Once again, boredom struck our household. In true FBT fashion we decided to recreate our Lobster Roll Rally, but this time with the infamous Banh Mi Sandwich. In the illustrious words of LL Cool J… DON’T CALL IT A COME BACK! I’VE BEEN HERE FOR YEARS! Seriously, the Banh Mi sandwich has been around since the late 18th century and is the love child of the colorful Vietnamese culture and French Colonial rule. However, it has only started to hit the mainstream US food scene over the past several years.
The first Banh Mi’s were very simple and very French. They started with a basic baguette and a helping of butter filled with either ham or pâté (lame right? I know). But, then something spectacular happened. As the French rule ended in 1954 (Hooray!!), the Vietnamese people started to impose their own influence on the Banh Mi. Thank goodness they did, because the introduction of their local ingredients, a little cultural culinary touch and some residual French influence created quite possibly one to the greatest sandwiches on the planet.
So with the history lesson out of the way, let’s get back to the meat, or should I say pork, of the story… Who has the best Banh Mi in Dallas? After extensive research and a few phone calls to my Vietnamese friends (Gracias, fellas), we narrowed our crawl down to four locations. The plan was to hit all four spots back to back in one day to find the BEST, in a battle between arguably the greatest sandwich in the world and my stomach’s capacity.
Also, since there are so many variations of the Banh Mi we thought it would be best to judge each location by only two sandwiches. The traditional grilled pork (Thit Nuong) with Pate and a “wild card” which was whatever each location recommended as their favorite.
What better place to start than the wildely acclaimed Nammi Truck? Not only was Nammi one of, if not THE first food trucks in Dallas, I would argue that they kick started the Banh Mi craze in our little town. That’s why we decided to head over to Klyde Warren Park to start our day of gluttony.
- The Grilled Pork - A Massive… I mean MASSIVE! pile of pork, pickled veggies and cilantro atop a fresh and wonderfully crisp baguette. The pate (you must ask to add it) was very light and the mayo and butter were just right—not overwhelming. Overall, a great start to our day. But dare I say that it’s too much food? Granted it’s about twice the cost of the other locations we visited later, but holy hell! You probably get twice if not three times the food. So consider sharing, or don’t, either way you’ll enjoy it.
- The Wild Card - This off menu item is perfectly described by its top secret name… The Overload! Basically, what happens is they take the ginormous Banh Mi with pate and add two fried eggs on top. If you’re making the the person next to you extremely uncomfortable by salivating uncontrollably after the previous sentence, you have every right to… It’s THAT good. Throw away your meal time etiquette and in the famous words of The Cheap Bastard, “shove it in your mouth hole!”
**Couple of quick notes: The line for Nammi can get very long very quickly, so be prepared. However, despite how busy they were, I was extremely impressed by the efficiency and friendliness of the staff.
BA LE #1 – Vietnamese Cuisine
I’m not sure why they need to gloat about their self proclaimed numerical ranking, but hey, to each their own. We’ll see if their cocky attitude matches their skill :). Ba Le #1 is somewhat hidden inside a small shopping center with a very nondescript sign, so keep an eye out or you’ll miss it. And if you leave some room, they are a full restaurant so you can get other Vietnamese dishes as well.
- The Grilled Pork - Came with much more manageable portions then Nammi. However, the bread was a little stale and not up to par. On the other hand, the pork was well seasoned and the veggies were tasty and fresh. But overall we felt a little underwhelmed. I could see myself grabbing lunch there, if I worked near by, but I doubt I would go out of my way to make a pilgrimage.
- The Wild Card - In an unusual twist, our waiter recommended the chicken Banh Mi (Banh Mi Ga). We hesitated for a moment, but what the hell, it’s the 90′s. Lets go for it… Unfortunately, we got the same result. A decent sandwich, but nothing to right home about.
**With all the negativity in the air… We did accidentally find a hidden gem at Ba Le #1. They have one of the best traditional Vietnamese Iced Coffees we’ve had in a long time. So, if you are a coffee nut, you may want to make the trip just for that.
La Me Restaurant
Located near Richland College, the restaurant is hidden in a corner of the Walnut outdoor “mall” (I’m using that term very loosely). This gem is nuzzled inbetween some kind of a foot store… not appetizing… and a “Pet City” with a missing “P”… even less appetizing. But, trust me get over your foot phobia and check this place out. And if you’re really into feet, you’re in luck my friend! You can stop by La Me after picking up your foot club membership card, which is in the shape of… you guessed it, a foot!
