My Favorite Meatball Banh Mi at Thim Hing

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Mai Pham
Walking into Thim Hing Banh Mi (11107 Bellaire Boulevard at Boone), it's as if I've been transported to somewhere in Vietnam. The grayish-green linoleum has seen better days, the Formica- topped tables are chipped, the dark-brown diner chairs have that circa-1970s look, and if I worried about cleanliness, I would turn around and walk right out.
The ladies behind the counter know me, but their dour expressions indicate no recognition. In fact, if friendliness were a requirement for patronage, Thim Hing would have no customers. The Thim Hing ladies never smile. It used to bother me, but these days, I think of them affectionately as the Banh Mi Nazis.

Smile or no, these women make a helluva xiu mai (meatball) banh mi and no matter how often or how many I eat, I don't get sick of them. I eat them for breakfast. I eat them for lunch. I eat them for a snack, and sometimes for dinner.

They don't toast the bread until you order, so the crust is always that perfect degree of crispness. Instead of the oblong bread roll so typical of Vietnamese sandwiches, they use a baguette, which is less doughy.

Before they fill it with meatballs, they add a house-made mayonnaise and douse the bread with the meatball broth, a slightly sweet tomato-based consomme. I think it's the meatball broth that gives this banh mi the addictive quality that keeps people coming back for more.

But truly, everything about the sandwich, from the perfectly toasted baguette to the pleasingly pickled carrots with just the right degree of sweet and sour, to the actual meatballs themselves, make this banh mi a knockout.

The only thing that mars the perfection of the sandwich is the fact that they are super-stingy with their meatballs. If you order the small $2.50 sandwich, you'll only get four quarter-size-diameter meatballs, barely enough to fill each bite. I tried ordering a $3.50 sandwich, but this added more bread, not more meatball.

I've discovered that the best thing to do is order the small $2.50 sandwich and request an additional dollar's worth of meatball. If you order it this way, you'll get a full meatball in each bite, and you'll definitely see why this is my favorite meatball banh mi in the city.



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Thim Hing Sandwich Shop

11107 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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15 comments
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Christine Ha
Christine Ha

I always get the combination, but everyone keeps talking about this meatball madness.  Gotta try it next time.

LW
LW

I'm really glad Thim Hing is still around. For a while there, I thought they were considering closing shop (they might still be?).

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Don't think so; they told me they moved locations once before but they're definitely still around to stay.

LW
LW

That's good to hear. Do you know if the daughters are planning on taking over when/if the owner decides to retire?

Noorvthai
Noorvthai

Vietnamese meatballs are sublime, a pleasurable intrusion upon your expectations if you conceive of meatballs as heavy, meaty, unwieldy things that might be projected by catapult.

By contrast, xiu mai are cloud-like pats of fatty something or other, akin to what a bird gets when taking advantage of your suet feeders. Melting fat and flavor collapsing on itself to coat the tongue.

Betty
Betty

I grew up down the street from Thim Hing and their xiu mai has always been my favorite. I have not found another place in town that can do it like theirs. Thanks for the post.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

Always happy to spread the news about great eats!

Mag
Mag

I seldom go to that area anymore and really miss thoses sandwiches. I would always order a few extra to take home and munch on and yes, they are great for breakfast with a cup of coffee. Honestly, they did not know what to charge me since my request was for only Pate' and veggies. I wondered if they were mad at me because of my special order (but now I understand - lol) Well, just last weekend I discovered a place in Spring Branch on my way back from the 99 Ranch Market. They did not have pate' but I have to say the bbq sandwich was really good. I have never tried the meatball sandwich but will now have to give it a try.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Mag

Where at in Spring Branch? I live right by Memorial City and need a place to get my banh mi fix.

Mag
Mag

It is on Hammerly just off of Gessner across from the high school. You can't miss the sign outside.

Feldman
Feldman

Speaking of Banh Mi... I want a BBQ Banh Mi... chopped beef BBQ (with sauce) on a french roll with cilantro, cucumbers and shredded carrots... maybe a fresh jalapeno. THAT would be the bomb!!

Mai Pham
Mai Pham

I'm gonna try making that at home! sounds like a great food truck concept...

Bruce R
Bruce R

If you're ever in the Clear Lake area, there's a great banh mi place called NASA Fast Food. The owner is always happy when a customer arrives, and you'll be happily greeted as a regular on your second visit.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Thanks for making me laugh this morning. I grew up in Alief, and that place has been there forever. Kind of forgot about it. Not suprised to read that the ladies have not cheered up over all these years. Actually the first place I ever had a banh mi, after my buddy had to pretty much drag me in there due to my skepticism. I thank him to this day for introducing me to banh mi...

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