By Stephanie Garr.
San Francisco is beyond spoiled when it comes to authentic cuisine from every nook and cranny of the world. But one ethnic specialty in particular may just rival the burrito as a local favorite: the banh mi sandwich. This hand-held wonder from Vietnam brings together the French colonists’ beloved baguette and pate with native veggies including cucumber, cilantro, and pickled carrots and daikon. It has just the right amount of crunch, spice, sweetness, and umami to make for quite possibly the most perfect all-around meal.
Lucky for us, San Francisco has arguably the greatest, most diverse selection of banh mi outside of Vietnam. Here are 8 of our favorites spots around the city to get one of these delicious (and often affordable!) sandwiches.
1. DragonEats (3 locations: 520 Gough Street, 555 Folsom Street, 1671 Haight Street)
This upscale Vietnamese street food café offers seven varieties of their “Banm My” sandwich, including roasted pork and pate, roasted duck with a sweet and sour sauce, sardine with mayo, and teriyaki tofu with an option for vegan butter. The bread boasts a delicate balance of chewy and crispy, and little touches like fried shallots add some pop. Get a taste of their banh mi on our Hayes Valley Food Tour!
2. Saigon Sandwich (560 Larkin Street)
You’ll be able to spot this tiny Tenderloin hole-in-the-wall from blocks away: just look for the long lines, especially at lunchtime. Located around the area known as Little Saigon, Saigon Sandwich is nothing without its hard-working ladies who whip up their famed banh mi quickly and furiously. At under $5 a sandwich this is by far one of the best deals in the Bay.
3. Fresh Brew Coffee (882 Bush Street)
This tiny Lower Nob Hill café is such a hidden gem we were hesitant to divulge its existence. Looking slightly divey from the outside, Fresh Brew Coffee offers far more than just a quick cup of joe on the inside. Get yourself one of their generously filled banh mi sandwiches, all for $5 or less. We’re partial to the chicken meatball and avocado and combination pork and pate.
4. Sing Sing Sandwich Shop (309 Hyde Street)
Just down the block from Saigon Sandwich, is one of its main competitors, open since 1990. Sing Sing Sandwich Shop keeps things ridiculously simple by offering just a few options, including the pork and pate, meatball, chicken, and shredded pork skin. This spot may be as close to Vietnam as you’ll get this side of the Pacific.
5. Bun-Mee (2 locations: 2015 Fillmore Street, 650 Market Street)
Look for the little scooter sign to find this small gourmet eatery dedicated to making a great banh mi with a modern spin. Their Bun Mee Combo (with grilled lemongrass pork and pate) is a must, but it’s worth trying some of their more interesting selections like the Sloppy Bun with red curry ground beef or the Hanoi-Style Crispy Catfish with red curry mayo. Get a taste of their banh mi on our Fillmore Street Food Tour!
6. Café Bunn Mi (417 Clement Street)
Head on over to the Richmond District for this café specializing in Vietnamese classics. Their banh mi sandwich is stacked with meat and veggies cradled between a baguette crisped to perfection. The Crispy Duck with Vietnamese coleslaw is a must for carnivores, while vegetarians should go straight for the Smokey Vegetable with portabella mushroom, eggplant, and homemade soy sauce.
7. Dinosaurs (3 locations: 2275 Market Street, 2522 Ocean Avenue, 18 Boardman Place)
Like Bun-Mee, Dinosaurs gives the traditional banh mi an elegant spin—all while keeping it mighty meaty and just slightly sloppy. Their “Special” includes pork three ways, but we personally love the Spicy Tuna and the Crispy Tofu with taro, rice noodles, and vegenaise.
8. Duc Loi Supermarket (2200 Mission Street)
If you think a burrito is your only cheap and filling option in the Mission, you’re missing out on this local fave. The only time we’d suggest going to the supermarket hungry is when you’re heading over to Duc Loi. Before picking up some organic groceries, get yourself their “Authentic Vietnamese” sandwich loaded with pork and lots of jalapenos (it is the Mission, after all).