The Ultimate Midtown Bánh Mì Taste Test

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Can you guess where each of these is from? Answers on the last page!
Because the Houston Press office is in Midtown, I eat a lot of bánh mì.

Need a light lunch? Bánh mì. In a hurry? Bánh mì. Craving meat, veggies and carbs? Bánh mì. Want something spicy? Bánh mì. It's my go-to meal to satisfy just about any lunchtime criteria.

Unfortunately for someone in my position (food writer), I can be a creature of habit. That means I find one decent bánh mì spot without long lines, and I stick to it. Lately, that's been La Baguette on Milam. At least twice a week, I find myself there getting a fish sandwich, extra spicy.

But it seems any time I write about any bánh mì, as I did recently for 100 favorite dishes and previously in December for 2013's list of 100 favorite dishes people love to tell me I'm wrong. That particular bánh mì isn't the best; some other one is.

I'm settling this once and for all.

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They all look similar, but they taste unique.
OK, maybe not once and for all, but I figured a taste test would be a good way to determine which spot actually does make the best bánh mì. I decided to try bánh mì thit nuong from five of the most popular places in Midtown: Cali Sandwich, La Baguette, Les Givral's Sandwich & Cafe, Simply Pho and the newly re-opened Thien An.

To make the taste test as fair as possible, I ordered the same sandwich at each place. Bánh mì thit nuong is a good litmus test for Vietnamese restaurants, and each place is sure to chargrill the pork or pickle the carrots in a slightly different manner.

A few things were the same throughout each sandwich, though. First, the bread was crusty but light. Second, each bánh mì sandwich contained one long, slightly pickled cucumber and one slice of raw jalapeño. Lastly, each also contained shredded carrots and fresh cilantro. It's the differences that set some sandwiches apart from others.

Here are the results.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Cali Sandwich

3030 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Thien An

2611 San Jacinto St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

La Baguette French Bakery

6108 Wilcrest Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Givral's Sandwich & Cafe

2704 Milam St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Simply Pho

2929 Milam St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
49 comments
Rodney Barnes
Rodney Barnes

NoBi Grill here in Friendswood, corner of 528 and Blackhawk. Tried others, won't go anywhere else.

TonyTX
TonyTX

Obviously you guys didn't try Nguyen Ngo 2 on Bammel. THAT'S the best.

Lâm Tran
Lâm Tran

Les Givral best banh mi in Houston . Just like all banh mi, it's good when its freshly made

Loc Tran
Loc Tran

Homemade banh mi is the best!!! Hands down to mama's cooking every time.

Anh Tu
Anh Tu

It's pretty good there.

Becky Ardell Downs
Becky Ardell Downs

need a city-wide showdown. I nominate Vietnam Poblano on Gessner.

Gotti Obando
Gotti Obando

Not better then the place on bellaire and the beltway

Jim Miner
Jim Miner

Oh yea love em and I'm sitting at my office looking across the parking lot at Thien An

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

And now you need to try the Vietnamese Egg Rolls at Hollywood Vietnamese on Montrose.

Chris Sac
Chris Sac

Next time we go back Elizabeth Ann Santos

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Givrals would get my vote, though the douche bags come in droves now on the weekends running the line out the door. Thein An was better at their old location but would be my runner up, though I do love the spacious new restaurant.

ESandler
ESandler

Love banh mi! My record in one sitting is 12. 

And was still able to enjoy a light dessert of che dau trang.

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

There is also Cafe Helene to now throw into the mix.

nguyenhm16
nguyenhm16

I used to be a big fan of the old Givral's when it was still in Hoa Binh Center (where the Camden apartments are now).


Tried Les Givrals earlier this year. Ordered what to me is the definitive bánh mì, bánh mì thịt nguội (cold pork) with pâté, and found it nearly inedible, mostly because it came with thick massive slices of meat that were tough to eat and flavorless, and what appeared to be an entire quarter of a cucumber sliced lengthwise. The sandwich definitely had an Americanized super-sizing to it that didn't do it any favors.


Your post definitely inspired me to go to Thien An for lunch though.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@TonyTX  Nooooo...because this was focused on Midtown...

vonReisendorf
vonReisendorf

@ESandler  

uh, well, the Niko Niko Gyros eating contest is at the Greek Festival this weekend with some national talent. But they got nothin on you babe...

chantulian
chantulian

@nguyenhm16  

The old Givral's in Hoa Binh was run by Nga, who now has Cali Sandwich, and for my money still serves the best banh mi in midtown.


All these banh mi look about the same, and may be close to your office, but for some variation look to Thim Hing on Bellaire or Don sandwiches. Thim Hing use a much thinner, longer bread that is wonderful.

TonyTX
TonyTX

@KaitlinS @TonyTX Your loss and yeah MIDTOWN: the cultural epicenter of Houston? May as well make the Washington Strip the spiritual epicenter of Houston while we're at it. (barf)

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@chantulian @nguyenhm16  Oh yeah, Chinatown has some awesome banh mi. But because Midtown is the former "Little Saigon," I wanted to start here. 

e_sandler
e_sandler

@vonReisendorfNo, just someone who thinks it's clever to use a very similar commenting id. I like to pop up here every now and then just to remind people that it isn't me. 

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