No. 67: Pork Banh Mi at Little Vietnam

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Little_Vietnam_Pork_BanhMi.JPG
Jonathan Kauffman
Little Vietnam's roast pork banh mi, $4.50.

SFoodie's countdown of the 92 best things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.
SF_92.jpg


Late last week, a New York
Times writer gave Tenderloin favorite Saigon Sandwiches some hyperbolic praise. "The space at Saigon Sandwich isn't much to look at," Jordan Michelman wrote, "but the banh mi ― fresh, cheap and astonishingly delicious ― may be the best in America." [Ed. note: No one seems to know whether it's "Saigon Sandwich" or "Saigon Sandwiches," but the restaurant's business card uses the plural.]

Uh, our devotion to Saigon Sandwiches ― particularly the meatball  ― dates back a couple of decades. But is its special combo the best in San Francisco, let alone the country? We have to disagree.

As of February 2011, our citywide favorite would have to be the pork sandwich at Little Vietnam Cafe. All the banh mi from this bright-green storefront in the Inner Richmond excel in the basic competencies: A warm, light-crumbed French roll so crisp that crumbs fly off its surface  each time we take a bite. A faint coating of sweetened mayonnaise, and crunchy shreds of pickled carrots, onions, and daikon. Enough cilantro to perfume each bite, and enough jalapeños to keep us pausing after every few mouthfuls.

The quality of the pork is what elevates it above the other ones in Little Vietnam's lineup: Its sweet, fish-sauce marinade thrums with flavor, and the meat is grilled just until a little charred-sugar smokiness clings to its surface but the meat stays tender. While we can't peer back into the kitchen to see whether the meat is reheated in the microwave, it doesn't taste like the tough, long-cooked pork most other sandwich shops serve.

SFoodie won't make any specious claims about the sandwich's national standing. We will say, however, that we've rarely had finer.

Little Vietnam Cafe: 309 Sixth Ave. (at Clement), 876-0283.

Dishes in our series so far:
92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tart
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye


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3 comments
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James
James

Yes. Little Vietnam is the best in the city. Nobody from a national trend-spotting magazine would venture out the Richmond (except for Burma Superstar) so it remains our secret. Try the 5-spice chicken, too.

T.L.
T.L.

I agree that Saigon Sandwiches banh mi xiu mai (the meatball) is a classic and that the NY Times article by Jordan Michelman was terrible once he started recommending banh mi shops.

If you are obsessed with all things Banh Mi, here's a very funny television pilot about two clueless white owners who have to save their failing banh mi shop in the LES of NYC (http://vimeo.com/13377972).

jeesung
jeesung

You sound like (and look like from the pic) you're reviewing the Banh Mi Thit Nuong, or grilled pork at Little Vietnam?

That is not the special combo (Dac Biet) which typically is cold cuts like head cheese and ham plus pork pate which the (really inaccurate, and poorly written) NY Times article looks like they are praising about Saigon Sandwiches.

Or are you saying that is your favorite Banh Mi of all in SF, regardless of filling type. I haven't had much coffee today.

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