it's on the edge of the Tenderloin and there may be a sketchy character or two about but don't let that detour you either, they are mostly harmless and just part of the charm of San Francisco's denizens :) Plus, remember, other folks are standing in line too so you won't be alone.