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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Việt-Nam Bánh Mì Số 1

If a bear poops in the woods should you call that a sandwich? Is it really OK to replace roast pork with gluten and tofu? And why is this one of the most popular Banh Mi spots in New York? These are just a few of the unanswered questions that haunted The Porkchop Express after visiting Việt-Nam Báhn Mì Số 1.

VNBMS1 (as I like to call it) seems eager to cater to a crowd. I say this not because of the store itself (which sells a few Vietnamese sundries and airs Vietnamese TV), but the menu: they serve a frisky fifteen versions of the Banh Mi, including one vegan and three vegetarian.

Even so, I can’t for the life of me figure out why this place comes so highly touted. Perhaps their menu diversity and location—near SoHo, NoLita, Chinatown and the East Village—help. But no matter the reason, the sandwich we tried was mighty disappointing.

In a more charitable mood I’d assume that either A) they had an off day or B) I had the worst non-vegetarian Banh Mi on the menu. But you can’t call something a “#1 House Special” and not deliver. Color me grumpy, but their “#1” set the bar super low for 2 thru 15.

Why the fuss? A preliminary glance, and this sandwich looks mighty alrighty: pork peeking out, nestled by fresh vegetables. But closer inspection reveals crayon-yellow blobs clinging to a pale white baguette. This was the “butter” they keep in a plastic tub and slather on their rolls before severely under-toasting. Given today's toaster technology, there is just no excuse for a pasty baguette. It can only put eager eaters in a bad Banh Mi mood.

VNBMS1 had their proportions right (nice amounts of cucumber, pickle, cilantro and chilies). And their BBQ pork was fine, if non-descript. But the way-too-thickly-cut pork roll tasted like moist sofa-cushion. And that limp roll was a lousy gift that kept giving poorly. In the end, this was a pretty soggy sandwich.

It's very hard to believe these guys move 500 a day, especially considering who's around the corner. But I'll hope they're doing something right, and welcome comments from anyone who has had better sandwiches there. As for the mediocre #1 Special? False Banh Mi advertising.

Việt-Nam Báhn Mì Số 1
369 Broome Street (betw. Mott & Elisabeth), New York, NY (212) 219-8341
#1 House Special Banh Mi $3.00

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Blogger YS Hwang said...

I think ppl who rave about Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1 haven't had much banh mi exposure.
I had a great expectation, reading about it from various alternative and mainstream newspaper articles for years. It sure was disappointing.
Don't expect to see sliced jalapeno peppers in banh mi when you order the sandwich spicy. All you will see is some hot sauce in the sandwich.
Anyways, hope more ppl. get exposed to your website and get some more banh mi exposure.

7:11 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

YS, thanks for stopping by. I couldn't agree more about this place. returned a few times just to make sure I didn't catch them on an off day, but... different strokes, I guess

3:45 PM  
Blogger Asad said...

I am a huge fan of your site, your writing, and your illustrations.

However, breaking news: I just ate a no. 1 banh mi from Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1. Finished it about five minutes ago and I thought of Porkchop Express immediately. I have to say it was by far the best I've had there. Perhaps there is someone new making sandwiches? (Not the lady you pay - she is the same one as always.) Really, the baguette was toasted properly, butter melted, ground pork tasty, light-colored slice of mortadella stuff great, carrots and cilantro in nice quantity. Really it was a soul-warming lunch. Just thought I should report that.

2:11 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

asad, thanks for checking in. i'm intrigued -- skeptical, but intrigued. if a new person is actually making the sandwiches, it can only help. these were some lazy baguettes in the past... and that big tub of yellow butter-like spread has always freaked me out. but... i'll try and check it out, always willing to give a sandwich another shot...

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not help but laugh about the comment that people rave about this for lack of exposure.

I am Vietnamese and like this place. They have new owners now too just fyi. Nephews or sons of the original? Can't remember for sure.

Granted I do long for some peppery liver pate.

But the quality is good and the ratio is excellent.

I have never had the butter blob and the sandwiches always have jalapenos on them if you ask for spicy. Baogettes have always been fresh and crispy. I have been eating there for 5+ years.

Bahn mi is much better on the West Coast and all NYC bahn mis are just ok anyways. Some reviewed here as good? Well, I simply do not agree at all. Some of these shops are even closed now. Different strokes...

5:34 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

anon, which one is it? do you 'like this place' or are 'all NYC banh mis just ok'? shill. this place benefits from location and nothing else; if you work here and disagree, at least have the nerve to admit it... and give us a reason why anyone should return.

1:09 AM  

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