While it’s true that San Francisco is my favorite domestic city to visit, New York City is still my favorite city in the world. (Obviously only out of places I’ve been; I can’t say I like it more than places I haven’t actually been to before, duh!) I detest when people talk shit about my favorite city in the world; it irks me to no end when they say they hate it (well I hate you, how about that?! and just LEAVE, then, ugh), and when people talk about how xx cuisine in NYC isn’t that great… well, I have to know where they’ve had it better. (This statement actually applies to nearly every minority/ethnic food in NYC… “There’s no good Mexican in NYC,” just replace “Mexican” with Chinese, Vietnamese, dim sum, sushi/sashimi, Ethiopian, BBQ… okay that’s not an ethnicity but you get my point. People are ALWAYS saying ‘xx food isn’t that good in NYC’ !!!)
My point is that I’ve constantly heard that banh mi in NYC is nothing to get excited over, and you know how I’ve been going nuts over banh mi. Well! You know what happened, right? I had a showdown!!! On our last morning there, I grabbed two other NYC-based food bloggers – Blondie of Blondie & Brownie and Eunice of NY Crumbs – and headed over to Little Saigon, where Lee’s is across the street from Turtle Tower, and Saigon is not far away.
Blondie has awesome pictures… check her thoughts here.
I was literally standing right outside Turtle Tower’s front door when I took this photo. Actually, this photo was taken the day I went to Turtle Tower, when it was raining, and not the day I actually went. (Um, full disclosure, I bought two sandwiches the day I went to Turtle Tower, but didn’t get around to eating them and had to throw them away, boo for wasting food.)
Lee’s has a really extensive menu, especially compared to most banh mi places. They’re really large, tons of seating, and have a lot of Asian-grocery-style items scattered around for you to browse as you wait for your order. (The lit up picture menu actually reminds me of Paris Sandwich…)
I’ve also always heard about avocado shakes and how you can’t get them in NYC (untrue; I had one at Ba Xuyen that I just didn’t post about) so I added that to the order. Thick, creamy, it sounds much weirder than it is, but it’s also super heavy considering how much fat is in an avocado. I could see this being an awesome treat, but not something I’d order with any regularity. I don’t miss the lack in NYC!
Eunice actually also picked up one of these interesting dessert-y items. This is why they have all the grocery items scattered around; impulse purchases! (Actually, I’m not sure how impulsive this was, although she totally didn’t know what it was so it must’ve been somewhat impulsive?) Roasted rice wrapped around blackened bananas with peanuts and coconut cream/milk for dipping on the side. It was interesting, but nothing I would order again.
What you really want to know is how the sandwiches were, though, right? Well, I ordered the standard pork-roll-and-pate sandwich and asked them to cut it into 3 so we could all have a taste.
It sure looks promising, doesn’t it? Well. Let me tell you something. Lee’s is huge. It reminds me of Paris, my favorite banh mi place so far, quite a lot, with its clean, larger interior than most banh mi places, extensive menu, and that they sell so much other stuff around – like loaves of bread, scattered everywhere. Seriously. But. I don’t know WTF is up with this sandwich. The bread was awful, too soft and didn’t hold up well against the ingredients at all. Pate was the overwhelming flavor there – I LIKE pate, mind you – but it was just not the wonderful balance of flavors that I’ve come to expect from banh mi. Yeck. The funny thing is, I always hear Lee’s name mentioned when people bring up banh mi and how it’s so much better & cheaper than NYC. Yes, this place was cheaper, but I’ll friggin take GOOD banh mi for a dollar more over this crap any day!!! I said it!!!
Honestly, once again, I owe a huge thanks to my cousin’s wife for pointing me in this direction. I probably would have done just Lee’s had she not told me she likes Saigon the best, and it’s right near Turtle Tower. This is more like the banh mi places I’ve seen: a store front that sells other stuff, but has a small counter (actually it’s AT the register… very odd) that makes banh mi.
Of course, I ordered the banh mi cha lua (pork & pate) for comparison’s sake. It was only $3.
And it’s a bit smaller. But you know what? Again, I’ll pay extra for better banh mi, and this was it. The flavors balanced perfectly well against each other, and the bread was crisp, the perfect baguette that I like for banh mi. Nothing overwhelmed any other flavor, and it was just an overall yummy sandwich. WAY better than the Lee’s sandwich, and pretty damn good overall.
Yvo says: In battle Lee’s Sandwiches v. Saigon Sandwich, the clear winner was Saigon Sandwich. But more importantly, Battle Banh Mi: West Coast v. East Coast (or, more specifically, Saigon Sandwich v. Paris Sandwich): Paris wins by a small margin… taking into consideration price, interior (ie, seating space), and sandwich. (Broken down by category – price: advantage, Saigon; interior: advantage, Paris; sandwich: by a very small margin, advantage, Paris.) I’ll definitely have to go back and try more banh mi in the San Francisco Bay Area when I return (and baby, I WILL return – I’m in SF at least once a year)… but for now, I don’t see any real reason anyone should be b*tching that San Francisco has better banh mi than NYC! (I’ve heard San Jose is where it’s at; I’ll get there soon.)
Saigon Sandwich recommended; Lee’s, not so much