PS had nearly as much buzz as A Chau, yet our first impression... well, truth be told, this banh mi-aria looks different. For starters, it's not in the back of a bodega; their sign (they have one) is big and bright; they distribute glossy, colorful menus, and have tables where people sit and eat... with friends. Confusing! And possibly alarming.
On our quest for the best banh mi in New York City, The Porkchop Express has gravitated towards the nooks and crannies, coy storefronts that barely hint at what they sell. Such sandwiches play hard to get, and it adds to the excitement. On the flip side, Paris Sandwich seems a bit upfront and earnest, maybe even a tad generic. Yet thankfully, their appearance doesn't tell the whole tale. This is actually an endearing place with eclectic character: a neighborhood joint with franchise ambitions, a hands-on, family-run, large-scale operation. Confused? Let me explain.
PS is run by JL - Jimmy Ly to you, kid. He (and his friends) grew up loving his (Vietnamese) mom's food. About 3 years back, he used this memory as impetus. The plan? Bring Ms. (Kim) Ly's recipes to the people, and provide tasty Vietnamese treats in an easy-to-replicate restaurant. So Jimmy and fam started scouting locations, developing a menu, gathering ingredients, and ironing out the details.
Tops on the Ly list? Recruiting Jimmy's cousin Dinh Ho. Dinh, a restaurateur and baker from Cognac, France brought his baguette savvy (and a giant Revent convection oven) across the Atlantic. If all good banh mi start with fine bread, PS was determined to offer the freshest loaves in town. This attention to detail inflected other decisions as well: coffee beans imported from Viet Nam (the result of numerous taste tastes); a seasonal selection of deserts and pastries; various breads-to-go-go; and a whopping 12 varieties of banh mi.
We started with a no-brainer: the #4 BBQ Pork ($3.25), a hot, crusty half-loaf cradling chiar siu style meat and a slice of pork roll. It's a well-constructed sandwich, a bit low on the meat but chock full o' fresh jalepenos, cilantro, and crisp pickled veggies. These folks aren't shy with the aioli – their own house-made garlic mayo – but we liked the flavor, and those chewy baguettes hold up just fine. The real charmer, however, was the delightful #5 Grilled Pork ($3.25), which used tender, tasty sliced meat to full flavor-advantage.
PS's grilled chicken is also good (if you swing that way). But since you're a person of distinguished tastes, good reader, you'd probably prefer the #6 Vietnamese Meat Ball Baguette. I was a bit nervous, as it looked light in the loafers coming out of the bag. But don't fret: the meat is in there, and it tastes great. At the risk of sounding less than “family friendly,” these balls were oh so tender, crumbly and juicy with refreshingly bold, savory spicing. And because the size is, shall we say, slender, the #6 is actually a pretty light meal to boot... somewhere between 2 “sassy sliders” and a “Spanish supermodel.” Which works to your favor; you should save room for desert. After all, an unobtrusive fridge houses some of Kim's finest creations. Tops on our list was her terrific Vietnamese banana cake, a creamy, condensed, slightly tart pudding-like concoction. I'm not sure how to describe it, so I wont bother. Just try some, cheapo; it's only 2 bucks!
If you've only got a dollar, try one of the green tea waffles instead. They come off a bit strong and sugary at first, like an incense-flavored marshmallow, or that neighbor you don't really like running into. But we love waffles and green tea, and the combo actually grew on us. My only regret is that they don't fry chicken as well. Instead, consider the “European” option and pair one with a cup of nice strong coffee as you watch the world go by.From the random feedback I've received, folks seem to have mixed feelings about this place: space too bright, sandwiches too small, bum knee sore, the good old days, etc. So let me officially urge you to shelve your doubts, and judge them solely on the merits of flavor and freshness. On that score, Paris Sandwich's grilled pork and meatballs stack up.
And regardless of what you and I think, good reader, brisk crowds and steady business suggest the Ly family is on to something. Their operation is clearly poised for banh mi expansion, if not (dare I say?) a national banh mi explosion?! Subway: you've been warned.
Paris Sandwich Corp.
113 Mott Street, Chinatown, NY
Banh Mi: $3.25 - $3.50
Ice Coffee & Deserts: $2.00
Green Tea Waffles: $1.00