Banh mi sandwiches have been enjoying their 15 minutes of fame as of late, thanks to a recent New York Times article, that brought plenty of lukewarm receptions and rants in response.
And shame, shame, shame! The NYT author neglects to include Houston on his list of select cities offering great banh mis around the country, despite our town’s substantial Vietnamese population. But that’s OK — I’m happy to overlook his oversight. After all, it gives me the chance to create a list of my own. While relishing the fact that Houston brings so much food to love that outside critics largely aren't even aware of.
Here are our five favorite spots for those famously delicious Vietnamese sandwiches in Houston. Each place serves fantastically fresh sandwiches, piled high with lovely meats, pickled veggies, cilantro, and other toppings, all for around $3 each. But don’t take my word for it — Try them out for yourself and report back!
What’s your favorite banh mi in town?
1) Nguyen Ngo
In my sometimes-humble opinion, this small café on Bellaire in Chinatown makes the best banh mi in town. The bread is soft, yet substantial, and the bright toppings are fresh. But the crowning glory is the fabulous pate. It’s meaty and smooth, with a rich flavor that takes the sandwich from simple to simply spectacular.
2) Alpha Bakery
Located in Hong King Mall, the Alpha Bakery has long been a favorite for banh mis, thanks to the pillowy French bread. If it's crowded, you have to elbow your way through to order your banh mi and pay. They run an efficient business, so don't expect smiley service — but the resulting sandwich is worth the fight. Alpha also has great prepackaged items like spring rolls, stir fries, and fried sweet bean sesame balls.
3) Don Café
It may sound odd, but the Vietnamese-style butter’d mayo here is the big draw at Don Cafe, and the fine folks there include plenty of it on the sandwiches. You’ll never complain about getting short-changed on meat either; they’ve got beautiful French bread that walks the line between airy and crisp, and it’s filled with a plenty of gorgeous meats and toppings. Cash only.
4) Givral’s Café
Can’t make it out to Chinatown? There are a few tasty options in town, too. Givral’s Café on Milam cranks out sandwich after sandwich during the lunch rush and beyond. They lightly toast the French bread, and then pack it with well cooked meats, spreads, and brightly-colored veggies. I love the standard Special and Grilled Pork sandwiches, but the tofu banh mi is fantastic as well.
5) Thien An
With its close proximity to our business district, Thien An gets c-c-c-crowded at the weekday lunch hour. For a solid banh mi, try the Special, a baguette spread with pate, then stuffed with chicken, pork sausage, meatballs and ham — and dressed with the usual combo of toppings.
Eh, the banh mis have slipped a bit over the years, but they also offer plenty of other Vietnamese dishes from which to choose.