Eight Great Banh Mi in Seattle

Like tacos, banh mi tend to be better the less you pay for them. When I started eating these Vietnamese sandwiches—which typically feature a choice of meat with crisp pickled vegetables (carrot, daikon, and cucumber), jalapeños, cilantro, and nuoc cham sauce on a crusty baguette—in Seattle a few years ago, they were $1.25 apiece. Now they generally start at $2.50—still the best cheap lunch in town, and one of the most popular.Here are eight of my favorites.
banh mi

1. Seattle Deli

This full-service deli is frequented largely by the local Vietnamese community. It opens early to serve people picking up lunch on their way to work, and the selection of banh mi ($2 to $2.50) and other Vietnamese food is stellar. Of all the banh mi I tried, Seattle Deli’s had the crustiest, lightest bread. Make sure to pick up a crispy chicken egg roll on your way out. 225 12th Ave S. (206-328-0106)

2. Saigon Deli

Right across the street from Seattle Deli, Saigon Deli offers similar sandwiches at similar prices. Look in the freezer case for a pineapple popsicle. And if, like me, you are hooked on grilled pork banh mi, it helps to know that thit nuong is Vietnamese for “grilled pork,” since the Little Saigon sandwich shops usually serve multiple pork sandwiches (grilled, pâté, and meatball). 1237 S. Jackson St., Ste. E (206-322-3700)

3. Saigon Bistro

The draw here is not so much the perfectly good sandwich ($2.50) as the surroundings: It’s in Seattle’s best Asian supermarket. In a single trip, you can get your banh mi (I especially like the crispness of the pickled vegetables on this one), grab a freshly roasted duck for dinner, have a green tea cream puff from Beard Papa for dessert, and buy a new rice cooker. 507 S. Weller St. (206-621-2085; uwajimaya.com)

4. Lee’s Corner

Amid all the sandwich options at Pike Place Market, the $3 banh mi at Lee’s Corner is the value champ. Located behind the chile pepper stand in the Sanitary Market building, Lee’s offers a well-seasoned pork sandwich (whose vegetables could, admittedly, be a little more crisp). Incidentally, the Sanitary Market building is so called because at its founding in 1910 it didn’t allow horses. Still doesn’t. 1514 Pike Pl. (206-624-9358)

5. Bobachine

Named in tribute to a long-defuct Wolfgang Puck restaurant called ObaChine, this place—a bubble tea stand in the Westlake Center food court—offers another good banh mi in an unusual setting. The sandwiches ($4.25) include tofu, chicken, or pork. The latter option features two kinds of Vietnamese pâté, spiced with a hint of cinnamon. On the downside, sandwiches come right out of a cold case, so you miss the warm bread/cold veggies dichotomy that is key to a great banh mi. 400 Pine St., 3rd floor (206-447-2622; bobachine.com)

6. Bambuza

The bad news first: Bambuza’s tasty banh mi (chicken, pork, tofu, or beef), briefly warmed in a convection oven, cost $4.50. Why? The shop is across the street from the convention center. I was perturbed about the price until I realized that complaining about a $4.50 sandwich officially makes one a curmudgeon. The sandwich is not quite in the 12th-and-Jackson league, but it’s a whole lot better than the chain sub place across the street. Also worth trying: Bambuza’s full-service restaurant next door, which doesn’t offer sit-down banh mi but serves a nice banh xeo (Vietnamese crêpe). 820 Pike St. (206-219-5555; bambuza.com)

7. Pho Cyclo

The banh mi is only available to go at this neighborhood Vietnamese café. If you want to sit in the window and watch the parade of youth culture go by on Broadway, order the phô. Luckily, the $3.25 sandwich travels well, and I’ve eaten several of them on my way up and down the street in the past few weeks. If you like a spicy banh mi, ask for extra jalapeños; this place can be heat-averse. 406 Broadway E. (206-329-9256; phocyclocafe.com)

8. Baguette Box

Okay, owner Eric Banh is Vietnamese, and Baguette Box specializes in sandwiches, but calling them banh mi would be a stretch. Still, who could say no to the drunken chicken baguette, with chunks of sweet and spicy deep-fried chicken; the grilled lemongrass beef; or the not even vaguely Asian meatball sandwich? 1203 Pine St. (206-332-0220; baguettebox.com)

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