Battle of the Dishes: Vegetarian Banh Mi Brawl
Victoria Bekiempis Saigon's version, with rubber band "extra" removed.
Banh mi has quite a rep -- for being a gutbuster on the mean streets of Saigon and New York. Pickled carrot and radish slivers, cilantro, cucumber slices, pâté, grilled meat, and occasionally cheese burst out of a French baguette in this notorious sandwich. Chefs typically slather on mayo and butter before filling the bread. Heavy on fat, oil, and protein, the ever-popular hero breaks many rules of balanced dining, which probably explains why it's damned delectable.
Even vegetarian varieties of this sub should come with a side of elastic-waist pants. But quantity, a given with banh mi, does not always mean quality, so we decided to see who makes a better meatless version: the Lower East Side's Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli or Park Slope's Lotus Vietnamese Sandwiches.
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli, 369 Broome Street, 212-219-8341
At this deli, the $4.95 mock curry chicken sub practically explodes with slaw -- so much that the sandwich actually needs to be contained by a rubber band. The faux poultry -- a uniquely layered, spicy tofu with an eerily fleshy texture -- doesn't taste avian, but still satisfies. The light spice adds necessary warmth to the offering without being overly salty. Unlike the restaurant's porcine and poultry options, this banh mi doesn't come with a creamy dressing. The lack of sauce doesn't make or break the pick, which suffers from literally bigger problems: Because the sandwich borders on overstuffed, you can't really enjoy the cilantro or cuke spear, which slip out of the way when you try and take a bite.