- The Grilled Pork - If I had to sum up the Banh Mi at La Me in just two words, I would have to pick “Vibrant” and “Fresh.” In fact, their ingredients are so fresh and so vibrant that I am going to abstain from using either word to prevent you from going cross eyed from their over use :). With that said, what makes this Banh Mi amazing is its simple perfection. Every ingredient is individually perfect and together they make for one hell of a Banh Mi. Here is a quick run down: Bread – Awesome… Pork – Kissed by the flames of heaven… Veggies – rocked my socks off… Pate and mayo – solid. You can’t ask for more at around $3.50 each… Yeah you heard me.
- The Wild Card – Our server recommends their “Cold Cut Combo” Banh Mi which provided a great contrast to the grilled pork. I’d recommend trying it. Seriously, try everything on the menu. La Me is a full restaurant with a Cheesecake Factory-sized menu. You could come back here twice a week for an entire year and not have the same thing twice.
**A few things to keep in mind: This is a relatively small location, so seating is at a premium. Which means the $3 Banh Mi’s are To-Go Only. Don’t be offended, it’s either that or they can jack up their prices to justify taking seats away from their regular menu diners. Also, DO NOT leave the premises until you explore the the “glass door fridge thingy” (You have failed me Google!!) for house made desserts you will not regret. A word of caution—the fermented rice will put some real hair on your chest… if you’re into that sort of thing.
Quoc Bao Bakery
With my belt begging for mercy, we finally made it to our last stop. We arrived at Quoc Bao. Once again, you REALLY need to look for this place. But, you won’t regret the search. As soon as you open the front doors, you will get smacked in the face with the awesome scent of fresh baked baguettes piled high to the ceiling.
- The Grilled Pork - For the love of humanity! How can I eat this much pork in one day and still want more? I mean seriously! There are only two answers… One: This quick video will shed some light. Two: Every one of these locations has a Banh Mi that is uniquely delicious in its own way. You might also want to try them all. Ok, I’m sure you are all tired of me describing all the ingredients over and over, so I will spare you my attempts at sounding food savvy and just say it was… as awesome as Bruce Lee teaching you Jeet Kune Do while on acid.
- The Wild Card – Heeeeellloooo BBQ Banh Mi or Banh Mi Xa Xiu. I feel like I need to mention that the bread was radical on both sandwiches. Sorry, I’m starting to run low on creative adjectives. Any who… back to basics… Pork – Tender and flavorful… Veggies – Much more finely chopped and a little scarce on this sandwich… Bread – Come on! It’s a freaking BAKERY!
**Things I should mention: This really is a bakery, so there are no tables and the Banh Mi’s are for Take-Out Only. Also, the building gets very warm, you know, being surrounded by ovens and all. So, you may want to wait outside under the shaded roof while they make your sandwich. We chose the latter and to ensure freshness, we opted to sit on the curb out front to eat our subs on the spot. I make all these sacrifices for your benefit, not because I’m a closet fatty.
So, who is the winner of the Battle Banh Mi?!!
After taking some time to think about each of the four locations, and to digest the 10 Banh Mi’s we split between the two of us over 4 hours (I wish I was joking), I decided that we needed two winners. I know, it’s a bit of a cop out, but honestly you can’t really go wrong at any of these places.
The Best Banh Mi Award – La Me Restaurant – Without a doubt their grilled pork was the most outstanding Banh Mi we had. I still fantasize about the sweet and lightly charred taste of their pork. Crap that sounds dirty. Oh well, I LOVE La Me’s Pork in my mouth and I don’t care who knows it!!
The “Best Wild Card” Banh Mi – Nammi Truck – I mean seriously! There is so much goodness in the “Overload” that you will need a backhoe to consume it all!
So, there you have it. FBT has spoken! I have a feeling this is going to be one of our most controversial posts. But, it will be a fun debate and I’m always down for another Battle Banh Mi… I’m totally trademarking this slogan by the way. But, please give me a few months, because at the moment I never want to hear the word Banh Mi ever again! Ah! Who am I kidding?! I’m in! Wolverines! Lets Roll!
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La Me Restaurant – 9780 Walnut St., Suite 140 Richardson, TX 75243
Quoc Bao Bakery – 3419 W. Walnut St., Garland, TX 75042
BA LE #1 – Vietnamese Cuisine – 11404 Shiloh Rd. Dallas TX 75228