BakeSpite: Banh mi right in the wallet

Sorry, kids, it’s another food post. Man cannot live on games alone, you know? I must confess, tragically, that I have been trying to expand the scope of this site back to more of what it used to be, before it became “the place where GameSpite Quarterly stuff gets reprinted.” There’ll be reprints, don’t you worry! But it needs more original content, too, you know? And after having been around video games all day every day for nearly eight years, sometimes it’s good to write about something different. My apologies if this angries up your blood. Feel free to stop visiting, if you prefer; I won’t take it personally. Unless you make fun of me. I mean, who wouldn’t take that personally?

Anyway, the title of this post makes a little more sense (and is a lot more crass) if you realize that bánh mì is pronounced, approximately, “bang me.” I’m all for proper pronunciation, but I always feel a little naughty ordering one of these things.

So, yeah, bánh mì. Today my coworker Alice asked if I knew of any good bánh mì places around the office. I only knew of two, neither of which has a particularly great reputation, but I told her I’d tag along and try a new place with her. She agreed… and then left without me shortly after. Monstrous. So, thus stymied, I ventured out on my own and decided to forego bánh mì in favor of trying a new place I’d noticed last week and which someone even recommended in the comments thread of the other day’s Sushirrito post: a Korean-looking place called Spice Kit.

By a completely bizarre coincidence, care to guess what they sell at Spice Kit?

Yup, bánh mì. They sell some other stuff (specifically, salads and Korean wraps), but I figured I shouldn’t spurn wacky cosmic coincidences. I ordered the pork bánh mì and a packet of lotus chips.

Now, if you’re not familiar with bánh mì — though you should be now that the term has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary — they’re basically the only good thing to come of Vietnam’s French colonialism. The French introduced into Vietnam the idea of sandwiches, French bread, and paté, resulting in these fantastic mini-meals. A good bánh mì is fresh, delicious, filling, and incredibly cheap. (If you pay more than $4 for a bánh mì, you’re doing it wrong.)

And right there is when I had my first ominous foreboding about Spice Kit. The bánh mì pictured above — pork with paté — cost a preposterous $8.50. I could see paying that much at The Slanted Door or something, but that’s because it would be served on a plate of truffle dust by a man in a nice suit. Spice Kit’s decor reminds me of Chipotlé.

But hey, I thought, maybe this is some super-fancy sandwich that’ll totally be worth it. It wasn’t. By the time I walked the two blocks to my office, the mediocre mayonnaise they’d slathered all over the sandwich (nowhere near as buttery and rich as the stuff I’m used to) had soaked through the bread and started to cause the thing to fall apart. The paté spread — which costs an extra 75 cents — was scraped so thinly across the bread I longed for an electron microscope to confirm its presence. The pickled carrots and radish were far too sweet, and they overdid it on the jalapeños, too.

Worst of all was the meat. The meat! Bánh mì pork is supposed to be thinly sliced, marinated, and grilled in that inimitable Vietnamese way. This stuff lacked the amazing flavor of Vietnamese pork and was cut into chunks that refused to stay inside the bread; worse, about a quarter of them were just fat, no meat. You know, there’s nothing worse than ending a meal with one final bite that’s worse than the rest of the dish you’ve just consumed, and that’s exactly what happened here: the last bit of sandwich turned out to be a rubbery chunk of fat in soggy, sweet, mayo-soaked bread. Yuck.

On the plus side, the bread that wasn’t water-logged was quite tasty, and the chef shares my belief that there’s no such thing as too much cilantro. Otherwise, though, this was a sandwich that cost twice as much as the ones that are available from about half a dozen places within 10 blocks of my apartment… and was about half as good.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you ever end up in San Francisco and feel like eating a bánh mì, don’t get it here. As for myself, I’ll be spending next week in Irvine, so the best bánh mì on the west coast (specifically, in Westminster) will be a short drive away. I foresee palate-cleansing in the near future.

P.S.: Video games! There, now everyone’s happy. Except my mouth :(

29 thoughts on “BakeSpite: Banh mi right in the wallet

  1. Living in Japan, as I currently am, I am often subject to nostalgic food cravings.

    For the past two weeks or so, I have longed for the delicious and plentiful banh mi selection in Toronto, my hometown. This post has tugged my heartstrings and exacerbated my pangs of banh mi hunger. Thank you, and curse you, Mr. Parish. You and your prescient timing.

