Chả Lụa – Sing Sing Sandwich Shop, Hyde St, San Francisco, CA

Sing Sing was a bit of an odd experience. Stepping into the store, I saw a few tabl
es covered in plastic checkered table clothes a few scattered cigarette holes burned in each one. A refrigerated display case stood opposite the tables, stacked with foil logs marked chả lụa. The back wall of the room stopped three quarters of the way across, and behind it sat another room. It was unclear whether that was somewhere a customer might venture. Absent any staff and any further instruction, I just stood there a moment. Soon enough, someone came from behind the wall. “Yes?” they asked. I told them I’d like a sandwich. “Pork?” they asked. I told them pork was fine. “Stay or go?” they asked. I told them I’d take it to stay, and I sat down. They moved behind the refrigerator case, slid a baguette into a toaster oven and began to make my sandwich. That was it. No menu posted, no menu handed out. As far as I know, Sing Sing only serves one sandwich. Chả Lụa is pork roll, meat ground to a paste, flavored a bit, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed or boiled. It has the texture somewhat akin to roast beef, rather than the unsettling unified texture of a ham. The flavor is closer to a roast as well.

Sing Sing Sandwich Shop is located in “Little Saigon,” and that’s ultimately what damns the sandwich. It’s not very good, and given that there are much butter, significantly less disorienting options just down the street there’s no real reason to make this your destination. The typical bánh mì is usually loaded a bit skewed, but a bit of shifting a poke here and there set things right. Not so at Sing Sing, where one half of the sandwich had mayo and pate, and the other had cilantro and vegetables. Short of cracking the sandwich all the way open and reassembling it, I couldn’t figure out any way to keep from dealing with a bite of all mayo and pate, then a bite of all everything else. I have no doubt that chả lụa has its devotees, but I’m not one of them. A cold cut by any other name, in my estimation. Many a bánh mì has a crisp crust, but this was the first one that I’ve felt was genuinely sharp, sharp enough that a corner of the bread cut a small hole in the roof of my mouth. Should you ever find yourself on Hyde street, in the mood for a bánh mì, walk past Sing Sing. Or turn around. Or cross the street. Really, anything other than stepping inside should set you right.