This week, following its ongoing love affair with the sandwich, the New York Times' T Magazine asked, "Who makes the best Vietnamese banh mi sandwich in America?"
That question obviously is much broader than one in New Orleans may be used to hearing. That conversation usually is focused on where to find the best banh mi within the five- or 10-mile radius of wherever one may be at that moment. Eat Well? Pho Tau Bay? Tanh Dinh? The question is as dauntingly unanswerable and its answers as endless as "Who has the best po-boy?" — or substitute po-boy for oysters, gumbo, meatballs, pizza, whatever.
Jordan Michelman goes cross country, from Los Angeles and Oregon to Atlanta and New York, to find the perfect sandwich. No food writer would dare skip Louisiana — and Michelman does not. The Vietnamese po-boy at eastern New Orleans bakery Dong Phuong holds "pork floss and chicken in a sliced baguette, made onsite and dressed with a butter-based aioli spread." But it wasn't the best.
Michelman's "best" title went to San Francisco's Saigon Sandwich, "a no-frills joint in a particularly rough stretch of the Tenderloin":
Get the combo: fatty roast pork melts into creamy chicken liver pate, buffeted by a noticeably sweet aioli and overflowing with cilantro leaves and stalks. The space at Saigon Sandwich isn’t much to look at, but the banh mi — fresh, cheap and astonishingly delicious — may be the best in America.
At least it wasn't Momofuku.