The sandwich shop that the New York Times rates as having the best banh mi in America
A trip to Saigon Sandwich does require a bit of determination, especially if you got off muni too early, and have to walk three blocks down Larkin toward City Hall. The shop is really more of a cluttered counter. There’s a large display
of Asian candies and cookies, a selection of nuts and colorful, sticky-looking things in plastic containers, and a pile of small, leaf-wrapped pyramids, held together with rubber bands and labeled with a sticker reading “Coconut.” On one side is a cooler full of Vietnamese coffee and tea drinks. At a table, two seats are occupied by elderly Vietnamese women. There’s a woman behind the counter, working like crazy, restocking the pickled carrots, pulling bread out of the toaster, giving change, and answering the phone—God help you if you’re still making up your mind when she asks for your order. Have your order and money ready.
I tend to prefer a cold banh mi, so I got the pâté, a spreadable paste of ground beef and fat. It comes smeared on the bread, instead of sliced like a cold cut. The lady behind the counter put together my sandwich in 30 seconds flat. She spread a thick layer of gray pâté over a warm, crispy baguette, shoved in a fistful of those sharply sweet pickled carrots, a spring of cilantro, and finished with a light sprinkle of thinly sliced raw jalapenos.
The sandwich, which is easily eight inches long and four inches thick, is best paired with a can of soda from the cooler, which, for some gloriously perverse reason, has only RC and Diet RC Cola. The pâté was luxuriously rich, and the acidic bite of the carrots and spicy jalapenos cut through the creaminess perfectly, with the cilantro providing an aromatic contrast. The flavors are so harmonious that this giant sandwich can still feel like a light lunch.
And the RC? Beyond belief. When’s the last time anyone bought a can of Diet RC cola? Take my word for it, it’s way better than you might imagine.
So go to Saigon Sandwich. Brave the filthy streets and the cluster of homeless people across the street. Unwrap your banh mi, pop open the soda, and enjoy the wonderful, breathtaking combination of French colonialism and off-brand cola.
560 Larkin St (between Turk St and Eddy St)
San Francisco, CA 94102