The last time I was at Bánh Mì Saigon I was handed a sandwich that had been sitting on the counter for an undetermined amount of time. This is crime enough in and of itself, but it’s especially bad for the bánh mì, and it’s especially especially bad for the bánh mì from Bánh Mì Saigon. This is the sandwich linked at the top, the one that I claim to be the best sandwich in America. And on that day where I was handed one prepared well in advance, it was dry. The bread wasn’t crispy. The vegetables were limp. In short, it wasn’t the sandwich I’ve spent years praising to anyone who would listen. This was deeply, deeply unsettling.
It took me more than a year to get back to Bánh Mì Saigon. I entered the store that day extremely wary, and trying to prepare myself to come before you and offer an apology and a retraction. I would be completely lost in a world in which the No. 1 at Bánh Mì Saigon is not the best sandwich, but if that’s the world I live in then so be it.
It is not the world in which I live. The sandwich I was handed a few weeks ago was warm, the meat tender, the vegetables bright and fresh, the whole thing balanced and flawless. It was everything I could ever hope the sandwich to be, everything I remember. It was perfect.
There is, tragically, a catch. I was there at 10 in the morning, just two hours after they opened. I waited a minute after ordering as my sandwich was prepared fresh, but along the back counter I could see stacks and stacks of baguettes halfway through an assembly-line process. That would be one thing if the place were packed, but at that hour it was limited to myself and two other people. These were sandwiches that were going to sit for a while. How long, no one can say. If you snuck in just before closing you might get a sandwich that was more than eight hours old. That sandwich may or may not be tasty, but it is not the sandwich that I urge associates far and wide to seek out.
The last time I was preaching the virtues of this sandwich to an associate, I tacked on a bit of advice. “Get there early,” I said, without bothering to include an explanation of why. That may have been a mistake on my part, but it breaks my heart to have to offer a conditional endorsement at all. I’ve sent a good number of people to try this sandwich, and every time I’m afraid they will try it and think I have oversold it. “That’s it?” is my biggest concern. It has not yet happened. Yet.
I wish I had a more conclusive answer for you. I can’t rightly say that the sandwich linked at the top of this and every page is no longer the best sandwich. That isn’t true. It’s just a little harder to find. I hate that this is where I leave you, with me left mealy-mouthed and bereft of certainty, assuring you that it really is the best but you should probably show up on Tuesday, bring an umbrella, try to approach the counter at an angle of 40 to 45 degrees, and say a Hail Mary (but not an Our Father) as you walk in the door. But hating where I stand does not move me.
Get there early.