The bánh mí sandwich takes two cultures and slams them together with delicious results. French bread and pâté team up with Vietnamese meats, crisp pickled vegetables, bright herbs, and spicy chilies to make a sandwich.
Although the French introduced the baguette to Vietnam in the mid-19th century, the bánh mí sandwich, as we know it today, didn’t develop in Saigon until after 1954, when French rule ended. Free to do as they please, street vendors ditched most of the traditional French fillings and made the sandwich their own. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, millions of refugees fled Vietnam and took their beloved bánh mí with them. What makes up a proper ‘Saigon Sandwich’?
A bánh mí consists of French bread paired with various Vietnamese fillings, from cold cuts to cooked meats. Pickled carrot, cucumber, and daikon add a snap and tang to the mix. Fresh cilantro lends a bright note, and thinly sliced chilies give it some heat. Condiments vary from French-style pâté and butter to mayonnaise and soy sauce.
In Vietnamese, bánh mí means bread, the most crucial aspect of any sandwich. A traditional French baguette holds everything together. Very different from a Bread & Cie baguette with its thick crust and chewy center. These baguettes have a thin, crispy, often flaky crust with a soft, airy texture. You can purchase a good version of this French bread at Paris Bakery in San Diego’s Little Saigon District.
A proper bánh mí feels surprisingly light and soft; the only crunch comes from the thin crust of the bread and the crispy, lightly pickled daikon, cucumber, and carrot. The delicate nature of the sandwich makes it easy to crush two of these in one sitting.
The tang and crunch of the pickled vegetables, with the bright note from the cilantro and the sting of the jalapeno peppers, make this sandwich come alive in your mouth.
The bánh mí has become a classic. It has taken its place in the pantheon with the other great sandwiches of the world. If you have not tried one, do yourself a favor. Order two, you with thank me later. Remember to try Vietnamese milk coffee or tea made sweetened with condensed milk to wash it down. Here are some bridgeworthy local places to experience this sandwich.
San Diego Bánh Mí
K Sandwiches in Linda Vista is the premiere spot in San Diego for bánh mí. Not far from Mesa College in Linda Vista, this spot is famous. My go-to sandwich is the Pork Combo Bánh Mí. This sandwich contains grilled pork, shredded pork skin, and a grilled pork patty. Don’t be intimidated by the line of people; it moves quickly and efficiently. The Iced Milk Coffee with condensed milk is fantastic. Order online for easy pick-up.
Phở Bò, located on Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan, is the closest bánh mí to Coronado, the Beef Sandwich – Bò Nướng is by far my favorite. The staff here could not be more welcoming. Order online for pick up and delivery.
Bánh Mí Hô An, located on Rosecrans, is a real find as they make their cold cuts and pâté in-house. The most intriguing sandwich on the menu is the Pho Dip Sandwich. This bánh mí features sliced brisket and filet cooked in pho broth served with a bowl of pho and a salad. Ask for a side of their special “Crack Sauce.” Order online for easy pick-up.
Paris Bakery, located on El Cajon Boulevard in the Little Saigon District, makes some of the best French bread in San Diego, so it is no surprise their bánh mí is top-notch. Why not go all in? The Đặc Biệt House Special features pâté, cold cuts, and pork. Đặc biệt means special or combo in Vietnamese. Besides sandwiches and amazing French bread, they have a wide selection of French pastries. Check the site for hours; they are not open for dinner.
Cali Baguette Express, located on El Cajon Boulevard, is a quick drive-through experience; they have a wide variety of bánh mí thit. The BBQ pork and the Grilled Beef are my favorites, and the Vietnamese Milk Coffee is a must.
For more on great Vietnamese food and where to find it, follow me on Instagram @oliveavenuesupper. Tag me with your pictures, and let me know if you have a favorite spot for this sandwich.