  2. Ah, that’s too bad.
    Usually when rustic/cheap food looks that bad, it tastes awesome.

    Alas, I know of no places for banging in this area.

  3. Sad to hear they messed it up so much. In other news, I was at a Korean place in Frankfurt-Niederrad and had the best Bulgogi in my entire life yesterday.

  4. The most suggestive sounding Vietnamese name I’ve ever heard was at a graduation. When I heard this guy’s name announced, Tung Phuoc Nguyen, I was quite surprised for a sec.

    Also, I’m totally down with the idea of more non-videogame related posts. And bánh mì is awesome, though I’m partially to phở myself.

  5. Over where I live, banh mi is coming into vogue as the newest gourmet craze, so getting one under the equivalent of USD$8 is pretty much impossible, regardless of quality.

    Then again, any food of Asian origin is automatically considered gourmet here, so a banh mi that costs 5x what it would cost in downtown Hanoi is as surprising as kimchi that is sold for its weight in gold.

  6. ARGH, I have been dying for a banh mi for months now. I came across a place in Osaka and tried to convince my wife to try it, but she insisted on Korean food. The kicker? We had just been to Korea like two weeks earlier.

  7. Wanted to comment on the “Monkey Donkey” article, but there’s no place to…

    Anyway, the Koopaling article has “Roy von Koopa” instead of Ludwig von Koopa.

    And, to be on-topic, too bad about the sandwich.

  8. I started to get worried when you were talking about mayonnaise, but the extra charge for pate is what really set off the warning bells. If that picture is from the restaurant, they have McDonald’s level of fake food photography.

    I had a bad banh mi over the weekend myself. I decided to get cute with it and order the non-traditional catfish one against my better judgement (with visions of banh mi-po’boy fusion dancing through my head). I suffered for my hubris, ending up with a mushy, mealy chunk of fish covered in a bunch of way-to-pickled onions.

    Bad week for vietnamese sandwiches all around. :(

      • I’m glad I complimented the photo, then. :D It LOOKS really good! The bread has that flaked off look heralds a good hoagie of any culture.

  9. So if it had been any good, the title of this post might have been banh mi right in the mouth? What a shame.

  10. “As for myself, I’ll be spending next week in Irvine, so the best bánh mì on the west coast (specifically, in Westminster) will be a short drive away. I foresee palate-cleansing in the near future.”

    I live in santa ana/costa mesa where in Westminister is it?

    • Not sure exactly, but Westminster has a huge immigrant community and pretty much any Vietnamese food you buy there will be wonderful.

      • Thank you for the reply parish, there is a lee’s sandwiches *chain Vietnamese/french* restaurant by uci in Irvine. I am sure they will have something close.

      • Yeah, Lee’s is pretty decent, but check some of the scary little hole-in-the-wall places if you want the really good stuff.

  11. Theres a decent one near embarcadero, in that corridor along side 5embarcadero center that connects with justin herman plaza. Cheap for downtown.

    • Remember the name? I’m still trying to find a decent fix in the financial district, and I’ve been burned too many times.

      Out the Door (the carry-out arm of the Slanted Door) in the ferry building does a nice pork meatball sandwich, but like Parish says, it is well out of the magical $4 price range.

  12. As a resident of Vietnamese immigration-heavy St. Louis, I would assert that there is no reason for a good banh mi to cost above $4 (and frequently, it’s less). $5 tops. TOPS. When I saw this post’s title, I figured that I had to be reading it wrong.

    (And I’m as obsessed with food as I am with video games, so posts like these are totally okay with me.)

  13. Dude, bánh mỳ is totally not the only good thing to come of Vietnamese French Colonialism. The French are responsible for cà phê nâu đá as well. (And a lot of gorgeous architecture, but who cares about that?)

  14. Growing up in Seattle, I was used to $1.50-$2.00 banh mis all over the place, and they were (somewhat embarrassingly) my everyday breakfast and lunch for a few years in college. Now I live in a college town in Oregon–there’s one place in town that sells banh mis… for $8. Everybody raves about them, and I get the itch sometimes, but I just can’t bring myself to pay that.

  15. Hmmmmm. This sounds good. Anyone know of any places that serve bánh mì in Central Jersey or NYC?

  16. Wow, I’m surprised at the lack of Nom Nom Truck. Guess no one from LA has posted here yet.

  17. I’m always impressed and surprised that GS posts about food seem to generate five times as many comments as most of the ones about videogames, which are this site’s ostensible subject.

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