My first time at Saigon Sandwich, I starred daftly around, like a tourist in the NY subway.I had no concept of what this Vietnamese deli could offer. I was unsure if the manic woman at the front of the counter was barking at me in Vietnamese or in Cantonese. And I was unsure if she was taking orders or just yelling. All I knew was that this was the place to go for banh mi.
First off, let me tell you about the ridiculous line out the door, commonly 10-15 people deep. A motley assortment of Tenderloin barefoot streetstuff, ngo staff from around the area, myself, and an elderly eastern European women clenching tightly to her dollar bills. Her husband joined her from time to time with a furious wobble. “I don’t care how good you say these sandwiches are, I’ve been double park for half an hour!”
The women of the shop take 10-15 orders at one time, and then shut down all communication for the next 20 minutes it takes them to prepare the sandwiches. You ask them a question, they don’t care. First timers are appalled by fellow patrons’ nonchalance.
The menu lists off various meats: bbq pork, meatball, regular pork, pate, bbq chicken, and tofu. You pick your meat, spicy or mild. Other edits can be made such as the blasphemous cry of “no cilantro”. Vegans conveniently hide behind the omission of mayonnaise as their concession into banh mi heaven – as if it is the only thing in there that contains meat products.
The women toast Parisian rolls to order, lather them with mayonnaise and red sauce (that is basically the inside of a bbq pork bun – sweet and lardy), pate, the proteins, pickled carrots and daikons, cilantro, and jalapeños. They roll them up and secure them with a colored rubber band indicating meat type. They are priced between $3-$4. They are crunchy tart, tangy, sweet, meaty, super flavorful, spicy. The first time I tried one, I was floored. On my ass, floored.