As a huge fan of Vietnamese food, I’ve tried it all. Pho (soup), com (rice plates), bun (noodle bowls) and the signature banh mi sandwiches! A mix of Vietnamese cuisine with French flavors makes this sandwich a special treat. From the light crusty bread, pickled veggies, crisp jalapeno, savory meat along with some buh (Vietnamese mayonaisse), every bite is filled with flavors and textures. And I’ve found some good examples in the NC Triangle but have heard that there are some other REALLY good banh mi options out there in the state, in particular Greensboro. A trip to Charlotte has me passing through the area so a quick detour allows me to stop into the well-acclaimed Banh Mi Saigon!
Rolling over to the store, I find Banh Mi Saigon in a slightly dingy, run-down plaza. Now I hate to say this but that’s a good sign! A good restaurant in a not-so-great location usually means it has to excel at what it does. Inside, the space is spartan with any tables and seating pulled aside due to the pandemic. It’s about as basic as you get with some menus over the counter, a refrigerated case and display of Vietnamese baked goods on the counter.
Since I’m traveling solo, I can’t over-order so I just get four banh mi, a Banh Mi Saigon, two barbeque banh mi and one unknown sandwich since I’m not sure what I blurted out! In back, I can see them putting the sandwiches together and once complete, they are heated up in a small oven up front which is actually a key step if you’re going to eat your banh mi immediately. A quick spin in the oven toasts the sandwich up nicely while leaving the veggies still crisp and cool. Banh mi at Saigon are in the $5 range and they also offer up some other Vietnamese specialties along with boba tea. I grab my bag of sandwiches and head on home to Raleigh, one hour away
At home I unwrap my banh mi haul and inspect the sandwiches. They’re about 11″ long and the bread is light with a crispy crust. They are all nicely packed with some pickled carrots, cucumber, jalapenos and cilantro. Two of the sandwiches also have red onion slivers and they are smeared with a bit of buh (Vietnamese mayonaisse) or a red sauce. Two of the sandwiches have a Vietnamese pork roll while one has a roast pork and the final one, shredded chicken. One key differentiator for these sandwich is the just right amount of meat, they are not full of meat. Just enough meat to balance out the veggies and I’d have to say it makes for a more authentic bite.
While these banh mi may not be my personal favorite of all time, I have to believe they are more likely the real Vietnamese deal in terms of how they are made. It’s a balanced sandwich, not stuffed with tons of meat but still very tasty and worthwhile. So if you’re a fan of Vietnamese eats and driving past on I-85, it’s just a short and quick detour off the highway to enjoy these authentic Vietnamese banh mi. I’ll be back to try more and I will make sure to keep track of what I’ve ordered, bon appetit!