Only a few years ago, the Bahn Mi was a much lesser known quantity than it is today. It’s current ubiquity in S.F is owed to a large extent, I would argue, to Saigon Sandwich. For all I know there were Vietnamese sandwiches staring me in the face around town long before this particular place became a success, but for most folks who care about good sandos, Saigon Sandwich is the nexus and the acme.
For the pitiably uninitiated, a Bahn Mi is a unique confluence of French and Vietnamese cuisines embodied in sandwich form. Invariably served on a just-so crispy baguette bun (French), the classic features a variety of pork meat, including pulled BBQ and pate. The Vietnamese gene is felt in part by a generous portion of various lightly marinated vegetables (usually cilantro, carrots daikon and jalapeño, but sometimes onion, cucumber and whatever else tickles the crafter’s fancy). Lining the flaky bun is usually some variant of a light mayonnaise-based sauce, sometimes piquant, sometimes mild, plus a little cock sauce upon request. There are often chicken and beef options, as well as weirder shit like headcheese (which I recommend in combination with the pate AND BBQ’d pork).
Ensconced on a relatively mild subset of the ‘Loin called, aptly enough, Little Saigon, their reputation is such that waiting 20 to 30 minutes in a line snaking down the trash-strewn sidewalk is considered to be less than outrageous. When ordering, adhere to The Soup Nazi Strategy: know what you want, have your money ready, cut the chit chat, and for god’s sakes don’t pull any substitution bullshit. Like the crew of a counter dim sum spot I wrote about previously, they’ve whittled and streamlined service down to the basics, rapidly stacking that cheddar all the live-long day. Speaking of money, Saigon’s compact culinary missiles firmly earn your budgetary brownie points. At one point they cost only two bucks, but supply and demand being what it is, not to mention economic necessity, they raised their prices to a whopping 3.50 sometime ago. If you’re not used to relinquishing so little currency of a typical lunch, available for purchase are a wide range of bizarre (to round eyes) shrink-wrapped food (?) stuffs from various foreign parts, plus a few esoteric (again, according to a typical white boy’s perception) beverages in the fridge to wash down that beautiful sandwich, being one of the few good things to come out of the French occupation of Indochina.
560 Larkin Street (@ Eddy)
[Tenderloin/ Little Saigon]