New Orleans is known for embracing and celebrating a wealth of different cultures. But within recent years it seems as if the vibrant Vietnamese community has gained more attention than any other. Having adopted extensive baking knowledge from the French during colonization, the Vietnamese use their talents to give us one of the most delicious sandwiches known to man. The banh mi, or Vietnamese po-boy, features a baguette stuffed with a variety of meats and “dressed” with butter mayonnaise, cilantro, sliced jalapenos, and pickled root vegetables. With so many places offering their own versions of banh mi’s these days, it can be difficult to narrow down which ones to try. Here are five places that are sure to send you into banh mi bliss.
If you’re looking for super authentic and don’t mind a bit of a drive, head on over to Dong Phuong Bakery on Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East. Here you can find things like milk bread, raisin bread, brioche, pork buns, cakes, and many types of cookies. The baked goods are no doubt fantastic, but the banh mi’s are what really bring in the crowds. Having perfected their recipe, Dong Phuong is the premier supplier of these popular French-style loaves to Vietnamese restaurants and grocers all over the city. The loaf is light, exceptionally crunchy on the outside and pillow-soft on the inside, making it the perfect vessel for the bakery’s variety of cold cuts, meatballs and Chinese sausage. I recommend the #1 with cold cuts and liver pate but if you’re not feeling that adventurous, the Chinese meatball or the char-grilled pork will suit just fine. And at $3.25 a pop you can afford to bring some back for your friends.
Located in the Hong Kong Market on Behrman Highway, Mr. Bubbles is a banh mi shop that also specializes in bubble teas. I like the combination that comes with sliced pork and crushed pork meatball but the rotisserie chicken is a fine choice as well. Bubble tea is a cross between a milk shake and a smoothie, featuring milk, fruit and usually a syrup to sweeten. They come in a variety of flavors, but some popular combinations are strawberry/lychee, taro/coconut, and avocado/mango. Tapioca “pearls” are an optional add-in and act as a chewy surprise when they come up the wide straw. I have found that people either love them or hate them but if you like gummies, you’ll most likely love tapioca. Shop the market while you sip your tea for all the best deals on fresh produce, seafood, hard-to-find Asian condiments and packaged goods. The market even has its own Saigon deli and bakery where you can get items like spring rolls, salads, and roasted duck banh mi.
Pho Tau Bay
One would be hard-pressed to discuss Vietnamese food in New Orleans without mentioning Pho Tau Bay. Located right off the Westbank Expressway at the end of a strip mall, this is one of the most crowded lunch spots on the Westbank. “Pho” might be in the restaurant’s name but that’s no reason to discredit other items on the menu, especially the banh mi’s. The Banh Mi Dac Biet or BM #12 is my personal favorite and is the most authentic version on the menu. Pho Tau Bay uses Dong Phuong bread and smears it with a garlic/lime aioli, piles it with housemade chicken liver pate, bone-in rolled ham, sliced white pork (similar to bologna) and then tops everything off with pickled carrots, slices of jalapeno pepper, cilantro and a dash of maggi seasoning, which is similar to soy sauce. Awesome is an understatement.
Pho Noi Viet
Live Uptown and don’t have time to venture out to the East or go across the river? No problem. Pho Noi Viet on Magazine Street has a great banh mi that features Terrytown’s own Hi-Do Bakery’s French bread. Being slightly bigger than the Dong Phuong loaves, Hi-Do’s bread still features that quintessential crunchy exterior and airy interior that makes French bread so popular. Choose from pork meatball with au jus, grilled chicken, beef, pork, or tofu. Be sure to order a Da Chanh, or homemade limeade, to wash it all down.
If you’ve driven past the corner of Magazine and Milan recently, you may have noticed the large crowds congregating outside of Magasin Café. One of the first Vietnamese restaurants to popularize this cuisine for the Uptown community, Magasin does a great job of creating food for everyone. Using French baguettes from Magazine Street’s own La Boulangerie Bakery, they offer a nice variety of banh mi options including eggplant, garlic-fried tofu, Chinese sausage with eggs, lemongrass chicken, and pork roll with pate. The well-priced menu, contemporary ambiance, and $5 corking fee make Magasin a popular spot for budget-friendly dining.
*All photos by Emily Smith
Emily Smith is a native New Orleanian and writer of Fleurdelicious. She is enthusiastic about food here, there, everywhere!